The Return of She Who Must Be Obeyed

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Having had her fingers slapped over her decision to merge Christchurch schools, Hekia Parata has wasted little time in stamping her foot and resuming the ‘consultation’ process. This will, of course, end up with the identical outcome. The Ministry of Education’s definition of consultation, ever since its formation in 1989, goes as follows:

“Here are our plans, tell us what you think, we will go ahead anyway regardless.”

The renewed consultations will follow the legal requirements and then the merger will go ahead. Fait accompli.

She Who Must Be Obeyed (from Ayesha, in The Return of She by H. Rider Haggard) has also followed through with the long planned attack on the New Zealand Teachers Council, apparently because of the failure of the Council to deal with the tragic North Auckland situation.  Well, all I can say to that is that Treasury must be extremely prescient, since their briefing paper to the incoming minister of education in 2011 called for a reform of the New Zealand Teachers Council, well before the nefarious activities of James Parker became public.  Has there been an agenda to reform the Teachers Council? Yes, of course, and the Parker case has just been used, in true disaster capitalism style, as the excuse.

So does the New Zealand Teachers Council need to be ‘reformed’? Of course not. Could the issue of apparent tardiness in dealing with teacher disciplinary issues have been addressed within the existing structure? Obviously.

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Kelvin Smythe:

 ‘The Teachers Council is going to be renamed the Education Council of Aotearoa New Zealand (ECANZ), once again the term ‘Education’ is used to make discussion of schools abstract, distant, and kind of idealised, while all the time providing a cover for grubby authoritarian policies to squeeze the life and variety out of public schools. Take my word, this is going to mean another set of bureaucrats running measure over schools, and a new lease on life being given to existing ones.’

 The reality is that the neoliberal agenda, here and worldwide, requires the demonisation of teachers. As with most things the United States leads the way, as shown by New Jersey Governor: Chris Christie yells at a teacher (again) – you may remember him standing alongside Obama during Hurricane Sandy.

The refrain is always the same “.. schools and teachers are failing.”

Does this ring any alarm bells for you?

 ‘Christie has been pursuing a corporate-influenced school reform agenda that attempts to improve troubled urban schools by ignoring the problems of underfunding and poverty and instead uses methods that won’t ultimately improve student performance, such as evaluating teachers by test scores.’

 The fact is that US schools and teachers are not failing, any more than New Zealand schools and teachers are failing. Once the well established evidence that the biggest affect student learning comes from poverty and related socioeconomic issues (housing, nutrition, access medical care and so on) is factored into school performance, the picture changes drastically.

The book The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better establishes this. Have you read this book? If not, why not?

The base line position is that there is not a crisis in New Zealand schools or with New Zealand teachers, and any spin to the contrary is to enable other ideological agendas.

However, that hasn’t stopped Ayesha from pursuing mindless attacks on teachers. There is, of course, a reason for this. Control of schooling is central to fulfil the neoliberal vision of a well trained, yet unquestioning workforce, as opposed to fully educated citizens – the 21st century version of cannon fodder. I will expand on this in a future posting.

While the content of schooling can be controlled, to an extent, through decrees such as national standards, the big impediment is the teaching profession, those who are the best placed to challenge the educational folly of this control. Not surprisingly, when you think about it.

People with expertise and skills have the knowledge and awareness to make valid observations in their area of expertise. Doctors, lawyers, accountants, architects, engineers, builders, mechanics, and so on. This is generally accepted, unless the profession in question is teaching, when the rules are changed, and the neoliberal notion of provider capture is used to disempower the profession. This has been the case since 1990. Why teachers and not other professions?

So now the Teachers Council is to be reformed to:

  •  Raise the status of the Teaching profession
  • Establish a focus on education leadership
  • Forge a new relationship between the profession and the Government to deliver on the public interests in education
  • Make changes to the regulatory framework for teaching-including changes to the disciplinary regime
  • lead public debate on education

Lofty aims, who can argue, right? But the existing Teachers Council is already handling these points and some tweaking would address any issues.

From the New Zealand Teachers Council Website.

Our purpose

Our purpose is defined in the Education Act (1989) Section 139AA: “To provide professional leadership in teaching, enhance the professional status of teachers in schools and early childhood education, and contribute to a safe and high quality teaching and learning environment for children and other learners.”

Functions

The Teachers Council has both regulatory and professional leadership functions. Our key functions are to:

  • set the standards to enter teaching and maintain ongoing membership to the profession
  • carry out processes for registration of teachers
  • provide professional leadership and encourage best practice in teaching
  • support teachers’ knowledge and understanding of the standards and commitments of the teaching profession including the Code of Ethics for Registered Teachers, and to consult on key policy developments
  • carry out processes for dealing with competence and discipline issues in teachers
  • set the requirements for and approve initial teacher education programmes
  • commission or carry out research to support quality teaching and the other functions of the Council.

 Further information:

Governance structure

Present Members

The existing Teachers Council is a semi-independent body, partially funded through triennial fees paid by teachers for renewal of their practising certificates. Teachers are able to elect their representatives to sit on the council, so that the organisation is representative of the profession. Further, and significantly considering the coming ‘reform,’ the Teachers Council have been working towards becoming completely independent of government influence, self funded, to enable the profession to govern itself, as happens with doctors, lawyers, accountants and so on.

That vision, by itself, is a very big threat to the hegemonic attitudes of this government and hence the need for ‘reform.’

The replacement organisation will not be representative of the profession. We know this for sure as the proposal allows for teachers to nominate appointees to the council, but that the actual appointments will be made by the minister.

Yes, you read that correctly. The new body will consist of the minister’s puppets already to jump when commanded. She Who Must Be Obeyed indeed.

This is shown by the composition of the Transition Board, which has been handpicked by Ayesha. There is no representation from any of the sector groups, whether principal organisations or the teacher unions, nor for that matter from the New Zealand School Trustees Association. Sure there are teachers and principals on the Transition Board but to the best of my knowledge they have no current connection with any sector groups. This immediately begs the question as to why they were chosen. The lack of teacher union representation is outrageous.

The leader of the Transition Board, John Morris, a former Principal of Auckland Grammar School (not exactly representative of mainstream New Zealand), has a long history of favouring neoliberal education policies. An independent leader? No. Understanding of the needs of teachers working in lower socioeconomic communities? No. Does he have his own agenda? Yes.

The only possible upside about the Transition Board is the appointment of former Minister of Education Steve Maharey, a man whom I knew and respected as both local MP and Minister of Education. Will he influence developments? Why has he agreed to serve?

So where is this heading? There are two clauses in the aims of the new body that signal the outcome.

  •  Forge a new relationship between the profession and the Government to deliver on the public interests in education

Public interests in education? Who defines these? Not the government by any chance?

It’s not difficult to see where this leads.

  •  Make changes to the regulatory framework for teaching-including changes to the disciplinary regime

Regulatory framework? Disciplinary regime? So teachers are viewed as requiring disciplinary regimes? How paternalistic. It’s not difficult to predict an outcome where the regulatory framework muzzles teachers to prohibit them from speaking out against government policy, and, indeed, a quick look at the USA, and England (Teachers on strike: a struggle for the future of teaching?) shows that this is a near certainty.

Under the present situation principals and teachers are employed by, and answerable to, Boards of Trustees, while the Ministry of Education, the minister and the government have no control, much, I suspect, to their chagrin. Changing the regulatory framework and thus controlling the criteria for teachers to either gain or renew their registration, enables top level control and will serve to silence dissent.

I can see the day when the renewal of teacher practising certificates will be dependent on meeting regulatory criteria, such as children’s performance against national standards. An exaggeration? Why then is the PACT database for recording student achievement against national standards set up to match children’s results against teacher names? While the Ministry of Education has resiled from making PACT compulsory for now, watch out if National are re-elected in 2014.

Why is it that other professional organisations are able to govern their own criteria for registration and management of unprofessional behaviours, free of government control, yet teachers are treated so differently? Why will teachers be denied the right to elect representatives?

I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised at the removal of democratic rights from teachers. After all, there’s a concurrent proposal to remove the rights of tertiary staff and students to be represented on their governing bodies.

These issues, and those that have gone before, make it very clear that this government abhors democracy in any form.

7 COMMENTS

  1. National does not have many women MPs but it sure pushes them to the front line based on their bad attitudes, it cannot be based on their empathy and skills–Parata, Bennett and Tolley for example. There was a nauseating Marae Investigates puff piece on Parata recently obviously part of the Teachers Council campaign run by Nationals advisors.

    The rest of us should support teachers in anyway possible in the s***fight that is obviously coming.

    • Will Labour rectify any of National’s teacher bashing, educational reform policies when they get in? If not, why not?

  2. Your description of the neo-liberals’ “well trained, yet unquestioning workforce, as opposed to fully educated citizens” also fits the construct of fascism.
    What has Labour said about the reforms, and what is their policy, I wonder?

  3. Jeez my education was a failure. I thought SWMBO was Hilda, Rumpole of the Bailey’s wife!
    Govt’s tinker around with education as that is where their propaganda agenda can start.
    Charter schools will be able to teach such perverse subjects without a committee jumping up and down about it all.

  4. “the horror, the horror” – Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

    Where did this army of evil come from? Chop off one head and another appears on the beast. It’s just unrelenting.

  5. Politicians tend to look ahead within the range of the election cycle. Education is a long-range function. These two activities are not compatible, so education needs to be exempt from the application of fashionable beliefs and ideologies, regardless of which political flavour holds the reins for the next short term.

    The public servants, who used to carry the best intentions across the cycles and do their best to educate the appointed egos, have lost their neutrality (thanks, Labour) and don’t seem to be able to mitigate the unthought yet spoken dross from the Political Masters as they used to.

    There’s always, in every population, a clump of people who hated school, hate teachers, and want them to ‘know their place’. To be humbled and made to Obey. They pop up in every forum and opinion site and talkback radio to air their lungs and ancient wrath. They have weird ideas about measuring ‘performance’ and bang on about it until we all begin to believe that, maybe, there really is a Fairy who can magickly fix the long tail.

    And Hekia Parata bought their ‘bridge’ – with our money and our kids.

    Which profession has the current ‘best’ governance system? The one that turns the catchall criteria into ‘the way we do things because it’s decent and prospers all in the country’. And adopt that for teachers at all levels.

    Then ignore the chronically aggrieved and those who think learning is an industrial function. They’re entitled to their opinion but the rest of us are not obliged to agree or condone or enable it’s infliction on any non-believer of any age whatsoever.

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