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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Children Are Not Collateral Damage


War and conflict dominates our headlines lately.  Every time we turn the television on, check our Facebook and Twitter feeds or spy a paper - digital or of the old fashioned, newsprint kind - war confronts us.

For the most part, people like you and me (yes, you and me) generally zone out.  Another war, another conflict in a far off country, usually 3rd world, and a million miles from the busy modern world that dominates our day.  Every now and again, our interest is piqued, we lift our eyes to the news and we take notice.  Perhaps a kiwi has been killed in a drone strike, and it hits a nerve.  It seems just that little bit too close to home.

Whenever these things happen, our daily lives take a temporary detour and we find ourselves tut tutting and expressing distress, disgust or outrage on whatever new conflict has caught our attention.  Before long our real life takes over and the daily grind takes precedence.

Some events catch our attention quickly.  Events like the Stolen Girls of Nigeria.  When I first heard about that appalling situation I was incensed that over 200 girls could be stolen and nothing was done about it.  To this day, those young girls and their families have been failed and justice has remained elusive.

More recently, two events have grabbed the worlds attention and I have found myself incensed once again.  Both incidences involve war, innocent lives lost and powerful men who could call for a ceasefire and do something about it, but fail to do so.  I suspect arrogance and ego is what is getting in the way of common sense.   The first is the Malaysian passenger jet that was shot down over Ukraine, and the second is the rising death toll in Gaza as the war between Hamas and Israel heats up.

A ceasefire in the Ukraine would allow the UN and the investigators of the passenger plane that was shot down to get to the bottom of what happened.  This could ensure the bodies and items of the victims were recovered and returned to their loved ones, and all the countries that have been impacted by this a chance for closure.  I suspect there are bigger things at play here.  While I think this situation is a disgraceful act of terrorism, it is the situation in Gaza that really has me riled.

It is the children.

Bombs are hitting UN schools, hospitals and playgrounds in refugee camps.  These bombs are killing civilians, in particular they are killing children.  Not just a few, but hundreds.  Children who were just embarking on their journey into life.  Shot down, and snuffed out.  Most appallingly, both Israel and Hamas are blaming each other.

I am aware that the issue in Gaza is older than the whispers trapped within the hills themselves. I am aware it is complex and an answer to peace is fraught with difficulties.  I am aware that if Israel did not have such a sophisticated anti missile system, the Iron Dome, then there would be just as many innocent casualties and dead children in Israel.  I understand it is not easy.

I don't know who is right, who is wrong, and I don't know that I could ever understand the complexities that are that part of the world.  I don't care.  I don't care if the bombs that are killing these children are the fault of Hamas or Israel.  As far as I am concerned, they are both to blame, and they are the only ones that can get off their soap box and start the process of peace.  I don't care who started it, and I don't care to listen to excuses or a tit for tat blame game.

Right now, I care about all these children who are being killed.  They are not 'collateral damage', they are not pawns for warmongers, they are innocent children caught up in the sticky web of a war they were born into the middle of.  It is not their fault, they did not ask for this and they have nowhere to hide.  Nowhere. They can't even seek refuge in hospitals, schools or refugee camps with playgrounds.  

Children are being used as political pawns and it is not ok.

Can you imagine how scared these children must be.  Can you imagine the terror and the trauma they must be facing?  For those who are left to survive, the scars this war will leave on them will run deep.

Right now across the world there are more wars going on than you can possibly imagine.  Certainly more than I expected.  In Africa alone, there are 25 countries embroiled in conflict.  In Asia there are 15 countries, 9 in Europe, 8 in the Middle East, and 5 in the Americas.  In total there are 62 countries involved in war with 549 different Militias/ Guerrilla, separatists, and anarchic groups caught up in the conflicts.   UNICEF report that in the last decade over 2 million children have been killed, 4-5 million disabled, 12 million left homeless, more than 1 million left alone, and some 10 million psychologically damaged.  These figures are rising.  All this fighting is over either land, resources or religion - or all of the above.  It is not ok.

War, from my perspective, is pointless.  The people who lose are not those who perpetrate it, but the women and children who become the victims of senseless violence.

At what stage will our world say enough is enough.  If humanity can not protect its children from the harms of war, famine and pestilence, then we are doomed.  For every child's life that is lost, we lose an opportunity and we lose potential.

As a world we have no idea what society has lost.  Anyone of these young children could have been the next inventor of the technology that cures cancer, solves the issue of global warming, or invents the next iPhone.

We can't afford to watch humanity self destruct.

The real question is, what can those of us living in the western world do about it?  What do we need to teach our own children about tolerance, equity and fairness?  How do our schools equip our children so they can stand up to injustice and begin to create a world where we live in peace.

When we look at the world and all its issues, it seems like an impossible task.

Perhaps we start with our own countries, our own schools and our own children.

I just wonder, is it enough?


Further Information:


http://fourseasonsinonekiwi.blogspot.co.nz/2014/05/stolen-lost-girls-of-nigeria-worlds.html

http://www.unicef.org/sowc96/1cinwar.htm

http://www.stuff.co.nz/world/middle-east/10322876/The-young-victims-of-war-in-Gaza-City

http://www.warsintheworld.com/?page=static1258254223

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/07/28/us-mideast-gaza-idUSKBN0FV04A20140728

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Mythology of Education - Time to Bust Some Myths



Several weeks ago Readers Digest published its 2014 Trusted Professions list.  Teachers were the 11th most trusted profession, up one from the previous year.  Teachers haven't been in the top ten since 2010.  Prior to that they were at least 9th.

It got me wondering, why don't the public trust us more.  It really is concerning when you consider how every single day of term, parents drop off to schools and educators the world over, that which is most precious to them.  Far more important than their car, their house or any material possession.  For educators this is a huge responsibility, privilege and one of great significance, for parents, it is one of high trust.

Given how important little (and not so little) people are to their parents, why is teaching not one of the most trusted professions?  When you trust your Vet more than you trust your teacher, then that leaves me asking why.

After some navel gazing on the matter, I thought about some of the myths that surround education.  In particular the ones that are prevalent in todays world, often trotted out by right wing neo liberalists to push the G.E.R.M agenda.  It is not the list of all lists, merely the ones uppermost in my mind.

Time to bust some myths.


Myth: All teachers are raving Unionists  Fact: Not all teachers are Unionists  


Whilst it is probably true that most teachers are union members, to suggest all teachers are, is quite categorically incorrect.  On my own site, not all my team are union members.  This is a choice they make, and although I may quietly disagree, I keep this to myself.   We live in a democracy and in Education in our country there is no mandate that says one must dictate union membership as a prerequisite to being a teacher or support staff.  Interestingly, not all teachers who are members of the union are remotely interested in being active, and more often than not, this is the majority.   Therefore, when the right wing factions wind up the public with statements like 'its just the unionised teachers stirring trouble again', or 'because teachers are unionists they are only about self interest so don't trust their opinion', take the time to really think about that.


Myth:  Teachers are all about self interest  Fact:  Teachers are all about student interest 


This follows on from the above myth about unionisation.  Every time I see an opinion piece or blog that cries teachers don't like this policy or that policy because of 'self interest', I find myself rolling my eyes and thinking unkind thoughts.  The IES policy is a case in point.  If it was about self interest then teachers would applaud the additional money for salary - the fact they don't and think the money should be spent elsewhere suggests student interest is the motivation.

It is one of those insidious and ignorant myths that dissenters can glibly roll off their tongue in the hopes to gain traction when they teacher bash.  If we are to examine this a little closer and apply some logic, what you discover is that teachers are not about self interest at all - teachers are all about what is in the best interests of their students.  We do not enter the profession for reasons of self interest - and those that might don't last long.  The pay, the stress, the hours and the high stakes accountability (not to mention the right wing teacher bashers) are not what keeps a teacher in the profession.  Students, and making a difference, is what keeps educators educating.  To suggest self interest is simply ludicrous and not something anyone who has ever spent time in a classroom would ever say.  

Myth: All teachers are lazy  Fact: Not all teachers are 'lazy'


Type 'teachers are..." into google and thats the second thing that pops up.  In todays high stakes world there is no room for a 'lazy' teacher.  It is probably the one myth that irks me the most, and I suspect it stems from the old chestnuts of 'you are always on holiday' and 'you start at 9 and finish at 3'.  The reality is I would struggle to see how a 'lazy' teacher would even survive in todays educational world.    You never hear a person who lives with a teacher suggest such a thing, and again, it is one of those handy myths that feeds the prejudices  against teachers and suit the right wing neo liberal anti teacher agenda.


Myth: Teachers are not tax payers  Reality:  All teachers pay tax just like every other hard working person 


For this one you need to be able to think outside the box a little.  I am taking some poetic license here, but there is a point.  Its not a myth as such, but more misunderstanding.   When educational policy is being bandied about and the anti teacher brigade are making statements like 'teachers shouldn't have a say about policy because of self interest',  then I would like to gently remind them that teachers are tax payers.  They most certainly do have a vested interest in how their tax dollars get spent, and so when they say a policy is not fiscally smart or in the best interests of students, I would think that would be a warning sign for the public to ask why they feel this way.  Like all taxpayers, teachers do not want to see their contribution (and Im guessing its a big one) wasted.  This myth is an extension of the self interest myth.

Myth:  All teachers don't have a life  Reality:  Teachers most certainly do have a life outside teaching and many are parents 


Once again, I am exercising some poetic license.  Like above, this is more a misunderstanding than a myth.  Whenever teachers and educational policy are being debated, the debaters forget one very important thing.  Many teachers are parents as well.  As parents they also have a vested interest in what happens in classrooms and what shape educational policy takes.  Just like the public, they do not want their children being taught in overcrowd classes, by incompetent teachers, or subjected to ridiculous policy changes.  Like above, if a teacher who happens to wear a parent hat as well says a policy is not in the best interests of a student, then listen to them.  Ask them why and ask them what it is about that policy that concerns them for their child.  Think, if it was good, then they would want their child to benefit.  Quite logical really.


Myth:  Teachers have it easy, anyone could do it  Reality:  Teaching is not for everyone, and it most certainly is not easy


This is my favourite myth, and it always makes me smile.  Every teacher in the world knows this is rubbish.  For all those who think its so easy, you come and do it.  Take a class of 32 students, 3 with significant behaviour needs, 12 who are struggling with basic literacy and numeracy despite intervention programmes, 2 who are regularly late, 1 who is often truant because they are kept at home to look after the babies, 4 who are special needs (I am being generous) but not eligible for teacher aide support, 1 with a signifiant special need and a part time teacher aide, 3 gifted students, a handful of difficult parents, and then throw in students who come from extreme poverty or abusive backgrounds.  Plan, prepare, teach and assess, throw in some pastoral care moves and hold down the duties, meetings and paper work requirements of an average teacher on an average day, and do this for two weeks, maintaining levels of progress.  Teaching is a diverse, and complex inexact science where no two days are the same.  This, ironically, is its biggest appeal but most difficult to prepare for.  This is teaching, and it is by no means an easy option.

Myth: All teachers are card carrying Labour party supporters  Fact: Not all teachers are Labour supporters 


In case you missed it, I will repeat, not all teachers are members or supports of the Labour party.  Teachers are like the rest of society in that they are diverse in their political leanings.  This spectrum ranges from 'I don't care', to those who swing left and those who swing right.  One of my colleagues that I have a great deal of respect for, has been a card carrying ACT member for a long time, and others I know are ardent National supporters.  It is ridiculous to suggest that all teachers are left leaning and/or Labour supporters.  Every time I see that mantra trotted out by some right wing journalist or blogger I wonder what my colleagues who are not left leaning think about that.  Interestingly, what I have noticed over the years is that when you mention politics in the average staffroom many teachers eyes tend to glaze over.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

These are but a few of the myths that impinge on having a good public debate on educational policy.  Teachers need to be a part of the debate for all the reasons outlined above, and more.  If you trust a teacher to look after your child's social, emotional and academic needs when they are at school, why would you not trust a teacher to explain the ins and outs of a policy.

The next time you read about teachers in a less than satisfactory way, or you hear someone indulging in some teacher bashing, remember that most of what people are basing things on are in actual fact, myths and not reality.   It is important for our society that we trust our teachers and not buy into the myths that those with less than pure motives would have you believe.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

What Would Kate Sheppard Do?


There has been a lot in the NZ media lately about violence against women.   Most of it has been centred around the misinterpretation of the Labour leaders 'I'm sorry for being a man' statement, (and subsequent backlash from what I can only imagine are men insecure with their own masculinity), and some of it has been from the Tania Billingsley case.  That too has had its backlash, mostly from right wing bloggers and men whom, in my opinion, also seem insecure in their masculinity and, dare I say, political leanings.  

I wasn't going to throw my two cents into the fray - many journalists and bloggers have already commented and far more eloquently than I can.  I have however, been quietly sitting back and watching the media and blogger frenzy unravel, and as such, I have been wondering and shaking my head in disbelief and silent disgust. 

But this morning I read Martyn Bradburys article in the Herald and it reignited my wonderings.  It was the icing on the cake in terms of things I have read and watched in the last week or so that has left my 'wonderings gene' twitching.   Reading through his article, and reflecting on the appalling statistics, it was his reference to Kate Sheppard that really had an impact on me.

Our country has a proud history of strong female role models - from Kate Sheppard through to Helen Clarke.   In terms of women's rights, New Zealand has been a world leader, a trail blazer in 'social democracy' where  we were the first in the world to give women the right to vote, led by Kate Sheppard.  With this in mind, I wondered what Kate would think of what is happening?  What would she do?  I am pretty confident she would not have sat back quietly wondering.  I imagine she would be most disappointed with how complacent and we have become.  And so, this post was born.

The Wonderings:


Wondering Number 1:  The media.  


Once again I need to vent my frustration at the mainstream media who actually started this whole thing off by turning Cuniliffes well intended words into a feeding frenzy of misinterpretation, innuendo, and twisted rhetoric.   I have written about the importance of our mainstream medias impartiality and the huge responsibility they have bestowed upon them, before.  Their words shape the discourse of an argument, and in this case it allowed the right wing 'anti anything positive' to go forth and spew their mantra that Labour is anti men.  Instead of reporting policy they went straight to tabloid reporting.  In doing so they lost a perfect opportunity to focus on violence, New Zealand's rape culture, and the chance to have a decent public debate around doing something about it.  For that, I am cross.  Once again, an incredibly important issue that impacts on all kiwis has been smudged, and obscured by a ludicrous beat up by journalists who should know better.  

And so I wonder, is there an unwritten policy that reporters have to find opportunities to sensationalize wherever possible, and especially if it involves Labour?  Have they forgotten why they went into Journalism?  Have they forgotten about their care of duty to the people of New Zealand?

Wondering Number 2:  The discovery that someone has set up a Facebook page 'The Labour Party's War On Men'.  


Really?

I'm officially gobsmacked.  It is an open page and I had a quick trawl.  The posts seem intent on showing the few statistics that show women also conduct domestic violence and that men are victims too, and some posts are meant to provoke and offend.   I can see what they are doing, in an attempt to justify their position, and I appreciate that there are cases where this is the reality.  But the majority of statistics for domestic violence/violence against women are committed by men.  This page and their political point scoring posts undermines all the efforts of those who work for the elimination of violence.

Not only do I find this bad taste, but it offends me on many levels.   It offends me as a woman because it disrespects all the women whose lives have been torn apart by domestic violence, it offends me as a Mum, because it takes away from the seriousness of child abuse, and it offends me as a wife and a sister, because it suggests that men who create such pages are rednecked, irresponsible cretins.  None of the men I know fit this category.  On the contrary, the men I know find this kind of thing appalling, and unlike the creators of this page, understood the genuineness of the Labour leaders sentiment.  They have the maturity and common sense to understand what he was saying.  I am all for a good joke but this is bad taste.

Domestic violence and abuse is not a laughing matter, and while there is dissension amongst our countrymen and women around dealing with this in a co-ordinated and serious matter, then we do not move forward.  It is everyones responsibility to stand up and do something - and for our male leaders and role models to do just that is something that needs to be applauded, not twisted and manipulated in this way.

And so I wonder, who does this sort of thing?  What kind of person fails to see the significance of the issue?  My guess is that they are young, immature, right wing and perhaps thought this would be a great way to drum up more anti left sentiment.  Unfortunately, the people I have spoken to think it is childish and ignorant.  It leaves me ashamed to know we have kiwis who support this kind of thing.  I wonder if its the same group that think the Roast Busters rape culture is perfectly normal and acceptable?  


Wondering Number 3:  Paula Bennett on The Nation 



Yesterday, as she was being interviewed, she was asked about New Zealand's rape culture.  Earlier in the week she said "New Zealanders need to change the way we respect each other, in order to abolish rape culture".   This was in response to Tania Billingsleys brave and courageous appearance on TV3s 3rd Degree about her alleged assault by Muhammad Ismail, who subsequently pulled the diplomatic immunity card and high tailed it out of the county.  Well blow me down with the proverbial feather when yesterday she suffered from the obligatory mental health disorder commonly found in the Beehive,  political dementia, when she suddenly forgot she thought there was a rape culture in NZ.  Instead, she stated "I wouldn't say we've got a rape culture or a sexual violence culture in New Zealand..."  It was a pretty big flip flop.  Then to punctuate her flip flop, she went onto blame the statistics on New Zealand's high level of reporting.  I found that appalling and I agree with Lisa Owens summation that to do so was 'trivialising' the situation.  I was left underwhelmed by her performance and disappointed that she had gone from ardent supporter of domestic violence victims to fence sitting turn coat.

And so I wondered.  In only days she changed her mind about the situation in New Zealand, and I wonder why.   I note that a prominent right wing blogger condemned her original stance shortly after her original call for the need to make changes to address our rape culture, and then all of a sudden she backtracks and disavows any knowledge of such culture.  Did she have pressure on her to change her position, and take heat off the people that Tania was calling for to resign?  I had initially admired her original stance, especially because she is a high profile female role model and seemed to be going up against her colleagues, but her subsequent back track has left me cold and disappointed.  I wonder where her backbone disappeared to...


Wondering Number 4:  Judith Collins on Q&A



Similar to the above interview the day before with Paula, I found some of the answers from the Minister as she was interviewed by Rachel Smalley to be quite flippant and almost blasé about Tania Billingsleys case and the work that Women's refuge does for domestic violence victims.   I got the impression the reason the funding was frozen for Women's refuge is because they are predominately dealing with gang related violence against women, and this puts off other women from using them.

What was intriguing was her answer to Rachel's question about the handling of the Tania Billingsleys case by MFaT and what message that might send to young kiwi men about sexual assault.  Her response was quite correctly summed up by Rachel as flippant when she replied that it wasn't applicable because in this case the man in question was neither kiwi or young.  Both Techno Man and I looked at each other and simultaneously said "what, is she serious?".  There were times during the interview where I wondered who the reporter was, as Judith pushed her way through like a bull in a china shop.  She even managed to claim the reporter was listening to Labour too much and not to take too much stock in what they say.  She went on to say that the men in cabinet were quite angry over the whole affair and were in fact 'ropeable'.

And so I wondered.  What don't we know about the Women's Refuge funding freeze, and why don't we know?  What is the real reason the men in cabinet are 'ropeable' and 'angry'?  Is it because they are disgusted in the way MFaT handled the case, their own handling of the situation or what I think is more likely, that Tania Billingsley came forward and has been upfront in a courageous and open way?


Wondering Number 5:  The panel on Q&A 



The panel were discussing Judith's interview and in particular the Tania Billingsley case when an obscure reference to the victim (Tania) setting the whole thing up was mentioned.  It was fleeting and quickly the host Susan Woods turned the conversation over, but the allegations that Tania had made it up and it was a political manoeuvre, were already out there.  I found myself gobsmacked again.  I wondered what the ex ACT Mp was getting at, and so I did a bit of a quick google search.  Sure enough, there were a few references.

It would appear that snide innuendos are starting to surface from fairly right wing blog sites who seem to be using this crime to push their own right wing political agendas.   For these bloggers to use her story to push their own conservative Right wing agenda disrespects all victims of rape and violence.  As men they should be ashamed, and as kiwi men they have quietly given tacit approval to young men that this kind of issue is not a 'big deal'.  All because a strong young women stood up and denounced domestic violence and sexual assault for the heinous crime it is, and made it clear her feelings about how the Government has dealt with this case. She has made a stand on behalf of all women who have been victims and for that, she should be held aloft, not treated with such disrespectful disdain.

And so I wonder.  How on earth are women ever to get a fair go in this world when there are clear so called 'rules' about how you stand up and state your case?  It seems in Tania's case she was damned if she did and damned if she didn't.  Initially when she was a faceless victim to a diplomat who ran off under diplomatic immunity amidst bureaucratic bungling, she was a just a statistic and harmless.   The moment she came out in the open, it seemed she was a target.  When you look at it from that perspective, those on the far right seem to only like their victims to be faceless and voiceless.  I wonder what message this sends women?  How many feel safe enough to stand up under that kind of backlash?


Final Wonderings


Where does this leave us in the public debate on violence and sexual assault? 

What does it mean for me as a parent?

How do I teach my daughter what is acceptable and what is not?  Fortunately she is surrounded by outstanding male role models who are disgusted by domestic violence and find sexual assault an abhorrent and unnatural unmanly thing to do.  The reality and the statistics paint a different picture.  The chances of someone she knows being a victim of such violence is 1 in 4.  Teaching her about personal safety and how to help will be important and I sure hope someone is having the same discussions with the young men she will encounter.

What does it mean for me as an educator?

Do we in education teach our young people to be resilient, strong, and respectful of what it is to be a man and what it isn't? What it is to be a women, and what it isn't?   Are schools and teachers providing our young people with the skills, values and social precursors they need to navigate the world without resorting to violence?  Do they have opportunities to discuss, reflect and understand?

I am proud to be a woman, and I am grateful to live in NZ, but we would have to be kidding ourselves if we thought it was all peachy and rosy.

The last few weeks have highlighted that we still have some work to do to eradicate violence and sexual assault in our country and in countries around the world.  It will take all of us, not just women and not men on there own - but all of us together, making a stand to say enough is enough.

There is an election coming up.

This is your chance to do something proactive and real for all the women and children who are victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.    From where I sit, the only political parties who are serious about getting on top of this insidious dismantling of our society are those on the left.  In particular, Labour have outlined some real practical solutions that are fiscally responsible and take a holistic and long term, structured view.  Coupled with the vision from the Greens and Internet Mana, the most vulnerable in our communities have a chance to be productive, taxpaying citizens.  

And so I wonder, what would Kate do?



The Facts:  


Women’s Refuge statistics

20,000 women and children needed the help of Women’s Refuge in 2013.

Women’s Refuge is New Zealand’s most significant family violence organization with a 40-year history of providing comprehensive services for women and children.

In 2012-13, our refuges provided 76,000 safe beds for women and children who did not feel safe to sleep in their own homes – this was an average of 209 women and children each night.

The average length of stay in a safe house in 2012-13 was 24 days for a woman and 29 days for a child. This is an increase from the previous year which was 20 and 26 days respectively.

On average, of the women who seek our help, 64% report psychological abuse; 49% report physical abuse; 23% report financial abuse; 21% report harassment and stalking; 12% report spiritual abuse; 12% report sexual abuse and 11% report that weapons were used. 24% of women reported that children witnessed or heard the abuse. (note most women experience multiple forms of abuse so these figures will not add up to 100%)

56% of Women’s Refuge clients are under 36 years of age.

35% of children are under the age of five and 86% of the children we deal with are under the age of 10.

Women’s Refuge receives an average of 82,000 calls to its Crisis/Support lines every year. This means we answer a crisis or information call every nine minutes of every day.

In 2013 we had 821 staff with 477 unpaid or volunteer staff. Half of our workers – paid or unpaid – identify as Māori.

Women’s Refuge responded to 1,500 Police Safety Orders in 2013 which is a huge increase on the previous year which had 880 PSO responses. We are not paid for this work.

Police refer more than 27,000 Family Violence Interagency Response referrals to Women’s Refuge each year. We are paid for only 2200 of these referrals.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Labour Education Policy Headliners

This is an important statement that highlights the differentiation between left and right wing educational policy. 

This weekend the Labour Party has been meeting in Wellington for its Election Year Congress. Whilst there were a number of big announcements over the week for Labour, the area I am most interested in and the one that I have been hankering for in terms of real vision for New Zealand, is the Education policy. To say it has been long awaited by many educators, is an understatement.

The wait, for the most part, was worth it.

Finally, we are seeing policy from our main left wing party that stands out from the right. Complaints in the media about how Labour have just been a red version of National, with shades of uninspired boring, have been prevalent in recent months. This policy should finally put a stop to it.

What you notice straight away is how it differentiates itself from the current trajectory.

Labours policy is about strengthening public education. In this weekends announcements you can see a deliberate attempt to begin to level the playing field, to restore the areas that have been systematically dismantled over the last few terms of Government, and a start to putting in place structures and strategies that will enable all New Zealand students to excel and exceed their potential.

Looking at what has been announced, as an educator, I get a sense that Labour has been listening to the sector and has at the top of its priority list, a real sense that they will begin to restore equity, trust and collaboration. This should be of no surprise, when you consider the core values of Labour are about ensuring an equitable, quality public education system. Furthermore, Labour is attempting to link its policies together - you can not address education without thinking about poverty, and here Labour is saying it is a joint responsibility. You can read more about my wondering on this here.

As with all policies there will be plenty of detail that can be dissected and debated over time. Today I just want to focus on the highlights, the things that I think are headliners and worth sitting up and looking at, as a taxpayer, a parent and as an educator.


Here are my 8 top headliners...



1. Repeal Charter School Legislation. 

Labour Says:


Labour will repeal the legislation allowing the creation of charter schools immediately upon becoming government.”

This is my favourite announcement.  I have not been a supporter of throwing screeds of our taxpayer money into dodgy policies that research shows are failures around the globe.  Charter Schools have to be the dodgiest of dodgy.  The money, the lack of accountability and the fact that any Government would even consider experimenting on our most vulnerable students should ring major alarm bells to all members of NZ society.  I have posted about Charter Schools before here.  Charter schools undermine public education.  They have no place in our schooling system if we are serious about equitable outcomes.




2. Scrap National Standards 

Labour Says:

"Under Labour, we will work collaboratively with the education community to replace National Standards with something that is meaningful, broad, and that will work."

The sector has been wanting to see the back of National Standards since its rushed and badly designed inception.  Many people have written about why, its flaws and their concerns for why National Standards are actually Nationals and not National, and most certainly not standard.  In saying that, there have been positives and this includes the discourse around assessment, what we don't want, reporting to parents and moderation practices.  For me, the positive thing about this release is that Labour are saying that we don't have to be stuck with them, and we can collaborate together with professionals and parents to work out what we actually want instead.  This is good and welcome news.  

This is not about throwing everything schools have worked on out - but it does mean we can actually devise a world class system that compliments our world class curriculum.  Hallelujah that we can focus on our National Curriculum in-depth again and not be sidetracked/bullied into a narrow focus.  What is not clear is what they intend to do about the reporting requirements we currently undergo to the Government. 



3. Smaller Class Sizes 

Labour Says:


"Reduce the average size of secondary school classes from 26+ down to 23.

Reduce the size of senior primary school classes (Years 4-8) from 29+ down to 26."


This will be a welcomed move by many teachers and principals.  Current ratios are:

Mainstream
 1:15 for year 1 (stays same)
1:23 for 2-3 (stays same)
1:29 for years 5-8 (changes to 1:26)
1:26 secondary (changes to 1:23)

Maori Immersion
 1:15 for yr 1 (stays same)
1:18 for 2-3  (stays same)
1:18 for 4-8 (stays same) 

John Hattie suggests in his Visible Learning research that class size has a minimal impact on quality of teaching and learning.  He goes on to say that the debate on class size is a distraction to the argument about successful teaching because it is a structural thing and has a minimal effect on making a difference.  To Hattie,  class sizes are irrelevant if the teacher doesn’t change their teaching style.  I note the current Education Minister quoted just this on tonights news.  

I don’t disagree with the rhetoric,  but in a busy classroom, with a wide range of needs, behaviour and high priority learners, the difference between 26 students and 29 to 32 is marked.   I don't know any teacher who would not welcome less students in their busy classrooms.  As for the statement around teacher quality and teacher style, less pressure in the classroom will make it easier for those teachers who may be struggling to work on the professional development needs that are identified and allow for innovation to thrive.  For some classrooms, 5 less students is virtually one group less.  I can not over state to you what it means to be that many students less in a class.  My educator and my parent hat approves - and my taxpayer one also approves of this as a worthwhile investment.  We are assisting in the growing and development of our society here and that is critical work.  




4. 2000 more teachers in classrooms

Labour Says:

"Reduce class sizes by funding 2,000 more teachers, paid for by cancelling National’s flawed and divisive I.E.S. policy."


This follows on from the policy announcement above.  The ratios mentioned above are to be staggered in terms of lowering them, so this will happen over a three year period.   This is smart in terms of paying for the policy and in terms of making sure there is enough staffing to accommodate this.  I would have liked this to have been rolled out a bit sooner than over 3 years, but I am impressed with the commitment.  They have also made a commitment to training which I will discuss shortly. 




5. Digital Technologies and Internet Access 

Labour Says:

"Put in place a programme that provides an affordable option, available to all schools, for Year 5-13 students to have access to a portable digital device, in the classroom and at home."

"Put in place infrastructure that will allow students, particularly those from low-decile schools, who do not currently have internet connections to use their portable devices to access the internet at home."

"Commit $25 million to provide teachers with professional development during the 2016 and 2017 school years to assist them to make the most effective use of digital devices in the classroom."

In theory I really like this policy.  It is based on a very successful cluster of schools project called  'Manaiakalani'.  This would allow many schools the perfect opportunity to assist their communities with becoming 21st Century learning communities with the environment set up for success.  What is critical here is that there is professional development being provided alongside the policy to assist schools whose classrooms are not yet ready for that level of IT engagement.  But, the fact Labour has a plan to address this is impressive and another example of levelling the equity playing field for students.  





6. Modern Schools for Modern Learning 


Labour Says:


"Develop a comprehensive plan for rebuilding out-dated and worn-out school buildings, so that every school has access to modern learning environments by 2030."

I applaud this.  Currently, getting classrooms updated is like pushing the preverbal uphill.  Mostly in part because the property division is risk adverse and also because leaky school buildings is a massive sink hole of wasted money.  I do wonder if Labour have realised just how dire the situation of school property is?  I could write about the pitfalls, concerns, lack of vision, inconsistent application of policy and general headache that is school property for hours.  Suffice to say, in theory I am highly supportive of the rhetoric behind this policy announcement.  I am particularly interested in the long term vision and a approach that is transparent.  

In addition Labour have made a pledge to look into leaky building remediation to ensure schools and communities are not being ripped off - and that taxpayers money is being well invested.  This is long overdue.  



7. Professional Development

Labour Says:

"Support professional development for our teachers.
- raise the standard of entry into the teaching profession by pre-screening entry into all initial teacher education programmes.
- establish a comprehensive school advisory service to share best practice and act as mentors and advisors to teachers throughout New Zealand.
- establish a democratic process for appointing the Board of the new Education Council.
- re-direct resources spent forcing “National Standards” on schools into teacher professional development programmes"


Good professional development for teachers is a critical component in ensuring successful teaching and learning outcomes.  The last few years has been problematic in terms of schools accessing quality provision that they don't have to pay for themselves, and that is outside the Ministry of Educations prescribed and very mandated process.  Schools have been given the short stick of PD in recent years and the sector is crying out for positive change.  Bringing back the advisory service is not only a no brainer but it is something principals have been wanting since its demise.  Redirecting National Standards resources is a welcome policy development and raising the standard of teacher training is something close to my heart, but that is a post for another day.  I am very interested in what they have to say about the Education Council because as it currently stands, it needs to be far more democratic if teachers are to embrace it.  Again, that is another post for another day.  



8. School Donations 

Labour Says:

"Labour will tackle school donations head on. State and integrated schools that agree not to solicit donations from their parents will be given an additional $100 a year of funding per student. For most schools, the $100 payment will be more than they receive on average per student in donations. On top of that, they will save the costs associated with soliciting, banking, and accounting for donations."

This policy announcement will be received by the majority of schools as a welcome cash injection that is desperately needed to assist with day to day running of our schools.  For some, it will mean that if they take up this option then they will be less well off.  Those are the schools that can charge $250 - $400  a year in donations and parents will pay it.  I can only imagine what that must be like.  For my community, it could potentially bring in well over $20,000 extra to what we get now.  It is a game changer.  I am sure our higher decile colleagues would not begrudge us that money when they know their ability to fundraise is so much higher than their lower decile cousins.   Watch this space - no doubt there will be much debate on this one at my next professional meeting.  I wonder if collective good or self interest will win out...

-------------------------------------

Those were my top 8 policy headliner announcements for education, from Labour, this weekend.  The most important message here is that finally we can see a clear difference in educational policy, and the public can finally make a decision about which educational direction they see as best for our society - one that dismantles, privatises and competes against itself for resources or one that builds on best practice, equity and success for society.

There were a few other smaller highlights which I will leave you to mull over.

Other Headliners in brief: 

- Labour will work with NZEI/NZPF/PPTA etc to look at career pathways, school advisory and collaborative models that are designed by the sector for the sector

- 100 new special education teachers to support students with special education needs, in collaboration with the sector 

- Increase the availability for bonded scholarship for Maori, Science and other teacher shortage areas 

- Support schools more with beginning teachers 

- Establish a college of leadership 

- Allow schools to use 5 ya funding to invest in IT infrastructure and tech

- Continue SNUP and N4L

- Invest in community hubs (yay) 

- Reinstate funding for adult education 

- Remove the barriers preventing schools – including many of those who need it the most – from offering Reading Recovery.

- Develop a parallel ‘maths recovery’ intervention, so that children struggling with basic numeracy skills can receive one-on-one assistance by age 7 or 8.

- Partner with community and voluntary organisations, incorporating the most cost-effective approaches currently operating, to provide free food in every decile 1-3 primary, intermediate school that needs and wants it.

Further Reading:
More detail on Labours Educational policy can be found here: