A pivotal moment in primary education history: are we awake?


This is a short, sharp, desperate posting. After making a few points, I’m going to let Martin Thrupp’s brilliant article on impending league tables carry the argument (link provided below).

I want to take you back to John Key saying the national standards data were too ‘ropey’ to be relayed to parents and to be used for league tables.

What happened?

Well, John Roughan of the Herald communicated with Key and his office; and so did the editor of the Dominion. They separately urged Key to continue with the changes against teachers he had promised.

Both editors are entirely immune to arguments against league tables, not in the sense of arguing against them, but in acknowledging they even exist.

Roughan is always lightning quick to use Australian happenings to bolster his arguments if they suit him. But nothing from Roughan on the Australian auditor-general saying that after four years of national testing (which is Roughan’s much preferred option), $750 million, and lashings of league tables, that NAPLAN had ‘yet to make a statistically significant improvement’.

Neither editors ever mention children: it is always the public, parents, and abstract concepts.

By implication, Roughan was offering unquestioning editorial support for the continuation of the changes; and the Dominion offered to use the Official Information Act to obtain national standards data from schools to form league tables.

Key was persuaded. His reference to ‘ropey’ was now reinterpreted as referring to the varying forms the data were submitted to the ministry.

Roughan duly wrote his editorial saying that in the matter of informing parents about schools it didn’t matter if the information was ‘ropey’. (I know, I know, an editor of a metropolitan newspaper.)

In effect, primary school education policy; policy of huge significance to the history of primary school education, was now under the sway of two newspaper editors – two newspaper editors who had displayed over recent years, in matters of primary education, the fairness and morality of elitist media thugs.

The Dominion league table moves are a jack-up; the Herald editorials are a pay-off.

Martin Thrupp suggests that the Dominion is doing league tables for increased paper sales. I disagree, it is doing them for ideological reasons: to kill off the sense of public service; to undermine public schools and the broadly-based education characteristic of them; and, with the almost certain prospect of severe social and political change ahead, to gain centralised and authoritarian control of education for propaganda purposes (to be achieved by having USA and UK corporates dominate our education).

Key, the Dominion editor, and Roughan we have a problem:

One hundred and seventy-seven research academics, a petition from schools, the weight of evidence, NAPLAN’s failure, Martin Thrupp’s article: but they are about education and children and learning; these three people aren’t interested, they are interested in control and a different kind of society.

Primary education as one of the success stories of New Zealand society in a society beset with social and economic failure: these three people aren’t interested, not despite this, but because of it.

These three people are best interpreted as under the influence of the arrested moral development of Ayn Rand: Key, dimly held and vaguely acted on; the Dominion editor, barnacled; and Roughan like an eight-year-old in a toy shop.

Now how have we responded?

Very poorly in resisting the information sought under the OIA. I think we confused doing and not doing national standards with this OIA matter. By longstanding practice, OIA matters proceed exceeding slow, and often contentiously. We rushed, even panicked.

I want to put my criticism of the teacher organisations to follow in context. Both organisations are very well and skilfully led, but read Martin’s article and you will realise they have fumbled this one.

I know it sounds like nagging, but the teacher organisations have not only confused their members by continuing as participants in the minister’s monthly Forum farce, but also blindsided themselves.

The overall matter is truly serious.

I know it is hard for Wellington-based people to fully appreciate, but all the meetings, the insider information, the gossip, the rubbing shoulders, the purpose-based groupings, the sense of inclusiveness, the hi-mum moments – don’t matter a damn in these changed times.

Huge damage is about to be wrought on the primary education system, the primary system as a whole. This is not the time for Wellington matters and ritualised saucer-licking, but time for system’s matters and really saying it as it is.

Both teacher organisation leaders have the capacity to be much bigger than they are.

This is the time to make a strong stand; this is the time to develop a comprehensive policy of change; this is the time for bold assays; this is the time to say things that are irresistible to the media; and of course, this is the time to leave that dreadful Forum.

Key and Parata have foxed us – Key’s sudden switch, the Dominion’sOIA move – but there is still time to get the job done. Not in the fullest policy sense, but in strengthening our position for next year, and in not leaving them unscathed.

As well, the lack of integrity, journalistic ethicality, and sense of community displayed by the Dominion should be tigerishly exposed and attacked.

Now I urge everyone who cares for primary education to read Martin’s article. What he has done is use findings from his RAINS research project to inform his argument. If you want evidence-based research then this is it. Read it, be concerned and moved, and then determined to act courageously and unitedly in response.


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