Liar, liar, pants on fire: Lesley Longstone 

Just what we needed a pants on fire secretary of education to join the minister of education in that pathetic category.

Just what we need a lying secretary of education to add even further squalidness to the National government culture of lying.

The occasion is Audrey Young’s interview of Lesley Longstone in the New Zealand Herald.

Just what we need another soft item in the New Zealand Herald in its campaign to undermine public education.

I want this interview to go down in New Zealand education history as an extension of the utter rubbish, amateurishness, lying, and delusional meanderings, we have had to put up with over the last four years.

There she was deeply tricky, duplicitous, and madly factually incorrect.

This individual is a person dangerous to education.

I’m sick of Longstone denigrating New Zealand public primary schools with fantastic fictions.

I’m sick of Longstone using statistics in farcical ways to put teachers in New Zealand public primary schools in a bad light.

I’m sick of Longstone scapegoating teachers as a means of inserting her own right-wing ideology.

Where is the success for this ideology in any Western country?

Nearly every social, economic, and demographic statistic is going backwards and Longstone is berating New Zealand public primary schools for some presumed lack of progress.

What has this right-wing ideology achieved so far?

She was in New Zealand for four months before she set foot in a New Zealand school.

Her mind is so lacking in proportion that she demanded bodyguards to escort her from parliament when confronted by reporters.

She was in charge of the class size fiasco.

She was in charge of the pay fiasco.

She was in charge of the Christchurch fiasco.

She badged up teachers.

She lies about Christchurch

She knows Christchurch was reorganised to a pre-set ideology.

She knows a Parata family member and Mark Solomon are readying to start up charter schools (which is why the two kura kaupapa Maori schools have been dealt to).

She lies about Novapay.

She is set on weeding out ‘inefficient’ schools: ‘inefficient’ schools being ones so placed as to provide half a chance for them to be amalgamated and put under the control of a secondary school (with intermediate schools, as a result being particularly at risk).

She has never taught.

She is uninformed by research in the sense of honestly searching for the truth.

I’m sick of the loathsome and destructive way Longstone refuses to acknowledge the strong link between poverty and education performance.

I’m sick of the way being third or fourth best in the world in PISA is somehow presented as a failure.

I’m sick of the way there is no acknowledgement of New Zealand public primary education being severely underfunded compared with the top echelon countries they are competing with.

I’m sick of the way Maori and Pasifika children are being hammered by poverty outside school, and national standards inside, and the way Longstone queens about implying she has the answers.

I’m sick of her talk of how we are ‘under-serving’ these children. That is a disgracefully insulting label. How dare she!

Too strong?

All right, let us look at what she said in the interview as a microcosm of all this.

Want another pants on fire?

Want an example of taking us for fools?

An elitist talking to the great unwashed.

‘New Zealand wasn’t a world-leading system because of the education performance of Maori and Pasifika children.’


My father’s a policeman.

You are the system, Longstone.

The ministry is the system.

Teachers somehow, mysteriously, become the system when Maori and Pasifika children are being talked about.

So you are saying that you have new ideas for the system are you?

That would be more bureaucratic control from the centre would it?

Performance pay?

Central computerised control of teachers and children in schools?

Larger schools controlled in clusters by secondary schools?

That would be it wouldn’t it?

Well, we have had 20 years of building to this, and we’re on the point of cracking.

Where is the evidence of success for these policies in Western countries?

Is this what the OECD is recommending? No, just the opposite.

You self-servingly foolish, foolish person: The answer to the education needs of all children lies in inspired holistic teaching; in the magnificent way the junior classrooms of this country function; in teacher knowledge contributing to other sources of knowledge; in a co-operative education system, not a command and control one.

Every other significant indicator in New Zealand is tanking, and schools are blamed for these things?

Would there be any extra money coming for classrooms?

Yours is a vicious ideology, uncaring ideology which has its expression in scapegoating teachers and schools as way of distracting from the need for a serious look at the functioning of our wider society.

You know you are not going to do anything positive in education, have no capability of doing anything positive in education so, instead, you are intent on do something negative to teachers, it might be terrible education, but it is wonderfully career preserving.

We are now getting close to the pants on fire.

Longstone’s key statements in the interview were:

‘New Zealand is seventh out of 65 countries in the latest OECD PISA assessment for 15-year-olds. But broken down, New Zealand Europeans are second, Maori are 34th and Pacific children 44th.’

‘Some people attributed the disparity in achievement to poverty.’

‘I don’t agree with that analysis. I do agree poverty makes a difference, but what I don’t agree with is that that explains everything because all those countries have poverty.’

‘There was plenty of evidence about what affected education, and poverty was only one factor.’

My cousin, Malcolm Lovegrove in the 1950s, in one of the first doctorates to be issued by the University of New Zealand researched Maori ‘underachievement’: his finding was that middle-class Maori children achieved just as well as their middle-class pakeha counterparts, indeed, he suggested somewhat better.

This might not be a complete answer to the poverty and education performance question, but is not far from it.

I’ll come back to this question later.

Longstone, it seems, has an inability to analyse research honestly?

We are seventh, she says.

Have I missed something?

I tell you what Longstone; Smythe, networkonnet here: if you are right I’ll close down my website; but if I’m right you get on your bike.

This is what I’m going to say you: That is a pants on fire.

And you know it is.

It’s lie against a wonderful group of New Zealanders mainly our daughters, aunts, cousins, grandmothers, wives, nieces who don’t deserve to be lied about, they deserve the truth, and to be treated with decency and respect.

Why would a secretary of education tell such a lie if it wasn’t part of a campaign to do some more awful things to public primary school teachers? Awful things which are having seriously harmful effects on the children they teach.

‘The six counties ahead in the rankings,’ she said ‘are Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, China, South Korea, Finland, and Canada.’

On her list and counting the countries, we are actually eighth, so we’ll start from there.

Just to give you a little tickler Longstone, this is what Warwick Elley had to say after the 2009 PISA report:

‘New Zealand is consistently ranked in the top three or four countries in literacy. And in general, the only countries that consistently surpass New Zealand are the ethnically homogenous ones of Finland, Korea, and Japan.’

It seems be a long journey to get an eighth out of that, but that is what you have declared.

Are you ready for this: Shanghai happens to be part of China, a thriving port city in China’s north, you may have heard of it?

So why are China and Shanghai listed separately, why the double dipping; pushing us, it seems, quite unfairly back one further notch than we deserve.

But hold on China, Hong Kong (which at last report was part of China), and Shanghai are not in the OECD or officially in PISA. PISA does some testing in these places but only as a favour. The schools tested are selected elitist ones. It’s like just testing the upper decile schools in Auckland.  (And there is no listing of China at all.) We clearly are not talking country-wide education systems.

Our PISA performances have always and only, and for good reasons, been compared with countries within PISA proper. Notice Warwick Elley refers to countries fully tested and officially in PISA.

So would you believe it? Those China places are up, up and away in their little red balloons, and we are on the rise.

Suddenly, we are up to fifth.


But hold on, would you believe it? Singapore is not in the OECD or in PISA either, just on a favour as above.

This is incredible.

I’m walking on air.

We are left with Finland, South Korea, and Canada, and New Zealand fourth.

But the statistical difference between Canada, Japan, and New Zealand is insignificant. I think of all the countries only South Korea has made significant improvement. And we are by far the most underfunded and ethnically diverse of those top countries.

This Longstone, in the circumstances is brilliant.

You manufactured this calumny for your own cruel purposes.

Then the next terrible lie. This is probably worse because by lying about the causes of a serious education situation, that is the education of Maori and Pasifika children, the wrong solution is likely to be applied, and the situation made even worse for these children.

If Western governments could stop poverty relentlessly climbing, then the solution to the education of Maori and Pasifika children lies where it has always lain, in the classrooms of New Zealand public schools, but the classrooms of New Zealand public schools as they were before the calamity of national standards also the ravages of review office curriculum interference.

But until governments provide a society with more equity, to stop education being such a  moving target,  public schools will not achieve, nor can any policy achieve, the kind of  education equity we all want.

Yes – there is a long tail but that is partly explained by New Zealand children doing so exceptionally well at the top, also the disturbing and increasing gap between rich and poor in New Zealand.

You make a reference to all countries having poverty as though that is somehow an explanation in itself, when it is just another vicious distortion.

Not all countries have the same proportion of people in poverty.

New Zealand is the only non-homogenous country in the top grouping.

Many countries don’t even include indigenous people in their statistics, Canada, for instance.

Not all countries provide the same amount of funding for school education.

Most significantly, the performance tails of countries like England, Australia, and America are worse than New Zealand’s performance tail.

Let’s take PISA Reading 2009 and compare New Zealand with USA: New Zealand’s top 5% reached to 678, USA’s 656, that’s 22 points better for New Zealand; and New Zealand’s bottom 5% spread to 344, USA’s 339, that’s 5 points better for New Zealand. The gap for New Zealand, however, is 334, and for USA 317. New Zealand while having better scores at both ends, has the bigger gap.

And, New Zealand public schools achieve these very good results with larger classes than most OECD countries; less money per child than most OECD countries; and in the context of one of the least homogenous societies in the OECD.

I’ll help you once again Lesley Longstone with an analysis of the OECD statistics:

The PISA report shows fourteen percent of New Zealand students achieve below Level 2 (the OECD benchmark for life success). The OECD average is 19%. Sixty-six percent of New Zealand students achieve at Level 3 or above. The OECD average is around 57%. New Zealand has 37% of ‘resilient’ those who overcome disadvantaged backgrounds. The OECD average is 31%.

Analysis after analysis demonstrates that given the degree of poverty, New Zealand does better than any other country in the world at educating children from families in poverty.

It is not a matter of averages, it is matter of statistics.

New Zealand public schools are doing, in the circumstances, brilliantly with Maori and Pasifika children.

If you keep lying and carrying on as you are with the purpose of imposing bureaucratic ‘solutions’ from the centre, all you will be doing is further putting the boot into these children.

It is all so sad.

Poverty is one factor you say, in dismissive tone.

I know Longstone will be mealy-mouthed in justifying the point she is making, but she is really pointing the finger at teachers.

Lesley Longstone, English person, you are doing harm to the texture of our society, undermining trust.

And here we are with league tables further seriously undermining the education of children in public primary schools, particularly Maori and Pasifika children.

What an absolute bloody disgrace.

Her perennial contention is that New Zealand schools are performing unsatisfactorily and that increased centralised and bureaucratic direction is required for correction.

Longstone has viciously joined in the ideologically-inspired ignorant clamour.

The clamour that public schools are failing children from lower social-economic background has been central to the current government’s anti-public school narrative, and the pretext for a raft of impositions on public schools – from restrictions on professional development, to charter schools, to national standards, league tables, and soon performance pay.

It is my contention that Longstone, given her ideological background, has revelled in the anti-public school sentiment of the government narrative – and in what appears bullying fashion used her position to reinforce that sentiment and her ideology. It ill behoves, in my view, that an Englishwoman should come to New Zealand and make misleading, biased, and careless pronouncements about New Zealand public schools, ones with serious implications for the social cohesiveness of our society.

So Longstone is playing the dirty and cheap game along with editorialists, government politicians, and other opponents of public schools who, for their own anti-public school purposes, continually refer to the long tail, the longest in the OECD they say. Public schools are doing all right with children in higher decile schools they say, but failing with ones from lower deciles, they can’t handle the education of Maori and Pasifika children, and show no likelihood of being able to do so, they have failed New Zealand, but we the Longstones, the editorialists, the government politicians, we know, we care, we have listened to the Hatties, the ACT Party, and the global corporations, we know what to do – and we will make you do what we know.  We will bring in national standards, we will narrow the curriculum for all children, don’t worry about getting children to think and to be imaginative, this is the 21st century, we will bring in league tables, we will increase class sizes, we will empower bureaucrats to scare you to do what needs to be done, we will bring in performance pay because you will only lift your game through cash incentives, we will bring in charter schools to try to shame you, we will de-unionise teaching because the unions are opposed to the beneficial changes we are bringing in – oh yes, to keep you on your toes we will be careless with the truth and continually blacken your reputations.

So there she sits in her comfortable chair in her plush office, smugly issuing a stream of distortions, half-truths, and full lies. And getting away with murder in a Herald puff interview.

Pity the children and teachers of New Zealand not so privileged to have their story told under any circumstances.

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