Thursday, 18 January 2018

Are you being paid to attend that Teacher Only Day?

It comes around every year, the time when teacher only days and the set up of classes in preparation for school beginning.

Every year new teachers enter the profession and teachers who were out of the profession or are on fixed term contracts come into new schools.  And every year these teachers have a similar problem: getting paid for teacher only days.

The issue is that the Ministry of Education says the education year begins on the 27th of January.  But schools begin their year with new staff before this date.  New teachers to a school are required to attend induction days, teacher only days, team meetings and set up their classrooms - and most of this is done before they are officially on the payroll on the 27th of January.

This year my school begins teacher only days on the 22nd of January, yet I am not officially on the payroll until the 27th of January.  But as a teacher who has come off a fixed term, and has had all the meager holiday pay I am due, am I now expected to attend several days of teacher only days and then set up my classroom ready for the new school year without getting paid?

Many will say, well that is how it has always been.

But I say, just because that is how it has always been, it doesn't mean it is the way it should be!!

I am not saying I will not be setting up my classroom, I just choose to do it when I am actually being paid for it.

We teachers are professionals, and we should be paid for every day we are in school and we should be treated as professionals, not as volunteers.  Some people, particularly beginning teachers, may have to give up some actual paid employment to attend these days in school.  Others may need to pay for child care.  Therefore these days can be at a cost financially to new teachers to the school.

And in how many other professions are you expected to work up to a week in advance of officially being on the payroll and set up your work space without being paid?  It is an insult to the teaching profession to treat teachers in such an unprofessional manner.

And here is the clanger: what if you are onsite working before you are officially on the payroll and you are injured in anyway?  Will ACC cover you and call it a workplace accident?  It really is a health and safety issue.  What other employment laws will I and my new employer be breaking by me being onsite and working before my official contract of employment commences?  (I mention this because the youngest victim of Pike River was not on the payroll officially when the disaster happened - not that something that bad is likely to happen in a school, it's just his family was not compensated fully for losing their precious son as a result).

This year the 27th falls on a Saturday.  The Saturday of Auckland Anniversary weekend.  Should I spend the weekend setting up my class so I am worn out and tired for when school starts on Wednesday?  Why should teachers work so many weekends anyway?

Currently it is rather hit and miss if staff new to a school are paid.  I've been teaching for 22 years.  I've started a new school at the beginning of the year a number of times after a break in my service to study/relief teach.  I only remember one new school paying me once for attending these meetings.  I was younger then and less bolshy and less aware.  So now I am more prepared to stand up and say we should be paid.

Add to the fact that, particularly for a beginning teacher, it is expensive to set up a classroom.  Mostly teachers buy many things to set up the class themselves.  Sometimes they can claim items back through their classroom/team budgets.  But often they are buying items over and above what is necessary and creating resources from their own money to use in the classroom to enhance teaching and learning that the school may not reimburse at all.

I personally think there is a simple solution to solving this issue every year.  Move the date of the education year start a week forward.  That way it will fully encompasses the full week before school starts and ensures new staff to a school are paid for the teacher only days, meeting and classroom set ups they will be doing.

I would like to see NZEI and PPTA back this and take it to the Ministry of Education in the collective agreement negotiations this year.  I would like to see Education Minister Chris Hipkins take some leadership on this very small change to the calendar that would demonstrate good will to new and returning teachers in years to come, especially in a time when we have a shortage of teachers to start the school year.

Disclaimer:  I am not taking a dig at any school, especially my new employer.  I'm just stating this is a problem nationwide that needs addressing.  And I have no idea how my school is approaching this issue.

UPDATE:  the PPTA have a distinct clause in their STCA for this situation.  This is their clause:
3.2A.1 Regardless of the first day schools are open for instruction in Term 1, for normal pay and employment purposes the start of the school year is 28 January for those teachers that are employed for that year, except that for teachers being employed for the first time in a state or integrated school, or being employed after a break in service, their start day is as advised to payroll by the employer.

After some help we have found a similar clause in the PTCA which many teachers and principals may be unaware of (I know I certainly was and so were many of my NZEI friends including principals):

So if you find your school is not paying you for those teacher only days and meetings before the 28th of January, you now know where to find the right clause to sort that out.  

But it would make it easier in my eyes if the MOE start of year changed so no one missed out.

UPDATE TWO:  NZEI has approached the Ministry of Education for clarity, particularly as some principals have found some Novopay workers will action this and others have found some Novopay workers will not action these clauses, stating it would muck up holiday pay.  I would like to see the School Trustees Association also come on board to deliver clear instructions to schools to use the above clauses to ensure people are appropriately paid.

Friday, 15 December 2017

Thank you Chris Hipkins!! Goodbye National Standards. But....

Minister of Education, Chris Hipkins.
Sourced from
Labour campaigned on it.

New Zealand First campaigned on it.

The Green Party campaigned on it.

Last Monday, the Minister of Education, Chris Hipkins, finally announced it.

From 2018, Primary schools will no longer have to report on National Standards to parents or the Ministry of Education from the new year.  Education Minister Chris Hipkins said reporting would shift from the standards to reporting on children's progress. Reports would be written in "plain English", he said.  Read more here:  Government confirms primary schools to scrap National Standards (NZ Herald 11/12/17).

He also said parents and teachers had lost confidence in the "narrow policy" that he called "nothing more than a compliance exercise" and a "major distraction to schools".  (Government scraps National Standards, Newshub, 12/12/17)

I'm stoked that National Standards will not be compulsory, Chris Hipkins.  Thank you very much.

I've been campaigning against them since the legislation was enacted under urgency in December 2008.  I've joined Facebook groups, commented on numerous forums, written blogs opposing National Standards, attended protests, lobbied politicians, informed colleagues, friends, family, parents of students and the general public of the futile and stigmatising nature of National Standards.  I became a co-admin of Save Our Schools New Zealand and upped my involvement in NZEI.

Personally, over the years, while I have met the requirements of my job description as a teacher in regards to National Standards, I've mostly ignored them.  Here's how:
  • the original National Standards document I received is still unopened in the plastic it arrived in.
  • that document is buried in my storage locker with 99% of what I own - that's how little I value it.
  • I actively ignored National Standards as a teacher and minimalised my involvement in doing anything involving them.
  • I minimalised my discussion of the National Standards with students and talked to them about where they sat according to age norms and the curriculum and the progress they were making from a certain point to that point. 
  • I taught with good practice to encourage the love of learning, not the need to need an 'aspirational' standard that did not meet with how we know children learn.
  • I avoided putting anything on display or in the student's books that referred to the Standards.
Then I decided I needed to do more:
  • I joined the Labour party and began having the conversations with various politicians from not only Labour, but the Greens and NZ First, to push the need to see National Standards gone.
  • I assisted with campaigning in the 2014 election.
  • at the end of 2015 I decided I really could not stomach National Standards anymore.  After a whole term of testing instead of teaching and writing labourious reports to the Standards and crying over the 'Well Below' children and consuming far too much chocolate and bourbon, I called it quits.  I decided not to teach again under a National government.
  • I began my Masters of Education focusing on Global Education Policy.  Just the dissertation to go.
  • I protested Hekia Parata, the former Minister of Education, at the largest education conference in New Zealand, ULearn.  Out of hundreds of messages and personal conversations and likes, only two people called me disrespectful and disagreed with my protest.  Over a year later, I'm still getting people thanking me for taking my lone protest to the middle of ULearn during the Minister's speech, right in her line of sight.
  • 2017 was all about my goal to #ChangeTheGovt - this involved becoming even more involved in the Labour party and managing the Taranaki-King Country Labour campaign and assisting in the campaign thoughout the Waikato as well as supporting the campaigns in the Rangitikei, New Plymouth and Te Tai Hauauru electorates.

So imagine my excitement that night that Winston Peters announced that New Zealand First would be going into coalition with Labour and that the Greens also had a supply and agreement document with Labour.  All three parties would not let National Standards continue.  No more National Standards!

So once again, Chris Hipkins, thank you very much for saying that National Standards will not be a requirement in 2018.

However, what I'm not pleased about is that you will still allow schools to "choose" to use them as a tool.  

Schools who still want to use National Standards to report a child’s progress to parents can continue to do so – despite the Government saying they’d scrap them.  Education Minister Chris Hipkins has confirmed National Standards would no longer exist, but any school that wanted to use them as a tool to report progress wouldn’t be forced to stop doing so.  “We’re going to require schools to report child progress against the curriculum.  What tools they use to do that is up to them.”  From National Standards will no long exist but schools can still use them - Chris Hipkins (Stuff, 14/11/17)

That just makes a mockery of your announcement.  When my principal heard this he was dismayed.  He thinks you have stumbled at the final hurdle and given BOTs the opportunity to continue this folly, overriding the teaching staff and principals.  

This is a man who was hanging out for a change of government prior to the election because he knows National Standards has not done his students or staff any favours over the years.

I'm also rather concerned by this line:  "We will take the next few months to work with the sector, students, parents, whanau and iwi to develop a new approach for understanding progress across the curricula that will meet their needs, and contribute to the education system supporting the success of all students."  (NZ Herald, 11/12/17 - as linked above).

During the election campaign, Mr Hipkins repeatedly said that there would be no replacement because we have a world leading curriculum which should inspire learning and be the baseline for assessment.  I am therefore concerned about the need to 'replace' National Standards.  I believe that Mr Hipkins is very sincere when he says he will work with the sector and relevant interest groups.  However, I believe he has forgotten why Finland had a successful education system and how it got it: by copying the world leading child centred education system New Zealand had prior to the formation of Tomorrow's Schools.

I've made the decision to step back into full time teaching in 2018.  I did this on the basis of having a Labour led coalition that was disposing of National Standards and returning our New Zealand Curriculum to the front and centre of our education landscape.

I will be watching this very carefully.   I will be advocating for my students, colleagues and the system.  I am not going to accept any neoliberal programme over the top of our world leading curriculum.  

Thank you Rod Emmerson for saying it how it really is!!
So Mr Hipkins, let's get that National Standards legislation repealed once and for all.  Let's ensure the New Zealand Curriculum is front and centre.  And let's ditch National Standards into the history books (aka rubbish bin).  Completely.  Nothing less will be acceptable.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

World Teachers Day - It's Time!

It's time!  Kua tae te wa!!

Last week was World Teachers Day and it is time!!!

It's time that teachers were once again held in high regard and not pushed around by politicians and the neoliberal agenda pushing their GERM policies.  It's time our professionalism, knowledge and experience is respected and we are fully consulted on and collaborated with in regards to education policy and how the New Zealand education system is run.  It's time our workload is reduced and we are renumerated appropriately.

Last Wednesday I came back from a four day conference.  It was the annual conference for the New Zealand Education Institute, NZEI.  People generally know us as the primary teacher's union, but we also cover primary principals (and primary includes intermediate schools), kindergarten teachers, teachers in ECE centres, special education teachers who work directly for the Ministry of Education, and school support staff who work across the kindergarten, primary and secondary sectors in a range of roles.

People usually view NZEI as an industrial union, as they mostly hear about us talking about how much teachers are paid and Collective Agreement negotiations because that is what the media talks about.  But NZEI is more than an industrial union, because the 'I' in NZEI means 'Institute' and that is because NZEI is a professional body.  What you do not see in the media or public eye is the professional and pastoral sides of the Institute, how NZEI aims to develop teachers, principals and support staff as professionals so that children are provided the best education possible.

Because in the end it is all about children.  Children are the ones that benefit from a strong teacher profession promoted by NZEI.  Children are the ones that benefit from having support staff who are focused on supporting the child and their learning and wellbeing.  A teacher's working/teaching conditions are the learning conditions of our students.  When you shortchange and restrict teachers, and fellow staff, the ultimate sufferers are students.  And I think this sign below, drawn at the Annual Conference, sums that up quite nicely.

The last eight and a half years have been difficult for the education sector as a whole.  This list is not an exhaustive list of what has been inflicted on us, but it is representative:
  • revoking the goal to have 100% of ECE teachers fully trained and registered.
  • funding freeze for kindergartens and ECE centres.
  • the destructuring of the kindergarten model into the industrialised day care model.
  • constant slamming of the teaching profession and the focus on the "tail of underachievement" without the explanation of the children who make up the "tail of underachievement".
  • support staff receiving miserable pay rises and not recognised by the government for the integral part they play in the education of children.
  • allowing children to start school before their fifth birthday.
  • National Standards.
  • narrowing of the curriculum, teaching and learning to reading, writing and maths.
  • expecting all children to be assessed against the National Standards, including students on IEPs and receiving ORS funding.
  • league tables in the major newspapers.
  • bullying principals and BOTs into taking National Standards on.
  • advisors sent into schools with little or no experience of the schools or the levels.
  • Commissioners sent into schools and BOTs and/or principals being fired.  These Commissioners are also paid for by the schools, so are financially draining.
  • the killing off of the Teacher Advisory Service and privatisation and corporatisation of professional learning development providers who never knew what they would be doing from year to year.
  • the closing of Learning Media and the consequently lower quality and restricted variety of the resources now supplied to schools for learning.
  • changing the leveling of School Journals with no consultation with classroom teachers to fit in with National Standards.
  • PaCT.
  • Charter Schools.
  • Teach First.
  • allowing people to teach in Charter Schools who are not trained registered teachers.
  • Charter Schools not coming under the requirements for OIA (Official Information Act).
  • continually cutting funding for Reading Recovery.
  • not spending all the money in the Special Education fund despite the desperate need.
  • closing several residential schools for children with special education needs.
  • trying to close Salisbury School and make Halswell a co-educational facility despite the court ordering that housing these girls within the same school as boys would put all the children at risk.
  • IES that devolved into Communities of Schools that became Communities of Learning.
  • freezing the school Operations Grant and giving schools money for children deemed 'at risk' but not naming who those children are.
  • job insecurity for support staff as they are at the mercy of pressures on the Operations Grant.
  • the attempt to reintroduce bulk funding and disguising it by calling it global funding.
  • the decision to go with the Risk Funding model.
  • refusing to fund food in schools programmes.
  • ignoring the effects of poverty and the housing crisis on children.

Many of these things were predicted by the NZEI General Secretary, Paul Goulter, each year in his speech to the NZEI Annual Meeting.  This year Paul put out a call to teachers, principals and support staff that is is time.  It is time to stand up and be paid what we are worth and that we will not be nice about it anymore. 

Below is Paul Goulter's address to the NZEI Annual Meeting 2017.

Teachers are quite fed up.  While we love the job, we don't love the workload.  We don't love the teacher bashing we have endured under National.  We absolutely abhor National Standards.  We don't like PaCT.  We have little time for CoLs being forced upon us.  We absolutely hate that our profession is constantly disrespected for our knowledge and experience we bring and the constant call for accountability, which is out of control and increasing the workload, taking the focus off our core reason to exist: teaching children.

I was surprised by these statistics Paul spoke about in his address:
  • New Zealand teachers have 922 teaching hours on average annually compared to the OECD average of 794 hours.
  • New Zealand has the 11th worst child:teacher ratio in the OECD.
  • New Zealand teachers have the 19th worst buying power for their salary in the OECD.
There are 35 member countries of the OECD.  We are at the wrong end of the statistics.

Add to this that New Zealand has the highest rate of youth suicide in the world and, in one study, the worst rate of homelessness, we really need to wonder if this country is doing the best for the children of New Zealand.

Below is a Storify of tweets illustrating Paul Goulter's address to the Annual Conference and how our members feel about the issues our members face.

The Primary Teachers Convenor, Michelle, stood to read the pledge we are making to all members.

I am a primary school teacher, so most of what I have written above is focused on that.  But NZEI promotes a kaupapa of whole of union.  So below I am going to discuss issues for other sectors within NZEI, because I will support and activate for these members too, because it benefits every other sector and, most of all, children will benefit.

Let's start with ECE, early childhood education outside of the Kindergarten sector.  This is dominated by the industrialised day care chains and peppered by community based day cares (which are often now being squeezed out of the market).  Most teachers in this sector are not unionised.  There are minimal requirements for child:teacher ratios or for the numbers of trained, qualified, registered teachers to be in these centres.

I won't go into my own personal issues in regards to the quality of education and care in these centres, but when I read the statements in these pictures below and hear the stories in person, I wonder how staff subjected to such poor employment practice can consistently deliver quality education and care to the students in these centres.

Anyone reading these statements has to be moved by the fact we have a fair chunk of the ECE sector under stress and working in centres that are not meeting the legislation requirements for workers and for children.

Our Kindergartens have been undermined by this current government, who have lumped them under the same legislation and policies and ECE centres.  The result is that the ethos of Kindergartens is being lost.  They have been turned into the day care model, therefore reducing choice for families looking for the best fit for their preschooler.  Kindergarten teachers have had their professional status undermined and their conditions eroded.

Our support staff are on the lowest wages in education.  Our support staff have been subjected to years and years of job insecurity due to being funded through the Operations Grant.  If a school suddenly needs to cut costs due to financial pressure, the support staff budget is one of the few places they can make cuts to balance the budget.  The result is that students suffer because that teacher aide is gone or there is no longer someone running the library or one of the many other roles support staff take on.

Teachers have a phenomenal workload, but principals really take the cake.  The amount of principals burning out or creating a poor culture within their schools due to the workload is continuing to increase.  The government has tried over and over to pit principals against teachers and principals and BOTs against each other.  The fact is, a principal needs to have a close, quality, collaborative relationship with both their staff and their BOTs.  Without that, the principal will fail, the school will fail, the BOT will fail, the staff will fail, and ultimately the children suffer.

Resource teachers are often the bridesmaids and forgotten in all this.  Resource Teachers of Literacy (RTLits), Resource Teachers of Learning and Behaviour (RTLBs) and Resource Teachers of Maori (RTM) as well as Resource Teachers for the visually impaired and hearing impaired, Health School teachers, Correspondence School teachers, and those who work for Special Education in the Ministry of Education are often forgotten by the mainstream.  They get reorganised, renamed, have staff not replaced and are expected to work wonders with limited resources and time frames.  It's time they were treated with more respect and listened to as well.

Teachers have been nice for too long.  We will not use children as the bargaining chip because children are at the heart of everything we do.  Without children we have no purpose.  If we want to do the best for children we have to fight for the best we can get.  When we have the appropriate staffing, funding and resources we make magic everyday with our students.

So it really is time.  Kua tae te wa!

Sunday, 16 July 2017

We need to end poverty for New Zealand families

During the last week, both Labour and the Greens have released their policies for families, their incomes and how to end poverty in New Zealand.  It comes partly in response to the tax cuts announced by the National led government duing the Budget bribery in May, but mostly has an inducement by all three parties to woo the voter for the general election on the 23rd of September.
The stark reality is that too many of our nation's children and their families are in poverty, as this infographic below illustrates:
Poverty is something that successive governments in New Zealand have battled to overcome since it began to govern itself with a parliament.  After the Great Depression, a constructive decision by consecutive governments for nearly five decades meant that New Zealand engaged in a policy of full employment via the public sector and public works to ensure every man was able to support his family and children would not be subjected to the poverty they endured during the Depression and war years.
However, with the event of Rogernomics during the fourth Labour government in the 1980s and then the subsequent National government duing the 1990s with agressive New Right policies implemented by then Finance Minister, Ruthless Ruth Richardson, poverty was once again well and truly ingrained in the framework of New Zealand society and has developed to a point where it can no longer be ignored and swept under the carpet by any political party leading up to the 2017 election.
The following is an exert from my Masters essay last year that I blogged in the post How does child poverty affect access to education and success in achievement for New Zealand children?
In 1972, the Royal Commission on Social Security had reinforced the role of welfare as “to ensure, within limitations which may be imposed by physical or other disabilities, that everyone is able to enjoy a standard of living much like that of the rest of the community, and thus is able to feel a sense of participation in and belonging to the community” (Kelsey, 1995, p.271).  The new National government of 1990 decimated this social contract in 1991.
Treasury’s Social Policy Branch decided they needed to determine what American economists called a minimum income standard – a poverty line.  They contracted some home economy researchers in Dunedin, who investigated four dietary budgets on which to feed a man, woman and several children of various ages for a week.  They came up with four budgets: liberal, moderate, basic and low.  At the low end, the researchers determined it would take careful shopping and considerable time and cooking skill to ensure a healthy diet, but that it was not healthy or sustainable long term.
Treasury took the lowest plan, without telling researchers, and reduced it by 20%.  They called this the New Zealand Income Adequacy Standard and used it as the recommendation for the new beneficiary payment levels.  The unemployment benefit was cut by one quarter.  Jenny Shipley, the Minister of Social Welfare, claimed it was required to “create a gap between work and welfare” (In a Land of Plenty, 2002).  The family benefit was also stopped and merged into a means-tested family support tax credit (Baker, 2011).
The impact of this move was devastating across the country and plunged families below the poverty line.  If Porirua alone had $400,000 a week slashed from its local economy, other communities around the country also faced similar circumstances, including the flow on of businesses closing and further job losses. 
The changes to the employment laws, continued restructuring and redundancies, plus the impacts of less money in the local economies caused unemployment to rise to over 11%, as can be seen in the graph below (Trading Economics, 2016).  This was key to poverty gaining a foothold in many communities who had lost significant and large, long term employers forever.
As a result, both Labour and the Greens have released their policies.  You can access their policies from this links:
Essentially both will cancel the tax cuts and amendments to the tax thresholds that National has proposed.  Instead they will put in place interventions to support families to be able to pay for the necessities of life.  These policies will allow both parties to enact change and opportunities in other areas in order for families to earn more and become independent from state interventions.  Naturally, the Green's policy reaches further than the Labour policy, but that is expected considering the Greens sit further to the left than Labour on the political spectrum. 
And I think that is a good thing, as these two parties have strongly shown they intend to form the next government and therefore they both need strong policy platforms that both complement each other and differentiate from each other.  Part of a coalition government is being able to find the common ground and then compromise on other aspects to get the best outcome for the voters, New Zealand's wider society and the balancing the economy.
I'm not going to sit here and compare the merits of these two policies to each other, I leave that to you as a voter.  But I do want you to compare which of these sits with you better in comparison to what National has done for nearly nine years.  I want to consider:
  • Is New Zealand the better for the policies of beneficiary bashing and sactions this government has enacted? 
  • Is it more economic to persue the benefit fraudsters or those who avoid tax - considering that tax avoidance is costing our economy far more but is rarely persued to recoup the loss or convict the avoider?
  • And is our welfare system still delivering the goal set in 1972, that everyone is able to enjoy a standard of living much like that of the rest of the community or is it condemning generation after generation to a life entrapped in poverty?

I want you to consider if the situation today is something you are comfortable with and what are the consequences for your children and grandchildren in years to come if we allow poverty to further entrench in our society.

I want to refer you to two other blog posts I have written about my experience and reflections with our welfare system:
I acknowledge that Rod Emmerson drew this very poignant illustration of the reality of family poverty.
Thanks for being such an awesome commentator of New Zealand, Rod.

And from the essay I quoted previously, I leave you with the symptoms and consequences of poverty....
The symptoms of poverty are clear: acute and chronic health conditions, poor quality housing, low attainment of education success, a greater potential to be either a victim or a perpetrator of crime (or both), increased risk of mental health issues, increased chance of abuse.

And the solutions to solve child poverty....
The solutions to poverty are clear: put children at the centre of all policy developments and implementation plans; stop using the unemployment rate as a mechanism to control inflation and keep wages low; increase all benefits to a level which enables a healthy diet to be maintained; increase the minimum wage to the level of the living wage; ensure free universal access to health, dental care and education; and improve the housing stock of New Zealand by demanding a minimum standard for state and private rentals.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

A Report Card for Hekia Parata as the Minister of Education

Hekia Parata Report Card:

Oral Language - Speaking: Above the Standard.
Hekia is a gifted orator with an ability to project her voice and use expression to captivate an audience.  However, Hekia's use of vocabulary often alienates her audience, so using a thesaurus to find words better aimed at her audience would be beneficial.

Oral Language - Listening: Well Below the Standard.
Hekia has displayed no signs of listening to others opinions.  She only follows instructions of her superiors, but never listens to those she considers beneath her, despite those people having considerable more knowledge than her on many subjects.

Reading Comprehension: Below Standard.
While Hekia is a capable reader and can decode accurately, her comprehension requires work.  Hekia seems to read things into a text that are not there and fails to inference what the author is actually inferring or even grasp glaringly obvious concepts and themes within the text.

Numeracy - Well Below the Standard.
Hekia fails to understand ratios, inflation, and has difficulty with the basics of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.  She plucks figures from mythical places and then relies on her ability as an orator to 'convince' fellow classmates that her calculations are correct.  We are looking to place Hekia is a remedial group for basic numeracy.

Writing - Above the Standard.
As with Speaking, Hekia is a gifted writer, particularly in the genre of persuasion and fantasy.  Somehow Hekia excells when she combines these two genre to create an alternative planet we've come to know as 'Planet Key'.

Science - Below the Standard.
Hekia does not believe in this area as she wants to focus on Literacy and Numeracy and has not met the standard in any of the strands.

Social Science - Below the Standard.
Hekia has failed the standard here due to her inability to move past her focus on Literacy and Numeracy.

Health and PE - Well Below the Standard.
Due to Hekia's focus on Literacy and Numeracy, and her objection to only healthy food being sold in the school canteen, Hekia has failed this standard.

The Arts - Well Below the Standard.
Again, Hekia's focus on only Literacy and Numeracy means she holds scant regard for the arts and she is unable to demonstrate any grasp of conceptual knowledge in the arts or display any practical work during her time.

Te Reo Māori - Above the Standard
Due to Hekia's superb oratory this is an area she does well in.

Key Competencies:

Thinking - Below the Standard
Thinking has not been a strong point for Hekia, especially her critical thinking skills.  Once Hekia gets an idea in mind it is very hard to get her to look at any evidence to the contrary, even if she has based her thinking on faulty evidence.

Relating to Others - Well Below the Standard
Hekia has very real issues relating to others, especially teachers, principals, support staff and education academics.  Her turnover of staff in her 'office' has also been of concern at times.  She will require a referral to the RTLB service if inschool efforts fail to make progress with her social skills.

Using Language, Symbols and Texts - At Standard
Hekia is able to use language, symbols and texts to communicate with others at a high level, but her interpretation of these competencies has room for improvement.

Managing Self - Below Standard
Usually Hekia is able to present a pleasant veneer to the public and classmates.  Her smile has been perfected.  However, there have been times where Hekia has shown she has difficulty controlling herself, such as at ULearn16 and the NZEI and PPTA conferences in 2015.  We will be monitoring her closely.

Participating and Contributing - Below Standard
While Hekia attends many events, her absence at NZEI and PPTA conferences outnumber her attendances and this has not gone unnoticed by those who look up to her for guidance.  Hekia tends to dominate proceedings and last year showed she was unable to let others fully contribute to the School Funding Review as she dominated proceedings.  This will need considerable guidance.

Overall, I assess Hekia Parata to have Not Met the Standard in being a Minister of Education.

Acknowledgements:  The fabulous cartoonists who have faithfully captured Hekia Parata over the years.  You are my heroes.

Monday, 17 April 2017

It's not just the wellbeing and safety of students we need to consider, but the teachers too

As a profession - teachers, principals and support staff - we are extremely focused on the wellbeing and safety of our students.  We have extensive expectations, systems and processes in place to ensure the students in our schools are safe and if an incident were to happen, no matter how minor, it is documented, systems are improved or changed and dangers are rectifed.

But do we do the same for our staff?

In recent weeks there have been two big issues that impact the wellbeing and safety of school staff as well as students, and I have to question whether or not we are doing enough to keep teachers safe.

Firstly, it was reported last month that a number of Year 9 boys (that’s 13 year olds) at St Patrick’s College in Silverstream (Upper Hutt) had sexually harassed several female teachers.  The boys had apparently filmed the teachers in an inappropriate way without their knowledge and shared the footage.  This week it was revealed that the school had decided to keep the students within the school (after a short suspension) to ‘educate’ them, and that the female teachers had resigned.  See this article: Teachers resign from an Upper Hutt school after being sexually harassed by students (Stuff, 13 April 2017).

The other big story originated from Northland, where principal Pat Newman explained that P babies and children with other high behavioural needs were a danger to his staff as well as fellow students.  Principal Federation Chair Whetu Cormick echoed that this was indeed a problem around the country, more so in certain provinces than others, but still a nation wide issue.  See this article: Teachers kicked, punched, stabbed by disturbed ‘P kids’ (NZ Herald, 13 April 2017).

The implications of the sexual harassment of the teachers.  

I have seen the article above commented on in four forums on Facebook and on Twitter.  There have been a variety of comments.

I’ve mostly seen many supportive comments of the teachers and dismay at the actions of the boys and of the school.  The general consensus is that the school has made an unsafe workplace for the teachers by allowing the boys to stay within the school environment and a condonement of the actions of the boys has been implied.  It is intimated in the above linked article that the teachers have resigned and that legal action (a personal grievance perhaps) is being taken.  I am wondering where Worksafe fit into all this, because surely it does.

I did see the odd random comment asking about how the teachers were dressed to encourage the boys to behave in a disreputable manner.  Needless to say that commenter was well and truly informed about the professionalism of teachers and schools like St Patrick’s having a dress code along with condemnation for victim blaming.

I did see some comments commending the school on wanting to work with these young men to improve their understanding of what is acceptable or not.  But to prioritise the students over someone’s ability to earn an income and feel safe in their workplace?  I think the safety and wellbeing of the victim should have been the priority here, not the students.  They have parents to think about their safety and wellbeing as well as the school.  However, in this case, the principal and board should have prioritised the teachers.

And I say this because, as many commenters pointed out, if it had have been the teachers sexually harassing the students, the teachers would have been kicked to the curb, outted publicly and lost their jobs, with the support rightly being on the victims - the students.

You may remember the Losi Filipo controversy last year, the Wellington contracted rugby player who initially was given a slap on the wrist with a wet bus ticket after a vicious assault on four other young people…. Well, Filipo went to St Patrick's and one commenter said that St Patrick's had put their support in behind Filipo.

The classic Van Halen song,
'Hot for Teacher' does not apply
in this case.
Then there were the odd comments on “boys will be boys” and references to the Van Halen classic ‘Hot for Teacher’ were made.  Yes, “boys will be boys”, but that doesn’t mean we don’t call them out and make them take responsibility for their actions.  They need to learn that there are consequences for every action, good or not so good or just bad.  If we don’t, as a society we will continue to condone rape culture and sexist behaviour.  And yes, some boys will get crushes on some teachers, but this behaviour certainly is not indicative of a crush.

I did see another few commenters supporting the school’s stance, saying it is a very good school with a great culture, that you can not lay the responsibility of the actions of a few Year 9 boys only in their fourth week at the school on St Patrick’s culture.  But let’s just remember that this is the culture that Filipo was immersed in for five years.

And then there were some other commenters who sat on the fence, who felt there was more to the story and therefore they could not yet make an informed judgement.  Fair enough.  But don’t defend the school while you are sitting on that fence, because they do have the power to give out more information than they are… but they have a process to go through first.  We can only hope that when the process is completed the public are more informed.

Regardless of which commenter anyone is, the fact remains that the perpetrators of the unacceptable acts have been allowed to remain and it is the victims that feel they have to resign and leave.  That is unacceptable and it continues to allow the rape culture mentality that invades our society to keep bubbling away because the school has implied that the perpetrators’ rights are greater than the rights of the victims.

This comes form Employment NZ:  "Health and safety law requires that employees and others are given the highest level of protection from workplace health and safety risks, as is reasonably practicable. This includes risks to both physical and mental health."  Consequently St Patrick's in in violation of health and safety law they are required to uphold.

The leaders of St Patrick's have failed the standard as good employers and have now shown other schools how not to have the backs of your staff.

Children who can not control their behaviour and pose a danger to staff and students.

Pretty much every teacher will have had a student like this.  At some schools you may have classes with a lot more than one student like this.

I have personally had students that swore at and abused me, stormed out of class to go hiding somewhere or to leave the school, who have thrown chairs and desks, or have used sticks from the playground or metal bars they’ve acquired from out of bounds areas to threaten and attack other children.  I’ve seen children randomly physically attack other children.

What set them off?  It may be a disagreement over a playground game or an item in the classroom.  Someone might of said something nasty or looked at them the wrong way - or just looked at them.  They may be tired or stressed or under an influence of a substance from outside of school.  You may see it bubbling and try to avert it and, while sometimes you succeed, you fail and the kid blows.  Sometimes the eruption comes without warning.

I’ve had kids with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, ADHD, kids on the autism spectrum, kids with sensory issues, P babies, kids from homes with violence, kids who have suffered abuse, kids who are not handling a parental separation or have lost a parent or sibling to death, kids with conduct disorders, kids with low self-esteem, kids who are on ORS or should have ORS but don’t, kids who are frustrated due to learning difficulties, kids who just can’t make friends or form healthy social attachments, kids with anxiety…. All sorts of kids have "gone off" over my teaching career.

Sometimes my experiences have been very scary.  I had one child swinging a metal bar around like a taiaha and I had to lock my class in a room and go seek help.  Another time I had to, along with the principal, physically intervene to stop a student from hurting themselves and several others at great risk to our own safety.  Both these situations were incredibly scary.  I’ve had to sit on the floor and hug a child to me to keep him safe and calm in an assembly because the noise was too much to bare for him.  The unknown is when a child decides to leave the school grounds.  In a small school the conundrum is who will go after them, because who will supervise the other students?

And this then brings into question a teacher’s professional safety.  When is a teacher allowed to step into a situation and restrain or handle students to prevent them hurting themselves or others?  When should a teacher step back?  Who decides if a teacher went too far?  What if the teacher is condemned for not having done enough?

Last October the Ministry of Education released a document called Guidance for New Zealand Schools on Behaviour Management to Minimise Physical Restraint.  Within this document it says:

Physical restraint is a serious intervention. The emotional and physical impact on the student being restrained, and the person doing the restraining, can be significant. There are legal and reputational risks if a student is harmed.

Staff need to use their professional judgement when they decide whether to use physical restraint. They should consider their duty of care to students, their right to protect themselves and others from harm, and their obligation to act lawfully.

Physical restraint should only be used in emergency situations when the student’s behaviour poses an imminent danger of physical injury to themselves or others.

This is the basis I personally have always applied to these situations.  It is a common sense approach.  But teachers and principals feel the ground has shifted under their feet and do not trust their safety as professional if they have to restrain a student in the midst of a violent outburst.  See: 'It could jeopardise teacher safety' - concerns over new laws guiding when teachers can intervene in school fights (1news, 28 March 2017).

The Minister in a recent answer in Parliament Question Time advised schools to call the police to deal with violent students.  I question if the police would come or not.  They have their hands full dealing with mental health call outs because our mental health system can not cope with the demand on their overstretched services.  

This is from a transcript of Question Time on Thursday 6 April 2017, when New Zealand First MP Tracey Martin asked a question to Education Minister Hekia Parata:

1. TRACEY MARTIN (NZ First) to the Minister of Education: Does she agree with the Ministry of Education's National Director for Learning Support that schools in Northland should contact the police when primary school children threaten teachers and other students with violence?

Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Yes, I agree with the full quote that the ministry's National Director for Learning Support made and the context in which it was given. For the benefit of the House, he stated: "I would certainly see suspension as being a last resort. If we're talking about very violent behaviour, then that's a matter that schools need to be discussing with police." As per the Guidance for New Zealand Schools on Behaviour Management to Minimise Physical Restraint, released by the ministry in October last year, schools across the country should call the police in situations when a student cannot be managed safely and the imminent danger to students, staff, or themselves remains after all alternatives have been explored. As we expect in all situations, the police are the most appropriate people to deal with violence.

The Minister is correct in saying hat the Guidance for New Zealand Schools on Behaviour Management to Minimise Physical Restraint says the police should be called in situations when a student can not be managed safely and is a danger.  This is all it says:

In the event that incidents cannot be resolved quickly and where there is a sustained level of significant physical risk the police should be contacted.

In this press release from the Te Tai Tokerau Principals Association, A Cry from the Heart: lack of assistance for children’s needs, a principal states: “Last time I called the police to help in Kaitaia they told me very politely not to do it again. They took 2 hours to get here and the kid could have really hurt himself.”  So clearly the police are really not in a position to help schools deals with students who are a risk to themselves or others.

In the NZ Herald article, 'P babies' are now at primary school (13 April 2017), Principal Pat Newman says he is disappointed in the response from the Ministry over his claims that children in primary school are presenting with more violent behavioural problems now and that P is at epidemic levels.  Ministry of Education spokeswoman, Katrina Casey said on Radio New Zealand there was no hard evidence that schools were dealing with more children with behavioural problems.  Newman countered that with, "What evidence is needed? What is hard data? Do we have to wait until a child or teacher is seriously hurt? There is not one principal in New Zealand, and certainly not in Te Tai Tokerau, who is not telling the ministry that this is the reality.  In fact a few years ago we in Te Tai Tokerau, in partnership with the ministry, researched the levels of violence we were putting up with in the north, and the ministry has that information."

The article continues as follows:

Casey said the ministry spent about $95 million on behaviour assistance for about 10,000 children last year, and that number of children had not changed much in the last couple of years.

"If this is the case, why are we only receiving help to cover two hours a day on average for high-end behavioural needs? The answer is always that there is no more money available," Newman said.

"Why is there little help for psychological counselling for these children?
"Why does it take a year to get a foetal alcohol assessment done, and little funding to actually help the child once diagnosed?"

Casey had claimed that stand-downs and suspensions for assaults had remained static for the past six years, and a recent survey of secondary school teachers by the Council for Educational Research found student behaviour had become less of a problem.
Newman rejected that, too.

"We have severely abused children in our schools," he said.

"The ministry has the figure in Whangarei of the high behavioural needs children currently in early childhood education in this town who are due to come through the primary service, and it is huge."

What planet is the Ministry of Education on?

Clearly there is a disconnect between the Ministry of Education and the reality of what is happening in schools.

And Pat Newman is not a happy principal and I bet that he is not the only unhappy principal.

Personally, as a teacher, I am scathing.

I can tell you that there is not enough support for schools to help these children.  I can't remember when I last saw a any form of psychological counselling in a primary school.  The last time I saw a Ministry behavioural specialist was in 2006.  We can't even get a speech language therapist for the most needy children who can not speak properly.  And as for the Wrap Around Services Ms Parata crows about, well good luck ever seeing them!  I wrote about a young teenager who has fallen out of the system because it doesn't work in Where are those wrap around services, Hekia? last year.  Nothing has changed.

Everything that Ms Parata and her minion Ms Casey says is complete and utter BULLSHIT because at school level we never ever see them and children are falling through the cracks educationally because the Ministry of Education does not have the specialists we need to help these children.

This government is failing our most vulnerable students and their Predictive Risk Index to fund schools will do diddly bloody squat to change anything for these vulnerable children while there are no specialists in the Ministry of Education to support these children and no funding for schools to put programmes and support staff in place to ensure these children reach their potential.

This government, this Ministry of Education and the Minister of Education, Hekia Parata, have failed the standard when it comes to our most vulnerable children.  And they are failing the classmates of these children and their teachers, support staff and principals as they are put in danger by these children for whom help is a mythological fantasy because the Ministry simply does not have the resources.

While Boards of Trustees are responsible for the health and safety of staff and students, they are being hamstrug by the Ministry of Education due to their lack of funding and support.

If only they had listened to those of us at the chalkface.  If only $359 million had been spent on the children where it would make the most difference instead of on that IES folly, Communities of Learning.

The top picture regarding teacher wellbeing comes from this article: