Thursday, 11 October 2012

Lesley Longstone - has she met the standard for a Secretary of Education?

Lesley Longstone, Secretary of Education, looking a little
rattled on Campbell Live on Tuesday 2 October.
Lesley Longstone is the Secretary of Education, in charge of the Ministry of Education in New Zealand since November 2011.  She was appointed by the National government.  Lesley comes from England where her role there was to set up Free Schools - England's version of Charter Schools - consequently helping to desconstruct the schools run by the boroughs in England.

Let's make no mistake about why Lesley was employed by National.  They want her to dismantle New Zealand's quality public education system.

Incidentally, the National government also replaced the head of the Ministry of Health with a hatchet man, also British, who last wielded his hatchet on the Scottish health sector; and also replaced the Treasury head who retired last year with another Brit who believes to improve teacher quality New Zealand should increase class sizes.  Hmmmm, I see a pattern of appointments.  Do you?

The previous Secretary of Education, Karen Sewell, was a woman with considerable knowledge and respect in education circles in New Zealand.  She had over seen the development of a new world leading curriculum and was involved in leading the MOE with wonderful professional development throughout the teaching sectors.  However, she saw the direction National was heading down - National Standards, Charter Schools, performance pay, slash and burning the MOE..... - and she resigned.

National realised that no one in New Zealand educational circles would dismantle the state funded quality public education system we have, so they looked overseas for someone who would.  Ofcourse they looked in places like the United Kingdom and the United States of America - who are so far behind New Zealand in educational rankings it is not funny.
Recent events over Christchurch and Lesley's performance on Campbell Live have made me begin to reflect on how things are going for Lesley and the MOE since she began, after all she has been in the role for almost eleven months and gets a salary of $660 000. 
I believe that Lesley Longstone has failed to meet the standard.  And below I will explain why.  Some text has links to other sites to back my assertions.
  • As of the 1st of March this year, after four months in New Zealand, Lesley had not set foot in a New Zealand school.  She had plenty of time before the school year ended in 2011 to visit a school.  She had all of February.  I would have thought that if you are in charge of education in a country you would have made sure you would have visited at least one high school, one primary school, one kindergarten, one day care, one university, one polytech and one private training establishment within the first month - hmmmmm, I may have set a standard that is quite high there, but I'm confident she may have been to a school or two since.  Epic fail Lesley.
  • Then there was the day, 29th of February to be exact, where she fled from reporters across the courtyard at Parliament.  She had been there reporting to a select committee about finance.  When she left, she was confronted by reporters asking question about the sex offender Henry Miko affair.  One thing we can say about Lesley is that she'd be great for the parent running race at an athletics day!!  But, epic fail in public relations Lesley.
  • Pretty much since Lesley first arrived, Moerewa School was on her radar.  Moerewa School was a school that saw National Standards as not being helpful in their students' learning journey.  So the MOE decided that one of the best ways to make Moerewa 'pull their heads in' was to go after their senior students.  Moerewa School had 'attached' their Year 11 - 13 students to the roll of another secondary school for the past 3 years. This Satellite Class/Attached Unit organisation is a legitimate Ministry schooling option - and the Ministry's resourcing division funded Moerewa and staffed them for 3 years. Unfortunately Moerewa School was suddenly accused of this being an 'illegal' arrangement (how so?) and the rug was pulled from beneath them... kids were forced to stop attending school onsite at Moerewa, and were told to attend other secondary schools (even when some of them had been kicked out of the local schools they were being told to go back to!). The Board was sacked and the Commissioner appointed (at the school's expense!).  These students are now repeating credits they had already achieved, and recently, with the review completed, their credits they had earned had been shown to have standing.  Lesley Longstone was active in this decision.  She defended the actions and decisions made on Maori TV (Native Affairs), but had not even visited the far north to meet with the school until 19 April, and didn't even go into the school itself.  Epic fail on communications Lesley, and a total misrepresentation of the actual situation.
  • Which brings us to the Budget in May and the announcement by Hekia Parata that in order to improve teacher quality class sizes will rise.  Now, strictly one could say this was Hekia's stuff up - but that is another blog.  However, the figures and senarios for this would have to be derived by the Ministry of Education and should have also gone through Lesley's hands.  If she didn't want her political masters to look bad, she would have been thorough one would think.  However, she did stick to the mantra that it was a good thing with gems like: 
                But the ministry's Secretary for Education, Lesley Longstone, says while some
                schools will receive reduced funding, others will see an increase.
                Longstone said it was the ministry's expectation that intermediate schools will
                keep their technology centres if they are "offering high quality teaching and
                learning".  25 May One News
         This video shows that Lesley can also talk gobble-de-gook to confuse
         the situation.  But clearly evident is the blinkers that went on to block out her
         understanding of the effect this policy would have on many schools, particulary
         intermediates and those with technology units.  Epic fail here for         
         comprehension Lesley.
  • September 5 was the day NovaPay had its first big test - actually paying one of the largest workforces in New Zealand - the people who work in schools.  It was an epic fail.  Pay slips failed to be emailed in the correct timeframe.  People had no information about how to access their pay slip when it first arrived as it was passworded for the first time ever!!  Some people were not paid enough - or paid one cent more or less than they should have been.  Some were paid thousands in excess of what should have gone into their bank accounts.  Some people were paid who shouldn't have been.  Some people, particulary relievers, support staff and cleaners/caretakers, didn't get paid at all!!!  NovaPay had apparently told the MOE it wasn't ready to begin, that it wanted to wait until next year.  But the MOE told them it was now or never.  There was no trial.  There was no staged introduction to ensure it was correct and running smoothly.  School admin staff and principals spent hours and hours sorting the issues out and trying to navigate NovaPay.  Will the MOE be reimbursing schools for this?  And a month later there are still issues, including illegally, with no notification, clawing back emergency payments made to staff who weren't paid in the initial stuff up!  The Minister knew there were issues before September!  Seriously, this was one monumental stuff up, and the buck has to stop with the big cheese - that is Lesley.  The introduction of NovaPay, intending to save the government lots of money, was an epic fail in organisation Lesley.
  • September was a busy month for stuff ups.  Remember the debarcle of telling Christchurch schools about the 'rejuvenation of education in Christchurch' on 13th September?  Colour coded badges so Lesley, Hekia and Gerry would know the fate of the school the questioner belonged to even if the questioner didn't.  Telling the media the information was embargoed at the end of a meeting after media had already uploaded the information online.  Attempting to make it look like less schools are being closed than actually are.  And the errors in data (separate bullet point below). Epic fail in public relations and communication, Lesley.
  • Then the media released National Standards data ahead of the Minister releasing the data on their website Education Counts.  This was ofcourse contrary to the statements made by the previous Minister of Education, Anne Tolley, and contrary to advice given to Hekia Parata, the current Minister of Eduation.  But Lesley is clearly the person who enables the MOE to colate and release this information.  But the MOE and Minister were beaten to the punch by Fairfax.  I fear for the privacy of students, particularly in small schools like mine.  It is a straight out fail and attack on the learning journeys of every child in our country for Lesley.
  • And now we come back to the debarcle of the data for Christchurch schools.  It didn't take long for principals and BOTs to ask what data was used to based these decisions/proposals on, then look at the data, and then blow the whistle on the inaccurate data.  Campbell Live surveyed 27 schools and found 22 schools had had decisions/proposals made about them with totally inaccurate data!!  One school had five buildings, but the data said they had 50 building with irrepairable damage!!  A long jump pit at one school was called liquifaction in the data!!  Some of the buildings were brand new with no damange.  One school had two cracks in a building and one running through the seal on a courtyard.  How could the MOE get that so wrong?  Who checks this material?  Who signs off the material?  Who does the buck stop with?  Epic fail here Lesley.
  • To Lesley Longstone's credit, she did front up to Campbell Live to answer questions about how the Ministry of Education got it so wrong.  To put it politely, Lesley was rather ruffled, flustered and looked in a panic at times.  John Campbell really had Lesley on the ropes.  She stated that they used the roll, damage to buildings and geotechnic evaluations on the land to make decisions.  I can tell you that assessment of achievement was also used as a factor - but Lesley will deny it.  The roll figures they used were from March, because she claims the July figures were "provisional".  I ask if July figures are so "provisional" why are they used as the staffing formula for 2013 and each school informed in September?  Lesley said there would be "Some schools with different interpretations" of the data and that "three schools out of fifteen school" with mistakes in their data wasn't a major problem - she'd obviously failed to watch the previous piece to her interview!  Lesley said, "Damage is not alwasys visible, and we can only go on the basis of the independent professional assessment that we have."  So how come these independent professionals who assessed all this didn't feed the same information back to the principals and BOTs of the schools concerned?  John Campbell asked, "So the damage means that these schools can no longer be occupied?"  Lesley replied, "No, if the damage was so significant that they could no longer be occupied, then we would be dealing with those issues now.... but there is sufficient seriousness that they need to be dealt with and that is part of our assessment."  Lesley said that the MOE have provided schools with the data so the MOE and the schools can go through and work it out together.  My question is, why wasn't this done prior to the announcement in mid-September and the release of the report?  Again Lesley, there is an epic fail on dotting the i's and crossing the t's for this report and the future of Christchurch schooling, and I'm concerned at the waste of money printing a report full of errors is!
  • There is also the problem of using confusing language to show which schools really are closing, merging or staying in Christchurch.  It is too confusing to describe here, but Campbell Live used the MOE's own documentation and figured out that it wasn't just 13 schools closing, but by the time you merge schools, the correct closure figure is actully 31.  Epic fail on communication yet again Lesley.
  • Now it also appears that Lesley Longstone has been attending a number of conferences lately, namely the NZEI Rural Principals' Conference in Nelson and the Normal Schools' Conference in Wellington.  However, I can tell you that her absence was conspicuous at the NZEI Annual Meeting when the Minister arrived to speak - traditionally the Secretary of Education usually attends with the Minister.  Apparently she was somewhat ruffled at both, particularly at the Wellington conference.  Another blogger (see link above) commented that her appearance belied the strain she was obviously under and that the job was obviously out of her depth:  "Her dress was carefully unfashionable; her hair arranged to appear bedraggled; and her back festooned by a knapsack."  And then she did this:  ‘Primary schools should have been weeded out 20 years ago,’ she said. ‘Now we are going to do it.’  Apparently she thinks the following:  The New Zealand education system, she said, ‘was not mature enough’ to handle the decentralisation of Tomorrow’s Schools and schools shot off in all directions.  She doesn't factor in demographics of a student population and considers achievement, or lack of it, is down to the principal of each school:  Longstone then made a considerable song and dance about in-school variability of children’s school performance. This was the fault she said of inefficient principals....  The point she kept driving home, or implying, was that the system needed more centralisation, more simplification, less resistance from the periphery, so that government policies could be implemented swiftly and without obstruction.  She obviously believes, along with her political masters, that principals and teachers and their school communities should sit down, shut up and do as the government tells them.  When asked about the Finnish model of schooling and Normal Schools:  The expression ‘weeding out’ was constantly used.  ‘Strict accountability,’ she said, ‘was the future for schools.’  ‘That is the model for success,’ she said.  ‘What about the Finland model?’ protested a principal.  ‘Forget Finland,’ Longstone shot back. ‘The model is Singapore.’  All this was delivered in a take it or leave it style. The lady, she seemed to be communicating, doesn’t care a damn.  A question was asked that occasioned a moment of minor tragic-comedy.  ‘How do you see normal schools?’  ‘I don’t. They are invisible.’  Remember we, the tax payer, pay her $660 000 salary each year.  She obviously has no understanding of the development of our education system and how it is structured, which, remember, is what makes her so perfect from the National government's point of view, because they have employed her to deconstruct our quality public education system.  So Lesley, epic fail on presenting yourself, epic fail on understanding the basis of the NZ education system, and yet again, epic fail on public relations.
So, I know most of these things I have related you have seen for yourself over the past year.  But when you put it all on one page it is rather confronting. 
Lesley Longstone is in charge of our quality public education system, a system she has made no effort to understand and whose main objective is to dismantle it according to right wing idealogy also known as GERM - Global Education Reform Movement.  She obviously has no control or uses any oversight in the Ministry of Education because the class size issue and data mistakes for Christchurch schools shows a definite lack of due attention.  She obviously is not coping with the enormity of the job as her demenour and appearance as proven at various conferences and on Campbell Live. 
To cap it off, her job is on the line according to those in the know.  It would seem that she has not met the standards set by her National government masters.  What worries me is that if Lesley Longstone goes, what will replace her?
My assessment is that Lesley Longstone does not meet the standard for a Secretary of Education in charge of our quality public education system.  In fact, it has been an epic fail.

Note:  I've just been alerted to a mistake above.  Apparently it was Karen Sewell who earned $660,000 as the Secretary of Education.  Apparently, Lesley is only being paid $330,000.

I guess, if you pay peanuts you get monkeys.

I appologise for misleading you.  But I got that figure from an opinion piece by Patrick Gower from TV3 News (the one that is a link called "29 of February").  I assumed, wrongly, that he would have the correct facts.

Added extra:  Campbell Live featured a story on Monday 15 October about the debarcle of NovaPay.  We wait with baited breathe for Wednesday 17 October to see what trouble comes of the fourth pay round since NovaPay took over, considering the first three were fraught with problems.  After discussing this issue with my Admin Officer today, she told me that at the two schools she works at (we share her with another small school down the road) we still have issues with the pay for our cleaner/caretakers and a reliever at the other school still hasn't been paid correctly.  And my Admin Officer is totally over Fur Elise as well!!

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