Saturday, 12 July 2014

Labour's Education Policy - An antidote to the GERM infection of the last six years.

The first weekend of July saw the Labour Party well and truly launch its 2014 election campaign.  They had a three day Congress in Wellington, and I attended the Sunday when David Cunliffe made his keynote speech and laid out the bones of some very important policy Labour wants to base its campaign on.  And education was at the core of it.

I was very far away from the middle, coughing my germs I had to the empty space on the edge of the auditorium, hence this terrible photograph I took.

As a teacher, any announcements on education are of great interest to me, particularly if they are going to get rid of what I think is detrimental in education (GERM policies, National Standards, Charter Schools, performance pay, IES roles, no teacher representation on EDUCANZ) and will promote and/or improve what teachers know to be valuable in education (teacher education pre-service and for those in practice, special education, class sizes, work load, New Zealand Curriculum, and so on).

I was not disappointed.

But please do not think that I am merely basing who I will vote for on education.  Education will be the first thing I think about though because I work in it, I'm passionate for learning and children, and it pays for the important things I do like eating and shopping and the internet - the priorities in life.

However, I do also consider other things like the following:

  • the economy - will they balance the books and be responsible?
  • employment - will their policies create jobs or put people out of jobs?  Will they make it fairer to the employee so they have job security?  Will the Living Wage happen so that we don't have the working poor living in poverty?
  • housing - will I be able to buy a house before I truly get wrinkles?  Will rental houses be warm and dry and healthy?  Will all those families living in cars and garages get a state house?
  • environment - will they improve the health of our waterways so I can swim in the Waikato and Waihou Rivers with confidence?  Will the kauri survive the kauri die back disease?  Will our native birds be protected?  Will 1080 be used in the bush?  Will the Maui dolphin be protected?  Will oil drilling and fracking be placed under much tougher regulations?
  • Christchurch - will those poor people get a fair deal from their insurance companies?  Will the rebuild meet what a modern city should/could be?
  • manufacturing - will there will be manufacturing in New Zealand?  Will people be encouraged to invest in improving our primary goods (e.g. milk, wood, wool, etc) before exporting rather than sending off the raw product?
  • the regions - will the people of the regions be able to stay and have a good standard of living with a job close to home, or will they have to move to Auckland?
  • health - will they make the waiting list process more transparent rather than the lie it currently is?  Will more people get their operations sooner so they can become productive members of society again?  Will more get put into addiction services?  Will nurses get paid better and get more nurses in wards to reduce their workload and improve patient care?  Will care in our rest homes be upgraded for the elderly?
  • welfare - will we see children of beneficiaries taken care of?  Will solo parents get a fair shake of the stick when it comes to improving their education and work prospects?  Will WINZ go back to having caseworkers who know what's going on with each client so they don't waste time?
  • TPPA - will they give away our rights and freedoms to run our lives and our country free from foreign companies dictating what should happen in New Zealand?
So as you can see, I have a few issues to consider.  They may not be the same as yours, or we may have some in common, but it is our responsibility as voters in a democracy to consider who we will vote for and why.

So on Sunday as I listened to David Cunliffe's speech (you can watch his speech here, along with other speeches from other Labour MPs), I did have cause to be happy about a number of things.  Consequently I tweeted and retweeted things, and then I put it all together with Storify (please excuse the places where my fingers and the smartphone disagreed on what letter I pushed).  So here is what I heard and saw:

You can now see why I was a happy teacher.  And now I want to go and look more in depth at the education policy.

Early Childhood Education and Families:

You may remember back in the end of January David Cunliffe did his own State of the Nation speech and he announced some key policy for families and pre-schoolers, the Best Start for Our Kids policy:
  • All families earning under $150,000 per year will receive $60 per week for a baby’s first year of life. For parents who are eligible for paid parental leave, the payment will kick in once this comes to an end. Low and modest income families will also receive $60 per week between the child’s first and third birthdays.
  • Free early childhood education for three, four and five year old children will be extended from 20 to 25 hours a week
  • Paid parental leave will be extended from 14 to 26 weeks as set out in Sue Moroney’s Member’s Bill.
  • Free antenatal classes for all parents who want them and extra visits from organisations like Plunket for those who need it most.

This caught people's attention and the paid parental leave bill promoted by Sue Moroney is a particularly popular policy.  This bill has received support across the House - except from National who want to veto it and put up their own half-baked 18 week scheme in Budget 2014.  Hopefully after 20 September, Sue's Bill will be passed and enacted.

Labour will also do the following for pre-schoolers:
  • From July 2017 (the tenth anniversary of 20 Hours Free), Labour will extend the Free ECE policy to 25 hours for three and four year old children. The policy will also apply to those five year olds still in early childhood education services. (Extending Free ECE to 25 Hours)
  • Labour will restore over time National’s funding for highly qualified ECE centres. We will work with the sector to reinstate the policy of 100 percent qualified staff in all teacher-led services.  The first phase of restoring funding for 100 percent qualified ECEC centres will be provided in Labour’s first Budget in 2015 and come into effect from January 2016.
  • We will build more ECE centres in high-need areas so there are enough places for kids who need them.
And Labour has committed to the following by establishing a Ministry for Children:
  • We will do away with the Families Commission and focus funding on an independent Children’s Commissioner.
  • We will also implement a plan to measure and set targets to reduce child poverty that would be backed up by legislation, and report on progress every budget.
These are important steps in the early years.  For every $1 spent on children in the first five years of their lives, we save $11 later on for each child.  Getting in early saves money and creates a healthier individual in all ways as a citizen, and a healthier community.  I think that it is important that ECE services are teacher led and employ fully trained and registered teachers who understand how young children develop and to ensure their learning needs are meet alongside the growth of their social skills and physical development.

Schools - Years 0-13:

Now this was the part that was especially important to me, being a teacher of primary aged students.

Labour will back quality education and invest in 21st Century Schools by:
  • Hire 2,000 more teachers
  • Reduce the average size of secondary school classes from 26+ down to 23.
  • Reduce the size of senior primary school classes (Years 4-8) from 29+ down to 26.
  • Invest $104 million in new classrooms.
  • Support professional development for our teachers.
  • Put in place a programme that provides an affordable option, available to all schools, for Year 5-13 students to have access to a portable digital device, in the classroom and at home.
  • Commit $25 million to provide teachers with professional development during the 2016 and 2017 school years to assist them to make the most effective use of digital devices in the classroom.
  • Partner with schools, local government and communities to put in place infrastructure that will allow students, particularly those from low-decile schools, who do not currently have internet connections to use their portable devices to access the internet at home.
  • Develop a comprehensive plan for rebuilding out-dated and worn-out school buildings, so that every school has access to modern learning environments by 2030.
So far so good.  Every teacher will tell you that a few less kids in their class means more time for the remaining students, a relief from some paperwork those few more kids create.  It can mean the difference between teaching and crowd control.  And when you consider how big a 12 year old is, a few less bodies in the room creates space.

Teachers have been left in the wilderness since the Advisory Services were dismantled in 2009.  Professional Development for many teachers became a distant memory as the new arrangement has often been too expensive, so only selected people get to attend PD courses.  Also, it means that if you have a weakness in science, there were no advisors to come and advise you anymore.  Consequently teachers and principals are welcoming the long waited proposed return of the Advisory Service so schools can again access quality advice and cost-effective PD.

A digital device for all Year 5-13 students is music to my ears, probably because it would make what I want to do as a teacher who loves teaching digitally more of a reality in more schools.  It is good that Labour are also planning on backing this with PD for teachers (because plenty will need it) and internet access in the home.  The internet access solution will be interesting to put into practise as I can see there may be many pitfalls to overcome and it won't happen overnight.

And just this weekend I was with a friend who teaches in a decile one school in Porirua.  She told me her classroom was straight out of the 70s.  So an upgrade of her and her student's working/learning conditions is desperately in need.

Labour will also:
  • Fund schools $100 per student per year if they don’t demand donations from parents.
  • Scrap National Standards and return schools’ focus back to teaching the full breadth of New Zealand’s internationally acclaimed curriculum.
  • Require schools to report student progress to parents in all areas of their learning.
  • Ensure every child develops the basic foundations for further learning by extending Reading Recovery so kids falling behind can catch-up.
  • Re-direct resources spent forcing ‘National Standards’ on schools into teacher professional development programmes to assist students who are underachieving.
  • We will repeal charter school legislation and no more charter schools will be created under Labour. 
Donations have always been a bone of contention, and I can see many schools will be winning with this piece of policy.  I can see how schools like Auckland Boys' Grammar and the like will not be keen on this policy, but parents will like it.  For many schools the funding created by the donations system is the difference between having sports gear for the kids at lunch time to play with or not having any sports gear at lunch time; the difference between having a digital camera in each syndicate or not having a digital camera at all; the difference between having a school production or not having a school production.  Different schools rely on that money for many things that the Ops Grant does not pay for.
You many have noticed that I have bolded and highlighted in red two very important policies: getting rid of National Standards and Charter Schools.  These represent the cornerstone of GERM philosophy, of creating a crisis in education and then privatising our quality public education system.  Prior to National enacting National Standards, New Zealand was ranked in the top five of the questionable PISA rankings.  Since National Standards were introduced we have slid down the ranks.  Infact each country which has introduced policies like National Standards (i.e. Common Core in the US, Naplan in Australia, Key Stage Testing in the UK) and consequently Charter Schools, have slid down the international rankings in more that just PISA. 
Labour will require teachers to focus on our world leading and much acclaimed New Zealand Curriculum, on all learning areas, and to report to parents on all the learning areas.  This is great for children, because it means we can celebrate those children who also excel in art, physical education, science, music, drama, dance.... not just reading, writing and maths.
And I am really pleased to see that Reading Recovery will get a boost and that the National Standards budget will be redirected to help those kids that don't receive ORS funding but need extra help.  Reading Recovery funding has been tightly squeezed each year, and definitely there was less money for the end of 2012.  The earlier we can get in and help students with their learning, the sooner they will be able to become independent and confident learners.  One way the Professional Development could help is teaching teachers how to recognise dyslexia and help children with dyslexia overcome the obstacles that dyslexia likes to create.
"Every week 40,000 kids turn up to school without breakfast or without lunch and are fed by charities. But there a more kids who need help. The last nationwide survey of children’s nutrition undertaken by the Ministry of Health found 83,000 children aged 5 to 14, sometimes or often went to school without breakfast.
"Labour will partner with community and voluntary organisations, incorporating the most cost-effective approaches currently operating, to provide free food in every decile 1-3 primary, intermediate school that needs and wants it."

There are schools that see kids turning up day after day without having had breakfast and a poor lunch if any.  I recently read of a teacher who brings bread, butter and spreads to school to feed the kids without lunch - until her principal told her to stop doing it (so she had to get sneakier at feeding these kids).  I have a friend who teaches at a decile 6 high school.  She has a toaster, bread, butter, spreads, jug, milk and milo ready for any kid who needs it in her class.  And it is well used, and she gets better work out of the kids who ate than the kids who came hungry and did not use the food and facilities she provided.
Tertiary Education:
"The National Party is removing the right of students, staff and other community groups to be represented on university councils. It follows the Government’s introduction of voluntary student association membership and is a further silencing of students.
"Labour is making a commitment to students that when we are elected to government we will ensure they are represented on university councils and have strong student associations.
"We believe having those who are involved in learning and teaching on the governing bodies of universities is a good thing and adds value to the decisions being made."

This is not a good move for universities as it takes their accountability to students, staff and the community away.

There will be more tertiary education policy announced in the lead up to the election.

Adult Education:

Labour has committed to reinstating adult education:
  • Restore $13m per year for Adult and Community Education
  • Another $9m per year on top of that from 2018
  • $1m per year of extra funding for ACE English for speakers of other languages (ESOL)

"It’s a cornerstone of New Zealand communities and offers pathways for New Zealanders looking to retrain and reengage with education, and for new New Zealanders to gain the skills and community connections to grow and establish their new lives in New Zealand.  Labour recognises that a lot has changed since the National Government cut ACE funding, which is why the allocation of this funding will be made in close consultation with the adult education sector. We believe that to get the best results for all New Zealanders who want to access ACE we need to work alongside the sector."

I think that reinstating Adult Community Education is a win:win.  It was a conduit for people to get skills and further their education.  But not just for those people, I have taken my fair share of night classes: te reo Maori (excellent for increasing my te reo use in the classroom) and Spanish (I had two Uruguayan students whose English wasn't flash, and learning Spanish helped build my relationship with them and understand their frustrations).

These are the policies that have been released so far to do with education at the time of publishing this post (14/07/14).

I personally am pleased with the direction Labour is taking with education.  It is clear that it has consulted and actually listened to stakeholders and intends on being collaborative in the true sense once it takes over the government benches (fingers crossed) in late September.

I think Labour is meeting the standard when it comes to education policy.  I will endeavour to update when future education policy is released, and when Labour becomes the lead partner in government I will be reminding them of their policy promises and monitoring their follow through.

No comments:

Post a Comment