Saturday, 7 March 2015

EDUCANZ and the dismantling of democracy.

A storm is brewing in education and I am pondering: which is the best route to travel?

Several weeks ago, on the opening day of parliament, the third reading of the Education Act amendments were passed in parliament. 
The breakdown was all the National MPs currently in parliament (remembering that Mike Sabin’s resignation had already taken affect at the end of the previous week), ACT’s David Seymour and United Future’s Peter Dunne all voted in favour of the amendments.  Unfortunately this out voted Labour, the Greens, New Zealand First and the Maori Party who all were opposed to the amendments.

What did these amendments cover?

The Teachers Council v EDUCANZ: 

Firstly, it amounts to dissolving the Teachers Council and establishing a body called EDUCANZ.  This affects every teacher in the Early Childhood, Primary/Intermediate and Secondary school sectors.  It affects all teachers at state, integrated and private schools and the true bona fide registered teachers that a charter school may have employed over an untrained and unregistered teacher.
The current Teachers Council consists of some appointed members by the Minister of Education, as well as elected members for the ECE, primary and secondary sectors.  NZEI and PPTA also directly appoint a member.

EDUCANZ will have ALL members appointed by the Minister of Education.  There will be no elections for teachers to vote in representatives for their sectors.  All members will be nominated and the Minister makes the final decision of who takes the roles.  And that may mean that there would be no one directly representing teachers themselves, and that some sectors may not be represented at all.
Hekia Parata has stated that this model will be more autonomous from the government than the current Teachers Council. 

But I fail to see how with all the members appointed BY the minister, that would make it a more autonomous body from the government.  To me the only people EDUCANZ would be autonomous from are teachers themselves.  To me, it opens EDUCANZ up to being dominated by mates of the government of the day.

University and wananga councils:

Secondly, it made some drastic changes to the councils that govern universities and wananga.  It reduces the number of members of the governing councils and removes the compulsion/need for student and staff representatives.  The councils will be more business-like in their governance role.
At first glance this may make sense, as these institutions have multi-million dollar budgets.  But is the core business of a university or wananga to make money and a profit?  Or is its core business to educate?

When you remove the people at the centre of the core purpose of these institutions, the staff and students, you remove the purpose itself.

What came before the amendments were passed:

Now you may be thinking why didn’t the teachers and people associated with universities and wananga stand up and make a fuss?
Well we did.  We held meetings, sent in submissions, some made personal appearances at the Science and Education Select Committee hearings on the amendments, there were press releases, newspaper articles, blogs, appearances on tv and radio…. And despite 99% of submissions opposing these amendments, despite opposition from the members of the select committee not in the National Party, the amendments went through to the parliamentary vote with mere cosmetic changes.

In fact, if it were not for the opposition MPs on the Science and Education Select Committee, those in person submissions would have fallen on deaf ears and the process would have been even more farcical than it has been.  While opposition MPs like Chris Hipkins (Labour), Catherine Delahunty (Greens) and Tracey Martin (New Zealand First) asked questions and clarified details, the National Party MPs ate their yoghurt and basically warmed their chairs.
The day the amendments passed:
A tweet or Facebook post alerted me to the fact that the third reading was taking place.  I watched carefully.  Chris Hipkins, Catherine Delahunty, Tracey Martin, Kelvin Davis, Gareth Hughes and several others on the opposition benches spoke with authority and a good understanding of the issues and the impacts.
David Seymour (ACT) spoke with no real understanding of the implications and totally from an ideological point of view.  Paul Foster-Bell clearly had no idea what he was talking about, almost as though he had not read through the notes/speech Hekia's office had given to him after his dinner break.  And as for Melissa Lee, good grief!  She warbled on about Lydia Ko and how these amendments would make it easier for our future Lydia Ko's - oblivious to the fact that the current system caters for those families like Lydia's.
The government MPs failed to put up any concrete arguments to that mostly empty debating chamber to counter the opposition MP's fact based speeches in opposition to the amendments.

What does a former member of the Teachers Council think about it all:

Through the Stand Up for Kids - Protect Our Schools Facebook page I have been communicating with Ken Wilson, a former member of the Teachers Council.  And this is what he has to say about the disbanding of the Teachers Council to establish EDUCANZ:

As a past elected member of the New Zealand Teachers Council I find myself profoundly offended by the Ministry of Education's advertisement for EDUCANZ in today's DomPost headed up "We're making changes to education so all Kiwi kids can fly. Education Council of Aotearoa New Zealand."

Why is it in today’s political climate, that any new initiative has to be accompanied by denigration of the previous, as if the previous policy was so flawed and so led by misguided and insincere people that it had no value at all?

The Teachers Council was a replacement body for the Teacher Registration Board which had been an effective organisation but one with limited powers. The Board, Director and staff of the Teacher Registration Board were wholly in favour of the new Teachers Council with its broader powers and focus on promoting the professional status of teachers.

Yes, the NZ Teachers Council had a rocky start. The first Chair was driven from her post by unfounded and politically biased accusations – she was later cleared but it was too late by then. This led to the appointment of a director who, while a good person in many ways, was not really up to the task.

This all changed with the appointment of a number of truly effective chairs and of Peter Lind as Director. Over time this hard work gained acceptance of the Council across the profession – even (remarkably) in the university teacher education faculties. What a fantastic effort to make something as bureaucratic as registration accepted by teachers! Now for pathetic political reasons, all that hard, dedicated work by Peter, all of his staff and a whole swag of Council members and chairs has been discarded, marginalised and treated as worthless.

The Ministry of Education has a website page listing the differences between the Council and EDUCANZ. Their view is that key to this is that the status of EDUCANZ as an independent statutory body rather than an Autonomous Crown Entity. Apparently this means that the Minister can select members to create a skills-balanced organisation rather than relying on the vagaries of the electoral process – so much for democracy. (The Ministry makes some interesting points about the low levels of participation in the elections in the last instance.) And of course the Minister appoints all members of the Council – that makes for real independence.

The goals of the new organisation are listed. It's worth looking back at the goals of the Teachers Council and trying to spot the difference. This is a sham, a total sham. I am really pissed off!!
So let's do as Ken suggests and look at the goals of the two organisations:
For further information on the differences between the Teachers Council and EDUCANZ click here.  And for the FAQ according to EDUCANZ, click here.

What does a current member of the Teachers Council think:

Claire Amos is a secondary school teacher and Deputy Principal at Hobsonville Point Secondary School in Auckland, and was last year elected to the Teachers Council by the secondary teachers who voted.

In a blog post dated 2 March called Educanz - between a rock and a hard place, Claire opens with this:

I feel the need to begin this post with a few disclaimers:
  • I am a passionate and committed PPTA member. 
  • I am current a member of a NZ Teachers Council. 
  • I am feeling genuinely stuck...between a rock and hard place. 

Claire then writes:

There is the issue that the process for forming the council is clearly undemocratic, with nominations being open to all, but final selection being made by the Minister of Education. This is of course even harder to accept when you consider that the council is actually funded by the teachers themselves.  
There is also the issue of changing the code of ethics (which are viewed as aspirational) to a code of conduct (which suggest a baseline for behaviour) which to be fair IS insulting, particularly in light of the claim that one of the aims of the new council forming is to elevate the status of teachers??

Add to this the concerns around the stated aim to "to ensure that appraisals made by professional leaders for the issue and renewal of practising certificates achieve a reasonable and consistent standard, by auditing and moderating the appraisals made for at least 10% of the practising certificates issued or renewed in each year " Source: Section 382 Education Amendment Act 2015 which I actually wouldn't have a huge issue with if it weren't for the implications this will have for council employee workloads and the potential practicing certificate fee increase this will undoubtedly lead to. 
And then...

And then there is the million dollar question - will snubbing the nomination process and the council even make a difference? Will a vote of no confidence be enough to result in a change of legislation? Could we instead be presented with a situation where no left-leaning, future thinking folks stand and give Minister Parata absolutely no choice but to appoint conservative, status-quo protecting council members. Of course, she may well do this anyway, but there a part of me saying if I don't put my hat (or the hat of like-minded folk) in the ring there really is NO chance of having a voice for a good chunk of our sector. 

Yes, we could all disengage and stand shoulder to shoulder, resolute that nominating someone or nominating yourself is by it's very virtue acceptance of fundamentally flawed legislation - but I genuinely don't think it is as straight forward as that. 

And it is good to know I am not the only one conflicted with the quandary of which strategy is the best way forward.

Nominations open...

On Thursday 26 February, Hekia Parata announced that nomination for EDUCANZ were now open.  Hekia's press statement said,
“Nominations are encouraged from anyone with a strong interest in the development and strengthening of the education profession. All appointments will be on the basis of skills, experience and knowledge.
“Members will act in the interests of the education profession as a whole, rather than any one sector group.
“It’s an exciting time to be involved in education. Student achievement continues to rise and the Investing in Educational Success initiative signals a new era of collaboration in raising the quality of teaching and leadership from early childhood to senior secondary.
“I am confident the nominations process for EDUCANZ will attract huge interest and a high calibre of nominees.” 
This is part of the advertisement (click here to see full advert and access extra information) in the Gazette.
Above is part of the advertisement in the Government Gazette, but I would love to see a copy of the advertisement Ken Wilson refers to from the Dominion Post. Reaction was fairly swift from the unions and teachers themselves on social media.
What will happen next?
Now NZEI, PPTA, NZPF and any other groups have had to signal their responses and next steps.
NZEI have decided to run their own process of collecting nominations through their membership to put forward to Hekia Parata (Minister of Education) to choose from.
PPTA and NZPF have decided to boycott the process completely, with the PPTA stating they will be balloting their members to check this is still their wish going forward.  The NZPF President, Denise Torrey, has written the following wise words in relation to how their organisation views EDUCANZ:
"Through the Minister appointing all members of the EDUCANZ Board it will be possible for the government to exert considerable political control over the council and set the agenda for it. In our view such control runs counter to the notion of self-regulation which the council is supposed to provide. 
Of further concern is what other roles the EDUCANZ might take on. NZPF maintains that EDUCANZ should be primarily about teacher registration, ensuring the quality of initial teacher education, issuing practising certificates, discipline and ethics. Already we know that the auditing of principal appraisals and other roles are likely to fall under the jurisdiction of EDUCANZ and to conduct these roles will require teachers to pay more fees to the council. With no democratically elected representatives on the council, the profession will have no say in any of these changes."
SPANZ and NZSTA has yet to formally declare where they stand, and searching their websites I found nothing mentioning EDUCANZ; but considering they were totally behind IES, I imagine they have fallen into line with Hekia over EDUCANZ.
So what are the pitfalls of these choices?
At first glance to me, NZEI’s stance seemed weak and had a whiff of capitulation about it.  I was concerned that as an organisation I am a member of, that we would lose the opportunity to make a stand about the lack of direct representation.  However Louise Green, NZEI President, said it would be a bad look not to nominate appropriate people for the roles.
Then I thought about it a little more.
If NZEI runs a process that puts several strong, quality nominations up one of two things may happen:
  • Hekia chooses one (or two preferably) nominations to represent teachers and appreciates the fact that we as a group of ECE and primary/intermediate teachers have quality people who can lead the profession.
  • Hekia completely ignores the capable people we nominate and instead appoints a patsy who is not representative of the ECE and primary/intermediate professions, exposing her bias.
With the stance taken by PPTA and NZPF of a boycott of the nomination process, I thought, at first glance, that it was bold and sends a message about how important representation for each sector is to these stakeholders.
And then I thought about it some more.
Maybe such a stance could be taken as follows:
  • The PPTA and NZPF are cutting of their noses despite themselves.
  • Hekia may consider that those sectors need no representation and will appoint someone abhorrent to their groups.  The last thing we need on EDUCANZ are people who do not understand the profession and how each sector is unique in all areas.
Where do I stand on EDUCANZ:

So like Claire Amos, I too am caught between a rock and a hard place.

Firstly I fundamentally disagree with the disbanding of the Teachers Council and establishment of EDUCANZ on the grounds of financial management and loss of intellect.  It will cost a fairly decent fortune to do this on so many levels (stationery and new signs and website for starters) and even though the staff will transfer to EDUCANZ from the Teachers Council, there will be severe lost of intellect if any staff decide it's not the move for them, and it will be a severe loss of intellect that our elected leaders to the Teachers Council have collected over the years that will be lost, as it is likely those people may not be selected for EDUCANZ.

I personally believe that Hekia has thrown the baby out with the bathwater on this one.  Yes, the Teachers Council had some areas that were not effective.  So adjust the legislation and require it to tighten up some areas and change some things (particularly in regards to serious discipline matters) that are not up to scratch.  It would have been so much cheaper and faster and less disruptive.  However, we really know that this is all about trying to control and muzzle teachers.

I fundamentally disagree with the legislation that has formed EDUCANZ in regards to the lack of democracy for teachers meaning that they do not elect members of EDUCANZ, and the fact that this could open up the Minister of Education to appoint cronies and people with a conflict of interest. 

I fundamentally disagree with disbanding the Code of Ethics (which I clearly remember being consulted on and discussing the options) with a Code of Conduct.  The Code of Ethics may be aspirational, but its flexibility reflects the evolving nature of teaching and the different contexts of schools and centres in which teachers are teaching.  A Code of Conduct represents a more condemning context.

While I see the positives of participating in nominations to EDUCANZ, I can't help but think we need to send an extremely strong message - again - to the Minister and the rest of the government. 

To not pay any fees to EDUCANZ would be a start - but my protest would be impotent considering my current practising certificate is valid through to 2017 and therefore my small protest would make no difference.  If all teachers did it, then it would be huge, but now many teachers' practising certificates need renewing each year?  Are our teachers bold and brave enough to make such a grand statement?  And would that make the necessary impact?

Once upon a time there may have been strikes over this (particularly from secondary teachers) but with all the changes to employment law over the last 25 years we are unable to take strike action over an issue like this.  It is not linked directly to our collective agreements.

However there must be other ways we can limit our interactions and co-operation with EDUCANZ to send a message, such as not participating in the audits of appraisals and development of their procedures and Code of Conduct.  Please feel free to add more in the comments.

This week I had the pleasure of hearing Andrew Little speak twice, once to Labour party members in Hamilton and once to the Affco Horotiu workers at the Meat Workers Union meeting in Ngaruawahia.  Andrew believes in constructive negotiation.  He likes to see win:win situations.

But one piece of advice that he gave the Affco workers was this:  Half the battle is in your head.  If you think that you have lost before you even begin, then you have.  You have to keep the faith and keep the goal foremost in your mind and keep working towards it.  You have to keep your collective group working towards the same goal  together.

So let's not think that the fight for a democratic EDUCANZ is over.  Let's not think that a Code of Conduct is already done and dusted.  We have the power together to speed things up, slow things down and complicate it for the EDUCANZ body.  We just need to share a joint vision, work together, keep the goal in mind and be positive.

It's up to NZEI, PPTA and NZPF to get together and sort that joint vision and goal out so we can get in behind it and work to achieve it.

To not do this is to fail the standard.  And lets's face it, this legislation has already failed a big standard.

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