Tuesday, 21 March 2017

An Open Letter to Anne Tolley, the Minister for Social Development - a Ministry that is systematically broken.

Dear Mrs Tolley,

I am writing this open letter to you to inform you of how the Ministry of Social Development has failed the standard; to tell you about the poor service I received between December and March while I was in receipt of a Job Seekers Benefit which completely negated the empathy your staff was able to provide.  I am also writing to ask how you intend to fix the multiple systematic failures that I and many others encounter ona daily basis when dealing with the Ministry of Social Development.

During 2016 I began my Masters of Education.  I supplemented the Student Loan allowance I received with relief teaching when my studies allowed.  This allowance ended in early November, meaning relief teaching was my only form of income.

In December the school year finished, meaning I had no primary source of income until some time in February when schools required relief teachers to cover illness, classroom release time, professional development and other such absences of classroom teachers.

Consequently I made contact with the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) in mid November in order to kick start the process for the Job Seekers Benefit.  I met with a client manager at the Cambridge office on November 29th and discussed that I was a short term project with my intentions being to return to study in 2017 to complete my Master’s dissertation and relief teaching.  

I had with me some of the documents I had been asked to bring and could obtain, and discussed which documents I still needed to supply in preparation for relieving drying up by the second week of December (due to depleted school budgets for relieving).  It did take several weeks to supply my documentation, but one thing I am very certain of is that I supplied my current and correct residential/mailing address on my form applying for the Job Seekers Benefit.

I made a second and possibly a third trip into the Cambridge office during December to drop in documents, as well as emailing some that I was unable to print due to technical difficulties.  I was assured that I was accepted and the Job Seekers Benefit would start the week before Christmas.  I awaited written confirmation.  It did not arrive.

In the end I made a phone call to MSD in the week leading up to Christmas asking when I would be paid and the amount.  I was told I would be paid $212 each Thursday, including the amount to cover a regular expensive prescription I require - expensive because I don’t get the generic.

My family spent Christmas in Whitianga.  On Boxing Day I went to town to do an errand for my parents and one of the shops I visited had a job vacancy advertised on the door.  I approached the shop keeper and asked her about the job.  I emailed her my CV, she phoned me, and I secured the position which was minimum wage casual hours to relieve her more experienced casual worker over the busy summer holiday period.  I had never worked in retail before, so I was looking forward to the experience.

After the stat days ended, I contacted MSD through their 0800 number.  I explained that I had secured a position and that it was casual hours.  They explained there was an $80 gross cap and then they would deduct from the total of my weekly benefit.  I believe that this $80 gross cap has not changed in many many years despite increases to the minimum wage, rents, and general inflation and that it takes no account of the fact that the job will be secondary taxed, that my student loan repayments must be paid and that I have KiwiSaver.  

I was told that as long as I rang by the end of Friday with my hours worked for the week that my following week’s payment could be adjusted, even if I just guessed the hours I would be working on Saturday and Sunday of that weekend.  

Remember, this is the week between Christmas and New Years, and I’m ringing on the Wednesday after two stat holidays, with the full knowledge that there would be two more stat holidays the following week.

So on the last Friday of 2016, I rang MSD, with my guessed amount of hours I would be doing before the end of Sunday coming and the person who answered the phone told me I should have informed them of my hours on Wednesday just gone due to the stat holidays the following week.  Because I had earned over $80 gross, I was now in arrears with MSD and would have my benefit reduced by $10 a week in order to recover the arrears.

I asked for written confirmation of this.  They said they would mail it to me.  I asked if it could be emailed to me as I was working away from home.  They said they couldn’t do that and it would be sent by snail mail.  Please note: when I returned home for two days two weeks later, there was no mail from MSD at my home.  Not one letter in over six weeks of dealing with MSD.

I continued to work in this shop throughout January, finishing on Wednesday 1 February as I had secured a new job back in Hamilton to start on Friday 3 February and in anticipation of oodles of teachers becoming ill or needing CRT or PLD eventually.  I also needed to start sorting out my re-enrollment at University.

During January, my Job Seekers Benefit was never the same week to week.  The hours I worked in the shop were never the same and lessened towards the end of January as the holiday makers drifted back to their homes and schools.  I never received each week from either the casual job or the benefit combined the amount I was meant to receive for the Job Seekers Benefit, $212.  

Consequently, what I did earn covered my petrol and food.  I didn’t do anything exciting or excessive during that time, but I was in no position to pay my cell phone account, meet the minimum payments on my credit cards, pay the cost of the service and WOF of my car in January, pay my HP or pay the cost of the storage unit where 99.9% of everything I own (including teaching resources) is stored in.  Several times, after my automatic payments for insurances went out, I was left sub-zero, and once I had to ask the shopkeeper I was working for to urgently pay me early so I could survive the weekend.

I was quite stressed out with the amount of arrears I was building up and certain health conditions were exacerbated, and I still haven’t combatted them now.

So let’s just recap on some important points here:
  • In November in my initial application I supplied my current residential/mailing address.
  • I had received no written documentation by mail from MSD at any point since 29th of November and it is now February.
  • I was not given the correct information about when to ring MSD to provide my hours of work during the first week of my temporary casual position when there were stat days changing the normal pattern of how it is done.
  • I am now in arrears with MSD and my benefit is accordingly reduced by $10 per week to recoup the arrears.
  • There was barely a week in January I received the $212 I was supposed to get if I had of just sat on my arse receiving a benefit instead of working as casual position.

These points above are very important, because over the next five weeks, the calamity of systematic disasters that is MSD just pile on.

I began my new position on Friday 3 February.  It is ten hours a week, flexible days to work in with the work I am required to do as well as my study and relief teaching.  Best of all I was being paid about $10 more an hour than the casual retail position I had over January.

On Tuesday 7 February (Monday being a public holiday called Waitangi Day), I rang MSD to inform them I had finished working in the shop in Whitianga and was now working in a new position for ten hours a week in Hamilton.  I informed MSD that I did not know when I would start being paid by my new job (turns out that it wasn’t until March due to numerous technical issues) and that I was currently in the red to the tune of $72 and that the next Job Seekers payment would not get me back into the black as it was about $69.

The person I spoke to was excited about my new job.  She looked into my situation and was able to make the next payment bigger so that I was $70 in the black rather than the red the next day, and informed me I would need to see a client manager as soon as possible, but that she could not make an appointment that day as the MSD booking system had ‘fallen over’.

After speaking with MSD, I began to ring everyone I was in arrears with to bargain with them over paying what I owed.

The following Tuesday I rang MSD again to book an appointment with a client manager.  I explained again that I had started a new job in Hamilton.  I was told I had an appointment the following Tuesday at 2:30pm.

On Tuesday 21 February I arrived at the Cambridge MSD office for my 2:30pm appointment.  By this time, MSD had the security people acting as quasi-receptionists.  They checked my ID and were confused about me having an appointment.  I went in and sat down.  I was approached by an MSD staff member who informed me they had no record of my appointment.  I insisted I had an appointment.  The staff member went away.  The staff member came back and said my appointment was for the Te Awamutu office.  I replied that at no stage during the call on the previous Tuesday did the call centre staff member say “Te Awamutu” and I expected my appointment to be Cambridge because all my previous dealings were with Cambridge.

By this stage I’m pretty pissed off, emotional and extremely thirsty.  I tell the staff member I have had to leave my place of work to come to this appointment and I am not leaving without seeing the appointment through.  She responds that they do not have any gaps in their appointments and I will have to take my chances.  I ask for a cup of water (there are no water stands available or cups for MSD clients) and begrudgingly the staff member brings me a plastic cup of water from their staff room while I ring the MSD 0800 number to make a complaint.

So I spend my time waiting in the Cambridge office on the phone making a verbal complaint to the call centre, who assures me that they will send me a written outcome of my complaint and informs me that I would not be able to get a new appointment in the Cambridge office until Monday 6 March!  
After that I spend my time on Twitter bitching about how broken the system at MSD is.

Eventually I am approached by the deputy manager of the Cambridge and Te Awamutu MSD offices.  She takes me down to a desk at the back of the office and apologises for the stuff up by the call centre.  She talks through my situation with me and I explained for the third time I have changed my job in February, that I was a short term project for them, that it was a matter of weeks before relief teaching really kicked in and my ten hour a week job would pay me.  

She makes adjustments to my Job Seekers Benefit for the week to accommodate the fact that I am yet to be paid by my new job (due to technical difficulties).  We then discuss the accounts I have in arrears and the ones I would like help with to pay, acknowledging that any help I receive for these would need to be repaid.  

As much as she would have liked to help, the way MSD is set up now would much rather see an individual drown in debt and never get out of the poverty cycle.  Rather than get a hand up to ensure that I continued to have a good credit rating and didn’t garner further debt, MSD refuses to help.

I left MSD that afternoon feeling rather despondent and weighed down with sadness at how our social welfare system condemns people to a cycle of poverty and benefit dependency.  It is a full time job dealing with their systems, and if I listen to the 0800 number tell me while I am on hold one more time that I can do stuff online I will scream!!!  If a real staff member can not help me, how the bloody hell is a website going to ensure I get my entitlements and understand the situation and how it should be sorted out - and I am an educated person!!

But what left me most astonished was to find out that MSD has a sinking lid on staff - when a staff member leaves, they are not replaced,  Consequently, they are understaffed.  Some not very bright management person further up the food chain in the Ministry of Social Development thinks that the internet and the kiosks at MSD offices are the answer to everything.  I’m under the impression from another person I know that the kiosks in Te Awamutu usually are crashed and that no staff member at the Te Awamutu office actually knows how the kiosks even work!

So let’s recap where I am at the 21st of February 2017:
  • In November in my initial application I supplied my current residential/mailing address.
  • I had received no written documentation by mail from MSD at any point since 29th of November and it is now nearly the end of February.
  • I was not given the correct information about when to ring MSD to provide my hours of work during the first week of my temporary casual position when there were stat days changing the normal pattern of how it is done.
  • I am now in arrears with MSD and my benefit is accordingly reduced by $10 per week to recoup the arrears.
  • There was barely a week in January I received the $212 I was supposed to get if I had of just sat on my arse receiving a benefit instead of working as casual position.
  • I couldn’t make an appointment on the 7th of February as the MSD booking system had ‘fallen over’.
  • I’ve had to explain three times in February that I started a new job in February.
  • I’ve turned up to an appointment to find I’ve been booked into an office I’ve never attended and was not verbally told or received a letter as to what office my appointment was for.
  • I am left to wallow in debt.

But wait, there is more.

Finally on 1 March, my ten hour a week job is able to pay me what I am owed, out of cycle, as I am facing financial hardship.  During this week I received enough bookings for relief teaching in March to meet my minimum financial needs.  So on Friday 3 March I ring up and ask for my Job Seekers Benefit to be finished.

Oh.  My.  God!  It is almost as hard to get off the bloody benefit as it is to get on the damn thing!

Once again I have to explain that in addition to the relieving (which I will get almost $200 in the hand a day after tax, student loan, NZEI fees, KiwiSaver and Teacher Retirement Scheme are taken out) that I also have the ten hour a week job before the call centre guy believes that I will be financially ok!  This is so ironic after MSD systems tell me they can not help me out of the arrears with my phone (essential for schools to be able to contact me on and for me to contact them) and storage fees!  He had been wanting me to supply pay slips and the blood of a virgin to get out of being on a benefit.  I just wanted the benefit to stop before they piled on more arrears (which were totalling about $400 at that stage).

So after I get an almost agreement to end my benefit, I ask about the complaint I made about the call centre getting my appointment wrong.  He assured me a letter had been sent out.  I said I hadn’t received it.  In fact, I said to him, I have received absolutely NO written correspondence form MSD since my initial contact in November, and I thought that was most unusual since they would not email me.

So this is when the next clanger happened.

He read out the address they were sending my mail to.

It was an address I have NOT lived at since May 2013, almost four years ago.  
What really annoys me is that I know who lives there now and I certainly do not want that old sticky beak getting my personal mail from MSD!

This was about when I got pretty shitty again.  This is when I explained that I had written the correct current residential/mailing address on the forms in November.  This is when I asked to make yet another complaint about the conduct and the systems of MSD and how this had been inconveniencing me.

Later that day I received an apologetic call from the deputy manager of the Cambridge and Te Awamutu MSD offices.  She sincerely apologised for the mistake with not updating my address in November, and ensured that my benefit would be paid one last time the following Thursday.

So let’s recap again on the calamity that is the system at MSD:
  • In November in my initial application I supplied my current residential/mailing address.
  • I had received no written documentation by mail from MSD at any point since 29th of November and it is now March.
  • I was not given the correct information about when to ring MSD to provide my hours of work during the first week of my temporary casual position when there were stat days changing the normal pattern of how it is done.
  • I am now in arrears with MSD and my benefit is accordingly reduced by $10 per week to recoup the arrears.
  • There was barely a week in January I received the $212 I was supposed to get if I had of just sat on my arse receiving a benefit instead of working as casual position.
  • I couldn’t make an appointment on the 7th of February as the MSD booking system had ‘fallen over’.
  • I’ve had to explain three times in February that I started a new job in February.
  • I’ve turned up to an appointment to find I’ve been booked into an office I’ve never attended and was not verbally told or received a letter as to what office my appointment was for.
  • I am left to wallow in debt.
  • I have received no written response to the complaint regarding my appointment being made at the wrong office.
  • I practically have to fight to end my benefit.
  • I discover that all the mail I should have received since November from MSD has gone to an address I haven’t lived at since May 2013 because my address details were not inputted correctly, if at all, in November when I applied for the Job Seekers Benefit.

But wait, there is more.

I get a letter from MSD informing me formally of the arrears I owe and asking me to contact them.  It does generously allow me to use my Community Services card until it expires.

What Community Services Card?

They sent me one in December and a new one in February - to the address I have not lived at in nearly four years.

So I ring up asking for a new card.  They can’t send me one because I am no longer on a benefit.  So instead they send me forms to make an application for a new one.

Can I make another complaint?

So let’s just recap again the systematic disaster that MSD is:
  • In November in my initial application I supplied my current residential/mailing address.
  • I had received no written documentation by mail from MSD at any point since 29th of November until the end of the second week of March.
  • I was not given the correct information about when to ring MSD to provide my hours of work during the first week of my temporary casual position when there were stat days changing the normal pattern of how it is done.
  • I am now in arrears with MSD and my benefit is accordingly reduced by $10 per week to recoup the arrears.
  • There was barely a week in January I received the $212 I was supposed to get if I had of just sat on my arse receiving a benefit instead of working as casual position.
  • I couldn’t make an appointment on the 7th of February as the MSD booking system had ‘fallen over’.
  • I’ve had to explain three times in February that I started a new job in February.
  • I’ve turned up to an appointment to find I’ve been booked into an office I’ve never attended and was not verbally told or received a letter as to what office my appointment was for.
  • I am left to wallow in debt.
  • I have received no written response to the complaint regarding my appointment being made at the wrong office.
  • I practically have to fight to end my benefit.
  • I discover that all the mail I should have received since November from MSD has gone to an address I haven’t lived at since May 2013 because my address details were not inputted correctly, if at all, in November when I applied for the Job Seekers Benefit.
  • My Community Services card is sent to the wrong address twice and they will not supply me with a replacement despite it being their mistake that I did not receive it.

So what do I think needs to change to ensure that the staff of MSD, who are empathetic and try hard to help but are hampered by a broken system, can actually help beneficiaries break the cycle of poverty and benefit dependency?
  • Actually have enough staff to do the job - even a simple job like inputting an address.  
  • Cut down the waiting time for an appointment.  No one should have to wait two weeks for an appointment when they are on the bones of their arse.  No one should have to wait more than 24 hours in a working week to be seen.
  • Have a computer system that makes sense that anyone can use.
  • Clearly display entitlements so that people know what they are entitled to and how to access them.
  • If MSD gives the wrong advice that means the client ends up owing arrears, don’t ping the client for the wrong advice - especially when it comes to statutory holidays.
  • Up the $80 cap for income outside of the benefit to recognise the fact that the minimum wage has increased and so has inflation.  The $80 cap should not include pinging you for Student Loan repayments or KiwiSaver either.
  • When a person is a short term project with good earning potential, help them out to keep their credit rating so they stay afloat.  There are ways and means to ensure it does get paid back.
  • Stop insisting on people begging their family for financial assistance.  The whole point of a social welfare system is for the social welfare system to support an independent adult - not to make them dependent on extended family members who are trying to hold their own financial commitments together.

While I was not treated as harshly as I was in 2010 when last needed the Unemployment Benefit to pretend I was surviving, it was still a very stressful experience.  Last time the people were incredibly harsh, but that just may be the Thames office experience.  This time I found the staff to be empathic and understanding - but they were hamstrung by a system that is unresponsive and broken.

Once again I am left feeling that our social welfare system is condemning so many to a life of poverty and dependency.  I heard former Prime Minister John Key say in one of his final interviews as and MP this week that he believes that people don’t want to be dependent on the state and do not want the state interfering in their lives.  I think John Key fails to remember what the state did for him during his childhood and that the original purpose of the welfare system was to ensure that everyone could participate as a full citizen in society.  

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).  Since the National government decimated this social contract in 1991, poverty and dependency on social welfare has been exacerbated and nothing the current National government under John Key or Bill English has improved outcomes for these people.

As an educated person, who has the power to earn five times plus more than the benefit pays a week (if school is in), the benefit is not the place I want to be.  But this experience made it clear how some people are trapped into the cycle because they are penalised so harshly for trying to earn extra cash during the peak summer period or a crop harvesting time to try and get ahead and get out of the benefit cycle.  Employers are also disadvantaged by the system as some people will limit what they will work so as not to be in danger of losing their benefit.  And that is why I think that the $80 cap on earning extra needs to be increased.

So to end this open letter to you Mrs Tolley, I'd like to tell you that the Ministry of Social Development fails the standard (and you know all about standards and failing to meet those when you were the Minister of Education); the systems at the Ministry of Social Development are broken and fail to help people break the poverty and dependency cycle; and I think it is time we did something to #ChangeTheGovt to fix the Ministry of Social Development.

But what are you going to do to fix it Mrs Tolley?

And I mean fix it, not f**k it up any more than the system already is.

Kelsey, J. (1995). The New Zealand experiment: A world model for structural adjustment? (1997 ed.). Auckland, N.Z.: Auckland University Press.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Back to the Future: How has economic policy influenced the development of education policy and how the educational achievement of children in New Zealand primary schools is measured?

This is my final assignment for my Masters of Education paper, Education Policy. 

It traces the history of Standards in primary education and how we have come full circle from our original Standards based education, when compulsory education was established in New Zealand in the late 19th century, to the disestablishment of the Standards in the 1950s, through the development of a variety of assessment tools from the 1960s through into the 2000s and then the reintroduction of Standards in 2009.

I wanted to know how much economic theory and policy played a part in the measurement of children's achievement.

The children in class at Makowhai School in 1909.  Alexander Turnball Library.


In some respects, it appears that the New Zealand public education system has come full circle from 1885 when the public education system was formally established: standards.

Until 1955, the only way a student progressed through their primary years was by passing the standards set for their class – be it either by a written and oral examination conducted by a visiting inspector or, later, under the direction of the school’s head teacher.

Today’s modern student is confronted by the National Standards, implemented in 2010.  While today, moving onto the next year level is not barred by failing to meet the standard, a label is attributed to the child declaring their level of achievement.

So how did New Zealand’s education system go “back to the future”?  How did the system come full circle on the implementation of standards, to their phasing out of and back to implementing them again?  How has economic policy influenced how New Zealand primary school students are assessed?

The purpose of this article is to outline the road taken by policy setters towards National Standards and the role of neoliberalism as the vehicle to achieve this.


Key Words:  National Standards, neoliberalism, education, student achievement, New Public Management, accountability, Public Choice Theory, The New Right.


A Land of Plenty

“Every person whatever his able ability, whether be rich or poor, whether he live in town or country, has a right as a citizen to a free education, of the kind for which he is best fitted and to the fullest extent of his power... That idea was deep in the public consciousness, deep in the public aspirations, and deeper still after the war. When again, like after the Depression, the country felt a sense of guilt for what they'd done for the young. And nobody! nobody! nobody would challenge that.” – Clarence E. Beeby, Director of Education 1940 – 1960 (NZIFF: The heART of the Matter, 2016).

Prior to 1984, New Zealand’s government practiced a policy of full employment for the nation, believing that everyone who was able to had the right to work and would have a job.  Successive governments achieved full employment, through work schemes and public service positions when times were tough, for nearly forty years – the price being that the government had central economic control (Someone Else’s Country, 2002).

CE Beeby (on the left) receiving the first NZEI fellowship award.
Acknowledge: John Cleland Photo Studio Ltd, photographer. New Zealand Educational Institute Te Riu Roa collection. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, N.Z.

As the famous Beeby quote alludes, the country was deeply wounded by the Depression and the effects of World War II, especially in regards to the children growing up in the 1930s and 1940s.  For those who served in the armed forces overseas, they came back to New Zealand expecting they would have a job that paid a fair wage so they could support a wife and family.

The government set up a free public health system, built state housing and provided opportunities for people to own their own homes.  The government had heavily invested in infrastructure for a modern post war New Zealand to ensure a strong network supplying electricity to the whole country.  Roads were being sealed and the railways reached every city, major town, industry and port.  New Zealand was considered a wealthy country with a high standard of living that recognised what was needed for a modern society.

There was also the welfare state, established late in the Depression years, to support citizens until they were able to go back to work.

The First Labour government had already begun a programme in the late 1930s to reinvent the education system guaranteeing universal free primary and secondary education.  “It was assumed that where ever people lived, they would have access to a school offering the same range of opportunities as any other school.”  (Gordon, 1997).

Education policy was developed using best practice, the latest pedagogy and research.  Teachers were supported with a network of advisors across the syllabus from within the Department of Education.  The health and wellbeing of students was supported with school milk each day. 

Minimal educational success was measured by achieving School Certificate at the end of fifth form (now Year 11).  If you were capable you would achieve UE or University Entrance at the end of sixth form (Year 12) and go to university, or stay another year to do the Bursary exams at the end of seventh form (Year 13) – although this was not commonplace until the towards the end of the 1980s and early 1990s.  To be the first in your family to achieve a qualification at university was to be celebrated.

In 1980, New Zealand had slipped from being the sixth wealthiest country per capita in 1965 to 19th place.  Prompted by rising inflation and unemployment impacting heavily on the economy, then Prime Minister, Robert Muldoon, announced a wage and price freeze in June 1982 to attempt to control and deflate both.

Prime Minister Robert Muldoon in October 1983.
Robert Muldoon. Dominion post (Newspaper) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post and Dominion newspapers. Ref: EP/1983/4156-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23196315

In 1984, the snap election called by Muldoon set in motion the biggest economic and social upheaval in New Zealand’s history since the welfare state was instituted by the First Labour government in the 1930s – and it was a Labour government doing it again.

Economic Reform

Prior to the fourth Labour government being elected in 1984, many people were unhappy with the very controlled nature of the New Zealand economy and were looking elsewhere for answers.  Ganesh Nana, a New Zealand economist, quotes John Maynard Keynes in Rashbrooke (2013, p.55): “The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood.  Indeed the world is valued by little else.  Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually slaves of some defunct economist.”

The New Zealand economy was in dire straits in 1984 with record unemployment and soaring double figured inflation resulting in interest rates being well above 20%.  It had its roots in the economic theory of Keynes, which tried to explain how the Depression happened.  Post-World War II, Keynesian economic theory was dominant.  The ethos behind it is a theory of total spending in the economy called aggregate demand, and its effects on output and inflation.  One of its key tenets was full employment.  Spending on big projects (Think Big) and controlling wages and prices (Muldoon’s wage and price freeze) are also features of Keynesian economic theory (Blinder, 2008). 

US President Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (1979-1990).

People began to look overseas for another option to improve the economy.  They looked towards how Margaret Thatcher in Great Britain and Ronald Reagan in the USA were dealing with similar issues in their economies.  Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were heavily influenced by the writings and direct advice from economists following the Chicago School of economics, in particular, Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek. 

Friedman’s ideas on monetary policy, taxation, privatisation and deregulation under the virtues of the free market are clearly seen in the policy settings of Thatcher and Reagan (Wikipedia, Friedman).  Hayek argued that socialism could not be compromised with, that all forms of collectivism could only be maintained by a central authority of some kind and that maintaining the rule of law should be the only concern of the state.  As Ball (2003, p.38) quoted Morrell (1989), “Hayek is particularly concerned to argue against the involvement of the Government in the life of the citizen.”  This meant that the state had no business in services such as health, education, or the provision of electricity, water and waste for example.  These should be in the realm of private businesses (Wikipedia, Hayek).

Margaret Thatcher was part of a movement called The New Right.  Their thinking encompassed the musings of Friedman and Hayek in having their roots in the laissez-faire viewpoint, such as leaving things to take their own course without interfering.  Again, this means the government should stay out of the free markets.  It is all about the individual over the common good.  This led into neoliberalism - where we sit today - a modern politico-economic theory, with its roots in classical liberalism from the 1800s, favouring free trade, privatisation, minimal or reduced government expenditure on social services and minimal government intervention with business.

The ideas of The New Right, in turn, also influenced economists in New Zealand who had the ear of key Labour MPs leading up to the 1984 election, such as Treasury Official Doug Andrew, who was attached to the Leader of the Opposition’s office in mid 1983 (McKinnon, 2013).

Economic policies of The New Right, pushed by sectors of the Treasury department, were put into practice by the new Minister of Finance, Roger Douglas after that election.  Government departments and services became State Owned Enterprises (SOE) and restructured, many with the goal of privatising and selling off to the private sector.  This resulted in large scale redundancies and loss of jobs for thousands of New Zealanders as former government services were rationalised. 

When Labour was voted out in 1990, the new Minister of Finance, Ruth Richardson continued the programme of privatisation and SOE sell offs.  But those in Treasury wanted The New Right doctrine taken further and New Zealand’s renowned welfare system to be dismantled.  In 1991, Richardson announced the Mother of all Budgets in which benefits were slashed across the board in order to encourage beneficiaries to compete for jobs and sanctions were brought in for eligibility to benefits (Someone Else’s Country, 2002).

On top of the highest employment statistics since the Great Depression, continued redundancies and job losses from SOE restructuring and private companies responding to the times, depressed wage increases and instability of work due to the Employment Contracts Act and the loss of power by the trade unions, the cuts to benefits impacted local communities extremely hard.  Over $400,000 was no longer flowing through the community of Porirua alone, resulting in less money spent in local businesses resulting in further job losses and business closures (Someone Else’s Country, 2002).

The Lead Up to the Education Reforms

Russell Marshall, Education Minister at the
1985 NZEI Annual Meeting.
Acknowledge: the New Zealand
Educational Institute Collection.
After the 1984 election, the Minister of Education was Russell Marshall.  He saw that education needed rationalisation as the make-up of the Department of Education was cumbersome, and, after watching reforms being conducted in other government departments, decided the best course of action was to set up his own review of education before it was initiated by other certain members of caucus or pushed by Treasury officials so he could control its direction (Butterworth & Butterworth, 1998).

Prime Minister, David Lange, was very concerned at the possibility of an education review being taken over by people who may steer education away from its role of public good.  “Lange sent Annette Dixon to talk to John Wilcox, Marshall’s executive assistant to make it clear that he did not want people appointed who would ‘take a blow torch to education’.”  (Butterworth & Butterworth, 1998, p.66).  The man recommended by Wilcox to lead the taskforce was Brian Picot. 

Prior to the 1987 election, Marshal announced to his colleagues that he was launching a review.  Brian Picot, the head of the supermarket chain Progressive Enterprises, insisted he would only lead the review if it was not to be used as a vehicle to slash funding to the education sector.  It was “only to identify costs, benefits and possible efficiencies” (Butterworth & Butterworth, 1998, p.76).

After the election, David Lange appointed himself as the Minister of Education.  “Lange was concerned about an imminent Treasury attack on social expenditure, and that he wanted to send a strong signal to the electorate of his continuing commitment to social policy.”  (Butterworth & Butterworth, 1998, p.68).

The Picot Report was released in April 1988.  Some of its recommendations were based on work from other committees and unpublished work by other teams.  In August 1988, the document Tomorrow’s Schools was released, which was essentially the Picot Report with a few relatively minor amendments.  The biggest adjustment was the inclusion and emphasis of the Treaty of Waitangi, which was anticipated by the Picot Taskforce.

An Overview of Education Policy Reform in the 1980s and 1990s

Under Tomorrow’s Schools, the result of the Picot Report in 1987, the centralised Department of Education was dismantled and replaced by a small policy focused Ministry of Education (MOE).  The NZQA (New Zealand Qualifications Authority) was set up to monitor qualifications and assessment.  Special Education services became another standalone agency (Gordon, 1997).

Primary and secondary schools became self-managing entities with parents and community members elected to a Board of Trustees (BOT) for each school.  BOTs and schools would take over the functions previously undertaken by the local Board of Education (Gordon,1997).  Advisors (formally part of the Department of Education) became part of the Advisory Service usually managed by the nearest School of Education/Teachers’ College. 

The Education Review Office (ERO) was established to hold BOTs, schools, principals and teachers to account for the financial performance and achievement success of the school in place of the inspectors from the previous regional Boards of Education.  This was in line with an international preoccupation with reviewing schools under the New Public Management doctrine (Thrupp, 1997).

In 1995 the decile funding system was introduced.  The right of parents to choose the schools their children would attend, under the theory of Public Choice, implemented in 1991, lead to white flight from low socio-economic schools, particularly combined with the perception by parents that decile level could be a stigma and may mean the education provided at a low decile school was not adequate (Thrupp, 1997).  Ball (2003, pp.32-33) quoted Lauder, et al (1999) discussing how choice was being used by New Zealand parents who were financially mobile:  “Students from high SES background have the greatest opportunity to avoid working class schools, and most take it.”

The Curriculum Review conducted under the Lange government went into full overdrive in the 1990s, starting with the Curriculum Framework published in 1993 (Philips, 2000).  Each year a new Curriculum document for a new learning area was released in draft form, which was compiled without direct consultation with teachers and academics concerned with the curriculum area under the concept of provider capture.  Each draft had to be commented on and trialled in schools before being confirmed, published and gazetted.  This meant each year one curriculum area would be consulted on, while a second was gazetted with schools writing the document into their policies and a third curriculum area was being implemented into schools.

This really was the ignition of an assessment led curriculum, with Learning Objectives becoming the driving force behind any learning planned with an assessment to prove its effectiveness.  This was how the government and the public would assess children were learning and teachers were effective or not.  But how was this different to previous eras?

A History of Primary School Assessment up to the 1980s

In the school days prior to 1955, a student was required to pass the standard set for their year level.  The Education Act of 1877 established a national system of curriculum and exam standards for all state primary school.  They were formulated in early 1878 and gazetted later that year in September.  Originally this was assessed by an external inspector using an oral and written examination once a year.  Rote learning was rife with the threat of the inspector’s visit looming.  Competition between schools, and even education boards, was rife.  One Napier school announced it would pay a bonus to teachers whose students produced desirable exam results.  The results of the annual exams were published each year and it enabled the public and the Department of Education to evaluate the performance of individual schools and teachers (Lee, n.d.).  Like today, teachers of that time complained the syllabus was being narrowed as a result of the standards set for each year level. 

This evolved to a test administered by the head teacher.  However this process led to accusations of gaming the system by teachers teaching to the test or assisting students with their assessments – not unlike some of the arguments of today’s era of National Standards or evidence of overseas jurisdictions using a national testing regime.  Consequently a set written test was developed (Hill, n.d.).

Prior to the Second World War and after it, a lot of research had been conducted into the science of how children learned and how successful teachers taught.  Beeby put a lot of weight behind this and it influenced the pedagogical approach that he encouraged through the various units in the Department of Education.

Post World War II, changes were made to how teaching and learning was approached and assessed.  Passing the standards to move up was abolished in 1955.  Norm based testing was the focus with a five point scale.  After the 1962 Currie Commission Report, The New Zealand Council of Education Research (NZCER) were engaged “to prepare and administer national standardised tests in the form of ‘checkpoints of attainment’ in basic subjects” for certain year groups (Lee, n.d., slide 63).  In 1965, NZCER were tasked with the responsibility of designing assessments based on norm based standardised testing for each year group, resulting in the PATs (Progress Achievement Tests) for reading comprehension, reading vocabulary, oral listening and mathematics being launched in 1969 (Hill, n.d.).  PATs are still one of the assessment tools in use today.

During the 1970s and 1980s, other advances were made in the assessment of reading and writing.  Marie Clay’s Running Record and the Six Year Net for the assessment of reading behaviours and Donald Graves writing conferences to assess and feedback on the craft of writing were established as core assessment procedures for teachers and are still in use today (Hill, n.d.).

Assessment in the 1990s Era of Reform

As part of the market focus of the reforms initiated when Tomorrow’s Schools was implemented in 1989, schools and teachers were to be held accountable for the learning achievement of students publicly.  “The insinuation was that through these accountability measures, student achievement and the quality of learning programmes would be improved.” (Hill, 2002).

In 1990, a document called Tomorrow’s Standards was published as a result of the Ministerial Working Party on Assessment for Better Learning.  Following that, a wider range of assessment tools were developed to assist classroom teachers with formative (used to improve teaching and learning) and summative (a summary of where the individual is at) assessments to ensure students were achieving the tightly specified outcomes of the New Zealand Curriculum (Philips, 2000).

Teachers and schools developed their own methods and resources to assess their students’ learning while the Ministry worked on developing examples of assessment activities, co-ordinating teacher development in assessment and releasing support material such as Assessment: Policy to Practice in 1994 (Philips, 2000).  Philips said Hill (1999) referred to ‘assessment frenzy’ becoming epidemic in the 1990s primary school setting.

During this time, common place assessment tools used included the School Entry Assessment, Six Year Nets, Standard Two Survey, Running Records and PATs.  During this time the Assessment Resource Banks (ARBs) were developed by NZCER to provide a variety of standardised assessment items in mathematics, English and science.

The National Education Monitoring Project (NEMP) was established in the mid 1990s based at the University of Otago.  “The stated purpose of NEMP is to provide a national picture of trends in educational achievement, which may assist policy development, resource allocation and review of the New Zealand Curriculum.”  (Philips, 2000).  A sample of students in Years 4 and 8 (or Standard 2 and Form 2) were selected to complete tasks in various curriculum areas to demonstrate their skills and achievement in that curriculum area.

In the mid 1990s, international assessments emerged to measure educational achievement in OECD countries.  The Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) was one, and it enabled New Zealand students to be compared to students in the other OECD countries.

In 1998 a Green Paper, Assessment for Success in Primary Schools, was a beacon for what was to come.  The Green Paper said there was a need to know how children were achieving in primary schools and that schools needed better information “to ‘benchmark’ or check their professional judgement” and compare to nationwide cohorts (Philips, 2000, p.148).  While acknowledging the range of assessment tools in operation already, the Green Paper deliberately downplayed their importance and sophistication to promote the need of national, externally referenced tests (Lee, n.d.).  Recommendations included additional diagnostic test to provide specific next steps for learners, along with the mandatory externally, referenced tests with multiple choice questions to be administered at Years 6 and 8 (Standard 4 and Form 2).

The external mandatory tests were opposed by the teaching profession, citing fears of narrowing the curriculum, league table and teaching to the test, not unlike the calls over a hundred years previous to this (Lee, n.d.).  Three proposals for new diagnostic tools, exemplars of students’ work and changes to NEMP were supported however (Philips, 2000).

This is the report in the NZEI Rourou (12/10/1999 volume 10, issue 10 1999) of then Education Minister Nick Smith's speech to the 1999 NZEI Annual Meeting - the first Annual Meeting I ever attended.  The silent protest was powerful.

However, with in late 1998 it was clear the government was still working towards external mandatory tests when it announced a new goal for literacy and numeracy (Philips, 2000, p.144): “By 2005, every child turning 9 will be able to read, write and do maths for success.”  Lee (nd) said the new Education Minister in 1999, Dr Nick Smith, stated that an external mandatory test regime was still on the table post-election, while Labour leader, Helen Clark, ruled it out under a Labour government.

Assessment in the 2000s

Upon Labour becoming the government in November 1999, the proposal of a national external test regime for primary schools was extinguished.  Otherwise the new Labour led government carried on the majority of the policy agenda set under the previous National led government.  The 1998 Green Paper had some initiatives in motion and the emphasis was on Literacy and Numeracy driven from the failed attempt by the previous government to introduce a national testing regime. 

Unlike the National led government before it, this Labour led government during the 2000s actively engaged the teaching profession in all initiatives, believing that if the teachers had buy in they would more likely have successful student outcomes.  “Accordingly, when students fail to achieve the prototypical classroom teacher becomes the scapegoat…  In this ideal, Labour is attempting simultaneously to secure the active support of the teaching workforce as a partner of the state and to persuade the wider electorate that it is the watchdog of educational standards.”  (O’Neill, 2005, p.119).

With the focus being on Literacy and Numeracy, several key contracts were initiated in 2000.  One was the Numeracy Project, a new way to assess children’s capabilities to express their understanding of number and computation and how to teach Numeracy, as maths came to be known.  Contracts for writing and reading to improve a schools performance in these areas under the Literacy Project were also initiated as well as clusters of schools for ICTPD (Information and Communication Technologies Professional Development).

The new Education Minister, Trevor Mallard, announced the development of a new assessment tool called asTTle to be developed by the University of Auckland under the guidance of Prof John Hattie.  This tool would be used on a voluntary basis by schools, with assessments chosen by teachers to suit their learning programmes and the varied nature of these assessment meant the development of league tables would be highly unlikely.

Other new assessment tools, as a result of the 1988 Green Paper were developed too.  Between 1999 and 2003, NZCER developed and trialled a new literacy assessment tool call STAR for students Year 3 and up (NZCER, n.d.).  The National Curriculum Exemplars were examples of student work at each level of the curriculum identifying features that were characteristic of the achievement expected at that level.  Alongside matrices for writing, for example, these enabled teachers to level a student’s writing sample against the Curriculum expectations.

Assessments in use over the 2000s included: School Entry Assessment, Six Year Nets, Numeracy diagnostic tools like NUMPA and GloSS, National Curriculum Exemplars, Year Four Survey (aka Standard Two Survey), Running Records, asTTle, ARBs, PATs, STAR and NEMP.

But rather than a focus on assessment to improve student outcomes, the spotlight turned to how to identify best practice in teaching and learning, how to better analyse and use the assessment data collected to inform teaching and learning, and to place further responsibility and accountability upon teachers to meet the needs of individual students (O’Neill, 2005).  As O’Neill (p.119) wrote, “On the surface, then, the discourse under the Fifth Labour Government has simply shifted from ‘summative’ to ‘formative’ in its emphasis.”

The government also initiated a long-term study conducted by Adrienne Alton-Lee called Iterative Programme of Best Evidence Synthesis, focused on reviewing the best evidence of teaching and learning in an effort to find out how to best improve teaching and learning to improve student outcomes (Boyask, 2010 and O’Neill, 2010).

International tests of student performance were an increasingly important sign post under the Labour led government to prove the system was delivering.  PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study) and PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) joined TIMSS as a way for the government to compare New Zealand student performance internationally.  In comparison to New Zealand developed assessments, these international assessments failed to factor in the cultural currency of the New Zealand student, especially Māori and Pasifika students.  This was due to the assessment being focussed on the knowledge considered to be essential for the global knowledge economy.  None the less, the reports from these assessments remained central to the narrative of the MOE literature (Boyask, 2010).

Nationals Rationale for National Standards

When National left office in 1999, it was with a sense of unfinished business in regards to getting more accountability for student achievement outcomes to be measured.  The had not achieved their goal of a national testing regime. 

John Key.
John Key, the National leader, signalled in 2007 that when National got into government, National Standards would be central to his government’s plans in education and the focus would be on the basics, Literacy and Numeracy.  Lee (n.d.) quoted from the National Party’s 2007 Education Policy, “National Standards will give schools from Kaitaia to Bluff a set of shared expectations about what students should be achieving as they move through primary school.  Teachers will use national standards to clearly identify students who are at risk of missing out on basic skills and becoming a permanent part of the “tail” of under-achievement.”  Teachers argued this was disingenuous, as they already knew which children were not meeting the expected stages for their age and year level in various subjects.

Three key ideas underpinned this policy: national standards, effective schoolwide assessment and upfront reporting to parents.  National based this policy on two ERO reports, The Collection and use of Assessment Information in Schools (March 2007) and The Collection and Use of Assessment Information: Good Practice in Primary Schools (June 2007), which claimed 49% of schools were not implementing effective schoolwide assessment, teachers were not using the huge potential of the assessment tools for their programmes or efficiently reporting to families (O’Neill, 2007). 

However, National did back off from an external mandatory testing regime in favour of teachers using the existing assessment tools.  Instead they would be making Overall Teacher Judgements (OTJs) when comparing assessment results to National Standards.

Anne Tolley, Minister of Education at the
NZEI 2011 Annual Meeting in Rotorua.
I was in attendance for this controversial
address to Annual Meeting as well.
After the election in November 2008, the new Prime Minister, John Key, appointed Anne Tolley as Minister of Education.  Within weeks, under urgency and avoiding the select committee process, National Standards legislation was before the House and passed by the National Party MPs and their Coalition Support Partners, Act, United Future and the Māori Party.  Tolley insisted that parents wanted National Standards, despite few voters actually knowing that it was part of their election manifesto as both National and Labour released their education policies one week before the election.  She told principals in February 2009 that consultation would happen during that year and implementation would be in 2010 (Lee, n.d.).

Tolley continued to use the previously mentioned ERO reports to justify National Standards, using statistics in her speeches and media briefings to prove her point, her favourite one being one in five children were being failed as part of the long tail of underachievement.  However a closer look at the data from the ERO reports, according to Lee (n.d.), shows these reports did not actually bare out what Minister Tolley was saying to justify the policy.  She had cherry picked statistics to make her case.

In Conclusion

It is clear throughout the history of the compulsory primary school era that what children learn and how it is proved has been a consistent tension for politicians and the public.  The politicians wanted justification that the taxpayer dollars they had dedicated towards compulsory education were indeed value for money.

Post-World War II, this did not change, but pedagogy had more influence over assessment than economics when the need to pass a standard each year was abolished in 1955.  However, politicians still insisted on some form of measurement of achievement resulting in new tools such as the normative PATs, Running Records and so being developed over the next thirty years more in line with how experts knew students learn.

With the advent of The New Right and the evolution into neoliberalism, the drive for teachers to be accountable for student outcomes has come “back to the future”.  While a national testing regime similar to the UK, USA or Australia has been kept at bay during the 2000s, National has implemented National Standards.  Now children are assessed according to OTJs made by teachers using the assessment results collected against the Standards.  These are collated, reported to the MOE and, through the work of the media, league tables have emerged comparing the performance of schools against one another.

While economic policy does not specifically drive the desire to know how students are performing, as that is definitely an area parents and politicians have stake in knowing, economic policy does drive the form that the accountability will take.  Under the Fifth Labour led government the desire for education policy to be seen as reminiscent of the Fraser/Beeby egalitarian era dampened down the standards debate.  But with the return of a National led government under John Key, the neoliberalist desire to have every dollar spent on social policy accounted for and justified has come to the fore.


Ball, S. J. (2003). Class strategies and the education market: The middle classes and social advantage. London: RoutledgeFalmer.

Blinder, A. S. (2008). Keynesian Economics. Retrieved October 10, 2016, from http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/KeynesianEconomics.html


Boyask, R. (2010). Learning and Diversity in Schools. In Thrupp, M., & Irwin, R. (Eds.). Another decade of New Zealand education policy: Where to now? (pp. 21-34) Hamilton, N.Z.: Wilf Malcolm Institute of Educational Research (WMIER), Faculty of Education, The University of Waikato.


Butterworth, G. V., & Butterworth, S. (1998). Reforming education: The New Zealand experience, 1984-1996. Palmerston North, N.Z.: Dunmore Press.


Friedrich Hayek. (2016, October 10). Retrieved October 12, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friedrich_Hayek


Gordon, L. (1997). ‘Tomorrow’s Schools’ Today: School Choice and the Education Quassi-Market. In Olssen, M., & Matthews, K. M. (Eds.). Education policy in New Zealand: The 1990s and beyond. (pp. 65-82.  Palmerston North, N.Z.: Dunmore Press.


Hill, M. (2002). Focussing the Teacher's Gaze: Primary teachers reconstructing assessment in self managing schools. Educational research for policy and practice, 1(1-2), 113-125. Doi:10.1023/A:1021172303647

Hill, M. (n.d.). Assessment at primary level: An historical overview. Retrieved October 10, 2016, from https://edlinked.soe.waikato.ac.nz/research/project/item.php?id=120


Lee, H. F., PhD. (n.d.). The Politics, Context, and History of National Standards and Testing in New Zealand Primary Schools. Retrieved October 11, 2016, from http://www.nzpf.ac.nz/uploads/7/2/4/6/72461455/profhowardlee_massey_ed.pdf


Milton Friedman. (2016, October 10). Retrieved October 12, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milton_Friedman


McKinnon, M. (2013). Treasury: A History of the New Zealand Treasury 1840-2000. Auckland University Press.


Nana, G. (2013). The Cost of Inequality. In Rashbrooke, M. (Ed.). Inequality: A New Zealand crisis. (pp. 55-67). Wellington, New Zealand: Bridget Williams Books.

NZCER. (n.d). STAR reading test.  Retrieved October 10, 2016, from http://www.nzcer.org.nz/tests/star


NZIFF: The heART of the Matter. (2016). Retrieved August 28, 2016, from http://www.nziff.co.nz/2016/auckland/the-heart-of-the-matter/


NZ On Screen. (1996). Someone Else's Country | Film | NZ On Screen. Retrieved September 16, 2016, from https://www.nzonscreen.com/title/someone-elses-country-1996


O’Neill, J. (2005).  Policies on teachers and teaching: More of the same?  In Codd, J. A., & Sullivan, K. (Eds.). Education policy directions in Aotearoa New Zealand.  (pp. 115-126).  Southbank, Vic.: Thomson Learning Australia.


O’Neill, j. (2010). Teachers and Teaching. In Thrupp, M., & Irwin, R. (Eds.). Another decade of New Zealand education policy: Where to now? (pp. 1-20) Hamilton, N.Z.: Wilf Malcolm Institute of Educational Research (WMIER), Faculty of Education, The University of Waikato.


Philips, D. (2000). Curriculum and assessment policy in New Zealand: Ten years of reforms. Educational Review, 52(2), 143-153. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.waikato.ac.nz/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/235109973?accountid=17287

Thrupp, M. (1997). Shaping a Crisis: The Education Review Office and South Auckland Schools. In Olssen, M., & Matthews, K. M. (Eds.). Education policy in New Zealand: The 1990s and beyond. (pp. 145-161.  Palmerston North, N.Z.: Dunmore Press.