Monday, April 14, 2014

EDUCANZ, Professionalism and Politics

When I first started teaching I spent a number of happy years in rural communities. In the early eighties all teachers were expected to teach in a 'country' school to enable them to get promotion. Country service was seen as an important part of our professional experience as we would have to teach a range of ages and be able to build positive relationships in the wider community. Primary Teachers were never paid particularly well in those days but I always found that the job was given considerable status and clergy, doctors and teachers were respected as the educated professionals in any community. Only a small proportion of the population had tertiary qualifications then and around 50% left school at 15-16 years of age.

When I started teaching, most teachers had a three year teaching diploma and no degree and now there are much greater academic expectations. Teachers colleges have merged with universities and most teachers now have degrees and many principals have a Masters. The journey to become a fully registered teacher generally involves three to four years of academic study to obtain a degree then at least two years as a pre-registered teacher working under an advice and guidance programme with an experienced mentor before becoming fully registered. It takes at least six years of teaching before a teacher can be considered an 'experienced teacher'. For teachers to maintain full registration they must have regular professional appraisals based on documented professional criteria, this also requires a commitment to the teachers code of ethics and evidence of ongoing professional development.

My wife is a GP and when I compared her responsibilities and workload to mine, when I was a deputy principal, I was aware that the hours of work and extent of responsibilities were similar. In Finland the status of teachers is regarded as greater than a GP. The teaching profession in Finland have an excellent working relationship with the Government and any educational changes are developed and implemented collaboratively.

The status of teachers in New Zealand has dropped considerably since I started teaching despite the fact that qualifications and performance expectations are greater. Teachers work much longer hours now and the demands of planning and assessment mean that most full-time teachers work around 50 hours a week (when I was a DP 60-70 hours was not unusual). I would spend at least one day of most weekends at school and after leaving school between 5 and 6 pm I would often still work for a couple of hours in the evening. As an experienced teacher I often had children with high needs in my class and it was not unusual to have a couple with ORRS funding. This meant many after school meetings with specialist support and parents to develop and report on IEPs. Having children with high behaviour and learning needs in a class can increase a teacher's work load considerably.

The New Zealand Teacher's Council is the crown entity that is currently the professional and regulatory body for all teachers from early childhood through to most other educational institutions. The NZTC has done some excellent work in developing professional mentoring programmes, developing the Registered Teacher Criteria and maintaining professional standards. It has done this with a relatively limited budget and unlike the Medical Council, which operates independently from the Government, the NZTC has 11 people on the Governing Council, but only 4 are independently elected by the profession, the rest are Ministerial appointees.

Parents and children should be served by professionals who are motivated and driven by the ethics and ideals of the profession and a duty of care that is not corrupted by political ideology. For doctors, the sanctity of their relationship with their patients is paramount and without high levels of confidentiality and trust they would often struggle to treat their patients when a full disclosure of their life-style and medical history is necessary. Teaching and learning should be about meeting the needs of each child based on the professional knowledge of the teacher and parents need the reassurance that their child's interests come before politically driven expectations. To truly operate as a profession teachers need to have a teachers council that is independent of both the Government and unions.

I find it appalling that we have a Government that is deliberately and dishonestly undermining the teaching profession by suggesting that there is a crisis in teacher quality and discipline and that political measures are needed to solve it. The idea of a teacher using their position to abuse children is every bit as abhorrent for teachers as it is for the general public and yet there is the encouraged perception that the profession deliberately protects such people and that there is a widespread problem of offending teachers. The facts tell a different story.

There are more than 103,000 registered teachers in New Zealand and in the last financial year 59 were brought in front of the disciplinary tribunal and the majority were removed from the Teachers Register and barred from teaching. This means that probably less than .05 of teachers have behaved badly enough for the most serious consequences and not all of those would be sexual in nature. When you compare teaching with other jobs, then teaching has fewer complaints than most.

It seems overly heavy handed to use misconduct as the driving reason to change the current Teachers Council. If that was the case then some adjustments to current practice and the existing body is all that would be necessary. Instead we have a whole new entity that will have all those on the Governing Council being appointed by the Minister of Education.

The NZTC exists for regulating teachers and maintaining professional standards but the Education Council of Aotearoa New Zealand will also be giving status to unqualified teachers. Where jobs are difficult fill unqualified people with limited authority to teach (LATs) are currently allowed to fill the positions until a qualified person is found. Under EDUCANZ  LATs will be recognized as teachers and the expectation that they are only temporarily filling a role will be removed. With Charter Schools and Early Childhood Education it is no longer an expectation that all teachers need to be registered and qualified.

We now have a Ministry of Education that is under the beck and call of the Minister, and where political ideology determines policy, and shortly we will have a new Teachers Council that will be governed only by political appointees. Already the Chair of the Transition Board, John Morris, has produced a paper promoting that teachers should be paid according to the performance of their children (National Standards) that reflects the ideology of the Government and is not supported by the wider profession.

Under a National led Government, teachers will lose any professional independence and become classroom technicians that have to support politically prescribed programmes and data collection. Children will not have teachers who exist to meet their individual needs but be forced meet whatever targets the Minister feels necessary to set for them. Any teacher accused of misconduct is likely to be named and shamed before guilt is proven, which will possibly see many of the remaining males in the primary sector forced out of the job through the stress of false accusations (I know few male teachers who have not had a malicious complaint about them at some stage in their career).

Anyone want a career in teaching?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Invercargill Green Campaign Launch

It couldn't have worked out better. When Metiria and Catherine asked if they could come to Invercargill as part of their 'Kids at the Heart of Education' speaking tour, I jumped at the opportunity. Considering my own background in education and my work as the facilitator of our Education Policy review it seemed like the ideal way of launching our Invercargill campaign.

For a Saturday night I was impressed by the number who turned up for the launch, most of the seats were filled and there was a good cross section of the community present as well as our local Green Party members.

After welcoming those present I started the evening by explaining why I am so passionate about education and my dismay at how the National led Government has dismantled much of what made our public education system great. I used a my blog post that has been widely shared as a basis for my presentation. I openly admitted that I had a depressing picture to paint but reassured the meeting that Metiria and Catherine would follow with a positive message.

The Green Party see education as one of the most important portfolios and not only do we have a co-leader as a spokesperson but Catherine Delahunty is an active education spokesperson too. Both have strong connections within the sector and have built huge credibility over the years.

Metiria has had first hand experience of what it means to bring up a child with limited means and her memories of being a young single mother have never been forgotten. For parents on low budgets and with limited transport options, to have their local school operate as a hub for after school care and community health would remove the stress of coordinating time and transport to access different services. The other advantage of having multiple services on the same site would be the improved communication between them and the potential to save money from unnecessary duplication.

Currently teachers in lower decile schools are having to address a whole raft of issues that children bring with them each day and having a dedicated School Hub Coordinator to manage supporting services would allow teachers to get on with the job of teaching. Such a role would make more of a difference to children with high needs than one of the Government's Executive Principals. Learning cannot occur if a child's basic needs aren't met and with 285,000 children living in poverty, there are many who need more targeted support.

Catherine Delahunty spoke strongly about the importance of communities being able to decide what services would best meet their needs and having input to how they would operate. She was particularly concerned about the Government's support of corporates to provide child services. Catherine referred to the Government's subsidising of Kidicorp to provide early childhood centres in low decile communities despite the corporation having such a chequered history.

The evening ended with refreshments and an informal chat with Catherine and Meitiria, who were very interested in hearing about how attendees saw the hub concept operating in Invercargill.

The Green Party is solutions focussed and it was great to launch our campaign with an initiative that is getting such strong support.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Bill's Busted Budget and Tim's Exploding Emissions

The Government's 'Rock Star' economy hit a bum note (or rather a number of them) when Bill English had to admit that, yet again, his targeted surplus in 2015 is under threat. Despite the often trumpeted improving economy, the tax take was well under what was projected. The core tax revenue was $1.14 billion below expectations because assumptions around personal tax and custom duty did not eventuate and lower than predicted corporate tax and source deductions were received.

The Government has stubbornly stuck with their tax cuts to upper income earners, a loss of around $1.2 billion a year. This is despite the revelation that 107 out of our 161 wealthiest (who have assets of over $50 million) claimed to have taxable incomes of less than $70,000 a year. 2012 research discovered that up to $6 billion in unpaid tax was being cheated by tax evaders.

The dairy industry is largely leading New Zealand's supposed economic recovery and now generates about 1/5 of our export income (around $15 billion), however very little tax comes from the sector relative to others. We also have a very buoyant property market with many regions seeing house prices rising over 10% last year. Property investments are now the preferred method in New Zealand for building wealth because most profits are nontaxable.

Property investments and dairy conversions are largely financed by loans from our big four Australian banks and we all know how little tax they pay.

There is obviously a lot of extra untaxed wealth around because New Zealand's luxury car market sales have never been better.

The Government's sale of state assets has not proved to be successful either. While the assets were valued at around $5.2 billion only $4 billion was raised and the sales cost significantly more to promote and manage than budgeted (costing tax payers over $250 million).

Rather than attempting to increase revenue by addressing the huge issue of tax avoidance and evasion Bill English is looking at further restraints in Government spending. There will obviously be more cuts to public services and more state employees will lose their jobs. Further attacks on beneficiaries can be expected too.

Tim Groser came under stiff attack from Russel Norman because of the Ministry of the Environment's latest projections of our green house gas emissions. Our modeled net emissions under the Kyoto protocol will see an increase of around 50% by 2024. Per capita we are now one of the worst polluters in the developed world. It seems that my satirical description of the Government's approach to our obligations to reduce emissions was probably closer to reality than I thought.

Bill English and Tim Groser have such a hands off approach to their Ministerial responsibilities that we'd probably be in a better position if they didn't bother to turn up for work at all.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Young Nats Celebrate Wealth and Privilege

The National Party is often accused of lacking empathy and when this was suggested by Metiria Turei she got a memorably vicious response from Anne Tolley and Judith Collins. To me empathy is best displayed through actions and I have noted that most of the policies that have come from the Government have supported the already rich and have increased inequality.

When I attend protests in support of the living wage or meeting with those concerned with worker health and safety, National MPs are notable by their absence. The issue of child poverty and our shocking child health and safety statistics are shameful for a relatively wealthy country such as ours with an abundance of food and natural resources. Why should 285,000 of our children not have their basic needs met? Why should this Government steadfastly ignore advice in addressing poverty and refuse to use a measure to track progress in addressing it?

In a country where 20% of our working population is either unemployed or underemployed, the wealthiest 10% own over 50% of our nation's wealth and 50% of our population share only 5% of our wealth, something is wrong. Inequality in New Zealand is the fastest growing in the OECD.

I consider myself wealthy, I own my own house on a quarter acre and we recently bought a small bach using a modest mortgage. Living in Invercargill is obviously an advantage over Auckland.  We have two cars (through necessity as public transport is limited) and although neither was made this century they are economical and perfectly functional. We saved for our children's education and are able to provide them some financial support while attending university, both work during their holiday breaks. My wife's family live in the UK so we do travel overseas fairly regularly. I am aware that we actually live a privileged life compared to the vast majority of New Zealanders and that we probably earn within the top 20% of household incomes.

While hard work and academic study contributed to our current position, both my wife and I had the support of middle income professional parents and we had lots of support in achieving our goals. A large number of New Zealanders will never achieve what we've got and it's not because they lack determination or hard work, research shows that the circumstances you are born to and brought up in largely determine your future success, poverty begets poverty. Upward mobility is actually not easy.

I also have many amazing friends who struggle to survive on their incomes, despite having good qualifications, because they choose to work in education, health and welfare and are motivated by serving others rather than personal wealth. It is not a coincidence that those working in rest homes earn the minimum wage and those working in banks selling debt packages (that many don't need or want) can earn much more.

For the Young Nats to hold extravagant balls year after year is just a blatant celebration of privilege and personal wealth. It is like they are thumbing their noses at all those who can't even afford to park outside the palatial facilities where the balls are held. I bet most will think that such occasions are something they are entitled to and a perfectly normal activity. Research has shown a correlation between growing wealth and declining empathy. I'm sure many Young Nats are perfectly pleasant intelligent young people but I cannot imagine many would make empathetic future Ministers of Welfare.

"Bemused Young Nats sipped champagne and jostled for the best vantage point on the balcony above before moving indoors and turning the camera on themselves" (Susie Nordqvist TV3)

Friday, April 4, 2014

How Do Our Children See Poverty?

I wonder what the 285,000 children who are living in poverty in our country think about the world they live in? They could be asking the following:
The really sad thing is that many children won't be asking these questions because in the communities they live in many others are experiencing the same. For 285,000 children the unacceptable is normal. For a small country with an abundance of food and natural resources this is a shameful reality. Many accuse this Government of a lack of empathy and I do wonder how they can do so little about child poverty if there isn't some truth in that accusation. If we have another three years under such an uncaring regime I wonder how many more children will be excluded from having their basic needs met?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Great Oil Gamble and Wasted Opportunities

'Gamble Big' rather than 'Think Big' should be this National Government's mantra. Opening up huge areas of our land and territorial waters for open slather oil and gas exploration is a gamble on so many levels. When many countries like Denmark are actively chasing a sustainable, clean energy future, this government is throwing all its hopes on a big strike of fossil fuel.

It is a gamble that in the twenty years or so before any worthwhile production will occur, that there will still be a high level of demand for the polluting fuel (given the growing urgency around climate change). It is a gamble that during the most dangerous exploration phase that the Government has limited public scrutiny and involvement in initial consents. It is a gamble to drill at depth of over 1,000 metres - the deeper the drill the greater the risks. It is a gamble that the Government sees no benefit in ensuring that Maritime New Zealand is capable of managing a serious spill and Anadarko's own response plan reveals it would take up to 115 days to get a relief rig on site. We are also gambling with our clean green brand that 75% of our exporters are reliant on, one spill could tip the balance of our already shaky image.

While the Government is prepared to gamble on a fossil fueled future, there are readily available sources of cleaner more sustainable energy under our noses. If the same amount of money that is being spent subsidising oil corporates ($46 million a year) was directed into research and technology to tap into these opportunities we could be self sufficient in energy in the same time it would take for deep sea oil to become productive.

Rather than hoping for a large single source of energy from an oil or gas strike (that we will still have to pay commercial rates for) we should spread our attention to the smaller scale opportunities that could collectively be quite substantial:
  • The bio-waste on farms is a largely untapped energy source that could enable most of our dairy farms to be self sufficient in energy and capturing waste before it enters our water systems and atmosphere. I like the description of letting this waste run off the farm without being properly utilized as 'energy leakage'.
  • Our timber industry produces a large amount of unused waste as trees are harvested and logs prepared for export. Converting waste wood into bio-fuel is a logical way of managing a generally discarded material. 
  • Rather than seeing our sewage ponds as an ongoing municipal cost, the algae found in them could produce an income through the production of bio-diesel.
  • Many of our landfill sites are burning off methane into the atmosphere that could easily be captured as a source of natural gas for local use.
While John Key and his mates may enjoy gambling big with New Zealand's future, I would rather take smaller risks and invest in longer term, sustainable options. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Addressing the Climate Crisis Through Smart Economics

"We’re not just talking about the environment. We’re rethinking economics and rethinking the economic model in a way that has to tackle poverty reduction. It has to be for everyone..." Sylvie Lemmet, Director for the Division of Technology Industry and Economy for UNEP

Mentioning climate change in the Southland Times just brings out an endless stream of climate deniers who wax lyrical on nonsense based on highly flawed pseudoscience. I feel it is more productive to talk about smart economics that just happens to be 'green':

Dear Sir

There is a clear choice for voters in this year’s election between a ‘business as usual’ Government and a truly progressive, Green influenced Government that will make a real difference for most New Zealanders.

A recent BERL report on 'growth opportunities in the southern region economy' highlighted the fact that business as usual would probably see on going, but modest growth (largely because of the dairy industry). The report identified many different sectors within the Southland economy that had unrealised potential and smart, future focused investment would substantially boost the region's income and spread risk.

I have been appalled at the Government’s lack of recognition for the knowledge and capability that exists in our regions and the absence of meaningful consultation and collaboration with our local decision makers. We wouldn’t have had Solid Energy spending millions on mad lignite schemes, while our Southland roads have deteriorated due to funding cuts.

We could be supporting sustainable local enterprises rather than gambling millions on subsidising overseas corporations while they search for risky deep sea oil. The tens of millions of taxpayer money that is being spent supporting the fossil fuel industry would be better invested on addressing the unacceptable cost of our electricity supply.

This Government is now well out of step with current economic thinking, the IMF and World Bank are actively promoting smart green economics while our government is stubbornly rejecting that approach. We are developing into a low wage, backward thinking economy that is largely reliant on the export of primary commodities.

While agriculture will always be important, our economy should be far more broadly based. We need to become a high tech, smart energy economy that will create new jobs and enable 285,000 children to shift out of poverty and provide them with a real future. 

Yours sincerely
Dave Kennedy
Invercargill Green Party Candidate