Saturday, February 22, 2014
Executive Principals and National's Education Dystopia
If you asked teachers and school communities what would make the most difference in helping their kids and lifting achievement, especially in lower decile communities, I know what the responses would be. They would ask for greater access to special education services and RTLBs, more teacher aids to provide support for their high needs children and have our once amazing advisory services reinstated. They would ask for more time to organise high interest programmes and less time on data collection and report writing. Teachers would also like to have their professional knowledge respected and greater autonomy to decide themselves how to meet the needs of those in their class. Having nurses and social workers available to deal with the constant health and welfare issues that confront many teachers as they try to teach would also be useful.
When John Key announced the Government's plan of spending a whopping $359 million on education it was received with a sort of stunned incredulity. For years there was never enough money to pay support staff a living wage or fund our special education services fully and suddenly we were presented with a significant windfall.
Elements of what Key presented were similar to what the profession had been wanting for a number of years, recognition of great teachers, greater collaboration and career pathways, but the government's version was a little different to the profession's. This wasn't a comprehensive policy that also addressed the complexities of teaching and learning across different communities but a model of a new leadership structure and one that gave huge financial rewards to an elite few.
What the National led Government proposes is a shift away from the self managed Tommorrow's Schools to Ministry led 'Executive Principals' selected to do their bidding. These principal's (most likely drawn from the secondary sector) will oversee clusters of around ten schools and will appoint expert and lead teachers to work in those schools under their direction. Ministry selection panels will be appointing these principals who have a commitment to the Government's data driven National Standards and as such will be under the same gagging clause as others who work for government ministries. This will effectively shut down much of the professional opposition to future changes and will separate school leadership even more from their teaching colleagues.
There is some vague semblance of consultation with the profession around these new roles but when you consider that it generally takes many years of collaboration, research and trials to develop sound educational change, the ten weeks that the Government has allowed in this case is laughable. I am guessing there will be few changes allowed to the actual roles but some input will be grudgingly accepted to the manner of implementation, as occurred with the introduction of National Standards.
There will be an even greater distinction between public and private education from now on. Private schools will continue to receive even greater funding and support for their elite students and will enjoy a high level of autonomy (as will the newly introduced Charter Schools). Public Schools, on the other hand, will become data driven institutions where their leadership will be expected to deliver Ministry driven programmes centered on literacy and numeracy. I can predict that once the Executive Principals (EPs) are appointed the Government will eventually save money from the initial investment by applying a business model to schooling. The EPs will most likely develop into CEOs and all other principals in their cluster will lose their management roles and become lead teachers. The many school boards will probably become merged into one governance body that will oversee all the schools in the cluster. The savings will be considerable but each school will lose their identity as they will have to conform to the vision of each EP, a little like franchised businesses.
You may think that this is a cynical exaggeration of what the government has presented but we only need to look at how National Standards and Charter Schools were introduced, with the total disregard of professional advice, to see the logic of what I have described. This Government clearly supports the GERM agenda that has corrupted public education in Australia, England and the US and we are only experiencing what has already happened there.
Few conservative governments understand education and the value of professional knowledge and the treatment of the Christchurch schools revealed a total disregard of the importance of communities. The complexities of natural human development and the flexibility necessary to meet the individual needs of children is also completely beyond them. They do understand inputs and outputs, spreadsheets of data and commercial competition. Applying this thinking and understanding to education is a logical outcome and the proliferation of 'one size fits all' models. Sadly, once again, our most vulnerable children will not receive the sort of support they really need and inequalities will continue to grow.