Dear minister

Dear Anne Tolley, and John Key

I woke up this morning and read your education policy as summarised in the media. This whole article on your proposed education policy made me furious.  The article suggested that these were the key points:


Target of 98 per cent of new entrants in school having participated in early childhood education by 2015

New interactive website for parents to choose “the best” local ECE service

New funding model to be trialled in 2014


Require publication of National Standards data in 2012

New assessment of “disposition to teach” for trainee teachers

A long time ago when National Standards were introduced I predicted that they would creep to Secondary schools and that we would  see league tables.  It didn’t bother me that on both points you said this wouldn’t happen.  It was clearly a lie, and it is no comfort to me to see my predictions turn out to be correct.

It seem to me that there is simply no possibility of negotiating with your government in good faith and this makes me angry, because I am a reasonable person who believes that conflict is a dead end.

Here are some points that I would like to address to you:

  • How can you want 98% of kids in early childhood education, but cut the funding to these centres that make them affordable, and how can you want 98% of kids to go to centres where you do not believe that it is important that 100% of the staff there are fully qualified?
  • What does the term “best” ECE centres mean?  Doesn’t this just mean the centres with the wealthiest and best educated parents?  How does a competitive model in education work when some people can’t afford the best, and are you committed in terms of the massive amounts of money and time it will take to build up struggling centres, or is it a fail-and-close-them-down model?
  • You said that you would not create a situation of league tables two years ago.  This was clearly a lie.  Do you think it is a good model to our students to lie in order to get what you want, and then use double speak to try to pretend that you never said such things in the past?
  • League tables are good for comparing apples with apples, but after the first round of tables are printed there will no longer be apples and apples, there will be schools that are better than others when measured against one criteria.   My daughter started school yesterday, and I know the pressure to send your child to the “best” school and not the local school, but I believe in my local school and I was DELIGHTED to send her to the local school and see her running in and playing with the Somali kids, and the Pasifika kids, and the Indian kids, and the European kids all together, learning together, and being wonderful and curious together, and I can’t help but wonder what will happen to all the white kids when the school down the road does better on the league table, because it is a wealthier and more homogenous school.  Are we committed to a multi-cultural New Zealand or not?  Or is that just talk?  Past experience shows that Europeans like me abandon schools that are sinking faster than rats on a sinking ship because they can, and that parents who can’t afford to make the change don’t (even though they care just as much for their children).  I’m not proud of this fact, but I have to admit it is true.  Do you understand this?  I don’t think that you do, and I think that this is the weakness of a party that is made up of a homogenous and wealthy group and would prefer a voting system where they can just stop mucking about and govern alone.  You do not represent everyone, and you should never, ever be allowed to govern alone for that reason.  Not because I do not like you, but because NO ONE should govern alone.
  • Disposition to teach?  My first years teaching in a low decile school were hell.  I went home, lay down on the floor and cried.  If someone had offered me a job doing something else at the moment I would have taken it.  Now I am at the end of my sixth year teaching and I think I do a damn good job.  Teaching is a long hard road to success, and it is even more brutal and even more important at decile one schools.  My experience of a  decile ten school is that the students can almost teach themselves.  Is it not then true that student teachers in higher decile schools will appear to have a better disposition to teach than those toughing it out in low decile schools?  Where do you want good teachers to go?  Into the low decile schools where the results are low, and they will be judged on league tables, and their position will worsen as white flight takes place over the next few years?  I assume that you are also planning to let parents have “choice” about where they send their kids.  Which means abandoning zoning, and abandoning certain schools whose funding is tied to their roll.
  • Can I ask you this?  What was broken about our education system?  One of the best in the world for decade after decade with results we can be proud of in maths, and reading and writing?  Our identified area of concern was our long tail.  A characteristic that all multi-cultural societies face, and one that they are all battling with.  Why have you created a policy that will disadvantage the schools where the long tail is over represented?  I think that it is so parents who are educated and comparatively wealthy (compared to long-tail parents) can have a good reason to send their kids out of area.
  • Finally, I would like you to show me another country similar to our own where this model has worked over a long period of time.

Yours sincerely,

John-Paul Powley

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21 thoughts on “Dear minister”

  1. Yep, an interesting read in the Dim Post’s comment thread. Luckily I am a teacher and used to not being taken seriously about 100 times a day.

  2. Way to go, man. I too am furious about National Standards, what with both my kids going to our local decile-one school (which is awesome, by the way) and I am on the board of trustees where we have been trying to take a stand against the Ministry of Education.

    I have an angry letter that I have been trying to write, but it’s hard to get it ready to send off because I want to ensure that I have all of the facts straight – and the Ministry has done quite an effective job of spreading misinformation and threatening school boards with limited statutory management if they publicly speak out past a certain ill-defined imaginary line of sedition. The bottom line is that you don’t want the kids to suffer for making a stand, and the Ministry is more than happy to use that against you in their bag of tricks.

  3. Great blog post. I’ve shared it on Facebook & Twitter. I’m a Secondary teacher now in a decile 9 school; formerly worked in a decile 2, & totally agree.

  4. Great blog post, I totally agree with everything you said. Its astonishing that they are willing to change a system that is not broken, they lie to us about league tables and we are unable in any way have a dialogue about this. They are resolute with thier minds made up. We are supposed to be creating democratic citizens for the future, how can we when we are governed by such a party being driven by monetary organisations.

  5. Okay, so who is suddenly Mr Popular?
    Think I need something political on Richard’s Bass Bag.

    Seriously though… well done!

  6. A very well-writtwen, thoughtful piece. This is the sort of critique and commentary that should be appearing in our msm – voices from our communities.

    Unfortunately, judging by the non-stop hash of things we’ve been voting for over the last 27 years, I think we’ll be getting morwe of the same ideological clap-trap from governments. The results will be predictable, John-Paul, and I think you’ve given us a glimpse of the future.

    I would dearly love to reprint this in my blog. It deserves to be spread far and wide!

  7. Hear, hear! Just when I was beginning to despair about National’s apparent popularity. Well, they are at least doing a good job in one area – making it easy for us to decide where our vote lies : P

  8. fmacskasy – Feel free to reprint it. Anything I foolishly put on the internet is fair game I think, but thanks for asking.

    Ana – There have been two times in the last ten years when I have felt out of step with New Zealand: when Don Brash made his Orewa speech and there was a ground swell of support for him, and every time I see John Key’s popularity climb a little bit higher.

  9. Thank you, Paul. I will, of course give full acknowledgement regarding source.

    Again, that was a very succint, thoughtful piece of writing. Coming on top of TV3’s documentary last night on child-poverty, I hope New Zealanders are starting to wake up to the realities around them.

    There IS a reason why our fellow Kiwis are leaving. And higher wages is not the full answer. I think it’s more to do with Quality of Life. Something that is far more important to human beings than bank balances and bottom lines…

    I guess I can sum it up thusly; this is not the same country I grew up in.

  10. Great blog, and would like to mention it’s not only low decile that miss out. My son would greatly improve with a teacher aide at school but as he is at a decile 9 school they don’t have the funding to provide that for him, so either he misses out on an education staying ‘at a good school’ or we move to another area to go to a lower decile school to get the help we need. In what world does that make sense?!

  11. Thank you so much for putting it into words! Although I agree with most of the things you say here I would like it if we all stopped using the decile rating as a measurement. While you ask rightfully what John Key’s idea of a good school is, there is an assumption being made that it is harder to work at a low decile school than at a high decile school. Or that resuluts are lower in a low-decile school. This is the sort of deficit theorising that we should rapidly move away from.

  12. Good work. I spent alot of my teacher training crying cos it was very hard!! And now I love my job 🙂 Its wonderful to go to work each day and be a wee part of someone else’s day in a good way.
    The next term of govt is going to be very scary for middle NZ when they realise what they are voting back in.

  13. “The next term of govt is going to be very scary for middle NZ when they realise what they are voting back in.” Fiona sadly you are so very right.

  14. Hi, thanks for your comments.

    Ali, yes that’s true. In fact, some “good” schools refuse to take “challenging” students. Working in a school that did take a wide range of students and had an excellent special needs unit I was always struck by how much it benefited all the students in a school. Some schools do receive extra funding to address this. Actually, earlier in the year Rodney Hide announced the government’s policy in this area, and it was to get rid of this kind of thing, and make all school accept all students and fund them. Overall I think this is a good idea, although of course there are other costs.

    Loesje, you are right. When I tell people the name of the last school that I worked at they all suck their teeth and talk about how hard it must be. It was hard, but I ended up loving the students. Not all of the students you understand, but most of them. Most of the students most of the time whatever school you are at are great. It’s not that the students that go to these can’t and don’t achieve great things, it’s just that there isn’t an academic culture in the school. Very good leadership can change this. The only alternative to believing this is to believe that an area with a higher proportion of people in a lower socio-economic bracket is an area of genetically inferior people.

    Fiona, thanks. I think that a teacher who survives the first few years and loves it in the end is worth gold to a community. So, you must be gold.

    Hi Rob.

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