70 public meetings planned for and against school trustee reforms

The task force that has proposed major changes to the way schools are managed has organised 32 public meetings around the country, but the Opposition has organised 40 meetings of it’s own.

While teacher unions are usually strongly on Labour’s side some school principals are opposed to the proposals.

NZ Herald:  Battle over school reforms begins this week as 70 public meetings begin

A national battle over proposed radical changes to the school system kicks off this week with the first of more than 70 public meetings.

National Party education spokeswoman Nikki Kaye has unveiled plans to hold 40 public meetings from Kerikeri to Stewart Island, starting in Hamilton this Friday.

The taskforce which proposed the changes, led by former principal Bali Haque, has also announced 32 public meetings and an online survey seeking public input on 58 questions.

National Party leader Simon Bridges drew the battle lines on the proposed reforms last week, promising in his State of the Nation speech to “fight the Government’s plans to entirely centralise education, disempower boards of trustees and reduce choice and the sense of community in schools”.

Auckland Grammar School headmaster Tim O’Connor, who is fiercely opposed to the reforms, said he would be inviting other schools to join him in a public campaign aimed at making the reforms voluntary, allowing some schools to opt out of them.

O’Connor said Haque proposed a “one-size-fits-all model that will remove parental input into school governance and the freedom to choose a style of education that suits different children and young adults”.

But Haque said he still hoped to reach a national “consensus” before the taskforce presents its final report to Education Minister Chris Hipkins on April 30.

“We are an independent taskforce,” he said. “We are keen to talk across the political spectrum to take this out of the political realm, and we want to develop consensus.”

The chances of a consensus with National look slim at this stage, although Nikki Kaye has a record of working with other parties on some issues, and she has made it clear she doesn’t oppose all proposed changes.

“There are wider issues around our education system where National totally believes there needs to be change, like more equitable funding. We support changes around learning support”.

“I think there are changes that need to be made in terms of the way property is run. We had some plans in the works on that.”

The reform proposals:

The taskforce’s key proposal is that about 20 regional education hubs should “assume all the legal responsibilities and liabilities currently held by school boards of trustees”.

Education lawyer Carol Anderson said the boards’ key powers to be transferred to hubs would be:

  • Employment of the principal and teachers. The taskforce proposes that boards would retain up to half the members of a selection panel for the principal, and would have a final veto over appointments, but principals would be appointed for five-year terms and might then be moved to other schools.
  • Finance. Principals would still manage the school’s operations grant, but the hub would have to approve the school’s annual budget.
  • Property. Hubs would take over property maintenance but would have discretion to delegate this back to schools judged to be competent.
  • Suspensions and expulsions. Hubs would take over processes as soon as a student is suspended.

Having a ‘hub’ take over some of the management and responsibilities will suit some schools, but it isn’t surprising that some larger schools would prefer to manage as much as possible themselves. For the latter hubs may be an unnecessary level of bureaucracy.

Regardless of who is organising the meetings they provide an opportunity for the public, in particular parents, to have their say.

Teacher protests

Teacher unions versus the National led Government is nothing new. It’s normal.

A bit less normal is the actions teachers are taking this week in protest about proposed changes to funding models. Teacher unions say the changes would lead to larger class sizes.

Many schools will be closed to pupils on Tuesday afternoon.

Stuff: Thousands of teachers to walk out this week in protest at bigger class sizes

Teachers will mount the first in a series of big walkouts on Monday to protest the government getting rid of funding based on maximum classroom sizes.

Principals say they will be forced to accept unprecedented numbers of children in their classrooms, if education minister Hekia Parata’s proposed funding changes go ahead.

I thought it was about giving principals choice, not forcing anything specific on them.

The Ministry of Education couldn’t comment on how the funding system could affect teacher ratios or class sizes.

“There hasn’t been any detailed design yet of any new funding system, because we have been at the stage of seeking input on draft proposals for what the funding system should look like,” said Ellen MacGregor-Reid, deputy secretary for strategy, planning and governance.

The ministry wanted sector input well before any decisions were made or a new system designed, her statement said.

They are not getting the sort of ‘input’ they wanted. It looks like the teachers are getting in early, trying to create public opposition before details have been decided.

At present, schools are funded for teachers according to a strict teacher-pupil ratio: one teacher for every 15 pupils at year 1,  ranging up to 29 pupils in years 4 to 6.  The minister proposes to replace those ratios with flat funding per pupil. But she insists the Government is spending more than $11 billion on education and it’s principals, not her, who decide class sizes.

In an unprecedented move, teacher unions NZEI and the PPTA are joining forces after the Ministry of Education announced schools could get a “global budget”. Over the next two weeks, tens of thousands of Kiwi teachers will stop work to discuss the funding proposals in union meetings along the length of New Zealand.

The global budget would cover teaching and learning – including credits for teacher salaries – so teachers’ pay would come out of the same pot the other bills.

National propose, teachers oppose. Seems childish but that’s how it always seems to work out.

Would it be such a bad thing if schools could choose between lower class sizes and lower paid teachers, or larger class sizes with more effective, better paid teachers?

School reunion

I’m at a 150th school reunion for the weekend, in Cromwell where I went to Primary School and most of high school (I went to boarding school for the sixth form).

It’s really good to catch up with people, especially from my class, many of whom I haven’t seen since leaving school. Others I haven’t seen since the 125th in 1990.

It was a bit embarrassing when the first person I met I didn’t recognise and had to read her name tag. There’s a few like that, others are still easily recognisable.

I’ve started collating information and old photos – if anyone’s interested see https://cromwellschools.wordpress.com/

Hunger versus obesity – a Green dilemma?

The Greens have been promoting the feeding of kids in schools for some time. It’s an easy subject to win sympathy on, most people would think that kids shouldn’t go hungry.

But is it a bigger problem than child obesity?

And whether it is or not, could giving some kids more food contribute to the obesity problem?

In Parliament yesterday Green co-leader Metiria Turei made a wee mistake in making another point about hunger in schools. See Turei admits error in school lunch battle.

She later clarified that she meant:

Kidscan says about 23% on average and up to 90% of the kids in the schools it works with need lunch everyday.

I don’t think even that is clear. I presume she thinks that all kids need lunch every day but in schools that Kidscan deals with up to 90% go without lunch so should have it supplied by the Government.

That’s a lot of lunchless kids. It seems hard to believe that nine out of ten kids at some schools go without lunch.

But I think this needs more scrutiny. Why are kids lunchless?

One of the implications is that many families are too poor to feed their kids enough. There are counter claims that some families don’t care fir their kids properly and spend their money on booze and cigarettes and marijuana etc.

Both arguments are probably partially correct.

But there will be other issues. How many kids spend their lunch money on other things? How many eat their lunch early and have nothing left by lunchtime?

When I was at school I sometimes threw my lunch away because I was bored with packed lunches. (At other times I took a schoolbag full of apples and munched all day).

But the big elephant in the Green classroom is child obesity. If the Government gave kids food would feed an obesity problem as well as or instead of giving kids enough basic nutrition?

I can imagine that if food was given away when I went to school I could eat my own lunch for play lunch and line up for the food handout at lunchtime.

(But it would depend on what they handed out, they gave away milk for a few years and I never liked drinking milk).

A Stuff report from last November says Child obesity rates climbing.

About one-third of New Zealand children are now overweight or obese compared with about one in four in Australia.

A commitment to achieving a child obesity rate of 25 per cent by 2025 by the Government would be a good start, Professor Boyd Swinburn and Stefanie Vandevijvere, of Auckland University, said in a New Zealand Medical Journal (NZMJ) article published today.

Achieving that target across all ethnic groups would not be feasible under present conditions, they said.

The Government had failed to prioritise obesity as a major health concern in recent years.

It can’t be assumed that a school with 90% of kids needing lunch also has 33% of obese kids – but that should be considered when proposing giving kids more food.

Rates of childhood obesity among Maori and Pacific communities were significantly higher than for other ethnic groups.

Turei referred to Northland schools in Parliament:

Does the Prime Minister still think that the number of kids in low-decile schools who require lunch is still just the odd one or two, when nine schools in Northland are now on the waiting list for help from KidsCan?

It can be assumed that the Northland schools have above average numbers of Maori and Pacific

Handing out food would help some kids – but it could also feed our obesity problem. Stuff article:

Higher rates of obesity among Maori and Pacific groups was a result of socio-economic deprivation and socio-cultural barriers.

“Part of it is socio-cultural barriers in those populations. They do place higher socio-cultural value on food and large volumes of food because they are more collective societies.”

I’m confused. Maori and Pacific people place a higher socio-economic value on large volumes of food but their kids are more likely to go hungry at school?

It is also claimed that poor people eat large amounts of poor quality food and that’s why they get fat.

Is that a financial problem or an education problem.

Maybe schools should teach kids about good nutrition and wise food budgeting.

But it is said that kids don’t learn properly if they are hungry, so they need to be fed more (by the state) so they get a better education so they will feed themselves less.

It gets complicated.

But do we have a bigger problem for the future from having skinny kids or having fat kids.

There seems to be two conflicting emphases:

  • Kids need more food in schools
  • We have a growing child obesity problem.

So is that a dilemma for the Greens and Kidscan? It doesn’t appear to be.

It’s easier to get sympathy support and votes for promoting the feeding of hungry kids more rather than feeding obese kids less.

Green marketing creates other issues – last election they promoted a solar energy policy and specifically ruled out energy conservation (double glazing) because it wasn’t their current focus.

Maybe if they succeed in getting state funded lunches this term then next term they might change there focus to what is described as a growing problem.

NZ Herald: Obesity epidemic reaching crisis levels.

Maybe the Greens will fix that after they’ve fixed hungry kids.

Their website is currently promoting Reducing Child Poverty “For a fairer society”.

Not so prominent (but if you search you can also find) Tackling childhood obesity is not rocket science Minister, but it is science

“The scientists have outlined an approach to tackling obesity which they say is “eminently doable”, but the Government won’t do it, preferring instead to watch a generation of children lose years off their lives,” Mr Hague said.

“Just like its approach to climate change, and water quality, scientists are saying this Government is not doing enough to reduce childhood obesity.

“Our childhood obesity epidemic requires the Government to regulate the environment that’s causing that obesity, through measures such as bans on promotion of unhealthy food to kids, ensuring food sold at schools and ECE centres is healthy.

But reducing food intake is a harder political sell than feeding hungry kids so it doesn’t get the same level of attention.

Political marketing is easier than comprehensively dealing with political and social realities.

It wouldn’t look very fair if fat kids were separated from skinny kids at schools and denied a free lunch.

Hunger versus obesity should be Green dilemma, but you wouldn’t know it from their campaigning.

Can we afford inefficient social welfare?

Frank Macskasy as posted a detailed plea at The Daily Blog to “feed the kids” in (some) schools:

Can we afford to have “a chat on food in schools”?

While no one wants to see kids going hungry this is ineffieciently throwing money at one small part of a much bigger problem, and it doesn’t even address any of the causes.

I commented the following on his post:

I see two significant problems.

There’s no dispute that some families really struggle, they really struggle caring for their kids, feeding them, clothing them, providing them with a decent place to live, giving them decent medical care.

Social welfare is not enough for many people. Wages and tax credits and other means of assitance are not enough for many people. And this obviously affects a lot of kids.

We also have a problem with a huge social welfare cost.

All governments have to make decisions about how much money is provided and how much is allocated to “people in need”.

There are a wide variety of circumstances and needs.

The country cannot afford to just keep giving more money across the board.

Choosing one small part of this problem like hungry kids in schools and giving a sub group of kids going to school more will help some kids, but it will also give to kids who don’t need it.

Mana say their Feed the Kids bill will cost about $100m a year. That’s not much out of the whole budget.

BUT

It gives more than is necessary, not all the targeted kids need it.

And you could pick many small groups to target. Governments have been doing this for decades. It helps some and gives more to others who don’t need it.

And all these small innefficiencies in targeting add up to huge inefficiencies.

And some like the Feed The Kids bill doesn’t even address the causes of the problem.

I don’t think trying to guilt people into supporting a small well meaning but inefficent programme to feed some kids helps.

There are much bigger problems that deserve far better attention.

Chris Hipkins versus Hekia Parata

Chris Hipkins may not come across as a hard hitting political heavyweight, but he showed yesterday that probing, persistent questions can be far more effective at exposing inadequacies in parliament and in ministers than much of what happens in the house.

Hipkins put Parata in the spotlight at question time and Parata floundered and flabbergasted as she waffled and avoided answering the questions put to her.

Speaker Lockwood Smith supported Hipkin’s repeated attempts to get Parata to answer the actual questions being asked.

(source)

Hipkins followed up with a post at Red Alert:

Another Hekia Parata train wreck

Posted by  on September 26th, 2012

Today in the House I questioned Hekia Parata about the consultation process around school closures and mergers in Christchurch. It would be fair to say it took quite a few attempts before I got any answers, and even then I’m not sure I’m any clearer after her comments such as “I consulted the submissions that had been submitted”.

That’s a very restrained account of what happened. It’s hard to know if Parata was wilfully avoiding the questions or if she was just woeful.

And Hipkins was raising valid points in an issue that has so far been handled poorly by Parata.

The government’s current consultation process around the future of schooling in greater Christchurch is a total sham. Hekia Parata began an ‘open consultation’ on 13 September but confirmed in the House today that she will be writing to school boards within days to formally begin the legal process to implement her plan to close and merge schools.

To make matters worse, documents from the Ministry of Education tabled in the House today suggest they only envisage a formal consultation process of five to six weeks, which just so happens to coincide with school holidays and senior student exams.

There is no way the Government can get meaningful information from teachers, parents and children during the exam and holiday period. This whole process looks like a sham and sounds like a sham, because it is a sham. Hekia Parata has clearly already made her mind up.

This is another classic Hekia Parata botch up. The people of Christchurch have been through enough trauma in the past two years. Rather than engaging in a meaningful way with those affected, Hekia Parata seems determined to add to the stress.

Christchurch Schools could become a train wreck if Parata and National don’t improve their efforts on this and other education issues substantially.

26.9.12 – Question 11: Chris Hipkins to the Minister of Education

Question:
Are reports that she intends to write to Christchurch schools within the next fortnight to begin the formal consultation process required to close or merge them correct; if so, what was the purpose of the “open consultation” process she began on 13 September?

[View video at In The House]

Transcript:

11. Schools, Canterbury and Christchurch—Proposed Closures and Mergers

[Sitting date: 26 September 2012. Volume:684;Page:16. Text is subject to correction.]

11. CHRIS HIPKINS (Labour—Rimutaka) to the Minister of Education: Are reports that she intends to write to Christchurch schools within the next fortnight to begin the formal consultation process required to close or merge them correct; if so, what was the purpose of the “open consultation” process she began on 13 September?

Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education) : In answer to the first part of the question, yes. In answer to the second part, I made a deliberate decision to announce the proposals and give all 215 schools time to absorb the information before I started the formal consultation process for the much smaller group of schools that are directly affected in different ways. I do not resile from that decision. I am committed to genuine consultation, and there have been no decisions made in advance of the full process. I have confidence that having these difficult conversations is in the best interests of the current and future learners of Canterbury and their families. I genuinely believe that we owe it to all students to build better educational facilities than were there before.

Chris Hipkins: Who did she consult about the specific closures, mergers, and consolidations proposed in her announcement of 13 September, given the Directions for Education Renewal in Greater Christchurch document makes it clear that consultation up to that point had been focused on “the future of education—from early childhood through to tertiary (not the future of individual schools or services/ facilities).”?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: That is what this phase of the consultation is on.

Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I think I heard you ask “Who did she consult”, indeed. The question asked who did the Minister consult, given the statement made in a certain report that talked about consultation up to that point. The question was asking who was involved in that consultation. The member can repeat his question if the Minister—

Hon HEKIA PARATA: Yes, please.

Chris Hipkins: Who did she consult about the specific closures, mergers, and consolidations proposed in her announcement of 13 September, given the Directions for Education Renewal in Greater Christchurch document makes it clear that consultation up to that point had been focused on “the future of education—from early childhood through to tertiary (not the future of individual schools or services/facilities).”?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: I have made it clear, so has the ministry, and those documents do too, that we have been going through phases of consultation, which are becoming ever finer-grained. So those consultations were at the very high level—the first lot in October. They led to Directions for Education, which was released in May, from which we got further submissions, and that has allowed us to put these proposals before these particular schools.

Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I suspect you know what the point of order is—

Mr SPEAKER: I do.

Chris Hipkins: It was actually a relatively specific question. I know it was a long question, but it was quite specifically about “Who did she consult”.

Mr SPEAKER: I think that is the crucial thing. The question actually contained some quotes in it to identify the period of consultation that the member was referring to in his question. But the Minister still has not answered his question. The only reference the Minister has made is that consultations took place at a high level. But “high level” is not actually telling the House who she consulted. I mean, I think it is not unreasonable. The document says consultations took place, and the question has asked who did the Minister consult up to that point.

Hon HEKIA PARATA: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The point is that the consultations taking place, as they are quoted in that document, relate to the particular consultations that took place. The member is—[Interruption] Well, the consultations that—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is a point of order. [Interruption] Order!

Hon HEKIA PARATA: —took place were on the future of education in Christchurch, from which we drew up a document that then went to the kinds of facilities and options that would be desirable—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is not really now a point of order. The Minister has acknowledged that consultations took place on the broader issues involved, and the member asked who did the Minister consult in that. It is not unreasonable to ask that, and Ministers are accountable for who they consult. That is a very clear issue of accountability. It may be ministry officials, it may be school principals—anything, whatever happened—but just to say “high level” is not really telling the House anything.

Hon HEKIA PARATA: Drawing from the information that arose through the over 700 submissions we received, as a context, drawing from the data that has been collected by school-by-school assessments, and drawing from ministry advice, these next set of proposals have been developed for consultation.

Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I will repeat only the first part of the question. The first part of the question says “Who did she consult about the specific closures, mergers, and consolidations proposed in her announcement of 13 September,”. The Minister has had three goes, but still has not actually addressed that question.

Mr SPEAKER: I think the member has a legitimate grievance. The question, as he has boiled it down now, is exactly what he asked. That is the substance of the question: who did the Minister consult prior to the announcement of the release of a certain document to do with mergers and closures, and what have you, in Christchurch. That is a fair question. Ministers are accountable for who they have consulted. It is not unreasonable for a member to ask that, and so far we have not had any indication at all of who the Minister consulted.

Hon HEKIA PARATA: To pedantically use that term “consult” then, I consulted specific people—[Interruption] Well—

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. She just cannot comment on your rulings like that—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The Speaker is actually trying to assist the House in obtaining information, and he does not need that sort of point of order interrupting. The Minister, I think, was about to give us some information.

Hon HEKIA PARATA: I consulted the submissions that had been submitted. I consulted with ministry staff, who in turn had consulted with ranges of individuals across the greater Christchurch, Waimakariri, and Selwyn districts.

Chris Hipkins: Is she satisfied that a consultation time frame of 5 to 6 weeks, as ministry officials have suggested, will be sufficient for students, parents, teachers, and others in the community to have their say, particularly given it is likely to overlap both with school holidays and senior student exams; if so, why?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: The specifics of the details of consultation under the formal process will be advised to schools, which should be the first to know, and then I will take feedback from them.

Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Again, that was not actually my question—

Mr SPEAKER: I think I can see the member’s point of order. The question actually asked whether the Minister considered that 5 weeks was sufficient time for consultation—that is the question that was asked—given when holidays and exams occur. That was the question asked. It is an opinion. There is no specific answer, but I would ask the Minister to try to answer it.

Hon HEKIA PARATA: Well, that presumes that the time period is accurate, and what I have said is that the specifics of the consultation process to be engaged in have to be advised to schools, and that is what is going to occur.

Chris Hipkins: I seek leave to table a document prepared by the Ministry of Education and circulated to schools summarising a meeting on 20 September, which states that the ministry’s—well, I will not quote exactly, but it is basically suggesting that the Minister’s time frame will be 5 to 6 weeks.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection.

  • Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Dr Megan Woods: Does the Minister have confidence that she has accurate and adequate demographic information on which to base her decisions, given the ministry’s own document Directions for Educational Renewal in Greater Christchurch states that “At this stage it is difficult to tell how many families have moved permanently …”; if so, why?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: Yes, I am confident of the ministry’s advice, because that advice is set in particular times. So, for instance, roll projections for next year are set on the basis of a specific roll count at a specific time, in the knowledge that families move in and out, and based on longer-term projections. So there is no one precise time at which everybody stays still, except for the 5-yearly census.

Dr Megan Woods: What specific data set or data sets are her proposals for closures, mergers, and relocations of Christchurch schools, under her plans, based on?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: They are based on roll returns and roll projections, as well as local information provided through the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, as well as some information that has been—

Dr Russel Norman: Consultation!

Hon HEKIA PARATA: Thank you—and also from consultation.

Chris Hipkins: I seek leave to table source data provided by the Christchurch Press of the results of their online poll that indicate—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Is this a press clipping?

Chris Hipkins: No, no. It is not available online.

Mr SPEAKER: It is not available—[Interruption] Order!

Chris Hipkins: This is the source data of it, which shows that 80 percent of the respondents believe that the handling of this situation by the Minister has either been poor or very—

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table this document. Is there any objection? There is objection.