“What do you think will change for schools under the new Labour Government?”
I have lost count of the number of times that I have been asked this question over the summer. The immediate response of teachers online was joy but it’s not going to be an open cheque, so really I don’t think much will change.
Political ideologies may have indirect impacts on schools by the social and economic policies they enact and the impacts these have on learners’ lives, but the pedagogical approaches of teachers have so much more of an influence in schools. Teachers and schools have always looked at the constraints placed upon us by governments and then continued to design curriculum and learning in the best way they see fit.
Look at when NCEA came in. Piles of training was given to secondary teachers on how this new assessment regime was to be implemented. Then teachers went about deciding how to implement in their own schools. Some schools made adjustments to programmes but many conversations also focused on how we could make it fit what we already did. This matches the power of our New Zealand Curriculum, in how it enables schools to interpret it in the way that suits their students. This is also the downside of it as some schools will use the openness to allow them to avoid aspects that they do not want to cover.
NCEA has been a big talking point since the election. 2018 will see an NCEA Review take place and there has been much talk over the last year about assessment and wellbeing (of both students and teachers). This review was scheduled to occur this year regardless of who won the election. Realistically, this review may help schools to finally make some changes but look at what courageous schools like Albany Senior and Hobsonville Point Secondary School were already doing. Their changes didn’t require a change of Government. They just required great educational leaders making changes based on what they saw as the needs of their students.
One major change that the election has brought in is that National Standards have gone. This changes how learning gets reported to parents. Many teachers have celebrated by saying that they can now reinvigorate the other aspects of the Curriculum that had been pushed to the side under National Standards. But great schools were already continuing to be empower their students and designing great learning across their whole curriculum. I remember Daniel Birch from Hobsonville Point Primary School describing to us in late 2013 how their National Standards data would be falling out of the great learning that they would be focusing on. I was privileged to see this in action, not just at Hobsonville Point but also at Stonefields School and Breens Intermediate.
The introduction of Charter Schools was an ideological decision. The ending of Charter Schools is also an ideological decision. Neither of these decisions were made with students or learning as a main consideration. Plenty of alternatives to state schools exist in NZ – Private, Integrated, Special Character, Kura Kaupapa – all of whom get varying amounts of funding from the Government but for some reason, Charter/Partnership schools really divided opinion. Originally I took an ideological position against them, but I also saw some plans for great pedagogical practices in a couple. Thankfully it seems that those with good practices will be able to continue under a different model. Unfortunately, the state schooling system does not provide well for all students. I’m all for some variations existing that might find the pedagogical approach that suits that young person and keeps them learning and moving towards an optimistic future.
And I guess that sums up my overall position. To me, pedagogy will always trump ideology. Under the same political situations, schools have wide variations in how they implement those ideas. I genuinely believe that most of the curriculum and assessment issues in New Zealand come down to practices in schools rather than poor ideas of governments.
Amongst our leadership teams at school right now, we are discussing the ideas and practices of educational leaders like Ann Milne and Maurie Abraham and reflecting on what our next steps should be for our context. This gives me great hope for our near future. Rather than worrying about what ideological changes might come at me, my students and my colleagues; I will always prefer to look for how we can improve our practices to help our students. Perhaps a change of Government might encourage some schools to take steps that they were stalling on previously. But teachers & schools shouldn’t be waiting for new governments and Ministers to lead us, we need to get out there and make the changes happen. We are the real leaders of NZ’s education system and more of us should be acting like it for the sake of our students and communities.