About the New Zealand Principals Federation

To Do, or Not to Do?

Submitted by Flockton on 10 February 2014 - 2:38pm

That is the Question!

Whether tis nobler and professionally adept to know the difference and claim the difference, or to believe and do exactly as others say you should believe and do?

The Tomorrow's Schools administrative reforms that created self-managing schools in New Zealand were underpinned by a few key principles – including those that set out to honour and uphold the precepts of self-management.  The intention was never that schools be autonomous and independent, but as part of a school system they would operate within a centrally determined framework of "guidelines". In turn, those guidelines would be framed in such a way as to allow schools a meaningful amount of discretion over how they could be interpreted and carried out in practice.   Sheaves of Government regulations were revoked (a system driven by regulation would be antithetical to self-management) and replaced by national education guidelines (NEGs). 

The first guidelines (1990) missed the boat.  They dictated, for example, that every school would have a Treaty of Waitangi policy that would be reviewed every year.  The Government brought over a couple of Australians at great expense (Caldwell and Spinks) to show us how to make such policies according to their formulaic patterning (rationale, purpose, guidelines, conclusions).  ERO went around checking on the policies, giving big ticks to those that fitted the Ausie recipe – even though that recipe was not mandatory and ridiculously wordy. But – the majority of schools used it even though it was not mandatory or entirely sensible.  You may well ask why. The answer is revealingly and disturbingly instructive. 

Way back 1993 a new set of NEGs was drawn up on the instructions of the Minister of Education (Lockwood Smith). They were to be less directive and more allowing of school-level interpretation, initiative and ideas.  That is, more consistent with the principles of self-management.  On the subject of assessment and reporting, for example, the NAG simply and succinctly required that schools "assess student achievement, maintain individual records and report on student progress".  That was the sum total of the mandate.  It trusted the resourcefulness of professionals and their ability to develop and use robust, effective and sensible systems that allowed them to dependably judge and report children's learning, needs, strengths and weaknesses.  But what followed was an epidemic of ill-conceived and officially applauded reams of patterned checklists of multitudinous achievement objectives.  Why?  The answer is revealingly and disturbingly instructive!

From the outset, the way was paved for what has proved to be interminable corruptions of the fundamental premise of self-management. Despite being officially endorsed, it has been continually undermined, subverted, corroded, whittled, and watered down.  Self-management is not trusted, liked or understood by those who would control and direct schools according to their ways, and those who would control schools and assert their ways have not been entirely trusted by many who actually manage schools, do the work, and have their own good ideas. 

One of the underlying reasons for so many schools being led into thinking that they must do certain things in certain ways is because many simply do not know whether in fact they must do.  This requires familiarity and proper interpretation of actual (i.e. statutory and regulatory) stipulations.  Most of these allow schools significant choice over how they might go about things, with a few notable and comparatively recent exceptions, mainly concerned with national standards.  For example, the numeracy project is not a mandatory mathematics programme, and there is no proof that it is necessarily the best programme for all schools or children.  There are other programmes.  The literacy progressions are not mandatory.  Clearer, less jargon-ridden yet valid progressions, have been developed by some schools with proven (evidence-based) effect.  There is no requirement to report to parents using the words above, at, below, or well below.  Many schools are reporting in plain English that clearly informs children's attainment without the need for such labels.  Despite someone's research (advocated to Boards of Trustees by STA), highly effective principal appraisal does not require the tedium of repeated appraiser visits throughout the year.  And so the list of examples might go on.

In response to many principals serious concerns and questions about the legitimacy and sensibility of advice and directives being given, the NZPF asked Lester Flockton if he would support them by providing comment and clarification.  Lester's professional background has equipped him with deep and current knowledge of the system and requirements on schools.  He distinguishes between the mandatory and the discretionary, between what schools must do, could do, and what they can legitimately choose to not do.

Blog your issues here and Lester will respond to them in this open forum.
If you prefer to contact Lester privately you can do so by emailing him on lester.flockton@otago.ac.nz


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