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Dr Muriel Newman

Education Shake-up

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education021016The changes currently being undertaken by the Government in the education sector have been described as the biggest shake-up since Tomorrow’s Schools set-up school boards in 1989. The driving motivation behind the reforms is a desire by National to improve the quality of educational outcomes – especially for students at risk of failure – and to provide a greater choice of schooling for parents.

The changes will affect the primary, secondary, and early childhood sectors. According to Ministry of Education figures in 2015 the compulsory sector consisted of 2,538 education providers, 53,861 teachers, and 776,815 students, including 1,963 state primary schools providing for 452,240 students and 344 state secondary schools with 272,227 students. In the early childhood sector in 2014, over 200,000 children attended more than 4,000 licensed services, run by over 25,000 staff.

Some of the changes being proposed, including the establishment of ‘communities of learning’ to facilitate schools working together, can be found in the Education (Update) Amendment Bill, which is currently before Parliament’s Education and Science Select Committee. This bill also paves the way for on-line learning, by enabling schools, tertiary educators, and private providers to apply to the Minister of Education for accreditation as a ‘Community of Online Learning’ or COOL. The Correspondence School will become the country’s first COOL.

According to one of the Bill’s Regulatory Impact Statements, a mechanism is needed to ensure the priorities of the government of the day are taken into account by the education sector: “The status and makeup of school boards means that the government cannot set out its priorities for schools using the same levers that are used with other Crown entities. For example, as boards are elected, the government cannot use the appointment of members to influence the direction and activities of schools.”

As a result, the Bill introduces National Education and Learning Priorities for the early childhood and compulsory education sectors. While it states that the primary objective of the education system is “to focus on helping each child and young person to attain educational achievement to the best of his or her potential”, political and social engineering objectives are also included:

“to instil in each child and young person an appreciation of the importance of the following:
(i) the inclusion within society of different groups and persons with different personal
(ii) the diversity of society;
(iii) cultural knowledge, identity, and the different official languages;
(iv) the Treaty of Waitangi and te reo Maori.”

The Bill is open for public submissions until 11 November 2016 – full details can be found on Parliament’s website.

Central to the new changes being proposed by the Government is an overhaul of the decile funding system which has inadvertently become a proxy for school quality. The decile system assigns a rating between one and 10 to each provider, with lower numbers reflecting a lower socio-economic status of the communities that students are drawn from. With the next recalculation of decile ratings not due until 2019, the Government believes there is ample time to develop and implement a replacement funding system.

The funding review announced in May was designed to engage the education sector in a discussion about changes to the system that would improve overall performance. While over $11 billion of taxpayers’ money is now being spent on education, the Government is concerned that the system is not delivering the best value for money in terms of student achievement.

An Advisory Group of 18 education professionals – including representatives of schools, early childhood education services, school boards, and unions – was appointed to consider seven broad proposals and report back to the Government in September. More than 90 consultation meetings were held with the sector throughout the country.

The proposals include a per-student approach to education funding with an additional amount for ‘at risk’ students and supplementary funding for small and isolated schools; a global budget to give schools more choice over the allocation of their funding; a new funding model for school property to free up more time for principals and boards to focus on students and learning; greater school choice for parents; and better accountability in the education sector to increase public confidence that taxpayer resources are being used effectively to improve student outcomes.

As far as the unions are concerned, the most controversial of these proposals is a ‘global budget’. Currently, the number of teachers employed by a school is determined by the Ministry of Education based on the school’s roll. Salaries are paid centrally. If schools want to employ more teachers they must raise the money locally.

Under a global budget school leaders would be able to decide the split of their funding between cash for running the school and a credit for teacher salaries held by the Ministry. This would introduce greater flexibility into the system, enabling schools to better balance their expenditure on teachers, support staff, and other resources.

However last month, before the Advisory Group’s recommendations had even been delivered to the Government, the NZEI and PPTA unions took the unprecedented step of calling joint stopwork meetings for 60,000 primary and secondary school teachers around the country to oppose the introduction of global budgets. Under their collective agreement, teachers may attend up to two paid union meetings a year – as long as arrangements are made with employers to keep schools open for instruction during the meetings. In the past, to avoid disrupting students and parents, paid union meetings were often held outside of school hours.

The unions are clearly worried that under a global budget, their power base may be undermined. They are no doubt concerned that giving principals and boards the flexibility to choose how to manage their staff to pupil ratios might well result in fewer teachers.

This education funding review should be seen in the context of National’s wider public sector reforms, whereby funding is being linked to better service outcomes, with targets set to concentrate the minds of providers on the fact that continual improvements are expected.

This week’s NZCPR Guest Commentator Nicholas Kerr, a New Zealand consultant who lives in Seattle, has also been reflecting on what makes a good education system:

“I recently read the biography Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. It was an excellent portrait of one of the 20th century’s most creative entrepreneurs. But I was also surprised to find some interesting insights into the need to reform America’s education system.

“While the public elementary school Steve Jobs attended was fairly good, the middle school he was assigned to in Mountain View, CA, was awful. We learn that fights and shakedowns were a daily occurrence, kids regularly brought knives to school and Jobs was repeatedly bullied. As Isaacson explains it, his parents were barely making ends meet, but by the middle of seventh grade Jobs couldn’t take it anymore and insisted they change his school. He quotes Jobs:

“When they resisted, I told them I would just quit going to school if I had to go back to Crittenden. So they researched where the best schools were and scraped together every dime and bought a house for $21,000 in a nicer district.”

Some 50 years later, as Nicholas points out, nothing much has changed either in America – or here in New Zealand – with the quality of local schools still one of the key criteria for choosing where to live.

Nicholas also recounts how Steve Jobs told President Obama some home truths about the US school system, which he believed was:

“…hopelessly antiquated and crippled by union work rules. Until the teachers’ union was broken, there was almost no hope for education reform. Teachers should be treated as professionals, he said, not as assembly-line workers. Principals should be able to hire and fire them based on how good they were. Schools should be staying open until at least 6 p.m. and be in session eleven months of the year.”

There is no doubt that over the years, education reform in New Zealand has been hampered by the unions – as their knee-jerk opposition to global budgets has demonstrated only too clearly. While the problem of poorly performing state schools is not an issue for parents who can afford to send their children to private schools, it most certainly is a huge worry for the majority of parents who cannot afford private school fees – nor a house in the best school zones. It is their children that have to put up with schools that may be not too different from the one described by Jobs.

Fortunately changes to improve this situation appear to be on the way through initiatives in the funding review. Education Minister, Hekia Parata has explained that she is not suggesting that the Government should pick up all of the cost of private schooling, but says a more equitable approach would be to align funding more closely to what it would cost if private school students were educated in the state system: “It is because I want greater predictability and certainty across the education system, and it is because I want to support the diversity of choice to all parents. We are proposing a per-student amount for every New Zealand child going to school, and proposing an additional amount for those most at risk of not succeeding, and those isolated in rural areas.”

In many western countries private education is more affordable, as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development pointed out in 2009, when they outlined how the governments of 25 countries – nine of which have top rankings in international tests – provide some funding for students to attend private schools.  Included in their list are Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland, South Korea, Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands.

In Sweden in 1991, the new government opposed the unions and gave independent schools public funding for the first time. Nowadays, with Swedish private and independent schools receiving funding that is roughly equal to public schools on a per student basis, it is poorer families rather than affluent ones that exercise school choice to the greatest degree.

In Denmark, parents have a long history of control over education. When basic education was made compulsory in 1849, parents were guaranteed the right to send their children to the school of their choice, whether religious, academic or political. Danish parents are required to make a co-payment of around 25 percent of the cost of each child enrolled in an independent school. The Government believes this makes the system ‘price-sensitive’, and is responsible for the cost of running Danish schools being lower than in most other western nations. In Denmark choice produces a powerful incentive for results and has helped to improve the performance of government schools.

In the Netherlands a constitutional amendment was passed in 1917, guaranteeing equal funding for public and independent schools. Freedom of education is one of the key features of the Dutch education system. That means the freedom to establish schools, determine the principles on which the school is based, and organise classroom teaching – with funding equivalent to the per capita cost of public schooling following students to the school of their choice. Due to the ease with which parents can start a new school, school choice in the Netherlands continues to flourish, with over 70 percent of students attending independent schools.

When he discussed the Government’s funding review, Prime Minister John Key said a new system wouldn’t be progressed unless the unions and other stakeholders were on board: “It’s not impossible there would be a change but there’s also no guarantee there would be change – if it was to occur, it’s some way into the future”.

One can only hope that the Prime Minister does not plan to cede further control of education to the unions – and in so doing exacerbate student failure. Change is needed and the reforms that have been outlined have the potential to make a real difference to the lives of many vulnerable children.


Under a ‘global budget’, principals and boards would have more control over school funding – do you agree with the government that the proposal should be considered, or do you agree with the unions that it should be rejected?


*Poll comments are posted below.


*All NZCPR poll results can be seen in the Archive.

Click to view x 120


Anything that the Unions – especially in education – reject has got to be a move in the right direction. Union pressure is responsible for the poor quality of education in this country – & many other Western democracies! David
This will result in older more expensive teachers being squeezed out of the system and larger classes. Just bulk funding in another form. Bad for teachers’ careers in an already unpopular job for grads. Ainslie
Improved education is certainly needed in the world of today. Michael
In a funny way we have elected the Government to govern so it this body that decides, that is what they were elected to do. Govern Warren
Usually I don’t agree with unions demands but if teachers are against the move, that’s good enough to think again over the issue. They are the ones who have to administer the changes and they have enough to do and the responsibilities of the principal are enough without having to decide how to divide the grants between staff and running costs. Chris
I clicked Government considered but in reality I am not so sure what is right or wrong anymore in this case. Look at this whole affair in a nutshell: The days where the school administration system was an uncomplicated affair are truly over. We have now a system which is infiltrated and diluted by a plethora of commissions, advisory groups and the PC brigade who wants to insert their own twisted ideas into the system as well. Fact is that there is a persistent problem with literacy and numeracy ie the most basic requirements of what we consider to be ‘education’ have fallen by the wayside to make space for all sorts of brainwashing nonsense. I say let’s keep it simple and focus on the essentials of school education. Reading, writing, maths and the sciences. Get rid of all that other crap and of all these useless office dwellers promoting that bullshit. Michael
What we do need is the political and social objectives modernised to digital learning in the technological age, te reo is completely useless and outdated. The unions need to be opposed. Monica
This is a no-brainer. Kerry
The quality of teachers had a substantial effect on my education. Rodney
The standard of education of the average student leaving the NZ education system is deplorable when ranked against other countries. A great deal of this poor performance can be laid squarely at the unions door and here we have a typical example. No sooner are measures announced to attempt to change the system and they are calling for strike action. It also sounds like Key is doing his usual trick and not displaying the fortitude to take the unions on. The man is gutless and so are his cabinet. Ronmac
Teachers need their unions, and they should listen to them. Andy
The Education System as it stands is failing students in many schools and as well as looking at funding the quality of the teaching should be looked at too Is it not possible that could be letting our children down as well? I fear for the Quality of the Education my Great Grand Children might or might not get in the very near future. The early years are so crucial. Laurel
Pupils need real teachers not union stirrers. Close down the teachers union and start performance pay for teachers. Schools need all the support we can give them again a reason to remove the union blocking moves. Johan
In education, perhaps more than in any other field, it is necessary to maintain an open mind. What harm can come of considering alternatives? Peter
Change long overdue, parents should have Right of choice? Union power has Perpetuated a second rate system. John
Such a move – block funding – seems well worth considering, although it would also require improvements in the competence of principals and in governance by boards. Perhaps it’s also time for teacher unions to reconsider their place in the 21st century. Teachers are highly trained and valued professionals who should know how to achieve best results for students and contribute to effective schooling under a dedicated CEO/Principal . Their opposition smacks of distrust of boards and principals – a rather antiquated attitude. Bruce
It makes commercial sense. At least consider the options and learn from other countries. Derek
Seems to make sense. Jim
Education is about the outcomes of the students not jobs for teachers.due to the best teachers being lumped in with the worst, the best leave and we are left with the worst who continue teaching our students. No wonder our education system is a social system not a place of excellence. Morrie
Caution! What is meant by Government – considered? United Nations have at last just rejected ‘One world Governance’ whence Helen Clark lost her ambitious goal. John Key fully supported her which raises a massive red light for me. Loose manipulated wording has led, through racially adjusted political manoeuvring, to special unelected appointments and fiscal allocations raises a big red light for me. This is a slightly better option than Unions! Stuart
This will only work if the school zoning system is abandoned and parents are allowed more say in the operation of the curriculum. Victor
Unfortunately the weak kneed Key’s will bow to any pressure whether the unions, the Maori party or any other opposition to his government. John
Teachers unions should not be setting education standards and syllabi. Bob
It is a good thing to be able to send ones children to the school of ones choice for free as per state schools at present! Theodorus
Having been vilified by union representatives when I worked as a teacher I will not agree with their stance. Unions have too much power and a lack of professionalism. Peter
Too easy to direct funding away from core educational services. Paddi
Teacher Union dominance, & left leaning governments, spell indoctrination, not education. Currently we have both. What chance do our children have, when P C versions of so many topics are taught as truths. Can’t see any change occurring regardless of funding technique while the current administrators remain in charge.. A.G.R.
Unions in the past, have had too much control. David
Teacher unions are pale shadows of real unions run by aspiring ladder climbers who sell out to the system at the first opportunity. With 50 years service I have seen too many brown nosers of that ilk to take teacher unions seriously. Don
Funding is better in the hands of the school administration. Peter
Schools should not be put into the situation where they have to choose between equipment purchases, running costs and the employment of experienced teachers. The educational ‘shake-up’ should also not be focusing on educational outcomes, putting an emphasis on assessment, but rather on educational processes, with an emphasis on learning. In this way children will be encouraged to become adults capable and enthusiastic about continuing their learning throughout their lives. Education is an investment in the future, not simply another governmental expense. Alan
We are over governed now so why not make the law more complex, Unions? your joking.. Ian
Stop viewing education as a business. It’s a social service & is not meant to make a profit. Mike
If it has the capacity to increase student teacher ratios it should be rejected. If those ratios can be maintained orimproved I would be in favour. Tony
The Neo-Marxist Teacher’s Unions have resisted education reform for as long as one can remember – it is time for a change – and a radical one at that. Hylton
Sounds feasible to me. Dennis
I think I agree, but I am more concerned that engineered political and social agendas are so predominant and no one asked me if I agree with it or reject it.. Ask the population who would probably reject it. No matter, the Government will just TRUCK ON THROUGH anyway! Neil
Catch 22, don’t trust the govt and don’t trust the socialist unions, however to vote will go with govt this time. Wayne
‘Global budget’ is another euphemism for the old ‘bulk-funding’ that started the ‘tomorrows-schools’ on it its slippery slope to ignominy….simply b/c the unions grabbed the chance to abuse the system and extort more than a reasonable share of tax-payers hard earned contributions. Sure, there a lot of ‘top quality’ teachers out there, in both private and public schools…., Like Politicians and Govt’s there are plenty of useless drones too? Without getting the Unions out of the picture, without getting central Govt into controlling the funding [those who collect our taxes] we are just going to get ‘more-of-the-same’,of unimproved educational outcomes….but on steroids. Now powered by a ‘global budget’,with more ‘Union graft’ and with less options for parents….and more confusion on what our taxes are really being spent on? The devil’s in the detail. Ced
Take the control away from the militant techers union which will improve the quality of the teachers and benifit the students. Ken
Makes some sense. Lance
No union involvement please! Peter
….no more “Colditz Castle” educational camps…OK Chrish
Global funding would be a disaster. School principals and boards are not trained or qualified to make these decisions. Some kids would be disadvantaged because schools could choose to employ less well qualified teachers in an effort to save money. Cronyism would abound. John
People making decisions about education who have no inherent knowledge or expertise in education are making the grave mistake of running schools as if they were a business. For profit and net gain – but not to the benefit of those central to the whole system – the students. Teachers should be treated as professionals and paid as such. The Global Budget is a smokescreen to dumb down education on the pretext of choice… Kat
Schools are as good as their leader/principal. By encouraging good principals to react to need rather than be dictated by central government then positive results will ensue. Willy
This is a very biased report with the usual cliche that teachers appear to be self serving. talk to teachers instead of making wild assumptions. Levonne
Of course the Unions would reject it, lose of power!!!! Ian
Any idea rejected by Unions is usually a sound one. My partner was a teacher during the Bulk Funding era and she loved it. Geoff
End the unions. Yim
Absolutely the system should change and the only way for that to happen is to break the Union control…Steve Jobs message to Obma is exactly what needs to happen here if it doesn’t happen now under John Key it will never happen. I live for the day the PPTA are no more a group of women of the worst kind. Lynne
I was a member of a teacher union for many years-they don’t promote anything but a single policy and don’t tolerate any disagreement either. Roger
Sick of the union holding back the education of our children for selfish reasons. Graeme
Rejected until it is quite clear in detail how it will operate and benefit the education system. Parata has recently been to the USA to study their education system and from what I know and have read that system is antiquated and in many areas is a disaster. Og
Surely this only proposes that school principals have the same discretionary spending power that virtually all business leaders already have? Teachers should have confidence in their principals to do what is best overall for their school. Mike
Te Haroto took the whole school to Sydney on a field trip and blew the yearly budget and then resigned. What a free holiday it must have been!!! Jon
The school system probably needs some restructuring, but I disagree with the Bill’s Regulatory Statement that calls for a mechanism to ensure the priorities of the government of the day are taken into account by the education sector. This smacks of manipulation. Instilling appreciation of cultural knowledge, identity and the official languages, plus the Treaty of Waitangi AND te reo Maori, is over the top. You can bet they won’t insist on teaching our third official language, sign language.. It is all a push to brain wash our children into believing that things Maori are more important and valuable than anything Other. And all the Maori history has been sanitized, made more acceptable. They should teach the facts as they were, the true history. Pumping falsehoods into our children is brainwashing, and unacceptable.. Joyce
Again! Teachers unions trying to run government policy – left wing activists who should be concentrating on providing a high standard level of education for our children, which less doctrinaire teachers do very well. School leaders, which includes boards of trustees, must be given flexible fiscal options to run their school, within the national curriculum, for the best outcomes of their school community. Andrew
Lets move into the 21st century the teachers union belongs to the ice age. Les
Why don’t things stay as they are. Governments always want to change thing and some time they are not for the better. Will these changes make things better or worse?? Robert
Steve Jobs said it all in your report when he told President Obama that the system is antiquated and held back by union rules and power. Why shouldn’t a headmaster be able to get rid of a hopeless teacher and pay more to a good one and control how they spend the total budget they are given to run the school. Competition for pupils worked in Denmark so why not in New Zealand It makes all schools pull their socks up as parents will take their children away to better run schools. Colin
They had bulk funding once & I know the Schools love it as it gave them independent choice of each teachers, & work. Geoff
Give those at the pit face responsibility along with accountability. Kelvin
But could lead to more corruption. Colin
Teaching is a hard job but failing schools must be improved and the government should be supported in their endeavours. Brian
The unions need to be sorted out – their refusal to introduce performance pay simply protects incompetent teachers and drives good ones out of the profession. John
Unions should not be in control of education – end of story! Carol
Global budgets sound like a sensible idea. Thomas
Finally National is making some reforms that could radically improve the education system. The unions must not be allowed to block these sensible changes. Alan