Friday, November 12, 2004

Bureaucratic 'creep' and curriculum 'drag'!

Tomorrows Schools was all about community control - or so the publicity went. It sounded good at the time but the possibility of local control and creativity was quickly crushed by the imposition of confusing curriculum statements and time wasting assessment requirements.

The paternalistic bureaucracy of a centralized Education Department was replaced by a even more insidious form of bureaucracy - Ministry compliance requirements. These were all the worse because no one really knew what they really meant, even the Ministry, so schools entered a period of trying to 'double guess' what was required and then waiting to see if the official auditors ( the Education Review Office) thought they were acceptable.

As for the curriculums, designed to make teaching more accountable and coherent, they themselves proved incomprehensible and then, just as schools finally put together equally incomprehensible Curriculum Delivery Plans, the Ministry realized their mistake and sent then off to be 'stock-taked'! The ticking of endless assessment boxes, once required, are now out - now the message is to ensure the 'big ideas' are covered. The trouble is many schools have not picked up on the new directions and hence suffer from 'curriculum drag'! By the time they catch up there will no doubt be something new to worry about - key competencies it seems are now the in thing!

To make things worse the Ministry is turning into what it set out to replace , a centralized control centre. The old 'slim line' Ministry is growing exponentially with a range of central 'experts' , many of them well removed from the reality of the classroom. At one conference I heard, from an ICT 'guru', how it would be possible ( and desirable) to pass on relevant information about any learner to any school in New Zealand electronically . He seemed thrilled with the idea but I was concerned about who would pick the category of information to be collected? It would be all too easy to limit such information to things that could be too easily measured.

Now the Ministry is suggesting that all schools use the same software to collect such information. This is real return to a 'one size fits all' mentality. Very soon, I bet, we will see schools being asked to use the same diagnostic curriculum tests, or targets, and then we will have National Testing by default; a simplistic idea that appeals to politicians. Teaching to the tests and worrying about competitive 'league tables' are already in place in more conformist countries.

There is no doubt there needs to be things all schools ought to deliver to ensure consistency across the country but this should never be at the expense of creativity. A 21st century education needs conditions to release the creativity of all its schools, teachers and students. A clear vision of a caring innovative country needs to be negotiated, a vision that values the talents of all its citizens. Naturally a few guidelines need to be set but within these schools and communities need to trusted to get on with the job. As well there needs to be a system to ensure schools are doing what they are saying. If we are too survive as a nation we will need all the diversity, creativity and ingenuity we can develop.

We have to be on the alert for signs of encroaching 'bureaucratic creep'!

The choice it seems is consistency and creativity or compliance and control. The tension between consistency and creativity will, as in any organization, supply the energy to create new ideas. 'Bureaucratic creep' and 'curriculum drag' will only hold us back. Both are on the increase!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Not so much 'bureaucratic creep' as 'bureaucratic creeps', or 'sheep', I reckon. They must love you in Wellington?