Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Cathy Wylie outlines new wave of change for New Zealand Schools!

Time for a new wave of change!

In the 1980s a new political ideology swept through Anglo American countries. It was a time of dramatic change as the democratic welfare state was replaced by  what has come to be known as a ‘Market Forces business oriented’ approach based on small government, valuing self-interest, privatisation, competition, choice and accountability. This neo liberal approach was believed to be the only way to cope with dramatic worsening worldwide economic circumstances. A common phrase at the time was TINA (there is no alternative).
New Zealand was not immune. The recently elected Labour Government led by David Lange was influenced by finance minister Roger Douglas and the Treasury. ‘Thatcherism’ in the UK, ‘Reaganism’ in the US and ‘Rogernomics’ in New Zealand – continued by National’s Ruth Richardson and alive but not so well today!
The new ideology was applied across the public service and education was not immune.
In 1986 an ‘earthquake ‘hit education in the form of ‘Tomorrows Schools’; following the publication of the Picot Report self-managing schools were born.
Now, almost three decades later, A  NZCER  chief researcher Cathy Wylie has written a definitive and compelling story of school self-management called ’VitalConnections: Why We Need More Than Self-managing Schools’. For two background papers: link one - link two
Cathy Wylie
Cathy answers the questions: What was the real effect of ‘Tomorrows Schools’? Has the New Zealand Schools system improved as a result? And what changes are needed now to meet our expectations of schools?
People who were principals during the transition (as I was) will find the book enlightening and younger principals will learn that a lot of shared wisdom was lost in the process.
It is interesting to find that New Zealand was the only country to take self-managing schools to such extremes of local control and now Cathy believes that we have ‘made self-management into a barrier’ if we want all students to be treated equitably. Keep in mind our growing ‘achievement gap’.
The impression given at the time was that the then system was too bureaucratic, too centralised, to allow school flexibility and initiative.
An early chapter Principals  focuses on the situation before ‘Tomorrows Schools’. Contrary to the myth  being spread by those propagating change schools enjoyed considerable latitude in comparison to other education systems. They had on-going connections with the inspectorate, the local advisers and curriculum experts in the Department of Education and teachers often belonged to networks of teachers developing and trialling new ideas.
Inspectors and advisers could ‘connect individual teachers with expertise ….. They knew where good practice was occurring…they could identify and encourage talent’. All schools had liaison inspectors and inspectors arranged for teachers to visit other schools and to develop and share ideas. As a result there was a healthy cross fertilisation of ideas. As Cathy writes ‘they could connect the dots’ and ‘foster collective strengths of teachers working together’.
An OECD report in the early 80s was full of praise for existing educational provisions and did not find people wanting dramatic changes and was impressed with the engaging and active learning that keeps children motivated to learn. New Zealand students do well and still do, in international testing
But there were shortcomings. There was no national systematic way to support schools. The locally elected Education Boards looked after property and finance while inspectors focused on educational issues. Both were involved in principal and teacher appointment. There was growing concern with the failure rate of Maori students, communities were not fully involved with their schools and a growing number of students were not being catered for in secondary schools as students we were encouraged( by lack of jobs) to stay at school longer.
Education Boards and inspectors disappeared in the change and advisers placed with College Of Educations (later Universities) and employed on contract. In the process connections and collective wisdom was lost.
So where was the bureaucracy and over centralisation that was blocking the initiative and creativity of the system? It was in the regulations to do with staffing, with property and with resources for teaching. ’Tomorrows Schools certainly had its attraction when it came to these issues. Responsibility for such areas really appealed to principals.
‘Tomorrows Schools’ would tackle bureaucracy but this came at a price. Key interconnections were lost. Schools and Boards were on their own and this would create winners and losers.
An overseas observer described the New Zealand approach as the ‘earthquake method of educational reform’. Teacher unions were excluded. Changes were less to do with educational reasons but with political determination to restructure the economy and the role of the state. David Lange, as Minister of Education, at least did not allow education vouchers or privatisation to be part of the mix.
It seems there was not much thought given to the infrastructure needed to support the self-management of schools and the sharing of useful ideas. The general tenor was that schools were to be left to make their own decisions.
What eventuated was at best ‘fragmented freedom’. Schools in ‘better’ environments had the local expertise to do well but self-management was ‘sown on uneven ground’. Principals and BOTs learnt ‘by the seat of their pants’ and became occupied with compliance and the ‘demanding twins’ of property and finance issues and less a focus on teaching and learning. Competition between schools – the result of an emphasis on parent choice had unfortunate effects. Some schools ‘had the upper hand’. As a result self-management put one’s own school first.
The years that followed were demanding as the Ministry chopped and changed to keep schools viable. It was an era of ‘CRAP’   as the Ministry and ERO ‘continually revised all procedures’ Charters came and went. Strategy and annual plans were introduced. Growing problems with failing schools resulted in a number of safety net interventions. The introduction of the New Zealand Curriculum was rolled (and NZCEA in secondary schools) added to the confusion. Schools were clustered but schools took only what they needed. ERO were ‘the watchdog and scold’. The new curriculum with its endless objectives, and arbitrary levels, was a ‘mile wide and an inch deep’ but conscientious teachers did their best to tick off objectives taught. ERO ensured they complied.
And for all this, the very students, who were to be saved by self-management, still continued to fail. Literacy tasks forces were established and Numeracy projects, and other ad hoc projects, to try to help failing students.
Benign bureaucracy had been replaced by fragmentation – out of the frying pan into the fire! ERO and the Ministry worked in isolation. The Ministry has become risk averse. It needs a more effective engagement with schools but there is no longer the trust necessary.
The ‘too hasty and undercooked’ National Standards, a throwback to earlier days, are being imposed – the worse sort of centralisation and schools were bullied into supplying their data to the Ministry. Ironically schools that resisted were showing initiative and developing the creative programmes (based on the revised Labour introduced 2007 New Zealand Curriculum) that underpinned the ethos of self-managing schools. On the horizon lie league tables and national testing – issues that will narrow the curriculum and encourage teachers to teach to the tests and down play the creative arts.  What is to be measured will become the measure – will become the default curriculum.
The time has come for fresh thinking. We ought not to have asked schools to stand alone without being part of a supportive school district. Other countries have shown the success of supportive infrastructures to both support and share ideas. Schools can no longer work in isolation reinventing the wheel – too many schools ‘do not know what they do not know’.
The current focus on school failure, the ‘achievement gap’, has increased markedly as a result of market forces ideology which has widened the ‘winner loser’ gap. Schools can always do better but can only be truly successful if a more communal narrative (ideology) replaces the current emphasis on self-interest.
Cathy concludes her book with some hard hitting recommendations.
Schools need to ensure all students succeed to realise their unique set of gift and talents, equipped with the learning competencies to thrive in the uncertain times ahead. ‘The current New Zealand schooling system,’ Wylie writes, ‘cannot meet these expectations’. We have not been able to make the best about self-managing schools…..Tomorrows Schools has certainly enhanced school initiative…..(but) on their own they are not sufficient to improve educational opportunities and outcomes across the board…..it has been too uneven. It has yet to reach all students. Our system lacks the national and local infrastructure of connections to share and keep building effective teaching practices so that schools can do what we ask of them…The Ministry has largely played a hands off role’ providing one size fits all solutions relying on ensuring schools comply to regulations.. Between 16 to 20% of schools struggle each year’.
Schools need the’ opportunity to learn from their peers in other schools…There is an unmet need for cross fertilisation that the inspectors and advisers once played, such as arranging inter-school visits so that teachers and principals can see more effective practices and have the opportunity to discuss how these practices work, how to bring about change’.
We need a fresh approach. We need to construct a network of education authorities that support and challenge schools….in ways that make more of the schools than schools can make of themselves – ways that nurture the capacity of schools to self-manage. ‘We haven’t the time or the money to reinvent the wheel.’
The current fragmentation of government agencies are counterproductive. ‘The past 33 years have shown limitations of positioning each school as a separate island. It will be connections that increase the effectiveness of our schools.’ What is needed is ‘integrate the key strengths of what was lost with Tomorrows Schools….This means more than tweaking our current structures and ways of doing things. It means changes in the government agencies and some changes for schools and boards… I suggest more challenging support at the local level, more connections to share and build knowledge and more coherence between the different layers of the schooling system.’
Such connected infrastructures will make real difference.’ We have the experience and knowledge now to create the more dynamic schooling system that our children need. It is time to give all our self-managing schools the vital connections, support and challenge they need to succeed.’

(To appreciate the full message best to read the book particularly the recommendations)

5 comments:

Kelvin Squire said...

Kia Ora Bruce, having worked with Cathy in the past I value her perspective. The are not many of us left who have experienced leadership pre-Tomorrow's Schools and post-Tomorrow's Schools. Both had there strengths and weaknesses. The answer in my view lies in capturing the best of both. The answer lies in working with school leaders / teachers and gaining sytemic buy in not having top down ideological driven change to capture votes; kids are far too important to experiment with!The answer lies in investing in those who will make the difference; that is our schools, their teachers and the communities they serve.

Bruce said...

Thanks Kelvin. It is too easy to forget what happened in the past. I think Cathy is combining the best of past and present. Her suggestion is to provide linking infrastructure to give support and to share good ideas.Too many schools are struggling and most don't know what they don't know!!

Anonymous said...

The sad reality is that many in the Ministry and NZCER have not been in a classroom for many years. Engage with those who will make the difference! Bruce please correct the spelling errors in my first response.

Gail Loane said...

This discussion is so timely. Many of us get caught up in the 'here and now' and struggle to realise where we are in 'the big picture' - over time. I look at Cathy's overview and can place myself in all stages of that - I was a principal in the changeover into Tomorrow's Schools and have worked hard over subsequent years to support schools to cope with the demands and changes thrust upon them, while staying true to underlying beliefs about teaching and learning. I can recognise the discomfort that arises between beliefs about how we learn and what we are being asked to do. I remember 'standing out on a limb' over many issues and the energy required to fight it or to 'ride it through'. I look forward to my copy of Cathy's book arriving so that I can continue to support schools to understand where we sit right now and encourage them to move forward with purpose, passion, energy and integrity. Gail Loane

Bruce said...

Great to hear from you Gail. What you say is so true - it is hard ( as Elwyn Richardson used to say) to remember you came to drain the swamp when you are up to your backside in crocodiles!

Schools are lucky still have acess to your energy, passion and integrity.