leadership, Ministerial responsibility, New Zealand, New Zealand Politics

When does a Minister stop being responsible?

I write this as a former Minister. I have worked with the understanding of what “ministerial responsibility” is.

But I am stunned on my return to New Zealand to watch Ministers blame their departmental officials and never take responsibility themselves…even if it were just to apologise.

Here in NZ, a report from the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security has been released. It is a report on information released by the Security Intelligence Service in July and August 2011. This was in the lead up to the General Election held on the 26 November. This is relevant because the release concerned the depth of a SIS briefing to the leader of the Opposition and the issue assumed significance in the election.

The report notes in para 15 that “there was a consequent failure on the part of the Director to take all reasonable steps to safeguard the political neutrality of the NZSIS, as required by….the New Zealand Security Intelligence Act 1969.”

The Prime Minister in 2011 was the Minister in Charge of the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service.  The Prime Minister was the Minister responsible for the actions of that department.

But who apologises? Both the retired Director and the current Director have apologised for the failures of the SIS in this matter.

The Minister responsible has not apologised for failings in his department.

Instead John Key has dodged many questions with an attack on other politicians and on his former department, making much of the fact that the Department officials gave him incomplete, inaccurate and misleading information, on which he based his attack on Mr Goff.

So what is the job of Ministers? Do they not have responsibility for the work of their departments? When he sat down with them at their regular meetings, did he not discuss performance objectives for that department? Did he not raise questions as to how they were meeting their obligations under the applicable laws?

Question Time in the House is when Ministers are held to account for the actions of their Ministries/departments. It is not a time for shrugging the elegant shoulders and passing the buck to the department.

I know. I was always nervous of Question time. On the personal level it was because, in my nervousness, I would forget names/terms or have an unfortunate confusion as in “hazardous orgasms” instead of “hazardous organisms”. On the ministerial level you were nervous of what’d been unearthed of some failure within your departments. In my eighteen months as Minister of Biosecurity I had at least six snakes, some dead, arrive in the country….a serious breach of our biosecurity systems!  But I had to take responsibility. I had to accept that this had happened and commit to improvements.

In this current issue of Prime Ministerial response to a report criticising his previous department, I have not heard take any responsibility for what happened. Instead he has focussed on the lack of evidence to prove “political collusion” by the SIS. He has conveniently ignored the findings in paragraphs 9 to 21.

I want to live in a democracy. I pay taxes. I want those taxes to be spent wisely. I want those Cabinet Ministers responsible for the wise spending of our money to be accountable for that.

At the moment, they are not.  In recent times Ministers have been held to account for their behaviour, but not for the actions of their departments. This is what the Westminster style of government is based on.

Please, Mr Key, act in accordance with our unwritten constitution. Accept those findings. Apologise for the transgressions of the SIS, your department at that time, and for the impact on the political debate in 2011. And show us what you will do to ensure that this never happens again. The Director of NZSIS has accepted all eight recommendations…but the new Minister should also be committing to ensuring that these are followed through.

That is the minimum that should be done. The maximum would be your resignation. But I am a realist…

Accountability in education, education, New Zealand, performance pay, schools, Uncategorized

Performance Pay:Sounds good but does it improve learning for students?

Thanks for all the interest, particularly from England, although I am trying to attract New Zealand readers, because I do not want New Zealand to follow the English schooling model.

This is the third blog on education comparisons between England and New Zealand…it is on the vexed question of performance pay.

My major concerns are the unreliable ways and measurements to be associated with annual appraisals which affect whether the teacher gains a pay increase; the disconnect between performance pay and improved learning for students and the thorny question of what happens if all our teachers are outstanding all the time…can we afford this, or will the goalposts shift?

One of New Zealand’s teacher unions, PPTA, clearly acknowledges in their blog, Pigeonhole  of 24 January, that we all are engaged in a level of performance pay. If we do not turn up for work, we do not get paid. If we are appointed to Head of Science, we are paid for the extra  responsibilities inherent in the job. So obviously there is some performance pay.

And in England it has been similar.  When a teacher takes on extra responsibilities and is awarded a TLR, they are being paid for performance.

A subtle change was introduced in England when teachers had to prove that they were achieving prescribed standards to meet the threshold for the Upper Pay Scale. Again this had problems. because awarding this was dependent on the professionalism of the classroom observation systems extant in the school. If the proof depended on unsubstantiated judgements of an HOD, there could be issues. In recent years Ofsted has been asked to check the systems. In one school the report agreed with the process in one part of the report and in the other noted that there was no whole school action on graded lesson observations.So there was a lack of consistency in the judgement, or the members of the inspection team did not join the dots or ticks.

But from September 2014 all that has changed. Previously a teacher, in England, in his/her early years could expect to move up the pay scale automatically. That has now gone. And in September 2014 any movement will be determined on how well that teacher has performed in the previous school year.

And the performance appraisal is based on the revised Teachers’ Standards, which  came into effect in September 2012.

The Standards themselves are worthy, although a little daunting for a beginning teacher. Well I do not think I would have had the confidence to enter teaching if I had had to meet all these every day, for every class in my first years. In fact I have strong memories of my first Principal at Hillmorten High School, quizzing me on how many of the 28 lessons that I taught each week would be excellent. I staunchly replied that all of them would be. He looked me in the eye and said I would be lucky if two were!!! or otherwise I would be burnt out by end of the first term. And he was a principal who really understood about building excellent teachers and future leaders. At least four of his HODs became successful principals in their own right within the next ten years.

But, I digress. The problem with these standards is the alignment with pay progression and the turning of abstract goals into concrete proof for performance pay purposes.

As I left England and English schools , different schools were introducing appraisal grids for staff approval. These grids were to be the means by which core teachers would be measured  for their appraisals and  consequent recommendation for a pay rise in September of 2014. I saw schemes which stipulated that if you were going for your third pay rise in about the third or fourth year of your teaching then the last three lesson observations had to be scored as outstanding. And that would mean that all the students in those last three observed lesson had been making rapid progress in each of those lessons. Every English child has their progress expectation mapped out based on  previous recorded scores and other variants. As teachers in England you access these through Raise-on-line. So, no troubles at home for students or teacher, no weather events, nothing untoward in those last three lessons! This is unreal. In fact trying to make that into a measurement is dishonest.

Classroom observations were only one facet of the grids…the grades that your students made would also affect your pay rise chances. We all want students to make progress: we would not be teachers otherwise. But what of the English examinations of January/July 2012 when the grade boundaries were changed between the two sittings? Such inequity in the future could well affect student results and teacher pay.So if these grids are to work, everything in the system must also be working perfectly, which is a little unreal if my experience of the last five years is any proof.

I am not sure how you judge effectively whether your teaching has promoted children’s intellectual curiosity, especially if they have had to engage in rote learning of the monarchs of England.  But promoting children’s intellectual curiosity, a worthy teaching standard, also formed part of the appraisal that determined a pay rise. How is this judged objectively? As I write I am sure that right now some consultant will be designing a course to show how this can be assessed and how you the teacher can score an outstanding grade.

And in this judgemental environment, you would also be judged on how effective your relationships with colleagues was….another worthy teaching standard. I find this ironic, when the one matter which will militate against collegial support and development will be this pay performance routine.

The disconnect between performance pay and improved learning for teachers. Like every citizen I want to see learning improve. But the accountability systems being put in place to check whether improvement is actually happening, work against such improvement in reality.

A key measurement in England are the test/examination results. Summative assessment can have a stultifying affect on a student’s curiosity….well more on the teacher’s willingness to let such curiosity flower. I doubt whether any English  Year 10 classroom would allow a class to read several  plays by the same playwright as one extension class did at Hagley High, nor to spend time on the South Brighton  ( NZ) shore line measuring erosion. There was no exam attached…but teacher and students were learning successfully and they were negotiating what they explored, which in itself has value.  The examination prescriptions make a mockery of the wonderful ideals in the curriculum. But what teacher whose performance is now measured by exam results and lesson observations will leave those prescriptions aside and really develop a student’s curiosity and ability to argue. This is the risk of such a system.

It is like stating that a Cabinet Minister be measured by the quality of answers to oral questions in the House. Who judges? Who agrees the criteria for outstanding?… the Speaker, the Opposition, the Journalist? And what difference does this make to the health of our democracy?And if such a system existed, then the oddball who brings life and a different perspective will be shut out by the standard for outstanding politician and corresponding pay rate. As I write this I worry about how unfortunately similar some of our politicians are.

And the final issue with performance pay is to follow the stated reason for performance pay to its conclusion. The objective is to improve teaching standards.If the policy succeeds in practice, then all our teachers will be outstanding and on the top of the salary scale. Has this been budgeted for? Or will there be a ceiling applied and then comes the comparison between who is outstanding and who is not really as outstanding as the other, because the school budget cannot afford to have 100% outstanding teachers.

Mr Gove argues that he is trying to narrow the gap and lift all state schools to the level of private school. There is an assumption within that , that I do not agree with. But I might buy into it a little way if the funding per pupil was the same. That way a school can afford to have 100% outstanding teachers and the support systems and staffing to work with the full range of staff.

Performance pay in schools is a political construct. It has nothing to do with better learning opportunities for students. They are all different and need exposure to a range of styles. It is that range that is likely to disappear. The risk taking, the diversions will all go.

There is no need for the Associate Minister to go to Shanghai. England is well on the way to producing a one size fits all model that has nothing to do with learning and everything with accountability that purports to be measurable.

I believe that this system has crept up on the English schools, with all the different pieces of the jigsaw being introduced innocently. Each piece looks harmless, until aligned with the others. In new Zealand we need to be very conscious of the component parts that lead to this.