Charter schools, Free Schools

A True Story of a 1960’s “Charter” School in NZ

Way back in the 1970’s I was a young teacher, living in an urban commune in Christchurch! The commune was, and still is, Chippenham!

We were often visited by young secondary students interested in all that we were doing. One of them was  Rod Donald.

As a young teacher I was perturbed by what we were providing in terms of a learning experience. Together a small group of us designed a school. We read and listened to Paulo Freire. We explored Summerhill. But the one that caught our interest was Parkway in Philadelphia. It was a “School Without Walls”, using the community as a classroom.

We then approached the then Department of Education. We had to persuade an existing school to “give birth ” to us. We met with Ian Leggat at a wonderfully alternative meal in the commune. Ian was the Principal of Hagley High. He was persuaded. And then we focussed on Phil Amos, the then Labour Minister of Education. He came and stayed the night at the commune…ministerial car and all! He agreed and in 1975, Four Avenues Alternative High School was born.

It lasted at least ten years and then changed into a alternate school for students in trouble and lasted as that for another ten years. I learnt much in that whole process. The school was great for some students. There were successes and failures in terms of meeting the varied needs of the students. But this is not the blog to explore that in.

I am not sure whether it had the unfair funding that PPTA has so eloquently explained in terms of comparative per pupil finding for current charter schools,but it was seen by existing principals as an experiment, which they were prepared to support.

I returned to mainstream teaching and did some rethinking. What we had done, I thought, was provide a safety valve, which somehow delayed the necessary changes to take place mainstream. And it honoured its original ideas only as long as the commitment of the original team.

It all came back to me, when as a local government officer I was instructed to attend a public meeting on proposed free schools ( UK charter schools) in Northamptonshire. Here I saw models of different communities trying to promote their philosophies, be it drama as the means of learning or a Hindi school. They wanted funding from the state and freedom from the state!

Towards the end of the evening I talked with the young Tory advisers from Gove’s office and asked them what they would do to maintain the schools once the enthusiasm of the founders had died away, and new leaders could not be found. They admitted that they had given this no thought!

Neither has the current National Government in New Zealand given this any thought. Nor have they made it an even playing field. We are in a competitive education system. Parents will choose smaller classes…so might teachers.Chris Hipkins has shown that the per pupil formula is weighted extravagantly in favour of the charter schools, so that  charter school teachers can be paid more.

And then there is this awful contradiction. well another one! We are still closing schools because they are too small. Yet we exacerbate this problem in both NZ and UK, by allowing free schools to open willy-nilly without thinking about the effect on neighbouring schools.

Choice has become a mantra. And great if we all have choice. We can have that by having a flexible, dynamic, well-funded inclusive education system paid for from our taxes. anything else must be paid for from the pockets of the promoters.

Charter schools are just wasting taxpayers money. There are far better ways of experimenting and testing out new ideas and solutions. This is uncontrolled and will likely live only as long as the wonderfully energised promoters are involved.

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Uncategorized

Thank you, Mister Robinson!

This week in New Zealand we have farewelled a servant of public broadcasting . Geoff Robinson presented the Morning Report news programme for forty years and today he stood down and headed into the new shores of retirement.

Many listeners have sent messages of thanks to Geoff for his service to the public, always being there during really hard times such as the Christchurch earthquake. He really was an anchor for the public. But it was far more than his long service that listeners appreciated. They loved his calmness and his ability to get answers without being belligerent.

For me, Geoff represented the face/voice of public broadcasting in New Zealand. He was there to serve the listening public. He was a public servant and served our country and its democracy with pride.

Thank you so much, Geoff. As politicians we used to pray outside the studio doors that we would get you, and not your partner…but I learnt that with your quiet manner you often got closer to the real argument or issue. You were not ever impressed with pretension. Nor did you treat us as royalty: we were and are human beings.

Public broadcasting is about keeping the community informed; about serving the community and meeting its diverse needs. It is not about making a profit for shareholders, or obeying the leader of the country, or pleasing certain sections of the audience at the expense of others.

For those of you reading this from England, I am tempted into that old cliche, that you may not realise how lucky you are with the BBC. While New Zealanders do still have a public broadcasting radio service, it does not have a public broadcasting television service. TVNZ is still owned by the government. It is , however a state-owned enterprise and is expected to return a profit. So it advertises around its programmes, and with that, the notion of service to the public takes back seat to winning an audience for specific advertisers and their products.

This sorry state of affairs began with the freezing of the television licence fee. And that immediately led to cuts and to looking at other ways to fund the service. The licence fee was finally abolished by the National Government in 1999.

So, to UK readers, does this sound familiar? the Tory backbenchers are always attacking BBC and urging that the Licence fee be abolished. And I think it has already been frozen which has seen the inevitable cuts to BBC programmes/stations.

Back in NZ,funding was allocated to a body, known as NZ On Air instead of directly to TVNZ. This body was to use the funds to ensure that  New Zealand programmes were made. And although that is so very important, as was the agreement to play 25% NZ music on all radio stations, it is not the only focus of what public broadcasting is.

The exception was Radio New Zealand which did receive money directly to provide not just for programmes but for the running of two nation-wide stations.

Apart from Radio New Zealand,  we the public of New Zealand are not served well by our publicly owned media. They do not provide objective analysis. The television is celebrity driven. There is no equivalent of Newsnight or the Channel 4 news.

So please do not ever be persuaded to look for funding for public broadcasting that is dependent on a government to provide or advertisers to pay for.

And to future Ministers of Broadcasting in NZ….I know that media has changed ( here am I writing a blog)…but maybe someone will get the urge to rebuild a real public service television channel…just one..and keep on funding Radio New Zealand.

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National Standards

Thinking about National Standards in NZ.

So today, I went on to the NZ Ministry of Education website to read all their material on National Standards.

First up. I dislike the name, and not for the obvious reasons that a former Labour member of parliament might dislike the name….NATIONAL standards.

I dislike the notion of a standard in learning. It is too definite, too black and white.

But I did like the description of criterion-referenced assessment, as long as this was only a conversation between the teacher, student and student’s parents. This was because words were used, not a conversion to percentages and numbers. And because it did seem to enable the teacher to gain confidence in knowing the next steps. However, some may not need this and may have a sound professional reason for trying another way forward to tackle punctuation or whatever the problem was.

When I began teaching in the 1970’s, I was not sure what students in the then Form Three should be able to do. Instead the students would write some paragraphs on a topic, and I would work through the areas in which they could improve, because my simple objective was that wherever a student was, they could improve.

The standardisation did not really begin until School Certificate, and if you were a marker there were some wonderful arguments about what marks a piece of writing deserved. That is why I am suspicious of National Standards: I can remember the arguments!

But in simple terms with National Standards this has now all shifted to students from age 5 to 18. And I do not like this. I do not like each child having a number assigned to them against which their personal progress is recorded. This occurs in England. As a teacher I can enter Raise-on-Line and look at the progress of my students  before I even meet them. I can see what standard they can be expected to get by the end of the year. And here is the sting in the tail, as a teacher I can be held accountable if that student does not make the plotted progress.

Don’t misunderstand me. I want all teachers to work with their students on improving their skills. I never ever want to hear a teacher say, as I did hear in NZ and in England, “These students cannot learn because they live in those streets….”. But there are better ways of working with teachers to improve progress for all students than National Standards.

There are two really scary aspects of National Standards.

The first is with narrowing the curriculum. Imagine not reading all of Romeo and Juliet, but just concentrating on the  love sonnet, the balcony scene and say  the final deaths of both Romeo and Juliet. Many teachers will do this and text books will be written by the same examination boards, focussing on say these scenes, speeches. Why? because that is what the examination board will ask questions on ( this will be made quite clear), so why waste precious time really enjoying all of Romeo and Juliet…just study in depth the parts that will be examined, because it is important for your students to get the required grades. And the students will know the vocabulary they should use and the examples given to get these grades. This is machine learning….in fact it is not learning at all.

The second scary aspect is the school league tables. I finally found the New Zealand version as published on Stuff. I compared my two local primary schools and I was so so sad. What is the purpose of doing this? Is it to give parents choices so they choose the school where children are above the national average? This is treating education like a commodity, that is bought and sold. What do those statistics say about bullying in the playground? What do they say about opportunities for leadership/creativity/ exploration by the students? And neither do the ERO reports say much, if anything about those issues either.

So I do not wish for the system and practices that lie around these so-called National Standards.

I do want to have guidelines as to what an average child ( whatever that is) might be able to do, or what we might aim for them to be able to do, aged nine in mathematics.

But I do not want that to become a personal record for each child , or a measuring stick for teacher and school to be judged by.

In England they worried because more and more students began to attain the necessary grades. So now their Minister says that the standards are too easy and they readjust them. It becomes a nonsensical game.

Please, please New Zealand, do not go down this path. Do not have little five year olds sitting tests and crying from fear and confusion as has been reported from California.

PS dear readers, soon I will learn to do links…I know that I am scoring below average in this skill. But to hell with the score. I know that links will show evidence to back up my assertions!!! I do not need a score to tell me this.

 

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student progress

How is progress measured?

The New Zealand Minister of Education noted in an interview that the government was considering new ways of improving the funding of new Zealand schools.

“The government is considering” is a phrase to cover either there is a working group inside the Ministry looking at this issue, or this came up in a recent conversation.

I tend to think that there is a group inside the Ministry of Education reviewing funding mechanisms for school.

For readers of this blog from outside New Zealand, schools here receive funding for everything apart from total capital cost of new build and salaries of teachers. Each school receives a staffing allowance of the equivalent of how many full-time teachers will be paid for by the government. So a school might receive finding for 84.65 FTE (full-time equivalent teachers) and this will include time for special duties as senior reading teacher or Head of mathematics etc. Unlike in England where you you receive  bulk moneys for staff, so it is of advantage to replace an experienced teacher with one at bottom of teaching scale. Our unions in New Zealand fought a very successful campaign against bulk funding which has made it just a little more difficult to begin performance pay for everyone. Although I do have big worries that this is in the wind following the publication of Morris/Patterson study.

However the worrying element of the Minister’s comment over funding linked to student progress is that this too can reinforce  performance pay.

Her comment was really about performance pay for the school. The school would receive more from the government, if its students could demonstrate progress during the year.

In simple terms that does sound good. because we all want our students to make progress. But for most of us progress is defined in a number of ways. It can be that a student stops using “gay” in a pejorative sense; it may be that a student has completed a task when their prior history has been to give up; it may be that the student who is a reluctant reader has read five books at home in last month. These are all elements of progress.

But the English method of measuring progress is both more strait-jacketed and convoluted than that. And there is always the outsider measuring whether progress has been made in every lesson that is observed.

So in England we have Raise-on-line data and also the data collated by Fischer Family Trust (www.fft.org.uk). Every child is in the system from the first time they are “measured”, and then their expected progress is plotted. So a child of a lawyer and a medical doctor who scores well initially will be expected to make 5 levels of progress  between the ages of nine and fifteen. While the child of immigrant cleaners will not be expected to make so much progress. This is a very bald description and I do apologise…you can find clearer descriptions on their websites. So, if in your school the students are not making expected progress then under Hekia Parata’s proposal the school will not receive as much money. And that could affect a well-to-do school as much as a school in Manukau.

That was the problem I was sent in to address in a school in a well off town in England. But the measurement is still based on the tests: pen and paper tests on a very very narrow curriculum. I was thrilled one day when the shyest girl in my year nine English class gave an explosive and well argued speech about how it felt to be constantly looked down on because she came from Essex. But according to the tests she only made minimal progress that year. I saw differently.

And this is the crux: as teachers we are professionals. We are making judgements every day. We adapt our classes every day to ensure the progress of different students. I want my wide-awake thinking students to grapple with a different point of view from what they are familiar with. I want my shy one to be listened to..you get the picture. Those progressions cannot be measured by tests.

I and all teachers love and are committed to progress for every learner. Tying money to that progress will mean that progress will have to be measured and therein lies the major major problem!!

 

 

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Uncategorized

Support for caution re. Leadership proposals

This morning as I was struggling on my get-fit regime, I was so heartened to hear the news that NZEI (a teacher union in NZ) was working with their members on the proposals announced by the Government on school leadership. They were not just rolling over with hands outstretched for the money.

I have some real doubts on the model proposed. Because there seems to be an implicit decision to have an executive principal working with up to ten other schools. That was me doing the sums in the original announcement.

So who are these executive principals?

Are the other schools to be worked with to have any choice in the matter? If I had been asked to work with a Principal whose education values I strongly opposed, I might well have resigned.

In the group do we all have the same issues?

I tried to do something similar in Northampton three years ago. It only took off when the heads chose who would be members of the group. When I, as a Council adviser, tried to put the schools together, two school heads walked and went to other schools. But the school initiated grouping has taken off. And they have managed to stay away from being academised or taken over. I understand that similar things are happening in Birmingham.

Teachers know who they can work with. They want to see constant improvement. They want to work together…but like all other places of work they do not want to be forced to collaborate: it is an oxymoron!

Note to readers: I am planning to do more responses that are shorter as well as my more detailed essays. In planning is a response to the paper by John Morris and Rose Patterson.

My nervousness about the direction of New Zealand education is increasing. The Morris/Patterson report introduces performance pay.

Then there is a report that ERO are using a school’s national standards score as an indicator of success.

And yesterday the news that charter schools are exempt from the obligation to have trained teachers.

All these strands build into a floodtide pushing NZ down the way of worst examples from USA and UK.

New Zealand does not need this. Yes  improvement is a must on the agenda of every teacher and school.

And dear readers, any hints as to layout or topics would be greatly appreciated. I seek improvement in using this new tool.

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Uncategorized

Meet Mick Waters

As I have been reading, I chanced on “Thinking Allowed on Schooling” by Mick Waters.

It is brilliant.

Mick explains the English schooling system in detail, as well as giving  an historical perspective. It is this perspective that resonates with educators from other states. You get an insight into the driving forces of politicians…and it rings true to me. I got involved with a political party when as a Principal I had become despairing of the nonsense spoken by politicians. But politics is very strange…I became Minister for Environment, rather than playing a lead role in education!…another story.

But not only does Mick put all the changes in English schooling into perspective, but he gives hope.One of the things that has worried me while writing this blog ( very much in the beginning stages) is how dismal a picture I paint of English schooling, when I am aware of how much brilliant teaching and learning does occur , in spite of the system.

Mick refers often to wonderful happenings in schools up and down England.

And not only that, at the end of each chapter, he concludes with a dot point list of  ‘What We Should Do?’ pertinent to what was discussed in that chapter.

Who is Mick Waters? I had heard of him from my colleagues in Birmingham City Council School Effectiveness Division. Mick has been in every part of the education system: student, teacher, head teacher, teacher trainer,local government education authorities ( Birmingham and Manchester) and before it was dismantled, the QCA ( Qualifications and Curriculum.)

I have never met him personally, but I am ever grateful to the Dunedin Public Library for purchasing a copy of his book for their collection. I have since bought my own online copy.

For teachers in England, he does give some ways forward at all levels…things to enact in the classroom, school organisation, and broader actions to take back the ownership of schools from the ideologues.

For New Zealanders and other readers of this blog around the world, you will find such connection with the concerns we all share and it will give you time to reflect about next steps.

This is not an advertisement as such, because Mick Waters is donating any profits to Shelterbox ( disaster relief).

from page 19:

” We need an ‘education spring’ – a rising of intolerance about the way schooling is being manipulated in a piecemeal and uncoordinated way to serve too many purposes with unclear measures. We need to build a rational, apolitical debate and ensure that schooling moves away from undue, short-term political influence.”

from page 170 on what good teachers do…

“Create limelight for every child. There are children in the school system who seem never to get noticed….they never get asked to sort out the cupboard, feed the fish or water the plants. They never collect money for Poppy Day and they never meet the mayor. Some get so fed up with this that they do bad things just to be seen. Surely every child should at some point be acknowledged, applauded, celebrated, praised or recognised by their fellows. Every child should experience the limelight on themselves.”

“Teachers are amazing people. The vast majority are extremely committed to the pupils they teach and believe they are part of the development of society. They enjoy being with young people and seeing them grow. They grapple with the challenge of making the world make sense to youngsters, whatever their background. However, many of them are worn out and many more are caught in a game they don’t fully understand.”

Just from these few quotes I hope you want to explore this book more. I did find it on line as well…..for those into e-reading…I now have to learn how to make notes as I read on line instead of annotating in pencil on the margins of a Paper book.   We never stop learning and adapting…that is the joy of living!

 

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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.

 

 

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