Bali Haque implores the audience to plead for cross-party consensus when they participate in the Tomorrow’s Schools review consultation process. It’s his parting message, his most important statement, made at the Education Central ChalkTalk panel discussion on the Tomorrow’s Schools review. Haque is one of five panellists.
As chair of the Tomorrow’s Schools review taskforce, he is adamant about two things: firstly, significant changes are needed in order to make New Zealand’s education system more equitable; secondly, that these changes will only be effective if they are executed with consensus across political parties.
In short, education can no longer be a political football. Haque is open to debating the report’s 32 recommendations for change. But wherever these debates land, he’d like to see agreement across political parties.
3/3- Bali finishes: The key to this all is cross party support. Write to @nikkikaye & @chrishipkins – whether you agree with the report or not the opportunity for cross party to make a difference is too good to miss – get stuck in” #ChalkTalksTS
— Education Central (@EdCentralNZ) February 27, 2019
This echoes the taskforce’s findings: that politics are overwhelming educational interests.
“Principals/tumuaki, teachers/kaiako and others who work in the education sector said that too many simultaneous initiatives are imposed,” reads the report. “These are often introduced without evidence that they will be effective, or without the genuine consultation and co-design that would make them more likely to be successful.”
Unless longer-term goals and broad political consensus are developed in the education sector, it will be “very difficult for the Ministry to act as the kaitiaki and leader of the schooling sector in the best interests of learners/ākonga and teachers”.
“This needs to be nonpartisan,” Haque says, “I’m worried about the way it’s going at the moment.”
Many in the sector agree.
Northcross Intermediate principal Jonathan Tredray says the most important thing to achieve from the Tomorrow’s Schools review is stability in education.
“That trumps everything else in the report,” he says.
Tredray says schools are constantly landed with “massive wholesale changes out of the blue” making it difficult for schools to progress, especially against a backdrop of increasing learning deficiencies and behavioural challenges.
The National Standards see-saw is a good example of schools having to adapt to significant change and upheaval driven by changing Governments.
Steve Mouldey, principal at the Academy for Gifted Education, agrees we need to take politics out of education.
“You’re never going to do it completely but it is crazy that it has become such a political volleyball in terms of what happens.”
Chalk Talks panellist and NZEI Te Riu Roa president Lynda Stuart says she’d like to think we are capable of moving past the political barriers.
“When there’s a critical mass of people who believe this is the way forward … actually no politician should come in and change that,” she says.
Fellow panellist NZSTA president Lorraine Kerr agrees.
“It’s a little ironic to have these initiatives that promote collaboration when [politicians] don’t do it themselves.”
However both Labour and National have indicated a willingness to put politics aside in order to get this right.
From the outset, Education Minister Chris Hipkins has been clear on this point. Before Labour was elected, he has pushed for cross-party consensus.
“We need a blueprint for the next 20-25 years of education strategy,” says Hipkins. This is the thinking underpinning the Education Conversation initiative.
And National education spokesperson Nikki Kaye made the point at one of her recent Tomorrow’s Schools Review discussion forums.
“People want some enduring cross-party agreement,” says Kaye.
Whether politicians are capable of actually following through with their intentions remains to be seen. The focus now needs to turn to robust consultation; this means genuine consideration of the different viewpoints of the various stakeholders.
Perhaps we need more time to get this right? The consultation period is flashing by while people gather their thoughts.
Wellington High School deputy principal and Chalk Talks panellist Karen Spencer agrees.
“My concern is that we won’t necessarily give the time needed to consider the report.”
Tight timing or not, Bali Haque believes we need to seize the opportunity for change.
“The opportunity to make a difference and get this out of the political arena is too good.”
Chalktalks was proudly brought to you by the University of Auckland.