If we are to improve the quality of Education in Aotearoa New Zealand then we need to redesign the intended Education Hubs! The particular emphasis on the development of educational hubs needs to be clarified since the concept itself is useful and could be an effective strategy. Other organisations, such as the Bank of New Zealand, found that business hubs could be effective. However for the Review of Tomorrow’s Schools (Review TS, or RTS), it is necessary to expand that label to be Education Administration Hubs (EAH) since most of the tasks seem to be administrative as they support the school Boards of Trustees. To take a 21st century education perspective, it is necessary to develop a re-lensed view of these organisations as Education Catalysis Hubs (ECH), since that suggests the ability to purposefully re-develop education with a 21st Century perspective that takes advantage of the research, collects thinkers, and encourages innovation. For Aotearoa New Zealand education futures, it should lead to research-based objectives and enable Principal and teacher professional development. Each Hub should be able to develop a specific set of objectives that are relevant to the schools in that focus grouping.
Adding Education (administrative) Hubs, as defined in the TS Review Report, seems to be returning to the time in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s when we had regional Ministry of Education offices, PLUS Education Department Offices that were responsible for maintenance and staff allocation. That system resulted in poor management of buildings and allocation of staff. There were too many parallel administrative strands and response time was very slow. TS was needed for recovery of the maintenance programme and better management of resources. The Boards of Trustees (including my own as Chair of a Year 1-6 school) were able to respond more effectively and rapidly improved the standard of the physical resources and learning support through effective governance.
At this time (March 2019) there is no funding estimate for establishment and operational funding for Education Hubs, EAH. The costs are unknown and could reduce school funding even further than it has been recently. That introduces the idea of New Zealand-wide inequity with no school able to be funded sufficiently. Financing the operation of Education Hubs simply adds another funding layer and diverts funds being given to schools for education of students. Simultaneously, the Education Hubs present opportunities for managers to empire-build and seek unreasonable rewards.
The Tomorrow’s Schools taskforce say competition has resulted in students bypassing their local schools and travelling to schools they perceive to be better, which has had negative consequences for the system as a whole. That TS Taskforce comment seems to be very disruptive and unfair, since parents and students must have a right to the best opportunities available. The Education Hubs, EAH, may remove the individual special characters of schools that attract particular people in the wider area of the school. These special characters are important since they represent initiatives and hard work given by particular Boards of Trustees and teachers. The removal of these characters reduces the educational speciality of each school. Some schools offer special cultural, sporting and technological opportunities that these students may see as valuable to their future. Schools within an ECH must be able to preserve and develop these special characters within the state system.
The taskforce found that unhealthy competition between schools hasn’t improved the quality of education – rather it has led to ‘decile drift’, where higher decile schools are left bursting at the seams and lower decile schools have capacity. The writer maintains it is not the competition between schools that has restricted the improvement of quality education. More teacher professional learning and development, together with adequate recognition and time for preparation, development of pedagogical strategies and effective learning, teaching and assessment strategies are the essential criteria for improving the quality of education. Comments from teachers such as “I signed up to teach knowledge and skills in a few areas in which I have expertise” and “I often feel relief when the kids go home for the day so I can finally get my work done” reflect the great need for structured teacher development and professional learning, together with better time allowances for personal educator development. The ECH structure should facilitate better professional development opportunities through more opportunities for reading, discussion and interactions.
Research into education administration in USA and Finland has shown that models such as NZ’s Education Hubs may lead to considerable inequity of funding between E-Hub regions and that it provides the opportunity for reductions in education funding by requiring funding to be a tri-partite responsibility between national, regional and local funding. In some parts of USA this has caused considerable inequity between education areas. Further, in some areas, as reported by Matthew Lynch, August 2015, the local areas are contributing less per student even though there is an improving economy.
The re-lensed view using Education Catalysis Hubs (ECH) will encourage the view that differentiates between administrative tasks of the EAH and development functions of the ECH, imposed administration changes from an external EAH agency, compared to changes that are evolved through participation, ownership and leadership within the group of schools in a particular ECH. The development of ECH, such as that in Whangarei this year, should enable schools to retain their special characters while collaborating with other local schools is a setting that connects several Centres of Learning. This collaboration should lead to better identification of the major objectives required to support students, develop greater staff commitment and ownership of the challenges, and should lead to better educational outcomes for the whole group of schools in the ECH. In addition, the professional development that is given to Principals/tumuaki and teacher-educators/kaiako should be more specifically focused and aligned to the objectives in the ECH model.
The 2007 NZ Curriculum, while being of high quality, has allowed the emphasis to remain on subject-based learning. That is principally because the planned PLD programme for teachers never eventuated. Again, there has been misinterpretation of cause and effect in the TS Review! The NZ Curriculum has been
mis-interpreted and not implemented as intended in schools. The cause of decile drift and lower improvement in educational quality in lower decile schools may be contributed to by the lack of PLD available to include understanding of how Key Competencies can be implemented using Rich Tasks and Wicked Problems. There is considerable evidence, such as that from Susan Drake (Brock University, Canada), that these strategies will improve the teaching and learning.
Subject based learning and assessments based only on subject based learning have dominated the school environments. Many of our social and educational problems exist because there is a lack of knowledge and understanding in families of social, behavioural and educational developments and expectations. The Education Catalysis Hubs may be able to contribute if they have the function of developing, staff and facilitating parent-family education.
It is extremely important to the education futures in Aotearoa New Zealand that we do not allow Education Hubs to focus on administration when there are several agencies available, such as the NZ School Trustees Association, to support the work of the School Boards. Improving the education futures of teachers and students must result from the catalytic action of teachers and school leaders in the
locally-combined educational setting. These teacher-educators and school leaders must be supported with adequate resources, time and professional experiences that lead to student support, effective learning and authentic assessment.