It is now only a month until consultation on the Tomorrow’s Schools Taskforce report closes. Lately I have been thinking about this review and consultation in the light of the report of the Capital Gains Tax Working Group and its public reception. Some comparison seems instructive.
In both cases the reports are wide-ranging and strongly redistributive in their efforts to address inequalities. ‘Let’s do it’ said Labour and it seems that, emboldened by the Prime Minister’s stellar performances on the world stage, and by National’s weaknesses over the last year, the Labour-led Government is currently being highly aspirational in addressing social and educational inequalities.
Another similarity is that there are a great many details to work through that would make a difference to what is being proposed. In the case of capital gains taxes, it’s about which of the taxes would be put in place and when they would apply. In the case of the review of Tomorrow’s Schools, most discussion has been about the education hubs, their powers, and how they would work.
However there is one obvious difference between the two reviews. The Capital Gains Tax Working Group has said it is not committed to all its proposals being taken up. As Audrey Young has put it, rather than a warning against cherry-picking, the tax review “…has delivered an entire cherry tree and invited the competing forces within Labour, New Zealand First and the Greens to inspect and to pluck only the part they agree with”.
What this means is that some, perhaps many, of the tax proposals can be easily shelved. Indeed it is being suggested by some commentators that this may be a deliberate strategy on the part of the Government. Having emphasised the need for transformation, it can save face with supporters of the taxes by presenting any smaller shifts as being the result of necessary compromise, while staying popular with the broader electorate by rejecting many of the proposals.
The Tomorrow’s Schools review proposals could also be heavily modified once they go to the Minister, due to financial or political constraints. Nevertheless in this instance, Bali Haque is still presenting the proposals as needing to be adopted in their entirety. Perhaps the Taskforce are taking an all-or-nothing approach not so much because they expect it to succeed, but in the hope of getting more over the line than they would if they took a less insistent approach.
Was it a mistake to put such a large and multi-faceted report out for such active public consultation, all those meetings in different centres? Possibly, although I gather the Taskforce has been having education sector meetings along the way as well. And had the Government not put it out to public consultation, that course of action would have been criticised also.
Discussion of the Tomorrow’s Schools Taskforce report will get more interesting as the principals’ organisations gather feedback from members and decide on their positioning. Their challenge is that the report demands more of education sector readers than an expression of values, however genuinely held. It also demands an astute assessment of how the proposed policies are likely to be received and enacted by New Zealand educators, school communities, policymakers and the public. As suggested by the debate over capital gains taxes, the art of the possible may determine the outcome of the review of Tomorrow’s Schools as much as any social justice aspirations.
Martin Thrupp is Professor of Education at the University of Waikato