#VoteEducation2023 - So what educational policies do we want?

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Yesterday I found myself having a rather visceral response to Christopher Luxon sharing his visit to Michaela School whilst he visited London. Whilst the school is not my cup of tea (in terms of educational philosophy) it wasn't actually the school that concerned me, it was more what the visit represented when combined with a visit to the rightwing think tank Policy Exchange. At just over a year out from election, now is the time for each of the parties to start circling the wagons and laying out what they will each offer should they get voted into government. Knowing that Luxon was actively seeking policy ideas when he visited what is known as "the strictest school in Britain" and that he then posted and raved about how great it was is more than a little concerning, particularly when schools in Aotearoa are working so hard to decolonise their contexts and develop a genuinely responsive "local curriculum". 

As I sit here and ponder what National might be considering to serve up, it's important to note that I have also felt concerned about our current educational landscape as well. Under the current government we have had the promise of many exciting innovations hover on the distant horizon only to become diluted and muddled as they came into closer proximity - I'm looking at you 'NCEA Big Opportunities' that became a backward looking 'NCEA Change Package' and the exciting 'Tomorrow's School Review' many of which became a disappointingly diluted set of directives. What started out as exciting and large scale consultation (brimming with futures thinking, optimism and hope) soon felt like great ideas that made some so twitchy they were forced through further rounds of increasingly nervous consultation (thanks to the likes of the Community of Schools) and before we knew it, we saw brave new thinking evolve into tepid versions of their former selves - leaving us with a veritable stew of policies served up in tub of cold secondhand bath water. And whilst I don't deny that there has indeed been a lot of consultation, I do not believe it has resulted in anything like the cohesive strategy the young people of Aotearoa needs or deserves right now. 

#VoteEducation2023

However there is little point in bemoaning our current situation, and in a concerted effort to stay "above the line", I wonder if it is time for folk to start speaking up about what we do actually want and what we do genuinely need. Particularly as we consider how changed we are as a nation (and world) since many of these initiatives were birthed. I often find myself making lofty claims, based on "what I would do if I were the Minister of Education", because there's no point banging on about problems if you aren't willing to serve up some solutions. So what I would like to propose, and what I hope is the beginning of a national conversation, is that we set about articulating loudly and clearly the educational policies we want for Aotearoa. I hope as many people as possible speak up about what they think (regardless of their political leanings) we should see prioritised in each of the political parties manifestos in 2023. 

Here is my go at six #VoteEducation2023 policies, as a starter for ten.

Current challenges

For me, policies need to be responding directly to the challenges we face, and from where I am standing the following feel like the most pressing issues that we can actually address in an educational context. 

  1. Declining attendance and engagement of students.
  2. Declining numeracy and literacy levels of students.
  3. Declining mental health of our young people. 
  4. Ongoing inequities due to digital divide.
  5. The over representation of Maori and Pasifika learners in all of the above areas.
  6. Declining health and wellbeing of our staff.
  7. Cognitive overload of staff.
  8. Looming staffing crisis. 

When translating this into educational policy, its important to note that politicians are playing a popularity game and as a result often create policies that are less about appeasing educators and more about pleasing the parents and wider community who represent a much larger voting block. Therefore it is important to consider how policies will land for them. This is why we often see parties coming out with, particularly in education, overly simplistic solutions to what we we know are complex problems. We also need to be cognisant of the fact that that every sector is fighting for one slice of a single budgetary pie, we cannot simply throw money at everything - as nice as that would be. So with both those things in mind, here goes my crack at #VoteEducation2023

My #VoteEducation2023 policy ideas

1) Prioritisation of Mana ōrite mō te mātauranga Māori 

This would be my hero policy for 2023. The early resources for this initiative look promising and for me this is a hugely important piece of work, which if it is to be done properly needs prioritisation, adequate time and resourcing. At present it runs the risk of being one part of a whole slew of changes. If done in such a way as to leverage the learnings that came out Te Kotahitanga, 'Teaching to the North-East', 'Colouring the White Spaces' and the more recent offering of 'Niho Taniwha' this is totally within reach. However, it cannot and should not be diluted by being just one of so many initiatives as it currently is. We also need to ensure iwi are supported properly to partner with schools and are funded and resourced as per PLD facilitators to help develop sustainable systems of support that respectfully honour the expertise of tangata whenua. If you look at the outcomes of 'Te Kotahitanga', it is clear that this policy alone could address many of the challenges we currently face in education. 

2) Deliver a cohesive and complete review of the New Zealand Curriculum (first).

We need to stop the messy and incremental and downright tangled development and rollout of the NCEA Change Package and NZC Review. I recognise that all things need to be routinely reviewed, however digitally drip-feeding changes is actually counterproductive and downright confusing. Remove all of the digital resources (for NCEA Change Package, Lit/Num co-requisites and NZC Review) and focus on firstly delivering a a cohesive and fully formed reviewed NZC document for feedback and then deliver final publication. And do it in hard copy. This may sound backward, but hardcopy is really the only way to ensure it is a succinct and cohesive standalone document. It only takes a brief survey of the current digital platforms for NCEA Online to discover how unwieldy digital architecture can become, lending itself to additive and more is more approaches and creating a veritable labyrinth of cognitive overload. Of course the singular document should have a digital version and supporting resources should be developed and shared in time, but first we need 'the reviewed NZC'.

2) Ditch the current Literacy and Numeracy pilot and develop Literacy and Numeracy Portfolio Standards at Level 3, 4, and 5.  

The current Literacy and Numeracy co-requisite CATs are the very definition of the tail wagging the dog and an incredibly low trust breed at that. Let's instead look to develop 'Functional Literacy and Numeracy Unit Standards' that also help to support and scaffold the teaching of such skills that can be used at Levels 3, 4 and 5 (i.e. the years leading up to Level One NCEA) with the Level 5 one serving as a "readiness for NCEA" qualification. The portfolios would allow the qualification to be gathered evidence of school appropriate contextualised applied numeracy and literacy, and the Level 5 one would be moderated externally to ensure there was confidence in "the standard" being met. And where needed students could continue to develop skills and evidence throughout their senior years. 

3) Ditch the NCEA Change Package and commit to review standards as needed, in response to the reviewed NZC. 

The reality is the NCEA Change Package, whilst it may be the result of copious rounds of consultation, has landed poorly and runs the very real risk of being less fit for purpose than our current NCEA offerings. There is also little point in progressing the current NCEA Change Package until we are yet to understand the full extent and intention of a reviewed NZC. Once Mana Orite is beginning to be embedded and the fully formed NZC had landed, then and only then, we should set about reviewing each of our current standards. The NCEA Change Package work done to date may well inform these NCEA standard reviews. Level One NCEA would remain optional and schools would be supported to focus on effective course and learning design to address any of the concerns that may have prompted the current NCEA reforms. This approach will help to address the current sense of cognitive overload and ensure schools are in a position to prioritise Mana Orite work. 

4) Develop a cohesive digital strategy that sits alongside the Healthy School Lunches Programme

The Healthy School Lunches Programmes has been a proven success and goes a way to addressing food insecurity and supporting improved attendance and engagement in learning. 

A digital strategy that addresses the digital divide would include a three-pronged approach. 

  • Targeted funding (as per the Heathy Lunches Programme) to ensure every school can work in partnership with community agency of choice to provide either fully or partially funded lease to own devices of their choice for every young person.
  • Universal basic wifi is available to all households or where this is not possible N4L provided hotspot solutions are offered that provide free and safe, anytime anywhere wifi for every student in Aoteraoa. 
  • Schools, teachers, learners and whānau are provided with targeted support to roll out a localised digital strategy and PLD to ensure devices are used effectively to support learning. 

5) Health and Wellbeing Hubs are established in every school or kahui ako.

Health and wellbeing needs are assessed and a strategy is developed for establishing Health and Wellbeing Hubs in every school or communities of learning. Health and Wellbeing Hubs would be resourced in partnership with existing community agencies and would look to provide fully funded dentistry, nurse, GP and counselling services for the students, teachers and where needed possible would extend to whānau support. 

6) Increase teacher salaries by at least 30% and fully fund registration

An article published last year compared teaching salaries around the world. And as you can see in the graph below teaching salaries in New Zealand start at middling and max out at downright embarrassing levels. Compare that, if you will, to the comparative cost of living in New Zealand where we come in hot at 16th out of the 137 countries listed here. It is apparent that salaries for educators just don't stack up. We have a looming staffing crisis, and as the borders open and our young teachers can travel again and we are seeming unable to fast-track overseas replacements it would seem like one obvious thing we could do is pay teachers what they deserve. Don't bother wasting money on shiny PR and recruitment campaigns, just pay teachers more, a lot more. As the complexity of our jobs expands as we struggle to deliver hybrid learning and the wellbeing of our teachers and students steadily decline, paying people really really well works - it improves wellbeing and it means we attract the best of the best and entice those who travel to return. 

Also, whilst we are at it, let's fully fund the Teaching Council. They do important work and underpaid teachers don't want to be dipping into their less than adequate pay packets to deliver regulatory functions. Support the Teaching Council to register teachers, ensure they are adhering to Our Code and Our Standards and resource them to support beginning teachers. Job done!

Now over to you!

So there you go, that's my first attempt at my #VoteEducation2023 manifesto. Keen to hear what you think - what you disagree with, what you would add or what you would approach differently. Regardless of your political alliances, I would love to hear what you think we need to move education forward in 2023 and beyond. 

If you do share your thoughts on Twitter, please consider adding the #VoteEducation2023 hashtag and/or tag me. Or if you are over in Facebook, feel free to share on the DisruptED Facebook group. Let's start a national conversation about what we think really matters. 

#VoteEducation2023


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