Guest Post: Bureaucracy gone mad – what would National say if Labour was doing this?

A guest post from the :

Earlier this year the Secretary of Education, Peter Hughes, had his regular grilling by the Education and Science Select Committee.

Maurice Williamson, who’s not usually the most engaged MP on the committee, asked a question along the lines of “In all the years I’ve been an MP I’ve had principals come to me complaining about the Ministry of Education giving them pointless paperwork that doesn’t help students or make schools run any better. What’s the Ministry doing to address this?”

Hughes, as usual, gave a reassuring and well organised answer which placated Williamson and sent a ‘no story here, move along’ signal to the media.

But as this piece from Jo Moir in the Dominion on Saturday showed, schools, and in fact anyone else who works with kids, are potentially facing a blizzard of paperwork in the next few months, and it’s exactly the sort of bureaucratic, box ticking nonsense that will send principals howling to local MPs like Williamson, and for good reason.

Its genesis is the “Children’s Action Plan Directorate” and the “Children’s Workforce Core Competencies Framework”, which emerged from Paula Bennett’s 2012 White Paper on Vulnerable Children.

The draft framework, which is going through final consultation at the moment, contains six domains, 30 indicators and five tiers, describing what everyone who works with kids, from volunteer cricket coaches to paediatricians will have to know and do – and as the document says, these competencies will be “mandated” and “measured”.

Along with those in Dominion Post, a few other examples of the indicators include:

‘Understand the effects of non-verbal communication such as body language, and that different cultures use and interpret body language in different ways’

‘Understand the content of the core competencies framework and can apply the descriptors in self-assessment…’

‘Understand relevant global policy and national legislation to protect children, including the UN declaration on the Rights of the Child, the Vulnerable Children’s Act…’

And pages and pages more of this.

Like rather a lot of what this government is up to, it’s an interesting exercise to consider what the National Party would be saying about this if Labour was in power and doing the same thing.  Key’s speeches in 2006-2007 were peppered with “suffocating Wellington bureaucracy” and “over regulation”, and he wasn’t promising more of it.

A few months ago the Rebstock-led report on CYFs, welcomed by Minister Tolley and about to be responded to with sweeping changes, included a main recommendation about “allowing staff to use their professional judgment … to support children based on clear principles, rather than rules, compliance and time-driven practice.” The contrast with the ‘competency framework’ is stark.

But most unfortunately, it’s hard to find anyone who works with kids who believes that this is going to help. Many teachers, nurses or others who work with young people could do with training to know what to look for in terms of signs of illness or abuse, and what to do about it. But this checklist doesn’t offer that. 

Instead it seems to be the approach that public servants take when they don’t have enough funding to do anything really worthwhile, but do have just enough to hold some meetings, print a few pamphlets and make a website – and then pass the work onto people who are already far busier than they are.

I think everyone agrees we need to do better in protecting vulnerable children. But whether this framework is the answer is quite another issue.

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