It was education minister David Lange who first had the vision to try to fix this system with his bulk funding proposal in 1988, shared by his successors Phil Goff and Lockwood Smith. Despite Smith’s opt-in trial in the early 1990s, which showed bulk funding was overwhelmingly positive for teachers and students, union militancy meant all three education ministers ultimately failed and the full centrally controlled system was restored by Helen Clark’s union-friendly government in 1999.
It goes without saying that, until now, John Key’s poll-driven government has had no inclination to revive the issue, daring only to confront the unions over Anne Tolley’s national standards proposal, also vehemently opposed by the union bosses on the grounds it could be used to provide information on teacher efficacy.
That said, both the union bosses and Mr Key are acting rationally from their own perspectives. Any form of bulk funding – even Ms Parata’s half-hearted “global funding” proposal – would slowly weaken the hold of union bosses over schools. Over time, principals would start to evolve the structure of their schools to better meet the needs of their students. Tired older teachers would more easily be moved on to administrative roles. Successful younger teachers might be paid a bit more, at first informally but later under new non-union employment agreements. Part-time specialists in science, art or critical thinking could be hired more easily, working in more than one school.
It goes without saying that the unions think giving principals more flexibility to run their schools along these lines must be stopped at all costs and they have a history of being prepared to go to any lengths to retain the status quo.
In most workplaces, staff would welcome greater flexibility!