The Education Rope-Ladder Our of the Hole

Political and Community Necessity MAY be the mother of Invention/Innovation

Yesterday I outlined the long-term cynical politics that has led us to have an education system that is no longer fit for purpose and creating outcomes with dire social consequences. No one is looking to take responsibility for this; least of all an incompetent Ministry hierarchy that would not know “accountability” if it was the name of the dog that bit them on their collective bum. (I apologise to the KB commenter yesterday who struggles with 10 short paragraphs – this is slightly longer … concentrate! You can do it.)

A rope-ladder out of a deep hole is a difficult thing to climb. The hope here, politically, is that National/ACT may finally be forced to do something comprehensive in this sector – or face more electoral pain/embarrassment.

One focus of the Villa Education Trust (VET) is provision and success modelling for Maori, Pasifika and Decile 1 children through South Auckland Middle School and Middle School West Auckland. Their success is well documented. Our second focus is expert provision for children with learning and behavioural needs that make it difficult to succeed in, what is technically known as, “ordinary State Schools.” We have done that through a small private school called Mt Hobson Middle School (MHMS) since 2003. It has worked for the vast majority of students who have come to us – many of whom were deeply struggling when they started at MHMS. Long term stats are:

– 96% of these children got Level 1 NCEA. (National average 72%). 56% of our students achieved Merit or Excellence endorsements.

– 90% of these children got Level 2 NCEA. (National average is 77.4%). 46% of our students achieved Merit or Excellence endorsements.

– 66% or our students got Level 3 NCEA. 33% of our students achieved Merit or Excellence endorsements and 60% achieved UE. (The current national average for UE is 49%.) Many have gone onto tertiary study and into successful careers.

In 2020 it had become clear that the societal problem for neuro diverse learners is so large that we could do a lot more. We took the PM at her word (she doesn’t lie) that Designated Character Schools were the way to go. We applied and got rejected out of hand. Hipkins refusing to even engage. This fired up a broad group of people and this year we applied again with huge support showing demand, incredible expertise and a long and highly effective record. We were confident of at least a professional process and the Minister putting it to consultation. What followed was a report to the Minister from the Ministry that is the worst piece of “professional” work I have seen in the sector since I started teaching in walk-shorts and long socks in 1991 (trend-setter). They recommended the Minister file it WPB with no consultation. He then sent a letter of rejection with two very stupid statements.


1. “there are available supports for all learners in existing State schools.”  (basically the whole NZ education sector/population knows this to be nonsense.)

2. “the new school [of 480] would not add materially to the network.”  (79% of NZ schools are 480 or less.)

The evening this letter reached our community one of our parents sent documentation to the Minister showing that her 8 year old (with autism and ADHD) in a State school had been previously completely rejected for assistance by the Ministry for teacher aide assistance. Her response had been to personally donate $2,700 a term to the school to help her son and free the teacher to help 30 others. The Minister/Ministry’s kind and compassionate response? That night a senior official made contact with that school, banned them from receiving the money and effectively withdrew the provision for the child.

The response to this has been that for the first time for a long time the media, social media and direct communication has moved massively against this government (references below) with a lot more to come this week. Hipkins came out of his education cave and told a couple of porkies and we have heard from his office that, for the first time in four years, he is considering meeting with us. Even the NZEI have a petition up.

Against both the nature and content of the Ministry’s report on the VET application and their actions against the said child and family we have laid complaints with the SSC, the Ombudsman and others. We have already got a petition through to the Education and Workforce Committee from 2020 and the HRC taking forward a complaint. This is a David vs Goliath fight but we aren’t quitting.

Given the response to this, to Mike King, Poto Williams’ diabolical treatment of the Police, etc, this is a government either still massively complacent or under pressure. Their “we fund what works” public statements are truly laughable.

Back to the rope ladder. Firstly, we are tiny but the community in NZ is waking up to their power to make noise and get responses. My hope is that this unrest in education will spread to the families of Maori, Pasifika and Decile 1 children who need so much better ACADEMIC provision (and not just the introduction of lunches and more soft subjects for meaningless L2 NCEA credits). I hope it also spreads to areas such as Mental Health provision – also screwing over young people.

Secondly, the last election result means that National/ACT need comprehensive policies to actually attack Labour’s base and this should most certainly include policies that would bring about significant change for the 30% not achieving in our schools. They need to expose Labour’s cynical and criminal neglect. They also need to produce policy quickly, back it up, and get the ideas entrenched and supported by the communities. They need to listen to the likes of John Hattie and genuine change agents. They need to ignore the Ministry and plan for a huge re-structure of that bureaucratic monolith.

The last election result is the bottom rungs of the rope ladder. To wait or produce tepid policies serves nobody’s purposes – least of all the current opposition parties hope to become the government in 2023.

Broad solutions (point the hose at the fire):

  • Have a comprehensive and monitored/incentive/resourced parents as first (and most important) teachers programme.
  • Super-fund the decile 1-3 schools.
  • Provide Principals in those schools with a Business Manager to take care of resourcing, contracts, etc – allowing them to fully focus on academics and student/family engagement.
  • Trust these Principals with significant incentive payments to attract and keep great teachers. Limit class size to 15. Help the families – provide uniform, stationery and IT and don’t ask for donations. Make every year urgent in these schools but also have a 13-year plan so that by the end of that these young people, who will go on to parent the next generation, have education levels that inspire their children.
  • Have very specific UE goals for schools in each decile that accelerate over time. Have very specific goals for attendance and retention to 17 years of age (and incentivise them).
  • The secondary teacher shortage is qualitative as well as quantitative. To attract great degree graduates and second career people they must be paid to train as it is no longer tenable to have them without a year of income in a high employment economy and with so many international opportunities.
  • Provide fully, accurately, and quickly for students with diverse learning needs.
  • Have a very good Designated Character School policy that is not administered in anyway by the current Ministry and does not reference the bums on seats network.
  • Tear down the upper levels of the Ministry of Education and start again. Bizarre that Ian Foster – as a leader in a sport – is under more pressure than Ministry leaders who destroy the hopes of 30% of every cohort through our schools.
  • Don’t re-introduce things that will simply poke the Union Bear – Charter Schools and National Standards. It is not about winning a battle with them. It is about provision for kids.

Appendix: Media on the current Learning and Behavioural needs debacle – July 2021

https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/education/125734633/school-report-decade-of-data-reveals-persistent-gaps-in-ncea-achievement
https://www.stuff.co.nz/stuff-nation/125796031/young-lives-up-in-smoke-more-special-education-help-is-needed-at-schools?cid=app-iPhone
https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/ninetonoon/audio/2018804539/are-school-exclusions-happening-under-the-radar
https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/education/125743304/parents-paying-teacher-aides-under-the-table-common-despite-being-illegal
https://www.newstalkzb.co.nz/on-air/kerre-mcivor-mornings/audio/dane-dougan-autism-new-zealand-says-systemic-change-is-needed-in-our-education-sector/
https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/morningreport/audio/2018803892/government-criticised-for-denying-students-special-needs-funding
https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/education/125734372/boys-teacher-aide-cut-off-after-parents-told-theyre-not-allowed-to-fund-it
https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/education/125672364/parents-devastated-as-government-rejects-state-school-for-children-with-special-needs
https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/education/125818381/the-precarious-lives-of-teacher-aides-i-dont-know-if-ill-have-a-job-next-year?fbclid=IwAR0IrzJuLFhbi3pPJ_TVyduDD0FDP-6wKFuoDbxEHs_WNWjYEGbZ4Uxrjh8
https://www.newstalkzb.co.nz/on-air/heather-du-plessis-allan-drive/audio/tami-harris-parents-upset-after-government-declines-funding-for-neuro-divergent-state-school/
https://thespinoff.co.nz/politics/23-07-2021/chris-hipkins-needs-a-reality-check-on-kids-with-special-learning-needs/?fbclid=IwAR1pYDXonSXRaM2uvIQiVkmjEnIeE6TeoeSXfnoK3T7dD3swfNRayQbWwkc

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