The Voting Politics of the NZ Education System

AKA – why no one gives a big Rat’s Ass.

In the last two weeks the Villa Education Trust (VET) has been engaged in a David vs a deaf, dumb and blind Goliath (Ministry of Education). This has shone a light on the massive failings on the NZ system and the complete lack of expertise and will to fix it.

I will do two posts on this – one today and one tomorrow. Today will be brief on why this is such a big deal that so few care about. Tomorrow on exactly what, the VET and others, are fighting for and the HUGE societal implications if we fail.

During the last (National) government I asked one of their prominent people: “How much does the government actually care about education in NZ?”

The response was: “They don’t. The main emphasis to senior officials within Education, and Health for that matter, is to keep it off the front pages of the paper.”

To be fair; this Labour government – to the surprise of no one except the teacher unions – has been worse. The unions are, of course, axial in voting Labour in. However, they were quickly rewarded and bribed out by large salary increases and have barely been heard from since. Nothing substantial has changed and when the rest of the world moves ahead and you stand still you end up, as we are, last in the English-speaking world. We have the biggest rich/poor and ethnicity gaps, and the worst bullying statistics in the OECD.

Why can they be so cynical? In short – they are tremendously confident that the ongoing failure and neglect in this area changes no votes.

In New Zealand we have 3,727,100 eligible voters. None under 18 of course and the largest bloc is over 70s.

In NZ we have 826,347 students in our primary and secondary schools. This represents approximately 330,000 families of varied composition. Approximately 30% of these are in real academic and social malaise in school – concentrated in Decile 1 – 3 schools and students with diverse needs throughout the Deciles. The other 70% do okay. This brings the number of families directly concerned with education down to 110,000 (approx. 185,000 eligible voters). Over 90% of 65+ vote. That turnout decreases towards the 18 – 24s. So approximately 3% of Kiwi voters have a direct family interest in Education and a portion of those don’t even vote.

There are approximately 71,500 teachers in NZ. The teacher unions have been highly supportive of Labour and it is safe to assume a majority vote that way. The former head of the PPTA, Angela Roberts entered Parliament this term for Labour. Current Associate Minister of Education Jan Tinetti was on the NZEI executive.

Decile 1 – 3 schools are concentrated in long-term Maori and Pasifika – and Labour – electorates. Their vote is taken for granted and the voters hold that line apparently regardless of the impact on their children and their family socio-economic circumstances.

Labour has bribed the tertiary students with the free fees for 1 year and, although there have been cracks in the façade, tertiary students still lean left.

All of which can be summarized in three statements.

  1. Those with an intense personal interest in the failures of our education system are a tiny part (3%) of voters and even these currently tend towards Labour.
  2. Labour has to do very little to retain their vote in the broader education sector. So – they do very little.
  3. National are just as bad. They take for granted the affluent sector and do not believe they can win votes/electorates in the decile 1 – 3 areas. Historically they haven’t even tried with education where it is problematic. It is, at best, amoral.

Some brief indicators of the sector consequences.

  • 10,500 students not even enrolled in school.
  • Only 60% of students fully attending.
  • Massive gaps between socio-economic levels and for Maori and Pasifika.
  • HUGE under-provision for students with diverse learning needs.

The flow-on.

  • 35% of the population unable to earn enough income to buy a house and, increasingly, to even pay rent. 22,000 families on an emergency housing wait-list.
  • A significant portion of the population on benefits or long-term minimum wage and low prospect jobs.
  • Our prisons where 70% of the inmates are functionally illiterate.
  • Alcohol abuse, metal health issues and physical health problems concentrated in the demographics with high education failure.
  • Family violence and OT interventions concentrated in the demographics with high educational failure.

Those consequences are the symptom of the Education Disease – but the Ipsos Poll highlighted on Kiwiblog shows we are only focused on the symptoms.

Cynical, amoral and self-interested politicians. A dysfunctional Ministry with nearing 4,000 employees running cover for the Minister and each other. A tiny voting bloc if you look to single issue education voters and a long-term political bias towards Labour in the sector. Self-interest focus as voters and the impact of identity politics. They all add up towards our education disaster and the train being stuck on the tracks.

Any hope or rope ladder out? I will tell you tomorrow.

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