The University of Auckland’s Wayne Smith argues it’s time to rid our schools of divisive competitive neoliberal governance

As the school year gets under way for another year, it is an opportune time to reflect on the major issues that impacted on education in 2018 and to project forward to what is likely to play out in 2019.

While we reflect, our teachers will be focused determinedly on developing positive relationships with their pupils and establishing cooperative, inquiry-focused learning environments in their classrooms.

Unfortunately, as these professional and highly competent teachers start their new year, the major issue of 2018 will still be lurking in the background –working conditions and pay scales – is not yet resolved.

This issue will continue to be significant in 2019 and will probably grow legs unless the Minister can find an early solution. And I hope he does. Both primary and secondary teachers will be starting the year with the same concerns and similar frustrations which will cause greater disturbance to schooling across both sectors if the matter cannot be resolved early. The Minister simply has to offer a better long-term solution.

A second significant event of 2018 was the release of the Tomorrow’s Schools Report on December 7. The Minister is to be applauded for commissioning it and the Taskforce Committee for producing such a comprehensive review, long overdue, with innovative proposals. The review offers some significant hope for the future governance of schooling in New Zealand. As Peter O’Connor commented in Newsroom in December: “30 years of a business model approach to education has wreaked havoc on our schooling system and had further wider impacts across all aspects of New Zealand life.”

Sadly, but not surprisingly, in October last year the findings of an international report from UNICEF found New Zealand to be among the worst ranked for inequality in education. This report, which drew on global education data from early years to secondary school, ranked New Zealand at 33 out of 38 for inequality in the classroom. This is not a situation we can tolerate any longer in our society.

Whether we like the proposed government-appointed taskforce changes or not, they offer grounds for a debate that we should be having in education. The report has already prompted controversy as it proposes significant changes in the form of ‘education hubs’ that will reduce the level of independence of individual school boards of trustees.

The proposed hubs are designed to bring about greater networking between schools and with that more equitable outcomes from our school system, and this is very necessary. We all want a more equitable school system and correspondingly more equitable outcomes for our children and youth, but we cannot seem to agree on how this should happen.

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately because it requires us to reflect on our differences, this proposal brings to the surface again the significant divide in this country between the haves and the have nots. This is why the debate is so necessary. I personally applaud and support the education hub initiative at the level of governance that is proposed, but it will continue to be controversial because of the divide between the schools who have, and the schools who have not.

Once again, in this debate,  principals, educators and others, will draw on their polarised ideological views about equity and as such we should not be surprised that the matter will be played out along the left right political divide that has divided our society in so many detrimental ways in recent decades. It is time to address the inequity in our schooling: It is time to rid our schools of the current divisive competitive neoliberal governance.

Associate Professor Wayne Smith is from the University of Auckland's Faculty of Education and Social Work.

Leave a comment