Aorangi School: funding closure but not finding closure

December 26, 2009

“This has not been an easy decision to make, but after considering final submissions from the school and from the Ministry of Education, I believe it is the right one,”  Anne Tolley, Minister of Education 

Political leaders revel in stories about humble beginnings. Abraham Lincoln — from a log cabin to the White House*, Barrack Obama– from a primary school in Jakarta to the White House*,  John Key–from a state house in Christchurch to the key of the House of State ( plus a mansion in Remuera and a holiday house in Hawaii).

As a 13-year-old, John Key decided he wanted to be the Prime Minister of New Zealand. Aorangi School, the primary school he went to in his pre-teen years, has just been closed in a pre-Christmas snow job, despite a High Court hearing challenging deficiencies in the consultation process.

The Government is having enough problems coming to grips with the leaky homes caused by the loosening of building regulations by its early nineties National Government predecessor. In this case it has had even more trouble with rotting school buildings. Perhaps something is rotten in the state…

There was obviously overwhelming local support for Aorangi, which was a microcosm of multi-racial Christchurch and provided unique educational opportunities for its community.  It was a decile 3 island in a decile 10 suburban sea in NW Christchurch, which includes Fendalton, and had its demographic origin in the sixties policy of pepper-potting small numbers of state houses and their inhabitants in leafier suburbs than usual. 

The school’s roll has been declining, not helped by the school’s being under a dangling Damoclean sword for many months. 27 staff- rather a good ratio of teaching, support and administrative staff in a shrinking school- were handed an unwanted redundancy card for Xmas.

The Minister has undertaken to provide a school undertaker, aka as a “change manager”, to support the school, families and students through all aspects of the closure process, which happens over the school holidays. The school community would have preferred a school caretaker.  The ministry will work with Ngai Tahu to establish a replacement bilingual unit “with some urgency”, though, given the school’s rainbow population a multicultural unit might be more to the point.

As John Caldwell, junior counsel for the Aorangi Board pointed out, the alleged fiscal savings of around $2.5 million by closing Aorangi were  “potentially illusory”*.  The Press reported on 24 December that an independent accountancy firm concluded in a report made available on 10 December that the actual saving between the cost of rebuilding the school, calculated correctly, and the costs of moving its pupils elsewhere, was no more than $38,032 a year.

The board only received the working papers on which the ministry’s closure assumptions and dodgy arithmetic were based after the minister’s final decision to close the school, effective from the 27th of January 2010 (with the school holidays intervening, effectively from end of the 2009 school year).

In a clear example of below standard numeracy a ministry official apparently subtracted rather than added a six-figure sum for rebuilding demolished classrooms, which rather messed up the replacement tender budget and widened the gap between the board’s and the ministry’s negotiating position.

$38,000 is a very modest return for bad publicity and loss of goodwill.  The government, which like its predecessors has more spin doctors than all the cricket playing nations combined, has trampled rather clumsily on its own education stumps rather than stumping up with the not very big net difference in finances.

With a bit of cultivation and a Mucking In makeover, Aorangi could have been a living, learning testimony to a poor boy made good and multicultural harmony.  (Not that the Key family was quite the stereotypical New Zealand poor: his assiduous widowed mother, with her European Jewish heritage, was a great believer in education and his home would have had more books than most, even if her son became most interested in the double entry kind). 

The young John Key’s shift, with his family, from his birthplace in Auckland to Christchurch and his educational progression from Aorangi to Burnside High, then to the University of Canterbury en route to a stellar financial trading career and politics and the top job in 7 years, while not quite Horatio Alger, is still good stuff in the Kiwi egalitarian lexicon. It is too good a story about the power of education to attain personal and social goals to have an unhappy ending.

 As Trevor Mallard found out when he was the Minister of Education, whatever the budgetary constraints, closing schools is not the quickest route to political popularity.  He certainly wouldn’t have tried to close down Helen Clark’s old school.  If he had tried she certainly wouldn’t have let him.

The Prime Minister is relaxed about most things and cuts his ministers plenty of slack. Gallows humour is premature-there are bigger battles looming over National Standards- but this has been a dreadful public relations exercise for the Ministry of Education and its minister Anne Tolley, who has been left holding a can of worms because of some bureaucratic bungling.

 #Lyall Lukey 26 Dec 2009


The Boyhood of Abraham Lincoln (clip)

Log Cabin Blues’ BLIND BOY FULLER (1935) Ragtime Blues Guitar Legend

Barack Obama’s school days – 08 Jan 07

School Days―Sekai vs Kotonoha

Decision to shut school `unfair’ |

New Zealand lunches above its weight at Copenhagen

December 19, 2009

Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen
Friendly old girl of a town
‘Neath her tavern light
On this merry night
Let us clink and drink one down
To wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen
Salty old queen of the sea
                   Frank Loesser

In an incontrovertible example of global swarming 35,000 official delegates and hangers-on descended upon Copenhagen two weeks ago for the UN’s climate change conference, which concludes today.

I am not sure about old queens but at the proverbial end of the day at the end of the fortnight, the negotiating glass was neither nearly half full nor half empty, depending upon your personal optimism setting. This was despite President Obama coming off the bench with his cheque book for the last play. (His speech about all nations “giving ground” would have had the leaders of low lying Pacific nations nodding their heads).

In fact, there is not much to celebrate.  Despite the self congratulations of its diplomatic drivers and even if, as a negotiating vehicle, it was pointed in the right direction, Copenhagen looks more of a clunker than a clinker.

Hans Christian would have had a field day separating the fairy stories from the factoids. There were only some Thumbelina-sized advances, despite the Snow Queen and her ilk, including Father X and polar  livestock, purportedly being in grave danger of getting the third degree treatment within the next century.

As might be expected very few officials- or protestors, for that matter- had arrived in the salty old town by sailing ship and several invited luminaries, including Prince Charles, arrived in private jets. (Even his scarf wearing mother used a scheduled train service two days ago to go to King’s Lynn in Norfolk for Xmas).  It was just a tad too soon for Branson’s Virgin Galactic so the city was spared any ETs. Just as well-the ETS was quite enough. 

Apart from the live and lively activities of a green deluge of tens of thousands of protesters, electronic petitions were a significant factor in accelerating cyberspace warming. With two days to go Avaaz* invited the global digital community to “sign the petition for a real deal” — the campaign already has a staggering 11 million supporters — over the next 48 hours let’s make it the largest petition in history! The name of every signer is being read out right now in the summit hall — this sign on at the link below and forward this email to everyone!“ 

Even if no one else signed the petition in the last two days-and it seems another 3 million odd did-to get through the list of names they would have needed 125 people simultaneously reading out aloud continuously for 48 hours. The Guinness book of records may be interested.

So was at least one politician.  On an “emergency conference call” with 3000 Avaaz members two days ago, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown said: “What you’re doing through the internet around the world is absolutely crucial to setting the agenda. In the next 48 hours, don’t underestimate your effect on the leaders here in Copenhagen”.

Not quite a brown out, but the other 109 (no, make that 110) presidents and prime ministers negotiating in Copenhagen no doubt also got the message:  “We call on each one of you to make the concessions necessary to meet your historic responsibility in this crisis. Rich countries must offer fair funding, and all countries must set ambitious targets on emissions. Do not leave Copenhagen without a fair, ambitious and binding deal that keeps the world safe from catastrophic global warming of 2 degrees”.

Apart from the online mobilisation there were 3000 climate vigils in 140 countries last Saturday. Protests in the digital age make their analogue predecessors positively pedestrian, which, of course, they were.

Away from the last day’s superheated hyperactivity New Zealand can take some satisfaction from the agricultural pre-deal it initiated. Once he decided to go the Copenhagen Prime Minister John Key may have been elbowed out of the BBC climate change chat show by his  jostling Australian counterpart, but, as NBR columnist Matthew Hooton points out,  he at least has a significant agreement under his belt, courtesy of the work done in the months before Copenhagen by ministers Tim Groser and David Carter, supported by ex minister Simon Upton and MAF. 

This significant initiative is not based on dubious market trading schemes but on research, development and the application of new technology that can reduce net greenhouse emissions. There is an impressive lineup of foundation members for the Global Agricultural Alliance  who are funding new research, much of which will be done in New Zealand universities like Massey and Lincoln.

In this instance New Zealand was certainly playing to its strengths and lunching above its weight in diplomatic circles. That, at least, is worth celebrating.


 Danny Kaye – Wonderful Copenhagen

Wallmans – Wonderful Copenhagen

Copenhagen vs. Tainted Love (Trentemøller Mash-up) 

 #Lyall Lukey 19 Dec 2009

20 years on Tomorrow’s Schools are history

December 5, 2009

“Effective management practices are lacking and the information needed by people in all parts of the system to make choices is seldom viable.”  Picot Report May 1988  

It is an incredible testimony to the power of a label that people still refer to “Tomorrow’s Schools” 20 years after the administrative earthquake of David Lange’s education reforms.

 We all know that tomorrow never come and neither did Tomorrow’s Schools in respect to some of its original interlocking architecture. Nonetheless the changes were portentous. The fall of the Department of Education and local education boards  was not quite as momentous as the near simultaneous fall of the Berlin Wall but it was still a bureaucratic big bang event-and most bureaucrats hate change.

Earlier in the eighties the government had called for a review of the curriculum. The public were consulted but the initiative was overtaken by reforms of the administration of education. Two major reports appeared. The first had the Tom Peters-inspired title Administering for Excellence and had much input from business and industry, reflecting the neo-liberal agenda promoted rather ironically by the Labour Government. It was known as  the Picot report after its leader, Brian Picot, a supermarket owner.

 The second report called Tomorrow’s Schools was the Minister’s blueprint for the process. The government replaced the Department of Education with a ministry and turned schools into autonomous entities, managed by boards of trustees. This was a  world first.  The fact that it does not appear to have been replicated elsewhere  may speak volumes.

Picot had found that the education administrative structure in 1988 was over centralised and made overly complex by having too many decision-making points  It was a pain just to replace a broken window. It was purported that the relevant “fix it” papers went through 14 pairs of hands. The lesson was if it’s broke don’t fix it.

I  recall,  during a short  teacher recruitment  stint in the Department of Education well pre-Picot,  encountering  former principals and school inspectors chained to musty office desks in the historic old wooden Government Building in Wellington  while they handled tactical tasks such as approving new light bulbs.

 Lange saw the light. He regarded the dinosaur-like Department of Education beyond evolutionary adaptation and new organisational forms and drastic reforms were needed in the shape of autonomous school boards.

 In Picot’s words “The result is that almost everyone feels powerless to change the things they see need changing.  To make progress, radical changes now required.”

 Radical they indeed were. The trouble was as part of this process teachers in their professional dimension were sidelined. In education and health and elsewhere the politicians  fear of the day was professional capture.

 Managerialism was the answer du jour. Bus companies, hospitals, government departments-they were all amenable to the management span of control. Brain surgeon or bus driver? Bring them on. It’s all grist to the MBA mill.  And millstones were what we sometimes got. The missing part of the equation was professional credibility. It is true that some people skills are eminently transferable. But it is also true that credibility resides not just in what is said but who says it and in their background and experience.

 In the laudable rush to get community input and involvement the professional voices of  teachers were muted. (It didn’t help matters that the 1980s tactics of the teacher “unions” -the professional terms “association” and “institute” were used less and less frequently- were on a par with the Cooks and Stewards Union, the difference being that  the latter chose the school holidays for their stoppages).

 Tomorrow’s Schools was a more radical change for primary schools than their secondary colleagues, who already had the right to appoint their own staff. It led to a nearly 3000 autonomous school boards, without some of the regional and national connecting structures envisaged by the Picot Report.  

Autonomy led to an atomised educational landscape with “clusters” of schools providing limited local connectivity. Important professional supporting roles like national in-service programmes and curriculum and resource development became fragmented or non-existent for a number of years. Curriculum reforms were postponed and it is only now, near the end of the first decade of the new millenium, that a new 21st century curriculum is finally being implemented.

In the meantime societal shift has happened big time. Today, Tomorrow’s Schools are very much last century.  

Lyall Lukey 6 Dec 2009

Blinks   Shift happens-2009 update