Monday, November 01, 2010

Aotearoa/NZ: Education ‘Reforms’ pave way for privatisation Pt 2

Part Two: Secondary Teachers’ Struggles

What is the crisis in education? It’s the crisis that the bosses don’t want to pay with their taxes that are a drain on their profits, because they don’t need universal, compulsory, state funded education to produce enough workers, when it is cheaper to resort to funding cuts, user pays, performance pay for teachers, and to get the private sector to run schools.  The trend towards privatisation began with Labour’s Tomorrow’s Schools in the 1980’s and National’s bulk funding during the 1990’s.  It has been given new life by the current National/Act Government which wants to introduce performance pay for teachers and to turn our schools into Public Private Partnerships.

In the last issue we looked at cuts in publicly funded early childhood and adult education, and at how National Standards at primary schools could lead to league tables and increasing inequality between schools. We wrote about the struggle of the New Zealand Educational Institute, Te Riu Roa, (NZEI) the primary and early childhood teachers’ and support staff’s union, to stop National Standards.

This time it is the secondary teachers in the Post Primary Teachers Association (PPTA) who are on the front lines of defending public education; demanding decent pay for teachers, and safe quality learning and teaching conditions. 

With the appointment of Rodney Hide from the Act Party as Associate Minister of Education the need for a fight back to save public education is stronger than ever. In the long run, this can only be achieved by abolishing the capitalist system altogether. Capitalism will always try to exploit human creativity to maximise private profits rather than meeting social needs, especially so in times of crisis such as today. Education is no exception.

Secondary Teachers Strike for Public Education

After months of unsuccessful struggle for improved wages and conditions, 95% of the members of the Post Primary Teachers’ Association (PPTA), the secondary teachers’ union, voted in favour of a strike.  On 15th September, PPTA teachers went on a one day strike for a 4% salary increase, reduced class sizes, a safe school environment, better teacher recruitment and retention, and an end to claw backs from the Ministry of Education.

Teachers rallied in centres across the country. 1,000 teachers in Wellington marched to Parliament, and 2,500 teachers in Auckland rallied in Albert Part then marched down to Queen St., grinding it to a halt on their way to Queen Elizabeth Square.  The one-day strike was the first in eight years for the Post Primary Teachers Association (PPTA) and it affected about 280,000 students from more than 450 secondary and intermediate schools.

The PPTA asked Boards of Trustees to donate their missed day’s pay to the Canterbury Earthquake The government is offering teachers only a 1.5% salary increase.  PPTA President Kate Gainsford said that remuneration alone would not solve the pressure put on teachers by growing classes and a bigger workload under the NCEA system.  Teachers, who are required to redesign new standards, have described their current workload as “insane”.

New Zealand teachers are among the lowest paid in the OECD, yet John Key is “disappointed” that they are not prepared to accept the “real word” of public sector low pay and cuts in order to help pay for the capitalist crisis and fund its privatisation agenda. This includes an education staffing budget cut of $95 million over four years in the 2009 budget, at the same time as increasing spending on private schools by $36 million.

The PPTA points out on its website that teachers cannot carry out the personalised learning programmes required by the NCEA with huge class sizes. Most classrooms are designed for twenty five students, yet most year nine and year ten classes exceed that number. In some classrooms students even have to sit on the window sill. Schools are being forced to fund extra teachers out of their operations grants in order to try to bring class sizes down. Around 10% of teachers are hired directly by the boards.

The PPTA points out that large sized classes are better suited the factory method of education.  This is not supposed to be modern education practice. High class sizes create enormous stress for teachers and students, reducing teacher retention and student engagement. They are a health and safety risk, risking increased violence and disruption at school, and even impacting upon problems such as teen pregnancies and suicides. 
The PPTA has said enough is enough on class size, time for the government to step up. 
Academic John Hattie stunned teachers in 2007 when he suggested that class sizes were not a significant factor in learning. He said instead that the main factor was the relationship between the student and teacher. This may well be so, but how is a student to develop such a relationship in a huge class. The PPTA is adamant that the prevalence of over-size classes in our secondary schools is at odds with the needs of both students and teachers in today’s classrooms. The biggest truths are not hard to grasp. The fewer students a teacher has to deal with at once, the more likely he or she is to reach all of them. Research both nationally and internationally proves that the smaller the class size the better the students’ attendance, the longer they stay in school, the more likely they leave with qualifications, and earn more in later life. In short, they become more interested in learning and engaging constructively in the world.

However the Minister of Education Anne Tolley is not listening and Bill English says the PPTA is wasting its time as the minister has no money to give them , indicating that National is not interested in investing in education during their capitalist crisis no matter what the long term costs to society of refusing to do so.
The government seems incredulous that secondary teachers, unlike nurses, junior doctors, policemen, civil servants, have not buckled under and agreed to pay for the capitalist crisis with substandard wages and conditions.

Mrs Tolley attended the PPTA national conference on 28 September. On the TV3 News, she looked worried and asked the teachers to return to negotiations but she didn’t offer anything and refused to rule out a lock out if the dispute continues.

The PPTA has emphasised that safety and learning conditions are equally as important as remuneration but the government has made no offers to reduce class sizes. On the contrary-it’s planning to lift the current limit on class sizes. The PPTA originally said that they were in for the long haul with more strikes planned. However they have since pulled back from full day strikes and only plan to do eight partial strikes where they refuse to teach students at certain levels, and do not attend teacher only days, or meetings after 5pm.

At the time of writing the PPTA has called off industrial action for the rest of the week from October 13th, because on the 12th the Government promised to make an offer that would be “worth their while”. However, after a day of negotiations the PPTA President said that this claim was “astonishing”. Nevertheless, negotiations continue this week with the PPTA planning to re-commence industrial action next week if no satisfactory agreement is reached.  

The PPTA has strong positions on many broad issues, including opposition to national standards, Public Private Partnerships, and the 90 Day Act. The one day strike is a great start, but stronger sustained action is almost certainly needed if the teachers’ demands are to be met, The Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement says that the leadership of the PPTA is looking for negotiated settlement with the Government, and are in danger of compromising too much. They believe that teachers may need to take direct action. They talk about the need for solidarity with members of other unions and community networks, whereas we would say that the old demand for One Education Union, under the control of the rank and file, is the logical demand to raise.  

Media Criminalise Teachers

During this period of teacher activism, the media responded with enthusiasm to the Ministers attempts to ‘criminalise’ teachers. The Sunday Star Times wrote a number of frantic articles on “criminal teachers” reaching its peak with the front page story:  “Criminals in our classrooms” “the story the Teachers Council did not want told” followed on page two by: “Minister wants to know why criminals are still teaching”, and: “Experts should monitor teachers, says Professor”.

Instead of rejecting this as an attempt by the Minister to discredit the teachers’ campaign, the Teachers’ Council went on the defensive, sending an email around to all registered teachers, explaining that the proportion of teachers with criminal convictions was tiny.   

This media assault on the Teachers’ Council is ironic considering that in July we heard that the Teachers’ Council had de-registered a pre-school teacher as an “unfit role model” who had not declared earnings while on a benefit, and training to be an ECE teacher.  The defendant said “I didn’t defraud/steal out of greed, I was doing it to survive and provide for my daughter. I am sorry.” 

Here we have a single parent who had made a supreme effort to overcome social discrimination, to qualify and practice as a teacher and to support her child; and the Teachers’ Council ruined her chance for life to do this, even though she posed no danger to children whatsoever. Despite its willingness to issue such harsh and unjust decisions, the Teachers’ Council is under enormous pressure from the media to de-register more teachers.

The Teachers’ Council is in a dual role, being appointed by the Government yet supposedly representing teachers. It recently made itself unpopular by issuing a huge hike in teacher registration fees. Kate Gainsford sees the Teachers’ Council as a potential ally of teachers, and notes that it opposed performance pay and new government plans for the initial education of teachers.  She says: “The question is how to move the council away from being an arm of the government into a genuinely teacher-led body.” 

The fight to defend free, compulsory, universal, public education from Early Childhood to Adult Education is only just beginning. The NACTs attempts to privatise education and cut state spending as a drain on bosses’ profits will meet stiff resistance as the unions and wider working class mobilises to fight for their basic right to a fully funded public education! Watch this space!
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