Best of yes­ter­day’s, worst of to­day’s

Auckland City Harbour News - - News -

The high-fly­ing philoso­phies of David Lange’s To­mor­row’s Schools have be­come to­day’s night­mare for many com­mu­ni­ties.

While the gov­ern­ment bat­tles to get to grips with eco­nomic chaos and with the Re­source Man­age­ment Act, wants a re­count on the Waterview tun­nel cost, and ag­o­nises over car hoons – notably in stately Christchurch – it must also give some detailed study time to the state of the coun­try’s schools.

Lat­est ev­i­dence of real, con­tin­u­ing and grow­ing prob­lems has been the sack­ing of the Sel­wyn Col­lege and Sir Ed­mund Hil­lary Col­le­giate boards within a few weeks of each other.

By one count that means 28 schools now have com­mis­sion­ers in charge and an­other 42 have statu­tory man­agers ad­vis­ing boards which had real prob­lems but so far have es­caped the chop.

All this will come as no sur­prise to long­time crit­ics of the Lange dream.

Within a few years of its in­tro­duc­tion, the cracks be­gan to ap­pear.

Par­ents and oth­ers who en­thu­si­as­ti­cally took on new roles as elected board mem­bers found them­selves over­whelmed by the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, of­ten to­tally out of their depth in the com­plex­i­ties of fi­nan­cial gov­er­nance and all the other chal­lenges of run­ning rapidly grow­ing schools.

The pres­sures from Welling­ton bu­reau­crats and ed­u­ca­tional the­o­rists, the never-end­ing wor­ries over in­ad­e­quate bud­gets which just won’t bal­ance and the chang­ing, some­times wor­ry­ing, at­mos­phere in schools have left the on­ceem­pow­ered am­a­teur ad­min­is­tra­tors ex­hausted and frus­trated.

The the­ory and the name are not lim­ited to New Zealand, nor is the role of com­mu­ni­ties.

An­nounc­ing a $1 bil­lion To­mor­row’s Schools pack­age in its 2006-07 Bud­get, the Queens­land gov­ern­ment talked in Lange-like terms of giv­ing Queens­land stu­dents “ac­cess to a world­class ed­u­ca­tion that gives them the skills, knowl­edge and cre­ativ­ity they need to reach their great­est po­ten­tial”.

Plus “an un­prece­dented de­gree of par­ent and lo­cal com­mu­nity in­volve­ment in shap­ing the fu­ture of schools in their area”.

Sounds fa­mil­iar.

Re­cent opin­ions from a fa­mil­iar name summed up the is­sues the new gov­ern­ment here must face up to in ed­u­ca­tion – and quickly – in among all those other wor­ries.

John Minto, who taught at Sir Ed­mund Hil­lary Col­le­giate in its glory days, and is now an out­spo­ken spokesman for the Qual­ity Pub­lic School Coali­tion, says the time is long over­due for a full re­view of what was then the big­gest change in ed­u­ca­tion in two gen­er­a­tions.

The coali­tion has re­peat­edly urged a re­view as the prob­lems grow more ob­vi­ous and press­ing.

Minto knows all about the be­fore-and-af­ter of the Lange scheme 20 years ago.

He re­mem­bers then how it was hailed as a step for­ward for Otara.

In­stead he sees it as a huge step back.

In­tended to re­form ed­u­ca­tion bu­reau­cracy, it has forced 3000 schools to rein­vent the wheel.

They’ve strug­gled to pick up re­spon­si­bil­ity for what seems just about ev­ery­thing pre­vi­ously done by the sys­tem the plan was sup­posed to re­form. The re­sult has been more bu­reau­cracy, not less.

Schools, stu­dents, par­ents and com­mu­ni­ties have paid a price.

The Minto ver­dict: Peo­ple without the qual­i­fi­ca­tions or the time have been lum­bered with the work of lawyers, ac­coun­tants and money man­agers in­stead of looking af­ter the well-be­ing of stu­dents.

It sounds as if the sys­tem now needs to re­vert to the best fea­tures of yes­ter­day’s schools and drop the short­com­ings of to­day’s.

Talk­ing of schools – and in hun­dreds of thou­sands of homes around the coun­try it’s a top topic as the first term gets un­der way – here’s an is­sue raised by col­league Karl du Fresne in the Do­min­ion Post, the Fair­fax daily in Welling­ton:

“There’s a new class of have-nots.

“On ra­dio, a Welling­ton woman com­plained that her son’s high school seemed to as­sume that all pupils’ homes had in­ter­net ac­cess, when his didn’t.

“She couldn’t find out when the school re­opened for 2009 – ap­par­ently the in­for­ma­tion was avail­able only on the school’s web­site – and, even more as­ton­ish­ingly, she said many of her son’s home­work as­sign­ments last year were de­liv­ered on­line.

“She had been fight­ing a run­ning bat­tle with the school ad­min­is­tra­tion and get­ting nowhere.”

Karl sus­pects this is “the tip of a very large ice­berg of dis­af­fected and dis­con­nected cit­i­zens”.

Peo­ple without com­put­ers find them­selves ex­cluded from a steadily widen­ing range of ac­tiv­i­ties, from tak­ing ad­van­tage of cut­price deals to par­tic­i­pa­tion in pub­lic af­fairs.

“It can be ar­gued that this is sim­ply the mar­ket at work.

“Tech­nol­ogy changes and peo­ple even­tu­ally have to adapt if they want to stay ‘in the loop’.

“But have we reached the point yet where vi­tal pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions such as schools are en­ti­tled to as­sume that every­one is plugged into the net?

“I wouldn’t have thought so.” • Ex­pe­ri­ences and re­ac­tions please.

Build­ing up to Wai­tangi Day, talk at a lunch ta­ble got on to the fer­vent way Aus­tralians sing their na­tional an­them com­pared with the ven­tril­o­quist trick of singing with their mouth shut favoured by most All Blacks, and maybe you too, for ex­am­ple.

That night, on transtas­man cricket com­men­tary, yet an­other ex­am­ple of Oz na­tional pride.

On Aus­tralia Day in Ade­laide and dur­ing lunch, a group of new Aus­tralians marched in to front up to the Don Brad­man stand, turned to the thou­sands watch­ing and re­cited their oath as part of nat­u­ral­i­sa­tion.

What an event. What a mem­ory.

Worth the sort of ap­plause nor­mally kept for Aus­tralian cen­tury-mak­ers.

Good on ya, mates. Any chance of an Eden Park re­play? In the mail­bag: “Your col­umn con­cern­ing the toll road ex­actly echoed my own opin­ion, how­ever, there is one more fac­tor that seems to have been for­got­ten by the pow­ers that be.

“Now the road has opened there is no rest or ser­vice area on the left hand side of the road be­tween Wells­ford and Pa­pakura.

“We are con­tin­u­ally be­ing re­minded by the road safety au­thor­i­ties that driv­ers should not drive when tired, but, as I write, I re­alise that the toll kiosk north of the tun­nels does ac­tu­ally pro­vide the break needed.” – Gra­ham Roberts

To con­tact Pat Booth email: off­pat@snl.co.nz. All replies are open for pub­li­ca­tion un­less marked

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