Educators dig deep on Joint Initiative

Hundreds, if not thousands, of teachers, principals and support staff are offering the government a leg up on its failing education policies. “We’ve had too many initiatives to go and…

Hundreds, if not thousands, of teachers, principals and support staff are offering the government a leg up on its failing education policies. “We’ve had too many initiatives to go and look at,” says Wellington principal Mark Potter. “I found that really encouraging.”
The initiatives offer a way forward on collaboration and transition, involving both schools and ECE, that will make a difference to student learning. The Government’s $359m IES programme is fast becoming an embarrassment as the extra resourcing it offers is going to already high-performing, high decile schools, leaving priority learners out in the cold, once again.
Potter is on the NZEI-Ministry of Education working party that is tasked with reporting to the Minister of Education on initiatives and programmes in schools that will making a positive difference to teaching and learning. They’re getting their ideas, in part, from hundreds of responses to a survey where NZEI members offered up great ideas for change. Many of the responses were from groups of educators working together on what really makes a difference, on the ground, in actual classrooms.
The Government’s IES, which it announced at the start of election year 2014, is a top-down, one-size-fits-all model. This compares to the Joint Initiative, which NZEI members signed up to at the end of last year, having voted No Confidence to the IES. The Joint Initiative is “ground up” and will actually work for communities (of learners) and teachers, says Potter.
Motivated by what is best for students
Potter and the working group have visited high-performing schools in diverse communities. Schools and centres were collaborating in many “excellent practices,” he says. These included communities of teachers, communities of schools, schools working with ECE centres, and schools and centres with no geographical links working together. “They might be kura or they might have had other special interests”.
He says the advantage of the Joint Initiative is that it recognises what motivates educators as professionals. “It’s not something that’s top down and that’s about money. As professionals we are motivated by doing what is best for children, and this model will enable us to do that.”
However, at the same time as members work hard on the Joint Initiative, the Government has quietly continued to roll out its IES, albeit to a relatively small number of schools, but no ECE centres. ECE gains nothing from the IES, although academics and professionals are clear that this is where gains will be made with priority learners, which includes children in poverty and Maori and Pasifika students.
The connection between poverty and underachievement
This backfired though when an analysis of data showed that most of the new IES resource is going to high-decile schools. Priority and other underachieving students are located primarily in low decile schools because of the overwhelming and irrefutable correlation between poverty and underachievement – a concept that the Government has had trouble coming to terms with. In New Zealand, Maori and Pasifika students are disproportionately affected by poverty. This is reflected in the Minister’s own statistics which show that, on PISA rankings, Pakeha students are second in the world, Maori 34th equal and Pasifika 44th.
Yet, of schools getting extra IES funding to date, 40% are decile 8-10, and just 13% are decile 1-2. Altogether, 76% are decile 5 or above.  “It is absolutely bizarre that the Minister is giving extra money to high-performing schools whose students rank at the top of the world,” says NZEI president and former principal Louise Green. “Educators are unequivocal that the IES will not work for schools with high proportions of priority learners that desperately need extra support and resources. She is to be congratulated on moving toward a Joint Initiative but she needs to act on what is coming out of that initiative now and to cancel the IES, which is a travesty of social equity.”
In the meantime, NZEI members from around the country are saying ‘Yes’ to the Joint Initiative in all sorts of exciting ways.
Support staff – “Let’s all pull together and make it happen.”
Ylonda Hancock is a rare thing in the New Zealand education system – she is support staff yet she has a permanent job and permanent hours. It would make a big difference to students if all support staff had permanent hours, and it would enable support staff to collaborate more effectively, she says. “If a person knew they were going to stay, they would be able to give more to the students they work with and everyone would see the benefits at the end of it.” Consistency in support staff would make for smoother transitions between ECE and primary, and then on to intermediate.
Ylonda is one of dozens of support staff, mainly teacher aides, employed by BLENNZ, the Blind and Low Vision Education Network NZ, which has its own campus in Auckland as well as outreach resource teachers and support staff throughout the country. “As teacher aides, we are paid for 40 weeks, plus around five weeks’ holiday, plus the stats. There are only four or five weeks we aren’t paid, and some staff take it one step further and annualise their pay so they are paid for 52 weeks.”
At the Auckland high schools where Hancock works in an outreach unit, she sees teacher aides who are employed by the school out of its operations grant in very precarious circumstances. “They don’t even know what hours they have from day to day. Most teacher aides in New Zealand don’t know how many hours they’re going to have, sometimes from day-to-day, and certainly from term to term or year to year. It’s really hard and it means they don’t stay.”
She says being a teacher aide to special needs students is complex work, involving things like managing medications and medical appointments, tube feeding, advanced technology, as well as one-one-one work on learning. Permanent jobs for support staff makes sense in so many ways, she says. “Let’s pull together and make it happen.”
Special education “I’m hopeful”
Like others on the Joint Initiative working party, Tiri Bailey, a Resource Teacher of Maori from Waitara in Taranaki, is very excited by all the good ideas she has come across in recent weeks. “It can include the simplest of things but these could make a huge difference. One teacher we visited said there needs to be changes to how special education funding is allocated and reviewed during that transition period from ECE to school. And that makes complete sense.”
Too often children with high needs lose their special education funding as they make the transition from ECE to schooling because of the bureaucracy and red tape, she says. “But it’s so obvious when you think about it. That is exactly the time when a child needs the extra support to make the transition from ECE to school. It did seem that the ministry people were listening to those ideas. I’m hopeful.”
ECE “huge appetite for PLD on transitions”
Mangere Bridge Kindergarten is at the cutting edge of professional expertise on transitions from ECE to schools. The Joint Initiative is one way to get that work out to more schools. Not that the word isn’t already travelling here and abroad. Head Teacher Carol Hartley says there is a huge appetite for PLD on transitions and interest worldwide in the learning stories developed here by Margaret Carr as a means of formative assessment within the framework of Te Whaariki. As a former Centre of Innovation, kindergarten staff have shared 12 years of experience and research on transition through articles and a book for practitioners – Crossing the border: a community negotiates the transition from early childhood to primary school.
As well as taking the Mangere research and experience to Japan, Hartley as been spreading the word to Czech Republic, Norway, France and Australia, and the kindergarten itself has been visited many times by groups of Japanese early childhood teachers. As well as the school transition portfolio, Mangere Bridge has a buddy programme through which children from local schools spend an hour a week over one or two terms with a four-year-old at kindergarten, then help them settle into school.
Both the learning portfolio and the buddy relationship make for successful transition. Hartley says it’s an action research cycle – she and her colleagues do the presentation and the participants put what they’ve learned into practice. As well as local centres, Mangere Bridge supports a cluster in Christchurch using funding from the Christchurch earthquake budget.
Circles of influence
Hartley says setting up a relationship between early childhood and schools breaks the ice and makes for better understanding about the experiences and needs of those involved. The better the relationship between the early childhood centre and the school, the better the transition. Being a buddy is a highly sought after position and Hartley says the children are lining up to take part. She says they’ve had amazing reports back from parents who say it helped the family be more confident and relaxed about making the transition. And teachers find it really useful to know what the children are like outside the school.
Mangere Bridge Kindergarten has made a series of pamphlets and DVDs for schools and parents about the two projects. It also supports a cluster in Christchurch through two visits a year, funded from the Christchurch earthquake budget.