April 12, 2013
Rachel Broad, Fightback Hamilton branch, Aotearoa/NZ. Originally published by the Socialist Party of Australia.
Teachers in New Zealand are facing a perfect storm. For the time being they have faced down government attempts to increase class sizes but have also had to contend with school closures and mergers in Christchurch and a move to introduce charter schools.
At the same time large numbers of teachers are going without pay or getting paid incorrectly thanks to the failure of their national payroll system. This is creating huge amounts of stress. Tensions are on the increase between teachers and the government, and the public are increasingly siding with the teachers.
Government’s failed attempt to increase class sizes
In mid 2012 the Ministry of Education attempted to introduce a new policy that would change teacher-student funding ratios in schools and would have increased class sizes and created job losses. Some school principals said that they would have to cut up to three jobs in each school if the policy was carried out. The student-to-teacher ratio would have been standardised at 27.5 students per teacher for year 2 to year 10 classes.
The policy was deeply unpopular. Some polls showed up to 89% of people in opposition to the policy. Teachers and many members of the public rallied against the proposed changes.
The government tried to carry out the changes within both primary and secondary schools at the same time. Usually, using divide and rule tactics, the government has attacked the primary and secondary sectors separately. By attacking both sectors at the same time the government had bitten off more than they could chew and were forced to back down.
These events were the beginning of a sharp decline for Hekia Parata, the Minister of Education and puppet for the government’s education plan. Parata was paraded by the ruling National Party as a high-flying Maori MP and was quickly promoted to cabinet.
During one teachers’ meeting about class sizes where Parata was under constant fire she condescendingly lectured teachers by telling them that one of the main problems with the education system was not underfunding but that many teachers don’t pronounce Maori and Pacific Island children’s names correctly. Without hesitation this divisiveness was roundly rejected by broad layers from the Maori and Pacific Island communities. Parata is now deeply unpopular. Read the rest of this entry »
February 22, 2013
While Christchurch primary school teachers had planned to take industrial action on February 19th this was called off just a few days prior. Under the Employment Relations Act strikes outside of bargaining are outlawed, had this strike taken place it would have been the first one to challenge the anti-strike laws.
In the end however, action took the form of a rally outside of school hours. Over a 1500 people gathered at the CBS arena in Addington, the number were made of up of teachers, parents, children and other supporters include from a number of other unions.
After a number of short speeches attendees voted on a motion of no confidence in Hekia Parata’s record as Education Minister. That motion was then delivered to the ministry of education following a lively march which included chants of “when Christchurch schools are under attack, stand up! Fight back!” and “Hek no- she must go!”
A Fairfax poll released the day after the education rally showed that 71% of people in Canterbury thought Parata should be stripped of the education portfolio. In addition to the “shake up” in Christchurch (seven schools to be closed and 12 to be merged) Parata has presided over the ongoing problems with Novapay and last year attempted to increase class sizes being backing down.
Of course, handing the education portfolio to another minister would not fix the problems faced in Christchurch any more than stripping Paula Bennett of the welfare policy would stop the government’s insidious welfare reforms. Government policy appears to be what has been termed “disaster capitalism” using a natural disaster as an excuse to restructure education in the city, both though the current closures and later through the imposition of charter schools.
The government’s plans can be defeated if teachers and supporters take militant action, particularly in the workplace.
January 30, 2013
‘Hard to see harm in a little more choice in education’ was the first line in a recent NZ Herald editorial regarding charter schools. On this issue the mainstream media has taken cues from the National government and presented the introduction of charter schools as harmless, not to be worried about, almost not worth debating.
The announcement of policy introducing charter schools arose from the coalition process between ACT MP John Banks and the National Party. It was a surprise for the public.
The policy has brought heavy criticism from teachers, parents, and everyday people who are concerned with social equality. Prime Minister John Key has shrugged off the criticism by laying the blame with the ACT Party.
He claims the policy is a consequence of having to enter coalition government. However the Act Party did not have a strong position in its negotiations with National.
In reality ACT play the role of pushing the National Party from the right. ACT puts forward extreme policies and the National Party waters them down and gives them a PR spin which makes them sound more acceptable. This gives National the appearance of being centrist or moderate when in fact they are pursuing a right wing economic agenda. Read the rest of this entry »
January 29, 2013
Primary school teachers in Christchurch voted in late January to carry out a political strike in opposition to the government’s decision to close 11 Christchurch schools and put a further 24 schools through mergers. Teachers, parents, and school children want earthquake damaged schools fixed and reopened. A clear majority of teachers voted for the strike action, the vote was carried with 83% in favour.
As well as opposing the closures and mergers the teachers are campaigning against the introduction of charter schools and the continued use of the double-bunking system. Double-bunking refers to the practice of teaching different groups of students in the same classrooms at different times. Double-bunking was used in Christchurch to facilitate classes when schools were damaged by the February 2011 earthquake. Teachers intended for double-bunking to be an interim solution. It leads to classes being held in anti-social hours, which is negative for school children and teachers alike.
In a poll published by The Press 66% of people felt that the closure and merger process has been handled very poorly by the Ministry of Education and 19% felt that it had been handled poorly. Only 1% in the survey felt the process was handled well. A New Zealand Education Institute (NZEI) branch chairperson and teacher said that the support provided to children by teachers after the February 2011 earthquake is recognised by Christchurch parents and communities and is one of the reasons for the popular support that teachers are receiving.
The NZEI says that the government has failed to properly consult teachers. Both teachers and Christchurch communities have had little or no chance for genuine consultation over the government plans. In the same survey (as reported above) 43% of people were not at all confident that the consultation would improve the final outcome and 31% were not confident.
The future of schools, jobs, and children’s education will essentially be dictated by the Ministry of Education. The strike is set to take place on February 19, which is the day after Education Minister Hekia Parata is set to make the government’s announcement regarding the fate of each school. Read the rest of this entry »
October 29, 2012
Karran Harper Royal
Adapted from a PPTA media release
The keynote speech at The Post-Primary Teachers Association (PPTA) conference earlier this month was given by American education activist Karran Harper Royal. Royal is a native of New Orleans and the founding member of advocate group Parents Across America. Her speech was entitled, ‘From New Orleans to New Zealand with Love: A Warning About Disaster Capitalism and Public Education’
Royal shared the story of how the introduction of charter schools after Hurricane Katrina decimated the New Orleans public school system, saying that New Zealanders have an opportunity to stand up against an attack on public education that the New Orleans community never saw coming.
Royal sees a parallel between the way charter schools are being forced on the New Zealand population” particularly in quake-stricken Christchurch” and the situation in New Orleans and hopes similar mistakes will not be made here. Read the rest of this entry »
August 7, 2012
While University funding has been trending downwards per student since the 70’s, cuts have started to ramp up since the election of the current National government in 2008. The recently unveiled budget contained an actual cut to the tertiary education budget, when recently the budget has seen below-inflation increases. Down from $4 billion to $3.9 billion. Funding is not expected to reach 2009 levels until 2016 and by then inflation will have undermined the value of that funding in real terms. Since 2008 the number of university students has increased by 5,000 but funding has decreased by $500 million after inflation. The Universities have survived to an extent by cutting programmes and applying wider cuts to funding levels. The point is being reached where the easier cuts to back-room funding, tutors etc. will not make the savings required at the lower funding levels, redundancies and harsher cuts as seen at Canterbury will become the norm across the country.
Alongside the cuts to general funding pools for the university. The government has been making loans and allowances harder to access. The 10% repayment rate on income over $19,084 has been increased to 12%, in Australia repayments start at 4% on and income of $44,912 and slowly rises to 8% for $83,408 and above. Read the rest of this entry »
August 2, 2012
Guillaume Legault is a leading member of Quebec’s CLASSE — the Broad Coalition of the Association for Student Union Solidarity — a radical student organisation at the forefront of a months-long student strike against tuition fee hikes.
Quebec’s student movement is still locked in struggle with the ruling Liberal government over the new fees. The government has responded with police repression and harassment of students. It also passed a new law that bans protests of more than 50 people unless police have given prior approval.
Guillame Legault is participating in a speaking tour across Aotearoa, details below:
Date: TONIGHT (Thursday 2nd of August)
Location: 19 Tory St
Date: Saturday 5th of August
Location: Canterbury WEA, 59 Gloucester St
Date: Monday, 6th of August
Location: OUSA – Clubs and Societies Centre
June 30, 2012
Marika Pratley, Workers Party, Wellington
On Friday May 25 Bill English criticized over 400 Auckland students who protested against the budget cuts. He commented, “they need some Greeks to show them how to do it.” Greece has a rich history of radical tradition. With Greece bearing the forefront of the economic crisis in Europe, the Greek working class has faced intense pressure to comply with austerity measures.
Framed in the mass media as “rioting-hooligans”, “tax-dodgers”, or simply “lazy”, these misconceptions have led to Greeks being ridiculed and scapegoated in-the-name of the economic crisis. However both capitalism and the financial crisis are global. These austerity measures are not unique to Athens, and the outrage against austerity is an international phenomenon which goes outside Greece’s borders. Furthermore the Greek working class did not ’cause’ the crisis in Europe, and the working class and beneficiaries in Greece should not be forced into paying for the crisis. The financial crisis ensued as a result of the capitalist system not being able to sustain itself. Read the rest of this entry »
May 30, 2012
Joel Cosgrove, former VUWSA president and Workers Party member, will be presenting on The University as Factory for Socialism 2012.
While Auckland University Students’ Association has been voluntary since 1999, this is the first year for most other universities under this new context. The experience of money-grabbing which occurred at Auckland is being repeated around the country, as institutions use the law change to rack up peripheral fees, with relative impunity.
In an effort to bypass the 5% fee maxima cap on tuition fees, student levies on peripheral services i.e. student health, gym, student services etc have been raised (often doubled) over the past few years. At Victoria University the Student Services Levies for a full-time student (including the VUWSA levy) has risen from $407.50 in 2009 to $650 in 2012 (excluding the VUWSA levy, the SSL was $275.60 in 2009). Speaking bluntly at a student forum in 2009 then Chancellor Tim Beaglehole said “There is no other income that we have control of.” When the University was questioned under the official information act on the amount of effort spent lobbying the government about the ever increasing level of fees (something that raises much hang-wringing each year at council, while they simultaneously raise said fees) between 2005-2007, their efforts had consisted of three letters to the Minister of Tertiary Education. It is unlikely that the situation has changed.
Yet while the money side of the discussion of VSM is important, it is the politics of VSM which are primary in the discussion. Politically the situation has changed very little in the transition, because to a large extent that political sovereignty has been ceded willingly. The only change is a technical one in that now that voluntary relinquishment of autonomy has now been legally recognized. The students’ association can now not back out, where hypothetically it could when it was willingly ceding its independence.
The mentality therefore is unchanged. At VUW, the Student Union (a confusing name which covers the university’s recreational and non-academic service provision) is angling to take over clubs funding, and has just released an “independent” review which confirms it. This is a side issue within a minor department of the university and one of resource control and small castle building. Whether the Students’ Association controls club funding or not the university calls the shots. Read the rest of this entry »
February 26, 2012
Universities are an important part of modern society. The Education Act of 1989 defines them as being the “critic and conscience of society”. In practice the record has been patchy at best. Students (and staff) have historically joined in repressive actions against striking wharfies in 1913, deputised and moblised to put down peaceful marches by unemployed workers during the depression.
In the documentary 1951 author Kevin Ireland recalls calling a Student Representative Council meeting to make a stand against the draconian laws passed to smash the locked out watersiders in 1951 and finding his progressive motions drowned out 10-1 by conservative students, bent on supporting the authoritarian actions of the state. Future Prime Minister and editor of the Victoria University student newspaper Salient described the (relative) progressive freedoms in place for women at the university in the mid-60’s as corrupting, stating that “If she does this [get involved in politics] she will never become a lady” as well as becoming losing their apparent “femininity”. Michael Laws first came to prominence at Otago University as a leading supporter of the Springbok Tour, with surveys at both Otago and Victoria Universities indicating a rough 50/50 split in opinion for and against the tour. Even during the ‘golden years’ (roughly the 1960’s-80’s) the role of the university was to pump out industry friendly graduates. Every freedom gained, was gained through struggle. Some of the early protests in the 60’s at Victoria University were over the right for students to have the ability to live in mixed gendered flats. Read the rest of this entry »