From the start, the relationship between the Minister of Education, Hekia Parata and the Secretary for Education, Lesley Longstone appeared to be in trouble. So, it comes as no great surprise to hear that the Secretary has elected to end her job in the role and start the new year afresh. And in a Government where accountability seems to be a dirty word, contrary to the assertions of Prime Minister John Key, despite a litany of bungles that in previous Governments would have cost the Minister her job, Ms Parata has the complete confidence of the Prime Minister.
The problems have been numerous. In the one year under Ms Parata’s watch, Ms Longstone has had to contend with the class size bungle, as well as problems with Novopay, closing Christchurch schools and introducing charter schools.
As an alternative to building new classrooms and schools, National proposed to increase class sizes. In the fiscal budget of May 2012, the Government proposed to save $174 million over four years, a move widely ridiculed by Labour, the Greens and New Zealand First. It ran into a storm of parental and school opposition and was forced to climb down in humiliating circumstances.
Then there was Novopay. This is the programme used to work out teachers pay and leave entitlements. Ms Longstone was probably not involved in the preparations that the Ministry did prior to January 2012 for the roll out of Novopay. However, tasked with overseeing its roll out she is responsible for making sure that the Ministry of Education took ownership of the problem and fixed it. From the start it has been riddled with errors. It was late being introduced because there were glitches. When it was introduced teachers could no longer get paid on time, putting their personal lives and finances in jeopardy, whilst others were grossly overpaid. Four months on, the Novopay saga continues to cause stress for teachers around the country, even though the school year is finished.
Following that came the Christchurch schools bungle where Ms Parata unilaterally announced the closure of 13 schools with 18 more to be merged. The closures followed the announcement that post-earthquake Christchurch has to accept that the schooling needs of the city are different from what they were in, say, 2009. Due to the abominal communication of the announcement on 13 September 2012 – some schools only finding out via the media – protests followed in Christchurch amid much anger. Since then, Ms Parata has been forced into another partial backdown over the plans.
Finally, the idea of charter schools is giving rise to significant concern that the Government is about to try a form of schooling that has been widely panned in other countries. Details of the plan that have so far been released suggest that the Government will not subject them to the same scrutiny as it does public schools. Among the concerns are that unqualified and unregistered teachers will be permitted to teach students.
It will be very interesting to hear what the Secretary of Education thought of all of this. It is obvious that what she saw in the Ministry and had to take responsibility for must have massively disagreed with her, for this decision to depart after only 12 months in the position. Will Ms Parata take responsibility for her actions as the Minister of Education?