For those concerned about the future of education in New Zealand, this has often been a strange year of waiting for the outcomes of multiple reviews. There are around 15 major reviews of education underway at present.
There are bound to be some good ideas when the groups start to report over the next few months. But there are also important reasons not to expect too much.
The Labour-led Government does not have the power of a large majority. Even the great move of repositioning the small number of charter schools has been fraught. Bold educational developments are unlikely in this term.
The managerial culture that lingers at the Ministry of Education is another constraint. A few months ago I got asked onto one of the advisory groups but in typical rushed fashion, had to let the Ministry know within a few hours if I would participate.
The terms of reference for the group – questionable! – were pre-determined and it was not clear who else would be on the group or why I was being invited.
That experience told me that many of those involved in the reviews will have been flying blind. Once involved they get caught within the cone of silence imposed by confidentiality agreements.
Many of the groups are large in the interests of representativeness but whether they can progress strong recommendations remains to be seen.
Education is such a contested area that I’ve always considered a 30 year strategy for education unrealistic. But the Labour-led Government is certainly making a strong bid for cross-party support.
Who would have ever dreamed that Lockwood Smith, National’s former Education Minister, would become ‘guardian’ of education consultation under Labour?
As the groups start to report, I will be interested in how much the private sector is seen as part of future provision. The education system has lost a lot of public capacity over the last few decades.
I will also be interested to see how much the review groups grapple with social inequality.
Finally, I really hope the review groups spare us an onslaught of educational buzzwords and slogans. There were plenty of those under the previous government but educators deserve better.
Martin Thrupp is a Professor of Education at the University of Waikato.
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