Teacher unions bullying confronted

The teacher unions are now resorting to bullying people who they think are supporters of Charter Schools. So far only Radio NZ has reported this.

Teacher unions have written to aspiring charter school operators in a last-ditch attempt to warn them off setting up the schools.

Radio New Zealand‘s education correspondent said the letters are the first time the Post Primary Teachers Association and the Educational Institute have directly lobbied groups wanting to set up the schools, which the government is calling partnership schools.

The letters say the schools could be cancelled as early as November next year with no compensation because opposition parties have vowed to abolish them.

They are being sent to 35 organisations that expressed interest in the schools, four of which are known to have made it to negotiations with the Government.

PPTA president Angela Roberts said charter schools will damage nearby state schools.

I have obtained copies of these letters and they are not lobbying, they are bullying plain and simple. This must be an orchestrated campaign because they were written and sent the same day. You have to love the PPTA letter, sent to an address in “Greenland”.

Education Union Bullying

The recipient of these letters, Alwyn Poole, has written to me and an open letter to the unions in return.

Dear Mr Slater

Earlier this week the leaders of New Zealand’s two major teacher unions Angela Roberts (PPTA) and Judith Nowotarski (NZEI) chose to write to me as a part of the Villa Education Trust. They did so to give us advice and to express apparent concern that we may have applied to open a Partnership School(s) within New Zealand. This is a process the government has made clear that they are still working through.

I understand the PPTA wrote to all (approx 36) organisations who expressed an interest in establishing Partnership schools. The NZEI wrote to people mentioned in media reports. They have publicly expressed a desire for open discussion and process. On Radio New Zealand on Wednesday they confirmed they had written letters.

Given that they wrote on behalf of all their members I would like the opportunity to write openly as education is a big part of New Zealand society and I am not sure that if I wrote back to the Presidents that they would pass it on.

In their letters Angela and Judith also claim to speak for –

– all teachers.

– most parents and members of the wider community.

– all opposition parties (especially Labour and Mr Shearer) and United Future.

– the Ministry of Education – in that they claim to be able to influence them for the establishment of Special Character Schools.

– for Parliament and their future (2015) decisions and actions. Note: The PPTA also predict what David Shearer will say on the 26th of August this year.

They also appear to have little confidence in their teachers, and the 2500 schools they work in, to show any resilience. On the PPTA website – with reference to the organisations they presume to be in the process to begin Partnership Schools they state:

“These are the organisations who knowingly choose to be first on the path to begin the destruction of New Zealand’s public education system.”



Alwyn Poole

His open letter to the teacher unions is below:

Dear Judith and Angela

Thank you for writing to me (I am not sure why you left the other trustees out).

Thank you also for the concern for our well being. You both mention that IF we were to be involved in the establishment of a Partnership School we risk losing our investment. Allow me to point out that this is day to day reality for anyone working in the private sector. It is one of the very strong motivating forces behind doing your very best to provide a high quality service. With a little research you may also have noted that we operate as a Charitable Trust so there is no “investment” as such. We sold what we had to establish the Trust so – in that sense – have nothing to lose.

Given your advice to me/us (despite the fact we have no affiliation with you at all) – allow me to return the favour as someone who has worked in state and private education in New Zealand since 1991.

1) Be positive about innovation. Both unions publicly always seem to be opposing everything. If you are genuinely interested in the very best for New Zealand children you should be seen to be cooperatively a part of every effort to find the means of success in education for New Zealand children. You frequently state that our education is “world leading” – but for some groups it clearly is not (e.g. Maori being 21% behind non-Maori at Level 2 NCEA and Pacifika children being 13% behind at the same level). Your statement about NCEA being successful for every New Zealand child knowingly ignores outcomes for a massive amount of children every year. New Zealand is a small, relatively wealthy country – no stone should be left un-turned to make education successful for every New Zealand child. Instead of continuing to state that we are “world class” – acknowledged as true for many – why not show positive and radical concern for every child that misses out. Stop blaming the parents and their economics too – the reason schooling became so widespread in Western countries was to allow it to become a cycle breaker – not a defence system for the status quo. An “open mind” used to be a virtue in education – this would be a good situation to set an example by having one. There is no reason that Partnership School staff can’t be union members – why not work with them? Your claim to support innovation celebrates the success of a change in our examination system (to NCEA) that took place 20 years ago. Maybe it is time to look at another step as the world keeps moving.

2) Get perspective. There are approximately 2500 schools in New Zealand. A small number of Partnership Schools will not herald the “destruction of New Zealand’s public education system.” Sensationalist statements do not create credibility in any way.

3) Do more research and look at both sides of arguments. For a while your people kept publicly stating that there is “no evidence of success” with this model overseas (I think your recent talking points instructed branches to repeat the phrase “failed model”). As the public researched and thought for themselves it became clear that there are many fantastic models, significant success and much that can be learned. Recent system wide studies in Sweden and the USA also establishes the growing success, particularly for the poor and minority groups – and the benefits for cooperative state schools. Judith – you use New Orleans as an example – sorry – but, based on the evidenced change since Katrina, the Democrat President of the USA (and many others) considers the New Orleans Charter Schools programme a resounding successAnd there is more evidence here. Genuine research is important because, in something as significant as education and the welfare of the young, the public get past taking notice of oft repeated soundbites.

4) Be up front about your concerns. If your real concern is the amount of resourcing for current schools you would not be offering to advocate for groups to establish Special Character Schools – as they also split funding on a per student basis. Your issue appears to be about being able to influence and control the system. It is also important to be clear that the New Zealand government’s budget is not a zero sum game. An accurate reading of the government’s 2013 budget makes it clear operational funding for primary and secondary schools is increasing – Partnership Schools will not reduce the pool for other types – it may not have been allocated there anyway. If all schools are successful in breaking cycles for children and their families – and Partnership Schools make a small contribution towards that – it will also have a flow on effect with movements into employment and futures that involve more ability to contribute back (i.e. the long term education budget may increase for all).

5) Don’t be afraid of choice. Choice is not bad for learning and the vast majority of parents can be trusted to make good choices for their children. Judith – you state that there are “diverse schooling options available to parents”. For parents with few financial resources and many whole communities you are well aware that this is simply not true. They have one choice – their zoned school – and if it is not working for their child – tough (extra tutoring would be a big part of their budget too). IF Partnership Schools are established in any area children will only go there by choice – the local schools will continue to have every opportunity to be so “world class” that no one will choose the alternative.

6) Consider the options some groups face. You state that Partnership Schools may pose a risk to children and their learning. If so – many families may be willing to take a risk as opposed to living with the pattern and near certainly of failure. You quote 80% of a survey being opposed to Partnership Schools (with no reference) – could the 20% of your survey be those who are desperate for something different for their children? Do you no longer support minority group interests and the opportunity for them to choose their pathways? You state “In our view, establishing a school in the certain knowledge that it may have to close within a few years is irresponsible” (not actually sure that makes sense but still…). It could be argued that not innovating for difference is more irresponsible and generations are being wasted. I was at Massey University 25 years ago and the major educational topic for debate then was ‘what to do about the failing tail in the New Zealand education system and the over-representation on Maori and Pacific Island children in that group.’

7) Think things through. You state that “teachers and many parents and members of the public will not look kindly on charter schools being established in their communities” (I am not sure if that is meant to imply a threat to groups interested in establishing them? Bullying?). If that is the case teachers will not choose to work in such schools nor children attend them and your perceived problem is solved. You also state that you are “keen to talk to us” – you have been invited in to our current school but have never taken that opportunity. You ask – will interested groups be “comfortable putting students under pressure to succeed”? What is your suggested alternative? Is it simply allowing those that they may get the opportunity to work with to continue to fail so it can be proven that the NZEI/PPTA to be correct? How many more generations do you want to hold the status quo for and why?

Once again – thanks for advising the groups you wrote to.


Alwyn Poole
Villa Education Trust

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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

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