I am the son of a teacher. One of the old fashioned kind. The teacher who left school at 17, went to Ardmore Teacher’s Training College and was back in front of a classroom of kids by the age of 18.
A teacher who taught in Canada and the UK and came home destined to never climb up the rankings of teachers because she never went to university and got a degree.
The sort of teacher who was still teaching kids late into her seventies. A 60 year career. A person who had a calling to be a teacher.
These are the teachers that many principals say save the day. The ones they can call when there’s illness and staffing crises and this older generation would wade in and just get down and teach.
And Mum was a teacher who lived in the nice part of town but taught in the poorest. My school was decile 10 while Mum drove miles teaching all through South Auckland and Flatbush until finally ending out at Panmure Bridge School - Decile Rating 1.
There’s quite a few of these teachers around. and they’re the ones who have seen every fashion, every crackpot idea and every genius innovation in our education system and they know what they think.
Mum was very forthright, and as I was in the media, I used to get the sermons on the state of education.
And one thing she always said is that Wellington knew nothing. She saw enough inspectors come in and make instant judgements on difficult situations and destroy good teachers and good schemes.
She would rail against the teacher experts who spoke only to other teachers until they led each other down a rabbit hole of ideology that was never based on fact.
I remember asking her about the decile system back in Hekia Parata’s day. Nothing wrong with it, she’d bark. Poor communities get a bit more funding. But what about the stigma and the exodus of students from low deciles to high deciles Mum? Her response: Ridiculous, ignorant, middle class, misplaced elitism.
Mum always said that the best teachers she had ever worked with were in the poorer schools. They were the ones who relished the challenge and could see the difference they made.
So the New Zealand Initiative Report released today that looked at the results of 400,000 students and concluded that whatever school you went to makes little difference to educational outcomes would have been right up her alley. It shows that the inequality of education that we have been accused of is not because of the education system.
But that’s nothing to be proud of because it highlights that our iniquitous education outcomes is because of wide social inequality throughout the wider society. The blunt truth is if you’re born poor, you’ll stay poor and you’ll get a poor education unless your family decides to take advantage of what is on offer.
But despite the empirical proof, comfy theoreticians like the Education Taskforce are talking about fixing problems in the education system that don’t actually exist. Let’s all play the fiddle while Rome burns.