Back to school – and the politics that go with it

Peter Livingstone


School is back and it’s great to have our children excitedly coming into the classroom.

Of course, we totally get many of our parents who are as happy as we are, the last couple of weeks of the holidays can be a trying time.

Thousands of students have returned to school this week, to new classrooms, new friends, new teachers and back into the social cauldron that is school life.

Quite a few of the people I meet say they couldn’t or wouldn’t do the job teachers do.

Many teachers say they wouldn’t do the job a principal does.

Those statements underline the nature of teaching and working in schools – it is a challenging career.

I’ve always said, on a good day the job can really stretch your mental resolve.

It is enough to plan, prepare and teach anywhere from 24-30 children without having to manage their lack of food, their tiredness due to late nights, their lack of language due to parenting by screen or their lack of social skills and resilience because they have used tantrums to get what they want when they were younger.

Schools operate close to 100 per cent of what they are capable of delivering and the last uncertainty they need is an election that makes schooling an “issue”.

I’m always perplexed as to why there is this political desire to fix our schools.

What annoys me are the lies, told by both parties, about the response to education in recent times.

On the left you have the Labour party claiming nine years of neglect.

A handy line to use to blame our current state on the previous government.

It’s a lie.

The National party did not neglect schools, they built new classrooms, they forced national standards onto schools, they introduced Charter Schools – and, to be fair, they worked for providing an alternative approach for students who have not succeeded in other schools.

The National party also scrapped our banked staffing, removing a school’s ability to accumulate credit to employ teachers in extra roles such as reducing classroom pressure or as special education needs co-ordinators.

It is simply a lie to say National neglected schools – they were in boots and all.

Then on the right, the National party have been claiming that in the first two years as a Government, Labour have promised the world and not delivered anything.

That is a lie.

Since taking office Labour has instigated a massive review of the system, which now sits as a lovely piece of coloured A3 paper and not much more.

They have extended the Mana Ake project from Christchurch into Canterbury and we, as schools ,can see the positive impact of this.

They too have invested heavily in school property.

Labour have also introduced a donations scheme and this has also made a positive impact.

Labour has also rolled out a nation-wide response to special needs by introducing learning support co-ordinators.

There are ten of them here in Mid Canterbury.

Lies are told to cover the truth.

The truth in our schools is that we as a profession have evolved from a superior-than-thou attitude where we held knowledge and imparted it to those who were sitting up, to a fusion of parent, teacher, counsellor, facilitator and tech guru.

The truth is we know the issues we face.

They are as complex and difficult to solve as the children who present them.

What we need is the support to tackle them.

What we don’t need are lies.

In the spirit of calling the election date to give certainty, in the spirit of choosing to not work with NZ First to give certainty, I challenge both parties to make it very clear from the start of the year – where do you stand on education.

If successful, will the National party reverse education decisions made by Labour and re-introduce National Standards and Charter Schools?

Will they scrap the recommendations from the education review?

If successful, will the Labour party actually do anything with the review – they asked and got so much feedback from the profession.

Will they continue the Mana Ake service, and extend it beyond Canterbury?

And finally, will a local principal take his work seriously and stop stirring up trouble in the local paper with his completely baseless opinions?

I don’t know but I do know one thing – it’s election year and, apparently, we as schools have issues that politicians know how to solve.


Peter Livingstone is the principal  of Tinwald School. The views expressed in this column are his and do not represent the views of his school, the Ashburton Guardian or the Mid Canterbury Principals’ Association.