No 2-tier Education! Day -1

Today is the last post in this series. Tomorrow, the legislature sits, parents and teachers will demonstrate, there will have hopefully been fruitful talks between the union and the government, and perhaps there will be a way forward that will not involve a teachers’ strike.

In this countdown to Legislature Day, I have tried to flesh out some of the effects that recommendations in the Glaze report will have if adopted. I have focussed on the most contentious ones, because they are contentious for a reason – they will contribute to a more centralized, authoritarian, business oriented system that will have negative impacts on everyone, especially students. Our Canadian ideal of equity in education will go out the window, opening the door to a two-tiered education system, the deficiencies of which are so clearly on display in Britain.

Now to summarize very briefly what I have been trying to say in the series:

  1. a top-down authoritarian approach to teachers tends to be counter-productive because the vast proportion of teachers are in the profession because they want to contribute. They want their students to succeed, and to have “shared responsibility” for school improvement. When teachers are given the autonomy, respect and time to collaborate they will produce the best results. Principals are also part of the teaching team, and should be there to support teachers, not just to monitor them.
  2. Standardized schooling, monitored by standardized tests, results in a narrow, joyless curriculum that will not prepare students for the future. When “raising standards” is interpreted to mean solely “getting good scores on standardized tests” there are all kinds of negative results, particularly for schools labelled as “bad”, and especially for disadvantaged students.
  3. Education should not be seen as a commodity – everyone should be assured that their child will get a good education in the public schools. Parents are not “consumers” and the idea of shopping around for the best schools is a ridiculous one, especially in rural Nova Scotia. Most fundamentally, children are not widgets who should be “produced” in standardized units of “human capital”.
  4. Improvements in equity also improve excellence. Finland discovered this when they started to reform their system. Addressing child poverty and building a strong universal early childhood programme are the starting steps on the path to a truly excellent education system.
  5. Britain is not a model to follow. Decades of ignoring, marginalizing and dictating to teachers has resulted in a huge teacher shortage here, but have not “raised standards” (as shown in international comparisons). Recent cutbacks have only widened the gap between good and failing schools.

Now, where do we go from here? What would I like to see the government do with the Glaze report? What would I like to see the Teachers Union negotiate for?

First, before we go any further, as teachers know well, it is not “flipflopping” to actually learn. Changing your mind when presented with new evidence is what rational people do. Indeed, making mistakes is how we all learn, and the mark of a good leader is one who can listen and absorb new information before deciding on a course of action.

Before accepting any of the 11 first recommendations of the Glaze report, the government needs to share the research and sources the report and recommendations are based on with teachers and the public, and then listen to the experts, teachers, about any new/different evidence they may have. Then they should set up a process for genuine consultation, with teachers, and with the public and a date for implementation that respects the need for consultation. It is ridiculous that there is more public consultation about  putting a bus lane on Gottingen Street than there has been about dissolving school boards, a fundamental piece of our democracy.

Here are the 7 recommendations (out of the first 11) that I feel qualified to comment on, with my thoughts on them, since I won’t be around for public consultations:

1.Unify the system by dissolving the seven elected regional school boards and create one provincial advisory council. The structure of the Conseil scolaire acadien provincial (CSAP) board will not change. 2. Money saved from dissolving elected boards (expenses/stipends) will go back into the education system. 3. A portion of the money saved will go to enhance the role and influence of School Advisory Councils (SACs) for all schools (or families of schools) in the province to strengthen the local voice in schools.

This is a frightening and bad idea, particularly when it is recognized that the cost savings will be minimal. The plan for replacing regional input looks like it’s going to involve appointed, not elected, representatives. We all need to see that a new plan is going to actually be better than what it replaces. How exactly is this going to help students?

4.Ensure voices of Mi’kmaq and African Nova Scotians are heard at senior and ministerial levels.

Great idea, but now that some of those voices have been fired, I’d like to hear the plan.

5.Change the name of superintendents to Regional Executive Directors and enhance their role to focus on student achievement, reporting directly to the Deputy Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development.

What’s in a name? But, more importantly, what is meant by “focus on student achievement”- if standardized test results are going to be the only measure (and the idea of a special office for student assessment tells me that this is the way this is going) then this could lead to test results being used to judge teachers, which will be bad for kids.

6.Move principals, vice principals and other supervisory staff at the board level from the Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU) while protecting salaries, pensions and benefits.

This has caused huge concern on the part of teachers and principals, not because it will weaken the union, (although it’s hard not to think that this is the government’s motivation) but because it will fundamentally affect the way schools collaborate and teachers work together. It will negatively affect students – a BAD idea.

7.Create a provincial College of Educators, a self-regulating professional association, for teachers.

This is a bad idea on so many fronts (see point 1 in the summary). It has caused disruption and a rise in the number of grievances in Ontario, has been tried and abandoned in BC and is the core of an authoritative, top down system as Britain has. It will also cost huge amounts, for something that will not help students.

Let’s look at evidence, and follow good educational examples, not bad ones. We do not have to sacrifice equity on the altar of excellence – Finland focused on equity, and excellence followed. Let’s recognize that we have to start early – establishing universal early childhood education (perhaps by expanding the new pre-primary program) and working to eliminate child poverty have been shown to improve outcomes across the board. Let’s make teaching into a respected profession that people want to join, and then give teachers the autonomy and time to collaborate that will help students (and also help prevent the teacher shortage that will be our lot if we continue down this path). Let’s  wait for the report on inclusion, due out soon, and act on its recommendations, as well as implement firm class size caps.

The Glaze report was a rush job, with no research or consultation with teachers. If it is imposed on Nova Scotians it will send our province down the road to a 2 tiered education system – in which many students will be very poorly served.  The government’s priority should be talking to the teachers right now – not ramming through these hastily commissioned recommendations.

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Teamwork!

A Downward Spiral – Day -2

Yesterday, I discovered that the local school in my area (St. Gregory the Great Catholic school) has been designated by the school inspections agency (Ofsted) as “needs improvement”. As it turns out, I live on the working class side of Oxford, a now very multicultural area, which used to house the workers at the Morris car factory. Today’s mini is made by BMW in a plant just on the other side of the ring road from us.

I did a little digging about “my” school, which is literally about 3 blocks away. Leaving aside the religious aspect, which I have many reservations about, I discovered that St.Gregory the Great was transformed into an academy around 2012 and taken over by the Domenic Barberi Multi-Academy Trust which is, I think, a charitable trust run under the auspices of the Birmingham Catholic Diocese (note: many of these trusts are for profit). It is fairly unique in that it is a primary/secondary school combined. Last May, it was put under “special measures” after a “section 5 inspection”. It had received a rating of 4 or “inadequate”.

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I looked up the school’s latest Ofsted report, which happened on January 17/18 of this year. The report consisted of a one page letter from Her Majesty’s Inspector to the acting Head, a two page summary of the 5 points of difficulty from the last inspection 9 months previously, and a 5 page report of recommendations. You can find it here:  http://stgregory.oxon.sch.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Ofsted-monitoring-inspection-Jan-2018.pdf

I’m going to summarize, but I encourage you to read the original report, if only to experience some of the punitive tone and corporate language used.

Basically in the very brief letter, there were 3 recommendations, 2 of which are: “The school’s improvement plan is not fit for purpose.”  And, “I strongly recommend that the school does not seek to appoint newly qualified teachers.”

In the second section, there are 5 directives listed from the last inspection, 2 of which are vague exhortations to “do better”: “Improve the effectiveness of leadership and management” and “Raise pupils’ achievement through key stages 1 to 4, by: 
– accelerating pupils’ progress so they make good progress over time”

The final section, the Report, gets to the nitty gritty. In it we learn that since the last inspection ( only 9 months before) no less than 35 staff have left the school, and there have been 22 new appointments made, 16 of them teachers. Staff who have left include the Principal and the vice Principal – was that what the inspector meant by “improve effectiveness of leadership” or had they just had enough?

Now what pops into my head? First, that’s a huge staff turnover in 9 months. Second, there has been a crisis in leadership, and third, there are 13 fewer staff than there were 9 months ago!

And what is the recommendation of the school inspector? That they NOT hire newly qualified teachers. It is well known that there is a huge teacher shortage here, – the Education Secretary has a whole department addressing it. And what is one of their solutions? To allow unqualified university graduates to train while teaching (rather like the Teach for America program which puts unqualified university graduates in schools). So, it sounds like if St. Gregory the Great is not going to hire newly qualified teachers, perhaps unqualified teachers would be a better bet.

The report is not all negative. The inspector itemizes some improvements, and commends the staff that are left for the “resilience, commitment and sheer hard work of all staff who work directly with pupils.” There were many other issues that bear more investigation, such as the suggestion that there has been improper handling of the special funds for poor pupils, problems in the governance of the trust, mention of an “isolation” room, attendance issues and more. But what is absolutely stark is that here is a struggling school in a working class area, understaffed and overworked, with a school improvement plan that is not “fit for purpose” and an unrealistic plan for hiring to fill the gaps. Reading between the lines, I sense a demoralized, exhausted staff, and with their hiring difficulties, I doubt the situation will change any time soon.

When we went past the school this afternoon, we saw that the inspection report is posted on the school gate, so that all the parents and all the students can see that their school has been deemed “inadequate”.

What is that supposed to do to the self-confidence and aspirations of students?

Which bright young new teachers will be attracted to work there?

What middle class families will want their children to go there?

The labelling and shaming of Ofsted is so often here the first instalment on a downward spiral. Middle class parents and the teachers who have other options leave for greener pastures. The best young new teachers go elsewhere. Remaining teachers are demoralized and over-worked, partly because they have to deal with students who cannot see the point of schooling that has been officially labelled “inadequate”.  I wonder how many Nova Scotian teachers would last a year in such a place.

Shopping for schooling – Day -3

This is just a quick post because it’s the weekend…I have talked a lot about the “commodification of education” in previous posts, but I thought this was a practical illustration of how far it has gone in Britain.

The Oxford Mail has a convenient website to help parents compare schools. I searched for secondary schools within a 5 mile radius of Oxford – there were 34 of them; 23 independent schools, 9 “academies” which are run with public money but by private “trusts”, 2 “maintained” (what we used to call comprehensives) and 3 “special” schools (not sure yet what that means). That in itself is amazing – the ratio of independent to state schools is approximately 2-1. I hope Oxford is not typical of most British cities.

I took the first 5 state schools to compare.

Here are some definitions:

Ofsted is the school inspectorate – each school gets inspected about every 4 years unless there is a request. The rating scale goes from 1 (outstanding) to 4 (inadequate). 2 is “good” and 3 is “needs improvement”. The independent schools apparently have their own inspection system, which surprise, surprise doesn’t get reported. I note that my neighbourhood school, in a working class neighbourhood, gets a 3.

5 A*-C GCSE’s : this is the percentage of 15 year olds who get 5 passes on their standardized tests

2 or more A-levels: this is the percentage of grads who passed at least 2 A levels (keeping in mind that most students only take 2 or 3 A-levels

It seems that the other categories are not applicable – too bad since they might be the most useful (at least to me).

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http://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/education/secondary-schools-in-oxford/

Now, based on that information, I want my kid to go to Wheatley Park. So we apply, and since we’re out of area, they don’t have to accept us….unless they have space, and my kid has really high scores on their SATs  (the tests that 11 year olds take when they finish primary school). So Wheatley Park takes a whole lot of high achieving kids from out of area, and their scores go up, and poor old Gregory the Great….

And what about the aspirations of a student who has no choice but to go to a school that is labeled “needs improvement”? Or the self-image of  a primary student in an “inadequate” school, who asked her headteacher, “Does that mean the students are inadequate too?”

Thankfully, I don’t have a child to enrol…but I did go through this last time I lived in Britain, only without the handy comparative tool, and without the Ofsted ratings.

Is this what we’re aiming for in NS?

“Equity and Excellence”? Day -4

Yesterday, I showed how an over-reliance on standardized tests leads to a narrow, “joyless” curriculum, as well as stressed teachers and students. Creativity, critical thinking, co-operation and genuine communication (the 21st Century skills that are so important for children) are not easy to test, so in Britain they are taught less and less. There is a spiral effect of low job satisfaction leading to teachers leaving the profession leading to more stress on the ones that are left; this has played out in Britain, and is starting to affect Nova Scotia.

But that is not the end of the story. An increase in standardized testing, combined with the other contentious recommendations of the Glaze report, the College of Educators, the weakening of the teachers’ union and the silencing of voices from the regions is all part of the kind of reforms (GERM) that have led to running education on a business model; a model that will provide the kind of workers that the free market wants – enough literacy to read the manuals and follow instructions. As this is happening, the elite and more ambitious parents will abandon the public system in order to give their children the kind of education that includes the 21st C skills, the arts and everything else lacking in the state system. The state system will get worse, as the government finds ways to cut costs, sometimes by contracting it out to corporations, and as disheartened teachers move away or into independent schools. This is what has happened in Britain and has resulted in a decrease in equity of outcomes for students.

I happen to be living in Oxford at present, home of one of highest ranking universities in the world (if you believe those rankings). In this rarified atmosphere, it is instructive to know that well over 40% of its undergraduates come from independent schools. That’s a disproportionate number, considering that only about 7% of British children attend them. This is the pinnacle of the inequity which infects the British education system, which starts with children living in poverty and compounds as they face not only hunger, poorer schools, competition from more privileged children who get extra tutoring and support at home, and then finally enormous university fees.

So much for the ideal that education can be a route out of poverty, that it is a mechanism for social mobility. As Britain started on its education reforms, the government said that was one of the goals – not only to “raise standards” but also to give every child an equal chance. As we saw in yesterday’s post, it has failed to do either. Part of their problem is that they chose to define excellence as what they could measure – test scores. When Finland set out to reform its education system, it made a conscious effort to make it more equitable, and the excellence followed; everyone benefited.

Canada still ranks very highly internationally in equity when it comes to education; doing well in school here is not as dependent on what strata of society one comes from as it is in many more unequal countries. I believe this is a Canadian ideal, and we can be very proud of how well we have done. So here’s the question, given that the second foundational principle of the Glaze report is “Equity and Excellence”, why does it recommend implementing reforms that will make us more like Britain and the US, two of the most unequal countries in the world, and will have the effect of increasing inequity in our education system?  Why, when it is well known that poverty is such a contributor to poor results in school, is it mentioned only 3 times in the whole report, with no recommendations aimed at alleviating it?

Something to think about over the weekend!

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Meanwhile, university lecturers all over this country have gone on strike over their pension plans which the government wants to decimate. I’m glad to see the students support them!

Joy in learning…good for students and teachers! Day -5

The theme I’d like to address over the next couple of days is something that seems to be getting lost in all the discussion over the Glaze report, and that is what I will call the “joy of learning”. I like to think that we’d prefer our children to love school, and to come out of it with a love of learning that will last them all their lives (of course we want them to have knowledge and skills too, but of what use are they if students aren’t interested in using them?) Who is on the frontlines, charged with passing this on to students?

Teachers, of course, and their administrators.  During the past few weeks, I have read so many heartbreaking testaments to how teachers love their jobs, but are finding it more and more difficult to keep their joy in learning alive. The recent survey by Educators for Social Justice has just shared a “sneak peek” of its preliminary results, of what teachers love about their jobs – it is well worth seeing, and I look forward to the full results when they will tell us what they need to keep that up.    

Yesterday, the teachers union announced they had received a strong mandate to strike over this issue. Keeping in mind that this would be an illegal strike, and teachers, in my experience are some of the most law-abiding people around, I think that this is an indication of the depths of conviction that they have about these issues. And the fact that they are not planning to strike right away, but instead want to talk with the Minister (who has said, fine, he’ll talk, but nothing’s going to change) shows how reluctant they are to disrupt student learning. 

I am hoping that the talks with the Minister will work, and that when he is presented with some solid evidence from educational experts (like PISA, education academics and NS teachers in the classroom) he will have a change of heart, and mind. Perhaps learning that there is solid academic evidence from international studies like PISA that teacher job satisfaction is one of the biggest predictors of excellent academic outcomes will give him something to think about.

One of the recommendations from the Glaze report, “take assessment responsibility away from the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development and establish an independent Student Progress Assessment Office (SPAO) to develop high-quality student assessments and report directly to the public” has very ominous overtones to me. I taught in Britain about 16 years ago when their incredibly centralized examination system was beefed up – to the point where 7 year olds were taking them. It’s only become worse since then.

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Today, I’d like to start addressing the issue of how standardized testing, when it is used to control teachers and studentscan seriously interfere with the “joy of learning” in the classroom, and therefore with better outcomes for children. I wrote this piece about 4 years ago in an earlier draft of my book. I think it interesting that just yesterday, a half page ad in the Guardian newspaper (print version) was offering to pay people to train to be teachers – and this in a country where average post-secondary tuition is about $16,000 annually. There is a serious teacher shortage in Britain today.

Standardized Curricula and Examinations: Britain’s Case

Britain’s relentless drive to increase test scores has had a host of negative effects on students and teachers. In the decade since I taught there, the “reforms” have become more entrenched, “failing” schools have been closed, to the point that they have one of the worst records in the developed world for teacher recruitment and retention. Almost 50% of teachers leave the profession after 5 years. This is in spite of having relatively good salaries and benefits. Britain is an example of a system that has eroded teachers’ autonomy (deskilling them) and has led to them feeling undervalued. Parents want their children to feel valued…it is much more difficult for teachers to convey this to children when they feel undervalued themselves.

Comparison of PISA results for reading (mean scores)PISAUK reading

What are some of the factors that have led to this situation?  Britain’s top-down, centralized educational system, in which curriculum, and assessment are created at the national level, and foisted on schools can take a lot of blame. The highly standardized curriculum and testing that goes along with it leave little room for teachers’ creativity or initiative. The National Literacy and Numeracy hours were highly prescriptive lessons that had to be followed precisely. Right from the beginning in 1998, teachers pointed out that these plans did not meet the needs of many of the children, but they were not listened to. And, over the years, teachers have complained that they are forced to teach to the test, and this has resulted in the narrowing of the curriculum, to the point that it has become joyless and repetitive.

Then there was the drive to improve teaching, by establishing reward systems for effective teachers. When I was teaching in Britain, teachers at my school had to submit all their extracurricular hours, professional development activities and “successes” for consideration for advancement. I witnessed the time and stress that went into all this record-keeping, as well as the inherent unfairness. Why were some activities (like coaching football) counted, and others such as volunteering at the school fete, which took place in the evening, not? In addition, this system was competitive, pitting teachers against each other and encouraging them to look out only for themselves instead of collaborating with each other. For example, teachers would be more inclined to plan by themselves, so that when they experienced a “success” they would get all the credit.

Finally, the examination system, with its consequences for “failing” schools, puts huge pressures on teachers, and consequently on their students. Not least is the fact that teachers’ unions have been complaining about the extent of the testing for years, and have not been listened to. Then on top of the assessment that children go through, teachers have to put up with the OFSTED assessments of their schools every 4 years or so in which inspectors are free to barge into classrooms at any time. It is no wonder the job satisfaction rate among British teachers is so low!

A “Secret Teacher” (from a column in the British Guardian newspaper that allows teachers to write anonymously about their situation) says, “In the last few years of my teaching career some excellent, talented, charismatic teachers just disappeared. I remember one colleague was observed and “dropped in” on 30 times in one term after their results didn’t meet impossible targets. Who can endure that long? I know lots of teachers who have given up and resigned in July, quite exhausted by this process of performance management, only for their results to be among the best in a department when published in August. Monitoring and managing performance is not always a precise science.”

The Chief Inspector of Schools, Michael Wilshaw actually said, “If anyone says to you that ‘staff morale is at an all time low’ you know you are doing something right.” One wonders when the British educational establishment will recognize that when teachers have autonomy, trust and time to collaborate, their job satisfaction will be higher and they will be more likely to pass on their joy in learning to their students.  This will lead to better educational outcomes – as has been shown over and over by PISA, and many other studies.

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Countdown to Bill 72: A day-by-day look at the Glaze recommendations

What Mike Harris did to Ontario: Day -6

When I first read the Glaze report, after being on holiday for a month, my 2 first impressions were 1. It’s just what Mike Harris did in Ontario! and 2. She didn’t consult any teachers! It was a bit of a shock, but it was even worse when I heard that the government was planning to accept all the most draconian recommendations right away – with no more discussion.

So I remembered a piece I had researched and written for my book about 4 years ago about what did happen in Ontario (it was cut from the final version), and thought it would be appropriate to publish it here, just to give a little perspective.

Mike Harris and the Common Sense Revolution

It was a crisp, sunny Saturday in late October of 1997, when, happening to be in Toronto for the weekend, I joined my brother and sister-in-law (both teachers) at Queen’s Park for one of the biggest demonstrations I had ever attended. The teachers surrounding me were mad as hell at the Ontario government for their proposed new Bill 160, which among other things, would take away their right to strike.

It had all started in the early 90’s when the government was under increased criticism for the perceived lack of global competitiveness of the Ontario education system. Mike Harris’s new majority government gained power in 1995 on promises of a “Common Sense Revolution” – less spending, lower taxes and a reduction of the deficit. A new centrally mandated curriculum had been produced, and one of the first things the Harris government did (after reducing the education budget by $400 million) was to implement Bill 160, “The Education Quality Improvement Act”. Bill 160 took away teachers’ hard won right to strike, removed principals and vice-principals from the unions, increased the length of the school year, removed limitations for class size, and allowed the use of untrained teachers in the class rooms. It also created EQAO (Education Quality and Accountability Office) and implemented standardized testing for grades 3, 6,9 and 12.

The unions tried to negotiate with the government to make changes to Bill 160, after it was passed, to no avail. The demonstration I attended was part of the protests against the bill and shortly after, teachers walked out for 2 weeks. The relentless negative publicity about this “illegal” strike (even though the bill had not yet been implemented) was damaging for the teachers, and the lack of unity among their many unions was apparent when 3 of them went back to work, without having any of their demands met. The remaining unions had little choice but to follow.

An Ontario teacher friend reminisces about her early years, pre-“Common Sense Revolution”, “They remain my most memorable years of teaching – theme based, whole language, much use of the arts to teach information and concepts, and most importantly, time to learn who these young people were and what mattered to them. We covered what they were ready to learn and were most interested in (and passionate about!) Now, I feel if I were to revert to that style of teaching, I wouldn’t get the necessary material covered, I wouldn’t have sufficient proof to support my evaluation, and I wouldn’t be able to complete the report card with integrity.”

This period marked Canada’s GERM moment; fortunately Mike Harris was gone before it could really take hold as it did in Britain and the USA. But some of the anti-teacher, anti-union sentiment that floats around today can be blamed on the government propaganda around that strike. And it is interesting that the two people with whom I attended the demonstration have both taken early retirement, wearied after years of fighting against the standardization of education ushered in by the Harris’ era.

Afterword

A couple of thoughts: thankfully, Nova Scotia has only one teachers union, so they have one strong, united voice.

I have 2 granddaughters attending public schools in Toronto. Although I haven’t been focussing much on what is happening there recently, I know that the first few years of the eldest child’s schooling were constantly interrupted by work-to-rule strikes. I know that she did not write the Gr. 3 EQAO tests 2 years ago because the teachers were protesting them, and that was fine by me. Volunteering in their classrooms, and talking to their teachers over the years has given me the impression that teachers are none too happy. And of course, it annoys me that when you look up their school (in a nice diverse neighbourhood) the first thing it tells you is their rankings on the EQAO tests!

So I don’t have any doubts that the government is trying to make us into a little Ontario, perhaps in the hopes that we’ll shoot to the top of the Canadian rankings. A very sad ambition, and it will have negative effects for students.

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Countdown to Bill 72: A day-by-day look at the Glaze recommendations

When your principal isn’t your pal…Day -7

When I was a student in elementary school, the way I was taught to remember the tricky difference between the spellings of ‘principle’ and ‘principal’ was, “Always remember, your principal is your pal”. Maybe that was overstating things a bit, but it certainly beats making principals into “management”, as the Glaze report recommends.

According to many international comparison studies, some of the attributes of schools that best predict student success are trust and collaboration among teachers and leaders. As PISA and other studies have demonstrated, “When students, teachers, parents and the school principals know and trust each other, work together and share information, ideas and goals, students – particularly disadvantaged students – benefit.”*

Those international research findings fit entirely with my own practical experience. I was Headteacher at Halifax Independent School for 15 years. This school would be called a “democratic” school here in Britain, where I am temporarily living. Here it is a blanket name for all schools loosely based on the philosophy of John Dewey, who said that, “…the development of such a democratic society is dependent to a large degree on the democratization of schools and schooling.”

As a Headteacher, I also taught, and was considered a “leader among equals”. I wouldn’t have dreamed of walking into a staff meeting and announcing, “I (or the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development) have decided that starting on Monday, we are all going to use this new computer program to keep track of our students. If I don’t see everyone doing it by the end of next week there will be consequences”. I would have (quite rightly) been laughed out of the room. We implemented many changes while I was Head Teacher, but because of lots of collaboration, they were implemented effectively.

My school’s program was enriched by constantly hearing teachers’ and parents’ voices who were looking for ways to improve it. Every new initiative was discussed and if consensus wasn’t reached, voted on (yes, sometimes by the children too). In fact it was the epitome of the “shared responsibility” for school improvement that Pasi Sahlberg talks about in his book “Finnish Lessons”. It is one of the reasons Finland does so well on international comparative tests.

I considered my role as a supporter of the teachers, as the person who would smooth the way so that they could do their jobs without too much distraction. As someone who was often the public face of the school, I would occasionally have to do difficult things like tell an employee that they were no longer needed. I gave teachers the autonomy to do what they were trained to do in the classroom, the time to collaborate with me and the other teachers, and then I respected and trusted their judgement and their voices.

The type of collaboration between teachers and principals that many schools in NS enjoy today actually contributes to the wellbeing of their students, as well as academic success. Taking Principals and Vice Principals out of the bargaining unit and making them into “management” will prevent much of this collaboration, if it doesn’t finish it entirely. In Ontario, it is well documented that since principals and VPs were considered management, the number of grievances escalated dramatically – this indicates that collaboration is not happening to the same extent.

Picture this: In a collaborative school, a newish teacher is having difficulty with one particular student. Nothing the teacher tries seems to work with her, and it is starting to affect other children in the class. The teacher comes to me, the principal, for help, and we decide to bring it up at a meeting with other teachers who have dealt with that child. Everyone at the meeting shares ideas about what has worked for them with that child. Later, I go and observe her class, and we mutually decide that the child can come and spend a few minutes with me next time there are difficulties. Soon the situation resolves itself, but whenever there is a relapse, the teacher knows that she has my support and I am not far away.

Now, how could that sort of collaboration work in a top-down, authoritarian school? If I was “management” would that teacher feel free to come to me and admit that they are being less than perfect? Knowing that failure might mean discipline, might she not keep her head down and continue struggling on her own (to the detriment of the other students in her class)? And with a “College of Educators” looming over her head, would it not be even less likely that this teacher would come forward?

In Britain, where teachers and principals aren’t in the same union, the government brings in supposed “super-heads” to turn around failing schools (translation: make their scores on standardized tests go up). These people are paid enormous amounts of money, money which is not benefiting children. Jenn Doyle, a NS teacher who taught for 10 years in Britain, describes the process: “My school (in Britain) wasn’t an academy when I left, but when our Headteacher retired he got replaced by one of the ‘super-heads’ that was more like a manager than a head teacher. He never took the time to get to know the kids. The respect was not there like we were used to. He had more assistant heads and two deputy heads to manage behaviour and other issues. He was a data cruncher. And more into finances than we were used to. All of the children’s progress was tracked and we were expected to explain why children didn’t progress at the expected rate. He brought in performance related pay alongside appraisals and if your kids didn’t progress your pay wouldn’t go up. There has been a complete turnover of staff. Some even left teaching.”

I know the government is trying to spin this as, “The NSTU is only against this issue because they will lose members and their membership dues.” If this is true, why did the union turn down the government’s offer of $800,000 “compensation” for the loss? Teachers know that collaboration and co-operation work better, and there is a wealth of evidence that collaboration between teachers and principals is central to a school system that really helps students. Making principals into “management” is NOT the way to go.

* “Collaborative schools, collaborative students” PISA 2015 results, Volume 5