President's address

PPTA president Jack Boyle's address to the 2017 PPTA annual conference

E nga mana, e nga reo, e rau rangatira ma, tena koutou katoa.

Ko Jack Boyle toku ingoa.

Ahau I te upoko o te ika raro

Engari whanau I roto I Heretaunga

Ko rangatira ko te PPTA Te Wehengarua ahau mahe ana

Engari, tutahi ko te kaiako ahau.

Nau mai haere mai

Haere mai delegates

Haere mai observers

Haere mai newcomers

Haere mai old hands

It’s fantastic to see you all.

For those of you who have been here before, welcome back and thank you for your continued commitment.  For the newbies, it’s great to have you here and I hope you find this a worthwhile experience. I’ll warn you though – it’s going to be full on! You’ll be well fed, well entertained and looked after, but it’s a commitment to be here, and taking this time out if your term break to do this mahi on behalf of the teaching profession is admirable. I thank you for it.

Last time we met here we farewelled our immediate past president Angela Roberts. Since then she and I have swapped roles entirely. It’s good to see Angela has survived a full three terms back in the classroom. I must admit I’m enjoying my time out of one!

It’s a good time of year to meet. Spring – a time of renewal and growth, and in Wellington, the brisk winds of change.

Luckily for us, our mahi does not rely on the result of coalition talks or special votes. Our work continues. (Although, let’s face it, our work will be easier now that the electorate has washed its hands of under-secretary Seymour.)

This is our time, and there are no politicians in sight. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s relieved about that. The next three days are ours. We will take stock, strategise, prioritise and set the agenda for the secondary teaching profession for the next year.

These three days matters a lot: for us, our profession, the children we teach, and their whānau and communities. We bring our expertise, our collective experience, our wisdom and our knowledge and we will create policy that makes a real difference. 

I started making a real difference in 2002.

I can’t pinpoint to the hour or day every big life decision I ever made. But the day I decided to become a teacher is one I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

I remember it because it was Christmas day and I was cleaning up after a big dance party. It was midday, one o’clockish by the time the last stragglers had left and there were a handful of us cleaning up and having a few drinks. (Hospitality runs on odd hours.)

I’d spent the last 16 or so hours doing my usual circuit of watching the CCTVs in the office, checking the VIP room to make sure nothing too dodgy was going on, walking the back of the bar, down to the door, then doing the same again, and again.

My friend Josh dropped a whole tray of glasses. The dance floor was thick with fake smoke and sweaty out-of-it people, you could hardly see your hand in front of your face, and it stunk.

I knew a thousand people but I really didn’t know any of them, if you know what I mean.

Cleaning up after them in a stale, dark, stinking bar on Christmas day just felt depressing. It’s hard for me to imagine now that that’s what I chose to do on a Christmas day.

We hosed the floors, restocked the bar, opened the door and pumped up the aircon to try and get the stink of dry ice out. I checked the state of the toilets and decided to leave them for the paid cleaning staff – and then I decided to become a teacher.

Seriously, just like that.

I was sick of spending my time cleaning up other people’s messes and seeing the results of dumb, bad decisions, including my own dumb, bad decisions.

I also knew I could motivate people, so why not kids? Why not make a real difference, a difference that could last a lifetime, rather than the difference I was making now – one party at a time, one drink at a time…

So I did. I became a teacher. I did it because I knew I could help kids turn their lives around, like I did. And I did it for the same reasons I reckon you all did as well – to make a real difference.

I want to talk about some of the things we’ve done this past year that are making a real difference.

We’re fighting the power.

We’re taking an equal pay case to achieve pro-rata non-contact hours for part-time teachers.

This case is a challenge that we’ve been grappling with for the last 16 years, but really of course it’s about something much bigger than that. As the lawyer who advised us on this pointed out – one of the first attempts to legislate for equal pay between men and women was actually in the Treaty of Versailles, nearly 100 years ago –which recognised the principle of equal pay for equal work. I don’t know if it’s heartening to know that we’re continuing a fight with such a long a long pedigree or depressing that we still haven’t solved it.

Leading the fight for us are four brave members, Leanne, Debra, Pam and  Lisa. 

They’ve put their hands up to get a resolution that solves this inequity for them and for the other 3500 part time secondary teachers. This is hard, but because of the legal mechanics the case isn’t simply against the ministry of education, a distant bureaucracy, but has to be against each of their schools too – where some of them have worked for decades.  It takes real guts to do this.

At the crux of the PPTA case is a pretty simple, but untested, legal argument. To prove gender discrimination, you need to compare a group of predominantly women workers, with inferior pay and conditions, to another group of workers who aren’t mostly women and have better conditions – and show that it’s a fair comparison that demonstrates the inequity is explained by the gender. So far, so good – Kristine Bartlett demonstrated that the law for this works, and won a $2billion settlement for the female-dominated and chronically underpaid care workers in the aged care sector. She showed it can be done.

What we’re doing that’s novel is comparing our part time teachers, who are over 75 percent women, to our full time teachers, who are just over half women.

We need to show the court that you don’t have to compare a disadvantaged group of mostly-women to a group of advantaged group of mostly-men

We think we’ve got a good shot, and it’s a principle that matters. We should have a court date in the next month or so. Watch this space. Meanwhile, if you’re in a branch or region with Pam, Leanne, Debra or Lisa, let them know you’ve got their backs.

We’re refreshing and regenerating

We’re noticing a really good flow of executive, activists and staff. We have systems in place so those with the most experience have the opportunity to pass on their knowledge and skills – and for new people to step up into leadership roles.

Every organisation needs a mix of experience and wisdom, youthfulness and enthusiasm.  We do that well.

There have been contested elections for executive and regional positions, a number of regions have put into place succession plans leading new teachers into NETS positions, regional chair roles and on to the executive. We have our first member of the presidential team from Auckland in over a decade, and we’ve made fantastic new appointments to positions in the advisory and field service.

We’re growing stronger from the ground up, too

We’re growing from the grass roots as well as from the centre. It makes a real difference to our power as an association and it shows that collectively, we’re doing it right.

Around the country over the last few months many of you have held election events. Our grass roots engagement around education as an election issue has been inspiring. From inviting politicians into schools in the Manawatu Whanganui Region to well attended and superbly well run education panels in Northland, West Auckland, Tauranga, Palmerston North, Lower Hutt, Southland and probably more - PPTA members have been fabulous advocates for ensuring our would-be politicians and the public hear what matters in education.

I was lucky to attend a couple of the regional election debates and there are a couple of things that really struck me.

One is how well we advocate for our profession, our schools and our children. We can really go toe-to-toe with politicians (maybe not surprising, seeing our job’s about communicating with people who often don’t know very much!).

The other thing is that it’s really true that PPTA is you! You just got on and did the mahi.

The ability to organically and locally organise is an enormous strength and it makes a real difference for communities to know that what each branch and region does is totally authentic – there’s no puppet-master at national office pulling the strings.

Well, as we move to this post-election period we can be hopeful that such member-led activism continues to advance what is widely held and deeply felt for teachers, students and our society.

That’s us over the last year – now to us for the next.

Our annual conference is where we set the direction for the year to come. And this year we have a record nine papers to consider, so it’s going to be busy.

There is likely to be some spirited debate!

For the first time ever PPTA Te Wehengarua has a bilingual Conference paper. It recommends ways for schools and Māori communities to work together, to build collaborative, culturally responsive relations and mana enhancing partnerships. We believe its approach is timely.

Kei pariparingia e te tai, ka mōnenehu te kura. Though the waves are steep, merely misted are the red feathers.

We have a paper on Communities of Learning which advocates for a return to the underlying principles you voted for; because for many of us our experiences have been hampered by interference, over-engineering and a lack of real consultation.

We will be addressing another set of changes that have infiltrated our schools over the last few years in a paper about Flexible Learning Spaces. The paper points out the lack of evidence around the impacts of Flexible Learning Spaces – on students’ learning, and on teachers. It recommends more professional learning and development to support teachers with the changes.

I’d like to take this opportunity to acknowledge Professional Advisory Officer Judie Alison who has written 10 papers about NCEA. Judie will be retiring early next year and in a generous parting offering has sculpted yet another NCEA paper for this year’s conference.

This paper is not about how NCEA is operationalised at the school level – there are other strands of work for that. This paper is about the design of the NCEA and sets out an approach to the NCEA review next year.

As the pace of change in education increases, we’re finding some important things aren’t keeping up. A paper about Careers Services advocates for appropriate and increased funding and support for teachers and schools.

And we have a paper on Affirming Diversity that calls for more to be done to make schools safe and inclusive places for all, regardless of gender or sexuality.

Two PPTA regions have also brought papers before this conference, one from Waikato that argues for more to be done to support Day Relief Teachers and one from Canterbury proposing some of the work at the bargaining table next year be focused on developing guidelines around the reasonable endeavour clauses in our Collective Agreement.

Of course, the lynch pin paper for this conference is our industrial strategy for the 2018 STCA negotiations. The strategy lays out a path to address the two most serious challenges schools and teachers face – teacher workload and teacher supply. These two strands are intertwined; if the workload is out of balance and remuneration is unattractive then recruitment and retention are negatively impacted.

As well as endorsing the strategy at the big picture level we need to grow and build our activism, after this conference and throughout next year. What I am talking about is building collaborative motivation – part of the strategy is for you to work directly with your branches to consider and discuss one or two suggestions for our Collective claims around supply, workload or equity.

As we work through the workshops for these Conference papers I ask you to consider not just your own experiences, but also to be mindful of the impacts and opportunities for your colleagues in our most critical profession. The kawa of our organisation is to advocate for what is widely held and deeply felt to make sure that public education and secondary teachers continue to thrive.

If we are to be successful in our aspirations we must get active and work together. We must never forget that our industrial strength is in our numbers. It’s as simple as that.

The political context, as always, looms large over the work of secondary teachers.

We’ve weathered the storm that was Hekia Parata – with her obsessive targets, her “great ideas” in the middle of the night, and her sometimes combative stance towards us and our expertise. Many of you will have experienced Hekia right here on our conference floor – just wow!  Newbies – ask one of our old hands in the break…

Recently we welcomed a new minister, Nikki Kaye; by far a less controversial and confrontational figure. But not a push over; to assume that would be a dangerous mistake.

And now of course we could face a new minister and even a new government… whether it’s a whole new government or just a retread on the one of the last nine years, remains to be seen.

What could we face in these scenarios?

Well, the best news first – without under-secretary Seymour there’s a very strong chance Act’s idiotic education ideas will be rolled back – charter schools, and the no-less odious but less well known Aspire Scholarships.

Tracey Martin is number three on the New Zealand First list and well known to many of you after her regular supportive appearances at PPTA events. She shares many of our policies and will be a staunch advocate in government.

Whatever the make-up of the next government, parliament now has a majority of parties that voted against charter schools and for democratic teacher representation on the education council.  Importantly for the wider union movement, Labour, the Greens and NZ First all are committed to better pay equity legislation than what’s currently before the house.

There’s a chance for some real wins with these things.

PPTA is in a position to achieve some of our goals, no matter who forms the government and we think there will be a much slower pace of change over the next three years. Continuity and time to bed in recent changes will be welcome.

Most of the significant ways in which the school system and teachers are regulated and funded has been pretty consistent for the last thirty years. The fundamentals of Tomorrow’s Schools, the New Zealand Curriculum and NCEA, and our formula-driven funding system, are unlikely to change much.

Something we’ve seen over recent years is a public service that’s better armed with evidence and data than ever before. With any luck this will continue.  An example of this is how unions and the ministry managed to steer Parata and Kaye away from performance pay. This was initially to be part of the plans for the school funding review, as those of you who were at conference a few years ago will remember, and then, in the more recent cabinet papers, ruled out.

Another example of the sector and the officials plugging away making good arguments, and eventually getting results, is what’s been happening between the secondary schools in Christchurch. The plan there to crack down on competitive behaviour between schools, enforcing strict zones and eliminating excessive out of zone students is something that is a model we need to encourage the politicians to pursue.

What I want to emphasise here is that we need to continue looking for the cracks. That’s where the light gets in, our ideas are able to be advanced, and we get the wins.

A focus on teacher well-being, from the Minister of Education’s commitment at the international summit of the teaching profession is one I intend to push hard on in the coming year.

Looking ahead further – it’s inevitable that the teaching profession is going to face technological disruptions to our working conditions. Now, I don’t want to fall into the trap of ‘techno-utopianism’ or its Black Mirror twin, techno-dystopianism. There’s no way teachers will be replaced en masse by robots.

The hundreds of millions of dollars that Pearson, IBM,  Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates are pouring into the area of ‘personalised’ robo-education means that there’s a momentum to this that’s rolling ahead, and the wave will inevitably wash up here too. ‘Deeply immersive personalised learning experiences’, as they’re known in some of the literature, are being used already to deliver elements of the curriculum here.

Is it an outrage to say that if we play this right, it could be a real liberation for teachers? If lots of basic content and skills can be taught and assessed by robot-based ‘personalised’ instruction, teachers could be freed up to focus on deep, conceptual, meta-cognitive, affective learning – the front end of the curriculum which we have so little time for now. 

The flip side would be if deep, conceptual, meta-cognitive, affective learning was side-lined, putting teachers in the position of truck drivers today, who are facing the reality of driverless vehicles.

The response to this has to be that the social, personal and relational elements of teaching and learning can’t be reduced to algorithms. We know it. Parents and students know it. The people who will make the case for robo-education will be politicians looking to save money and capitalists looking to make it – that oh-so-familiar recipe for disaster...

We know what we need to do to defeat them – get our arguments straight, organise, collaborate and campaign hard.

The American Badass Teachers Association says, “Ours is a political profession. Legislators literally decide what happens in our classrooms. We must let them hear from us. Frequently. This doesn’t mean being confrontational. It means sharing what we know to be true from our experiences as experts in the field. It means putting faces to the data. It means standing up for our kids. Our expertise is needed. Urgently.”

You can help

Next year is going to be big. It’s the year we’re negotiating the Secondary Teachers Collective Agreement, the document that covers most of our members and which sets the bar for all our other negotiations (not to mention all NZEI’s as well).

We’re in a strong position in many ways, but we can’t take that for granted. If, or should I say, when, it comes to industrial action; the more of us there are the stronger we are.

We’re doing ok, better than many other unions in New Zealand, but we can’t afford to rest on our laurels. Some of our branches have less than half the teachers as members, and many big schools are well below the overall national figure of 70 percent. 

To address this we’re developing local organising plans for branches, so staff and members can work together on tailored actions for individual schools and regions.

You can start now.

Who the non-members are in your branch? Have they been asked to join?

How many part-timers are there? Are they being paid correctly? Can you campaign to get them pro-rata non-contact time?

How many of your colleagues are on fixed term contracts? Are they for genuine reasons?

How are you greeting new staff? Do they feel welcome and want to be part of the PPTA crew?

The other extremely powerful thing you can do is tell your story. When we speak up about our work, about what we see happening in education, when we speak the truth, with real stories, we can make a real difference.

Branch chair at Manurewa College, Sam Oldham did just that recently. He wrote about the realities of working in decile one school. He talked about how he feels to know his students are at the nexus of so many failing systems. .

When a proud PPTA member takes a risk and speaks out like this it connects and has power. An authentic voice can change the way we think.

So please, tell your stories. Tell them to each other; tell them in the places they need to be heard. Tell them so that we, together, can make a real difference.

No reira. Tena koutou tena koutou tena tatou katoa.

 

Last modified on Tuesday, 3 October 2017 11:39