Privatisation in education legislation

The word opposition doesn’t always describe Labour’s voting patterns. In fact, Labour have voted with National almost exactly as often as the Maori Party, even though Labour is the official opposition, and the Maori Party is actually part of the Government!

[For the political junkies, Labour have voted with National 12 times at first readings, and 16 times at third readings, since the start of this term of Parliament. For the Maori Party it's 13 and 17. For the Greens it's 0 and 1.]

Yesterday, Labour voted with the Government again on a Bill that everyone except the Greens supported – the Education Amendment Bill.

We opposed this supposedly “technical” Bill because it included clauses to facilitate corporate control of school boards. In doing so, we seem to be the only ones consistently opposing privatisation in the education system.

The Maori Party did express concern about these aspects of the Bill but they still voted for it.

It’s fascinating, because if you just read the Regulatory Impact Statement which describes the Bill it would seem to be just about police vetting of school tradespeople and registration issues for teachers. Actually, like most legislation there is always fine-print to examine.

This Education Amendment Bill continues a trend towards corporate control by allowing corporates to be statutory managers of schools. It also allows the combining of school boards, potentially disenfranchising local communities.

The Quality Public Education Coalition (QPEC) was one of the small number of submitters against this Bill who saw its potential to further undermine public schools. QPEC has the experience and the capacity to step back and analyse the bigger picture.

With their support, we are prepared to be a lone voice in Parliament to at least make sure there is opposition to any form of privatisation on the public record.

Schools are not businesses to be managed efficiently in order to produce more labour for the market. Schools are communities, and as communities in partnership with the state they need the ability to run their own affairs and proper resources. We don’t need Pepsi Cola High School being managed by a firm of corporate auditors whose bottom line is profit.

18 thoughts on “Privatisation in education legislation

  1. Interesting comments from everyone, we talked about the axing of the school food guidelines at the Select Committee the other day and it was disturbing to see the lack of understanding of the connection between bad junk food and learning etc but fundamentally it became a debate about the role of schools in society. The ideology of so called “choice” forgets about the huge promotion of junk food to kids and then talks about choice. Anyone would think that an obesity and diabetes epidemic didn’t cost the health system. But at a broader level thanks also to the commentators on the public/ private partnerships issues. The Greens stand alone challenging this and we welcome more debate.

  2. Samiuela –
    well, we seem to be soul-sisters!
    I was a great fan of packed, balanced lunches & not a lot of pocket-money while my lot were at primary school, too.

    The dynamic does change once they hit college, but if you’ve instilled some good habits, and they are used to eating moderately at home, it can be less painful than if a laissez-faire programme has been followed.

    Interesting that you should quote cheese-&-marmite sammies – when I first went flatting at uni, it was all I could remember in the way of sandwich fillings at breakfast time, so I ate them all through my second year at uni. Never starved, and eventually got myself into a routine where I had more time to think about lunch choices in the morning!

    ‘fly, sprout –

    having been a recipient of the BOT letters about ‘prospective changes to lunch order provision’ and seeing the fallout that ensues, I know how frustrating it can be for teachers who know how much difference removing some items from the tuck shop/canteen/lunch order list can make.

    My children were lucky in that we had a ‘lolly-free lunchbox’ rule in place at primary school; there were provisions for parents to supply birthday treats within reason (mostly only used in NE-J2 area), but generally we got off lightly.

    Although I do seem to remember green candy-floss on St Pat’s day making a regular appearance for a while! My son now tells me his College allowed green iceblocks as a St Pat’s day treat last week; a singular relaxation, I understand, and taken quite well by the boys.

    Private schools have much more leeway on menus (especially boarding schools), and generally more control over student’s choices. In the past, this has seen school food that was simple, nutritious and filling; but if corporate catering firms get involved, or worse, fast-food contractors, the potential for increases in teen obesity is frightening.
    Privatising these aspects of our State schools just doesn’t make any sense.
    Not if we collectively value the young people who are going to be the taxpayers of the next decade.

  3. katie – interesting that the thread went this way, given that Catherine only devoted one sentence to the Pepsi argument. Clearly, there are those, like stephensmikm, who still struggle to grasp what to me seems to be, the obvious.

    Sprout has the right of it. Doubtless he’s spent time in schools and with a name like that, eats healthily.

    Stephensmikm – you began one paragraph with:

    “And if it’s about supporting local community..”

    and finished with:

    “the school could buy a fryer and healthy oil rather than support the local takeaway ”

    which at least added some humour to your otherwise stodgy view.

  4. samiuela – good for you and your kids and the balance you’ve struck sounds fair.
    I’m very interested in the way that junk food producers exploit humans hunger for fat and sugar by making products that are heavy in those. If children (and adults) are programmed genetically, to eat sugar and fat in preference to other foods, then there needs to be a foil to those manufacturers who feed that desire. There will be obesity as a result, should they go unchecked. Children cannot and will not ‘choose wisely’ when faced with something their body is demanding. That’s the reason that an authority that knows the facts of the matter should be charged with restricting that inflow of harmful substances, especially where children are the recipients.

  5. Fly,

    I agree with you on keeping the junk food out of school canteens. My kids aren’t little angels, they would eat just as much junk as other kids if given the option. The thing is, they don’t get given any money, so can’t buy junk. Maybe this will stop working when they get older and have some money of their own, but for now it works.

    To be honest, I think the kids dislike more than half the lunches I make for them, and are sick and tired of hearing versions of the story about being grateful for their food because kids in Africa have none. But in the end, if marmite and cheese sandwiches are good enough for Dad to take to work, they better not complain when they get them in their school lunch boxes.

  6. samiuela

    “Its quite easy really”

    Send them to school with a healthy lunch … and set them to battle the temptation of seeing their friends buy and drink sodie pop and sweeties.
    Most students, I’ve observed, fall.

    I am pleased though, that you have succeeded in keeping your children on a good diet while at school. It doesn’t seem to be the case for thousands of other parents.

    Keep sugary, fatty crap out of the canteens, I reckon.

  7. Unhealthy junk food in kids school lunches is a relatively recent thing. When I was at school no one had fizzy drink; everyone drunk water from the water fountain. Some kids had milk in 300 ml glass bottles, but this was optional (and probably put the kids off milk for the rest of their life because it was often warm by the time it was drunk).

    Anyhow, school canteens shouldn’t be providing soft drinks as an option for kids, but the ultimate responsibility lies with the parents. Its quite easy really; send them to school with a healthy packed lunch (prepared at night if there is not enough time in the morning) and don’t give them any money to purchase food from the canteen, dairy down the street or where ever. Then the kids either eat the packed lunch or go hungry; junk food is not an option. The option of going hungry usually ensures they eat at least some of the healthy food (though the amount eaten can be frighteningly small at times). Just don’t give in to the whinging for junk food (by the way, I know this works from experience with my own primary school kids; they love junk food, but hate going hungry even more than eating the sandwiches and fruit they get in their lunch boxes).

  8. I agree, Katie!
    My experience is mainly in Primary schools but I have found that completely discouraging foods that have no place in a healthy diet has noticeable benefits. Here are some of my personal observations:
    -With the fruit in schools (low decile) iniative children were only allowed fruit to eat during breaks. The children experienced fruit that would never be provided in their own homes. They loved it and many often chose fruit as a preferred snack.
    -When only allowed water to drink it was accepted without much hassle and they drank because they were thirsty, not for a sugar fix.
    -Parents generally came on board, after the initial grumblings from some, and it became less acceptable to fill a lunchbox with processed crap in plastic bags.
    -Children saw the healthy eating lessons they got reinforced by the food provided. How ethical is it when our curriculum promotes healthy eating and then the school condones junk.
    -Many children noticably changed in their behaviour. They were able to concentrate for longer periods and there was less friction in the playground.
    -To break the cycle of eating crap food you have to exlude it as an option or children will always go to the familiar.
    Why do we have to accept sponsorship from firms that produce crap products it is just the same as investing in financial schemes that have a good return but invest in unethical products?
    Sorry stephensmikm, I just don’t agree!

  9. sprout, stephenm;

    schools have choices about whether a coke/pepsi drink dispensing machine appears in their ‘tuck shop’ area – and about what drinks are stocked inside it – my daughters’ secondary school had the super-caffeinated drinks removed from their machines, after some very scary episodes with incipient anorexia and hyper-manic behaviour amongst sufficient numbers of girls to warrant the Headmistress making changes.
    They still have access to the regular run of soda-drinks, but even those are less favoured than ‘bring a water bottle from home’ since the particular academic year in question.
    Teenagers will always veer towards a peer-sanctioned choice, especially when it comes to high-energy, heavily-advertised snack foods, and especially in these days when so many parents are time-poor and often supply lunch-money rather than packed lunches.

    However, that’s a minor issue compared to the wholesale sponsorship of a school as a PPP – which has happened already in some low-decile schools, I seem to recall Mainfreight becoming momentarily famous in South Auckland for a ‘naming rights’ sponsorship deal a few years back. At least that didn’t dictate what food/drink was allowed to be sold to students on the school grounds.

    ‘fly – commiserations, I expect this is all so familiar to you that any new argument would be grand entertainment!

  10. I dunno but I mean a couple of years ago the whole Greens hating Pies in schools thing did make some schools switch from coke to diet coke and goldencircle to diet golden circle but in my last year at school I could have a custard square, several mars bars, an iceblock , wedges and lollies all courtesy of the tuck shop – they had gotten rid of coke a couple of years before because of company contract changes but they still stocked the fizzy h2gos which have about the same sugar as sprite

    when I was a nipper at public primary school I could go to the vending machines and buy cans of whatever and get fish and chips on tuesdays, my younger brothers school still has this too, its a fact that corporate brand names and high fat/sugar foods will be in schools always nanny stating it won’t change much because at least the corporations that generally are providing these product can provide healthier alternatives, it would be better to put pressure on coke for example to make the brown bottle caffeine and sugar free version available in a form so that children are still placated. people say they should encourage children to drink milk and tap water, the problem is Tap water is tasteless so many children won’t want to– it’s as simple as that, while as milk is currently sitting around the 3.30 mark for a budget brand – coke at most for the 2.25L is about 2.70 – children generally don’t like milk either – it tastes weird- I never liked it unless vanilla or chocolate was added to it and still find it a bit weird to be honest. It’s better to allow Primo and keris (a subsidiary of coke if I’m right) into the schools so the children can be urged towards the healthier products of their market and will then later defer into their sugared, fatty brands with the knowledge that it has those things.

    And if it’s about supporting local community we have to remember the donuts or cake slices from that local bakery will be just as bad for the students and youth as anything from the major bakers like coupland’s and will also cost the school more to provide, the same in deferring to pies and fish n’ chips – the school could buy a fryer and healthy oil rather than support the local takeaway which still uses shortening.

    Slight ramble but This issues have to be remembered before people start attacking corporate sponsorship and the evils of their products.

  11. Well done katherine and the Greens. This is the real Act / National agenda or course, and why labour does not oppose is anyones guess.

  12. Keep up the good work, Catherine. We don’t want to end up like Australia and have 70% of education funding going to private schools (some of which have their own golf courses) and state schools struggling. Children deserve the best possible educational environment no matter what their needs are or where they live. I would have thought the 35 million extra funding to private schools was an obvious indication of National’s education agenda.

    stephensmikm-you are touching dangerous territory suggesting that schools stock up on Pepsi. Private/public partnerships could have benefits but there are so many traps for the unwary.

    greenfly-totally agree. National standards is the first move towards destroying the self determination that was also an integral part of the new curriculum.

  13. The tertiary institution I work for is undergoing a forced restructuring in which academic programmes are being amalgamated into ‘business units’ with ‘business managers’ instead of programme managers and ‘operations managers’ presumably instead of the administrative support.

    The numbers will be smaller. The previously elected board is being replaced by a government-appointed board and the previous (retiring )CE whose career was in education throughout has been replaced by the institution’s accountant.

    The funds have of course been cut and the number of students is capped – this is likely to mean fewer tutors as each of us also have to take more students and work longer hours.

    It looks as though there is pressure to be taken over by a larger institution (Massey or Unitec possibly) and for the partnership with business to be encouraged.

    What this will mean for the smaller institutions such as ours and particularly the regional campuses in economically depressed (read high Maori population) areas is unclear.

    I can’t see too many businesses getting excited about the dollars to be made in Kaitaia and Rawene and Kaikohe, so I guess we could fall by the wayside. Again.

    While education should be able to be delivered within budget, cutting that budget and expecting a profit is not about education but about corporate takeover.

  14. …but we can have the local dairy sponsoring schools that stocks the pepsi or other product, or the local swimming pool that stocks the togs company or the local rugby team that are sponsored by adidas or Lynx etc…

    Just some thoughts.. Internal Community Sponsorship is good but these products are already as such in our lives their sponsorship could be considered even if sounding really really cynical ‘cutting the middle man’

    and remember think of all of those charities that companies support like coca cola and Mcdonald’s Hospital Houses…excluding the evils of Nestle and its rainforest pillaging of course..

  15. “Schools are not businesses to be managed efficiently in order to produce more labour for the market. Schools are communities, and as communities in partnership with the state they need the ability to run their own affairs and proper resources.”

    ..have been, until recently.

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