The Dim-Post

June 7, 2012

The art of the possible

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 9:26 am

I think it would have been easy for the government to win – or at least break even – on this class size debate if they’d gone about it strategically. Six months ago they should have set up an ‘Education Working Group’, stacked it full of toadies and crackpots from Treasury, ACT, PriceWaterHouse Coopers, etc, who would then declare that ‘teacher quality, not quantity was key.’ Then in the election you announce that you’re capping the number of teachers and using the savings to improve their performance. Would that have been so hard?

Because the way they actually went about it means this debate is unwinnable. A government can’t suddenly cut costs, increase class sizes, insist they’re improving quality (‘Good news!’) while at the same time increasing subsidies to private schools so they can lower their class sizes – while its MPs send their kids to those private schools.

There’s simply no way to spin that. Which is, presumably, why we have Paula Bennett popping up and announcing that she’s going to ‘crack down’ on someone – this week it’s child abusers, although – as usual – what she’s going to do is basically nothing. She’s ‘considering’ giving courts the power to remove children from abusers at birth, something CYFS can – and does – already do.

Just once I’d love to see the opposition – Sue Bradford, the Greens et al – fail to fall for this trick and point out that Bennett is really just an empty PR gimmick, driving around in her leopard-print car getting amazing media for her constant pledges to ‘get tough’ and ‘crack down’ on the same rotating targets – teenagers, solo mums, child abusers – but accomplishing nothing. Child abuse rates are up on her watch. So are benefit numbers.


  1. “Once Were Warriors”, directed by Paula Bennett.

    Temuera: “Woman, I’m horny!”
    Beth: “As am I, dearest, but there is this court order. One must respect the law of the land.”
    Temuera: “Silly me, I had forgotten! Scrabble?”

    Comment by sammy 2.0 — June 7, 2012 @ 9:41 am

  2. I wouldn’t like to see the opposition follow that path, because it would play into the media stereotype as the disadvantaged being the problem in our society. It would inevitably be spun as ‘Labour will be better at cracking down on bludgers’. Thats not going to help our rates of inequality at all.

    Comment by alex — June 7, 2012 @ 9:44 am

  3. Good post which goes to the core problem with the government: it’s incompetent.

    Comment by TerryB — June 7, 2012 @ 9:45 am

  4. Paula Bennett has been to obvious and to extreme this time round – while the two usual suspects where I work totally approve (both women of a certain age who seem to hate eveyone with equal enthusiasm and would probably like to see a comprehensive eugenics program implemented immediately) everyone else has rumbled that it is just a diversionary tactic. What I am more interested in is – yet again – the most robust opposition media response has come from the Greens. Meteira Turei robustly attacked the government as the go-to for the first comment While Annette King was left hopelessly waffling at third drop behind Peter Dunne. yet again, a very senior Labour MP (Annette King was number two on the Labour list in 2011) has been found out for being a over the hill time server who lacks, in sports parlance, hunger and urgency.

    Comment by Sanctuary — June 7, 2012 @ 9:45 am

  5. Bennet’s baby-snatching will be an even more effective a tool for solving child abuse as boot-camps are at stopping crime, as the cycle-way is at solving unemployment.

    Brighter future everyone.

    Comment by Oh Busby — June 7, 2012 @ 10:00 am

  6. Time to play Bogeyman Bingo … what will National’s next diversion be?

    They can’t just follow the talkback guide-book to the letter, because some traditional targets don’t work any more in NZ (teh gayz, boat people), and others are allies (the Maori Party).

    Stand by for John Key telling Mike Hosking he’s “not ruling out” action against “Muslim terrorists”, something that “hasn’t been on our radar” but it “won’t hurt to have a look at”.

    Comment by sammy 2.0 — June 7, 2012 @ 10:10 am

  7. They could have handled the PR better by having the news-op at my daughters decile 9, year 5, state primary class with 34 kids in it.
    This raising the class numbers to 27 bemuses me. Which state schools already have less than 27 per class?

    Comment by gn — June 7, 2012 @ 10:34 am

  8. BTW – who has has read Claire Trevett’s utter tripe in today’s Herald? Hot on the heals of running a story full of every excuse she could think of for John Banks abominable behaviour, she has written a load of lazy tosh clearly formed from the valuable insights she gained whilst interviewing herself during her morning shower.

    Comment by Sanctuary — June 7, 2012 @ 10:39 am

  9. I did hear Annette King on the radio (i think ZB news?) this morning basically calling bullshit on Bennett’s announcement. Hopefully they’re learning not to take the bait….?

    Comment by jamsteve — June 7, 2012 @ 10:40 am

  10. “…and using the savings to improve their performance.”
    I read this over and over again but no one will tell me the secret. Just what does it mean? And how will they achieve it? The increased qualifications will be paid for by the students. That still leaves about 50,000 teachers to be “improved.” How?

    Comment by xianmac — June 7, 2012 @ 10:51 am

  11. From what I saw on 3news(?) last night King was calling it as a distraction from the horror week the Govt had last week. Which is what they should be doing. The Greens on the other hand were running into the trap of Bennett coming back and saying “So you are on the side of child abusers?”

    Comment by max — June 7, 2012 @ 10:52 am

  12. Pointing out that Bennett’s waffling is a diversionary tactic doesn’t necessarily open the opposition to the charge of complicity with the abusers etc. All they need to do is point out that this is a) a diversionary tactic, b) National have used the tactic before and c) nothing ever gets done (which is how we can identify it as a diversionary tactic). If those points come out, I don’t think that most of the public is that dense that they’ll run along with Bennett’s spin. Or at least, I wish.

    Comment by Ben — June 7, 2012 @ 11:19 am

  13. My favourite part of the McCroskie vs Bradford interview on Morning Report this morning was when McCroskie played his trump card: “We’ve to think about what’s in the best interest of the child”. This means that it is in the best interests of the child not to be born. I wonder how (or if) he can square this with Family First’s anti-abortion stance

    Comment by mikaerecurtis — June 7, 2012 @ 11:21 am

  14. gn, 27 is the number used to work out how many teachers a school has – but this doesn’t relate to actual class size. If a school has 270 children it gets 10 teachers, but the school then decides how to allocate these.

    It may well be that year 5 gets 34 children in the class, but the teacher has some non-contact time for lesson planning, coordinating class trips, marking and report writing. While the teacher is doing that, a specialist music or Spanish teacher takes them for the morning. Or maybe the school hires a literacy expert to give one on one help to children struggling to meet the national standards in reading. Or it puts more teaching resources into assisting disabled children that the state pays for. Etc.

    Our local school is small and so the number in each class varies depending on the year – there are lots of year 6 but not enough for 2 classes, so the one class is large; in year 4 by comparison, they have enough children for 2 classes and the average size is less. So the class sizes might average out at 30 but across the school the numbers are lumpy.

    A class size of 27 or 28 or even 30 sounds fine – until you realise that’s not how the numbers fall. Because of specialist teachers and non-contact time the actual number will almost always be higher than the average.

    Comment by MeToo — June 7, 2012 @ 11:24 am

  15. I did hear someone from the Labour Party on Checkpoint yesterday evening just after 5pm saying this was a distraction to take the focus off the class-size issue. It was timely to hear it as the same thought had passed through my own mind earlier in the day as I read the empty fluffery and dogwhistling the whole story amounts to.

    Again, I’m left wondering why anyone votes for the National Party. They just don’t deserve it.

    Comment by Steve (@nza1) — June 7, 2012 @ 11:29 am

  16. @mikaerecurtis –

    I was astonished at McCroskie’s stance on RNZ. It was dogmatically inconsistant with any religious views I have ever had or heard (I note for example the Catholic Church vigorously opposes anything like this) and I thought it betrayed McCroskie for what he is – a simple, out-and-out bigot.

    Comment by Sanctuary — June 7, 2012 @ 11:32 am


    I’ver got it! I have seen this all before on a documentary in the 1980’s.. .

    Paula Bennett has been brainwashed by a portrait of Vigo the Carpathian that she keeps behind her desk, and she is seeking to both create sufficient negative energy in the population to allow his reincarnation AND simultaneously find a child for him to possess…

    Comment by Sanctuary — June 7, 2012 @ 11:50 am

  18. I believe deputy principals are also counted as teachers, even if they only do a few hours of teaching per week. You could argue that schools shouldn’t have specialist teachers or deputy principals, but then who will take the administrative burden away and give our teacher’s time to fully focus on inspiring our children with a passion for learning and giving them valuable feedback? I mean, sorry, time to fully focus on measuring our children’s progress against uniform national standards?

    Comment by Amy — June 7, 2012 @ 12:03 pm

  19. or, indeed, to correctly teach the use of possessive apostrophes? I blame my large class in Form 1.

    Comment by Amy — June 7, 2012 @ 12:04 pm

  20. A government can’t suddenly cut costs, increase class sizes, insist they’re improving quality (‘Good news!’) while at the same time increasing subsidies to private schools so they can lower their class sizes – while its MPs send their kids to those private schools. There’s simply no way to spin that.

    But if someone really had to try, I’d have thought the best approach would be to at least try and convince people there was something about creating new and more highly paid jobs for teachers in the private sector.

    Comment by MikeM — June 7, 2012 @ 12:22 pm

  21. This means that it is in the best interests of the child not to be born.

    McCroskie follows Schopenhauer?

    Comment by lyndon — June 7, 2012 @ 12:55 pm

  22. Someone has found the reverse gear it appears. Can’t wait to see how this gets spun.

    Comment by TerryB — June 7, 2012 @ 2:22 pm

  23. “The average number of students to teacher is 18 to 1 in primary schooling and 15 to 1at secondary state schools” [direct quote]

    Source: NZ Immigration

    Comment by Flynn — June 7, 2012 @ 2:30 pm

  24. It will get spun as a government in touch with its community:

    After all, it was a minor change in teacher numbers that would have improved student achievement but unfortunately the policy was on the receiving end of disproportionate and unfounded fears… we’re not pressing ahead with it because the public has given us a clear message. We listened and we responded.

    In six months time the public will have forgotten. In the meantime those ungrateful greedy whingeing university students will make us look good!

    Comment by MeToo — June 7, 2012 @ 2:32 pm

  25. The leopard skin-clad protector of our children’s strange policy announcement is in fact a double distraction.
    First the class size issue got pushed off the top of the news bulletins but also it serves to distract from the complete and utter lack of any meaningful action on child abuse, which is ostensibly what this suggestion is supposed to address. 9,000 submissions were made to the Green Paper on vulnerable children (remember that?) and the (strictly unofficial) word is that about 80% of them cited poverty as the main risk factor for child abuse. Blathering about banning breeding among the lower orders (because that is what we’re talking about here) takes poverty off the table as an item for discussion.
    And as a matter of statistics, in 2010 there were 7 convictions for homicide of children aged 0-14 years, and in 2008 there were 421 District Court convictions for assault on a child. So we could potentially stop about 430 people having children. So not a big deal in the child abuse scheme of things. And no protection for children already among us.

    Comment by donna — June 7, 2012 @ 3:11 pm

  26. “Child abuse rates are up on her watch. So are benefit numbers.”
    No numbers, but I expect child abuse rates would go up in a crappy economy (spousal abuse tends to, I am pretty sure). Of course, Bennett is terrible and incapable so I agree with where you are going with that.

    Comment by Nick — June 7, 2012 @ 5:35 pm

  27. Dunne’s appalled. It’s his job, once he’s prodded:

    Comment by Joe W — June 7, 2012 @ 11:39 pm

  28. I suppose we could all be right about Bennett… What if she saw the need for a distraction as the ideal opportunity to vocalise what she really thinks, and we actually have a minister so stupid and ignorant of the lessons of history that she believes eugenic control of the feral classes is a fine idea and sound in principal?

    Given that John Key appears to have all the emotional engagment of a corporate HR consultant who specialises in “change management” and loves the job, it is starting make for an almost literally lethal combination.

    Comment by Sanctuary — June 8, 2012 @ 8:28 am

  29. They’ve listened to the people – yeah right, more likely their pollsters saying don’t upset the middle classes over education.
    This scheme probably had very little to do with Hekia Parata and was more likely led from some clever gnome in Treasury via Bill English the Nats eminence grise behind Mr Smiley Wavey.
    I note that the Nats seem to have an unfortunate habit of hanging out their female cabinet members to dry.
    Just wish that they’d give the same consideration to the majority in the country who don’t want state assets sold.
    As for Bob McCroskie I’d rather listen to my dog farting.

    Comment by Rob S — June 8, 2012 @ 9:52 am

  30. The Prime Minister was on the radio yesterday (morning report, it may have been a news item I heard) saying the problem was that the stupid peons didn’t understand the policy and that the government should be explaining it better. I presume not long after that the polling results came in showing the issue was causing a hit to John’s numbers so it was shitcanned. The announcement is made at 2pm, when Key is asleep (and fair enough, it’s 1am where he is and it’s tiring toadying up to the German in-breds) so he didn’t have to front the u-turn himself on the day he was brown-nosing the Queen.

    A couple of stats that should have been challenged by our opposition parties weeks ago:

    – that teacher numbers have risen 15% since 2002 while student numbers have risen just 2% – the previous government made a conscious policy decision to increase teacher numbers (morning report yesterday)
    – that one in five of our children is failing – this is a stat from 2004, and that that number has been improving since teacher numbers went up (Campbell Live last night)
    – that our teacher-student ratio is already slightly higher than the OECD average and will get worse under the proposed changes (morning report yesterday)

    Comment by Paul Rowe — June 8, 2012 @ 9:57 am

  31. “…it’s tiring toadying up to the German in-breds…”

    Or enjoying some slap up nosh and knowing nods and winks with the president of Sri Lanka:

    “…Rajapaksa was seated on the table directly to the Queen’s left with Babli Sharma, wife of the Commonwealth secretary general; the Namibian president, Hifikepunye Pohamba, and his wife; and New Zealand prime minister, John Key, and his wife…”

    I am sure Mahinda Rajapaksa could have given our PM some good tips on the art of the possible when dealing with his ferrals:

    Oh, the company you are forced to keep when the urge to display your servile colonial cringe for home consumption overcomes whatever morals you might have.

    (hat tip to norightturn)

    Comment by Sanctuary — June 8, 2012 @ 10:04 am

  32. Hmmmm, in what order do you think Paula Bennett’s ideas was discussed in cabinet? I wonder if it was before or after Tony Ryall raised the the problem of low levels of organ donation…..

    Comment by Sanctuary — June 8, 2012 @ 10:34 am

  33. Bob McCroskie is friends with Helen Clarke *and* John Keys, so don’t be too mean to him.


    Comment by Graeme Edgeler — June 8, 2012 @ 10:34 am

  34. I think it would have been hard, either way, for National to see the idea of increased class sizes because most of us already know the pressure that teachers are under and don’t want our kids to suffer by teachers having any more pressure placed on them. Hekia Parata is claiming responsibility, however, it is not her idea and she has been pushed to represent something she doesn’t necessarily believe in. The buck stops with Key and English.

    As for Paula Bennett, she does appear to pontificate around a lot and achieve nothing at the end of it all, she grasps at straws a lot but that is her job because National want to crack down on the working-class. I think taking kids away from child abusers is a good idea, as long as it is implemented properly, ie, there needs to be rehabilitation available, so that five or 10 years afterwards, if they have made a completely clean slate for themselves, they can have children. You can’t disallow them from having children for the rest of their lives, that would be archaiac, a violation of human rights, and mocks the concept of lifestyle changes that people do actually work hard to achieve.

    Comment by Daniel Lang — June 8, 2012 @ 12:31 pm

  35. 33.Bob McCoskrie, sorry about the misspelling I copied it from a previous post. I feel that a good anagram is hiding in there somewhere.
    How mean is too mean?

    Comment by Rob S — June 8, 2012 @ 1:31 pm

  36. How mean is too mean?

    Golden rule?

    Comment by Graeme Edgeler — June 8, 2012 @ 2:43 pm

  37. How mean is too mean?

    I believe the appropriate maxim is “It’s not mean if it’s true”.

    Comment by Gregor W — June 8, 2012 @ 2:50 pm

  38. Be afrtaid – John Key on commercial radio yesterday, discussing the backdown: “There’s more than one way to skin the cat”.

    Comment by MeToo — June 8, 2012 @ 4:08 pm

  39. Surely everything is a distraction from National not achieving very much – except making teacher’s lives a misery.
    And all teachers are trained, attend massive amounts of PD, staff meetings, etc, and all are scheduled for Classroom release time once a fortnight – as long as there are enough relievers available.

    Is it just me or have you noticed it is the women who are being used to introduce all the unpopular schemes? Are they being seen as dispensable for when the ill thought out ideas/policies/suggestions have to be enforced, reworked, reversed or dropped?

    Comment by Angela Soutar — June 8, 2012 @ 7:17 pm

  40. Paula Bennett is quite easily the Minister for Attacking the Symptom. And when even Peter Dunne is calling bullshit…

    #34: didn’t they call it the Stolen Generation and Home Children in Australia?

    Comment by deepred — June 11, 2012 @ 12:22 am

  41. Obviously th two most prominent National women are Judith Collins and Paula Bennett. Collins is a lot more dispensible than Bennett because Bennett has moved up in the rankings recently and there is friction between the Leadership and Collins. This does not relate entirely to the ACC debacles but also exists because of differences in personalities and because Collins is a staunch part of the old school National and, despite the alleged Botox, they (generally speaking) want someone younger, fresher and perhaps male to replace her.

    Comment by Daniel Lang — June 13, 2012 @ 9:06 pm

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