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Dr John Langley cuts a swathe
By Kelvin Smythe

The article by Dr John Langley, dean of education at University of Auckland, represents a seminal moment in our education history. In the years ahead people will ask ‘Where were you when you read or first heard of Langley’s plan for taking care of teachers?’ He has brought together the best of international research and, with a burst of inspiration, combined it with a pragmatism drawn from an intimate knowledge of schools and teachers.


Shakespearian academics discuss in considerable uncertainty the effect, say, of Essex’s behaviour on the plays Shakespeare was writing at the time. Shakespeare, of course, was subtle and famously indirect. But how significant was it that Shakespeare moved away from the idea of heroic action and the culture of honour in ‘Henry the Fifth’ and ‘Julius Caesar’ to base a play, ‘Hamlet’, on a story of a corrupt court, problematic succession, the threat of invasion, and the dangers of a coup? It will remain a matter of high speculation. This is not, however, the experience I want for the nature, details, scope, and motivation of Langley’s similar epic writing. As a result, I have formed a questionnaire for the good doctor to fill in so that academics in the future will have a sure guideline for their analyses.


Dear John

Would you please tick the response closest to what you see as the best answer, and e-mail back to me.




My brilliant plan came to me:


In the bath


In one of Auckland’s traffic holdups


When you say schools are ‘lurching from crisis to crisis’ what is your reply to those who say there is an element of overstatement in what you say?:


The haven’t had the benefit of disciplined doctoral study


There are none so …


The gift of seeing the emperor’s state of undress is not given to everyone


When you put to teachers the idea of ‘scrapping’ the decile funding and having schools compete for additional funding, did they say:


The best ideas are always the simplest


At last, something to motivate me


Why didn’t NZEI think of that?


When you put the plan to NZEI, did they say:


Why didn’t we think of that


We’ll use it as the centrepiece for our next negotiations


You’ll be our nomination for ‘Education person of the year’?


Some of the critics of your plan seem to have overlooked that you recommend the base grant be increased so that school fees would no longer be required. What is the likelihood of such a massive increase in the base grant ever being a reality?:


I have talked with John and Helen about it and they gave me grounds for confidence


John said he liked the idea because he had no doubt such an increase would be more popular than tax cuts and he was ambitious for education


Principals have assured me that they would not use the money to continually upgrade computers


Which reminds me, as far as your career path is concerned:


I’ve never given a thought to being secretary for education


Anything’s possible


You commend the new curriculum for not ‘laboriously describing some finite set of knowledge that will be redundant within 24 hours’. Some critics say this is another example of overstatement serving to distract from an illogic and oversimplification of your argument overall. What is your response?:


I intend to publish a dissertation on 24-hour knowledge


I’m disappointed that someone likened what they perceived as overstatements to overly-loud music in a film


I’m even more disappointed that someone recommended my article as an example of such 24-hour knowledge


My advocacy for financial motivation ‘being critical to retaining any teacher’s interest’ is based on:


The best international research


My discussions with teachers


The enthusiastic response to such a plan being discussed for the education department at Auckland University


In your plan for schools competing for financial gain, the school has to maintain performance in a number of areas; and to set targets for improving in others. If the targets are achieved, hey bingo! the school gains financially. The simplicity of it all is mind boggling. In saying this, I take it from your description that, like golf, the school would the sole determiner of fact. A person of your insight would not, I know, be suggesting another layer of bureaucracy or giving education bureaucrats more power. Nor would you be interested in adding further complexity to the school education process. The schools would also, I assume, decide if the targets set were appropriate and worthwhile. Your confirmation of my interpretation:


I’m a big picture person


A brilliant idea fulfills its own destiny


These minor details can be decided later


If I’ve got it right, all schools, whether from rich or poor areas, would get the same amount of base funding, and there would be a small amount on top of that for schools to compete for.


Yes – such a plan would work fairly for all schools


A renaissance in school education will result


It will do wonders for social harmony


If schools are judge and jury of deciding on the worthwhileness of targets and whether they have been achieved, won’t it be likely that, on paper, there will a full achievement of targets?:


The government will be delighted with the massive improvement in all facets of education, even if only on paper


To be honest, in the end, the review office and ministry will have to be given extra numbers and powers


Professor Martin Thrupp has criticised the plan as inequitable. Your response:


He’s from Waikato isn’t he?


He also says the ‘decile funding of schools is sound and something New Zealanders should be proud of’:


He fails to understand that teacher motivation based on professionalism is a discredited and outdated concept


Teachers and children need to be brought into the real world


But your plan goes further doesn’t it? You want to make a component of any salary increase performance related:


Research shows that performance related pay is the easiest thing in the world to implement, especially in education


The staff at my institution have responded enthusiastically to such a plan


Many people in education view assessment as a fraught area, what provides you with the calm assurance about the matter you so impressively display?:


I’ve got it sorted and have a paper in preparation


The further you get from the classroom, the clearer it becomes


Anyway, don’t bog me down in detail


A critic has said the article is poorly written, hyperbolic, simplistic, and not completely straight. The ‘not completely straight’ reference arising from the naïve assumption of huge and continuing increases in school funding, and large increases in salary funding, as a way of making more acceptable the New Right aspiration of increased centralised control over schools and classrooms through performance pay and inter- and intra-school competitiveness.


I suspect I know the critic. Most people will be surprised he’s still around.



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