Hard News by Russell Brown

46

Now win the argument

I'm pleased that Labour made education the keynote of its election-year Congress over the weekend, because it's the policy area in which the present government has, I think, done the most damage.

From their feckless introduction under Parliamentary urgency and implementation without trial, and the subsequent waving through of league tables -- the very thing the government's advisers cautioned against --  National Standards have been, at best, a disruptive waste of resources.

Since then, there have been so many other problems, cuts and pointless confrontations in education and the performance of the responsible ministers has been so woeful that my confidence in National to productively execute any policy is roughly nil.

Which is not the same as thinking the policies announced by Labour are necessarily  enough of an answer. If Labour is to repurpose the money already budgeted for National's managerial strategy of "executive principals, expert teachers, lead teachers and change principals" it does need to explain how it will increase the performance of teachers, as well as the number of them. It does bear noting that National has finally managed a policy proposal there that post-primary teachers, at least, support.

But the good thing here is that this hopefully begins an actual policy debate in an area polls consistently show is regarded as a priority by the public. Moreover, it's already a discussion about evidence. I can't see that being a bad thing.

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When I saw the response to David Cunliffe's speech to Women's Refuge on Friday afternoon, I tweeted something to the effect about despairing that his "sorry I'm a man" had been plucked out of context and elevated above the real substance of his speech.

Having seen the video of the speech now, I'm not sure I was correct. I think what Cunliffe said, to that audience, was the substance and I applaud his candour. Expressing sorrow is not synonymous with feeling guilt -- but it can be the same as taking responsibility, and that's what I think Cunliffe was doing there. I'm happy with that.

And I think the range of responses to what he did has been extremely instructive. If you frame that speech as a "gaffe", you're placing the game above what actually matters.

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