Right up there, on a par with winning Lotto, is the news yesterday that Hekia Parata's days as Education Minister are numbered! The welcome, but unexpected, announcement that she will not stand for election in 2017, begs the question, did she jump, or was she pushed? No matter what reasons emerge for her abrupt departure there is no erasing of, or excuse for, her track record in the role over the last five years.
After 40+ years in education, 22 of those as principal of a decile one school focused on Maori and Pasifika learners, I have no reservation whatsoever, in finding her to be the worst Minister of Education I have ever encountered—and believe me, there have been some shockers in those four decades!
The neoliberal reforms, failed all over the world, which she has been hell-bent on driving through, in the face of massive opposition from educators who deeply understand learning and children, would be bad enough. Forcing New Zealand schools into that “race to the bottom” with such determination just demonstrates her refusal and inability to understand the damage she has caused. Her arrogant, supercilious attitude towards teachers and school leaders is another reason. Her blatant lying to suit her own ends, yet another.
However, those all pale into insignificance compared with the trait which puts her head and shoulders below any previous Education Minister—the sustained, vitriolic, and vengeful vendettas she orchestrated against highly qualified and respected school principals who had the courage and integrity to stand up and speak out for their children and communities against her bullying tactics. In Hekia's head, she is always right, even when she is completely and embarrassingly wrong, and she will go to any lengths to prove it! This is the smiling assassin at her worst.
I hope she was pushed. She certainly pushed great educators we could ill afford to lose out of our profession. Many more of us have been pushed out in different ways, often in despair at the assault on all we know to be best practice for our children and grandchildren.
Unfortunately, the National market-driven bulldozer will push forward whether Hekia is smiling in the driver's seat or not. We can certainly expect more damage to our children to come, even when we think it couldn’t possibly get worse. If, as one rumour suggests, she jumped, in the face of further radical reform that even she couldn't stomach, then it's a bit late for her to develop a conscience as far as I'm concerned. The time for her to demonstrate concern for children and teachers is long past, and her report card, to use the very assessment she introduced, is well-below standard.