Mainstreaming Education: The Role of the State Services Commission
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AbstractThe education reforms that began in New Zealand in 1987 have generated a huge literature. One of the features of that literature has been the attempt to relate the education reforms to the large collection of economic and political reforms set in place by the fourth Labour Government after its election in 1984. The first, and most radical, phase of these reforms occurred during the 1984-87 Parliament. They centred on a programme of widespread economic deregulation and the curtailment and/or commercialization of state activities. They were informed and driven by a neo-liberal economic theory, known locally as “Rogernomics” after its chief begetter, the Minister of Finance in the 1984-87 Labour Government, Roger Douglas (see Holland and Boston, 1991). In this phase there were no radical changes to the education systems. With the return of the Labour government in 1987 the reform impetus was extended to education. There were two strands to this impetus. One was the explicit application to education of the Rogernomics neo-liberal approach, this is set out in the second volume of the Treasury’s brief to the incoming government (NZ Treasury, 1987). The other was the setting up of the Picot task force on the administration of education whose report Administering for Excellence was published in April 1988. These two strands were distinct from each other. The Treasury brief distinguished between education as a public good and as a commodity (see Grace, 1989). The Picot Task force’s terms of reference were confined to the administration of education. Where the strands come together was in the presence of a Treasury representative on the Picot task force, whose activities on the task force were revealed by another of its members, Peter Ramsay, to have amounted to putting pressure on the Picot members to follow “the Treasury line”. These two interventions in education gave rise to what has been perhaps the most influential interpretation of the New Zealand education reforms, that they were led by a new right, neo-liberal ideology, that in essence they represented the extension of Rogernomics to education. This interpretation sees the education reforms as aimed at eventually privatizing education in line with the privatization of other areas of government activity. It points to the continuing interest of the Treasury in education, which it sees as being fuelled and supported by the Business Roundtable (BRT) and in particular, informed by the report the BRT commissioned from the neo-liberal writer on education, Stuart Sexton, (1990).