Two friends came for lunch last Monday, Graeme Oldershaw and Lester Taylor. Graeme brought a tasty smoked chicken and vegetable soup he’d made and Lester home-baked scones. They are both former college of education principals, Graeme in Wellington and Lester in Dunedin. I got to know them well when I was director of the New Zealand Council for Teacher Education in the 1990s. NZCTE basically was lobbyist for the colleges of education. My major task was to ensure their voice was heard alongside the universities and polytechnics and the increasing number of private providers of tertiary education. Dealing with the funding cuts by the Bolger Government occupied quite a bit of my time.
A highlight of my stint there was to organise through the British Council an education study tour of the United Kingdom for the six principals and myself. In a jam-packed fortnight we gained considerable knowledge about the English and Scottish systems as well as a lot about each other. We spent the first week at an in-service centre near Bristol. After an intensive day’s work, in the evenings we had time to explore the lovely Somerset countryside. The second week was spent in visits to institutions in London, Milton Keynes, Manchester, Edinburgh and Stirling. I found the Scottish system particularly impressive.
The position meant I had a lot to do with Minister Lockwood Smith. Despite opposing some of his policies I enjoyed working with him. He was always approachable, willing to listen and prepared to reconsider his decisions when faced with reasoanble arguments. He launched my two education books. I am not surprised he is a success as Speaker for he is fair man.
NZCTE took him out to dinner once a year, Chatham House rules. (Nothjng said was to be attributed). They were useful occasions. Until one night Dr Smith kept talking about his farm and his prize show bulls. Eventually one principal said we were there to discuss education. He sighed and asked if he could trust us to keep a secret. We agreed. He revealed that there was to be a Cabinet reshuffle and he was being taken off the education portfolio. To our credit we kept our word. My first thought was ‘damn, what a waste of money.’ A month later we took his successor Wyatt Creech to Plimmer House for a repeat meal.
As director I had responsibility for the national language advisers, French, German, Spanish, Chinese and Japanese. This was logical as colleges of education had regional control of teacher advisory services. These five positions were administered under separate agreements with their governments. This meant considerable discussions with embassies and home authorities, a very stimulating process. The same contract from the Ministry of Education gave me control of teacher exchanges.with Britain, Germany and Canada.
NZCTE no longer exists. The colleges have all merged into the local university Education Departments. My time as director was an enjoyable period of my life. I was 'boss' and proved to myself that I was a capable administrator.
Words - Douglas McLennan
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