Wellington Scoop

The business of education

Bill English and Hekia Parata looked foolish yesterday when they described a revered part of the educational establishment as a “business,” and said they were closing it down because it wasn’t making enough money.

It was strange to hear their description of a government-owned company with a distinguished 75 year history of publishing the School Journal. But because of the way they define it, Learning Media is to disappear, together with the jobs of more than 100 Wellington editors, designers, project managers and software programmers.

There’s been fierce criticism of the decision.

English and Parata may have been the only two people in the country who didn’t know that Margaret Mahy got her start with a story in the School Journal. As this Herald article records, Rita Angus, Dick Frizzell, Colin McCahon, Joy Cowley, Patricia Grace, Witi Ihimaera, and James K. Baxter are among other distinguished New Zealanders who have alsofeatured in the publication.

And the real reason for the shutdown?

Bill Manhire commented (via Twitter) last night:

Which government privatised the School Journal by creating Learning Media? That was the really big mistake.

Blogger Mandy Hager agreed. She wrote that

Learning Media is being closed not because of poor performance, as Bill English claims, but because they had the heart stripped out of them when the Ministry of Education was forced to tender out for its resources. The collapse of Learning Media falls directly at National’s feet.

She publishes a press statement written by members of the children’s writing community.

And on Mike’s Blog, where the author is a relative of Russell Clark, whose art was a feature of the School Journal for many years:

Respectfully, the important fact is that the provision of quality educational resources is not about profit Minister … Free School Journals provided to schools are only free if they are authored by people who work to provide them for artistic and educational merit. Things change if School Journal production and editorial content is offered to commercial firms for the sake of profit. And can change in a sinister way.

The politicians’ decision was preceded by a glum statement by Jenn Bestwick, the Learning Media chair, who said dutifully that the board agreed with the ministers that “the company does not have a viable on-going business.” She talks vaguely about the need for the School Journal to continue, but there’s no information on how this might happen.

Even Peter Dunne says the School Journal must continue. He describes it as “one of the great cradles of New Zealand’s literary talent, and a staple of education for generations.” He has the idea of “a new partnership with a commercial publisher.” He can’t have read the warning on Mike’s Blog.

On social media, the most interesting message contrasted the government’s ruling that Learning Media was not “financially viable” with its decision to bail out the Wanganui Collegiate School – another educational organisation which is not financially viable.

The last word comes from Bill Manhire.

Bellamy’s probably isn’t a “viable business” either.


  1. pj, 5. September 2013, 16:01

    Twenty five fatcats on 100K+ a year each (out of a staff of a hundred!) As someone who works in the private sector for half that, I have zero sympathy.

    This is a win-win result for the taxpayer: cheaper textbooks sourced from a variety of sources, no more bailout for Wellington’s cossetted elite.

  2. jon donson, 5. September 2013, 20:14

    I agree, pj, glad to see these pampered public sector louts taken down a notch by a fellow intellectual. Everyone knows that all those executives in the private sector with exuberant salaries deserve them for the skills and knowledge they bring to the company.

    Hopefully now we can import some nice cheap books that provide what our children need without of any the namby pamby PC nonsense that plagued the notorious taxpayer money sink The School Journal. Children already play too much – I think it’s just wasteful that I spend my hard earned tax dollars on people writing a bunch of made-up words just so that kids can imagine things. They do that already! Why are we paying for it!!

  3. pj, 6. September 2013, 4:28

    Exactly, jon. You’d think with such a deep talent pool of 100K+ Wellington geniuses they would have figured out how to sell a book or two to someone somewhere overseas, but alas no that would be dreaming. And yes, god forbid a book made by the private sector should fall into the hands of children. I once read one of those myself — shocking positive references to selling things in shops.

  4. HH, 6. September 2013, 9:11

    This is so sad – Learning Media resources are such a vital part of NZ’s education. They are not just random books.They are written for our unique NZ context and have a lot of research behind them. Text, layout and pictures are structured to support learning. They hook our kids into learning. At least they are saying the Journals will continue for now, but there are a wealth of other resources Learning Media supply to schools in maths, technology and science as well as the reading ones. Seems strange that we cannot somehow have a successful Ministry of Education-based entity to create the resources needed to help state schools to teach the NZ curriculum. Hmph.

  5. Paula Browning, 6. September 2013, 9:33

    None of us need to be reminded of the dire news that has hit the local publishing sector this year with the withdrawal of multi-national publishers from the New Zealand market and yesterday’s shock announcement of the closure of Learning Media. At an Asia Pacific copyright meeting in Bangkok a couple of weeks ago I joked that soon New Zealand children would be reading about Kangaroos instead of Kiwis. But it’s really not funny. As New Zealanders we’re used to a rich creative culture. We’re used to having access to our own stories in our own books … (extract from speech)