Me... I like the get-rid-of-banding. I really do.
Getting Rid of Banding is NOT an Initiative Targeted at Parents
I thought HSK's positioning was masterful. He got rid of school banding and took that opportunity to signal to parents that academics isn't everything. That's so smart because parents DO have a role to play. However, I don't think anyone in MOE is dumb enough to BELIEVE that by taking away banding, they'll change parents' mindsets. What is obvious to us is probably obvious to MOE too. I think. Not sure.
I am guessing that... maybe this banding business is being used as a convenient SIGNAL to parents that academics are not everything BUT what it does really do is it prevents schools from competing with each other.
If schools were siblings, you're telling them... "I don't care what your report card is at the end of the year, I still love you and I will help you perform in your area of strength (note: $55 million for niche development)." What happens when parents rank order sibling performance of 10 siblings? You make them compete. The top ranked 10% feel great and can get cocky. The next 10% feel good. The next 20% feel ok. After that, it all goes downhill. The last band is very demoralized.
Every School Needs Motivated Teachers
Schools in the last band have a tough time motivating teachers. Teachers that get sent there walk around everyday knowing that they teach lousy students in a Band 9 school. How much pride can you feel? How much meaning can you find in your job? We need motivated teachers who love what they do in EVERY school, not just the top 10%. We need to give ALL teachers the right to feel proud no matter what school they're in.
Taking away the School Excellence Awards again stops the historical signaling to schools... School A, you're good and School Z, you're lousy... It's stressful for schools. Beyond the administrative load, it encourages schools to compete and competition is always stressful. Stress leads to burnout and teachers leave. Stressed Teachers stress our kids. Teachers treated like slaves drive our children like slaves.
Still Need SOME Competition
However, HSK was wise. He did say that there won't completely be NO stress. He doesn't wanna take away competition entirely because a bit of that is good. All he is doing is to reduce competition between schools somewhat. He is telling his schools "You are all precious and of same worth to me... and to the nation." This will enable Principals in Band 9 schools to motivate teachers. Otherwise, the Band 8 and 9 schools, like our failing children are stuck in their rut of demoralized failure.... and they do a lousy job with students... and this leads to parents trying their utmost to tuition their kids to death so that they don't end up in these schools.
If we want all schools to be good schools then this is a good first step. Treat all schools the same. Help them all to their need. Level everyone up to a high average. The Straits Times reports that money will be given to schools according to need, not student numbers... because student numbers again is a demonstration of school popularity (aka quality). Sometimes, the lousy schools need more money.
MOE's Work Plan Focuses on Looking After SCHOOLS, not Slapping Parents
His entire slew of measures this year is focused on helping schools. A website with parenting tips goes up too but really, the biggest thing that he is doing by removing banding is to tell all schools that they no longer need to outdo each other. They need to do the best they can... with the students they have, and grow their niches. Schools and teachers within can be proud of what they do because no one is gonna rank them and make them compete like gladiators.
Finally, he is moving to SAYANG his schools... he is moving to RESOURCE his teachers with good teaching materials in Stellar Upper Primary... I like that. SAYANG the schools without favor... just as if they are precious children of Singapore. Schools will naturally be able to help each other look after Teachers. Teachers will help each other look after our kids. In the end, by sayanging his schools... our kids benefit.
Here is a view of the school banding from the perspective of a lousy school - here.
Just a few months ago, MOE top brass told me that if I had issues with the school, I should go and complain to the the school. Try as I might I could not make sense of this. It's a bit like encouraging another parent to discipline my child. As far as I am concerned, no one is allowed to go straight to my child to settle scores. You tell me. I deal with it. It's my responsibility as a parent to make sure MY child behaves... and it's my responsibility as a parent to make sure YOU respect my child's rights to dignity and self-respect.
I was so impressed with KK Hospital when many years ago, there were signboards telling people that if they were abusive to staff, they would not get served. Not surprisingly, KKH is an excellent hospital. It is loyal to its staff. When MOE asked me to go and have it out with the school, I was floored. Why would you open your schools and teachers to potential parent abuse? It's a recipe for multiple small fires and publicity flare-ups of the Mommy-Who-Filed-Police-Report-For-Hair-Cut. Parents should be able to bring grievances first to MOE before going to the police. But MOE always asked us to settle scores with the schools directly.
Oh well... I am glad Mr Heng has signaled that teacher abuse will not be tolerated. Be loyal to your frontline teachers and that will make it easier for teachers to do their job. And our kids will be better loved in school by teachers who feel loved by their organization.
My Only Concern Now
I am only afraid now that things will get worse before they get better. Typically, when a system has been over geared with extrinsic motivators (e.g., competition, bonuses, awards etc...), their sudden removal takes the wind out of every sail. As someone who understands motivation very well, my advice to MOE is to quickly step up on signaling to staff MEANING... MISSION... LOVE... WE'RE IN THIS TOGETHER... This ignites a bit of internal drive. I do know what I am talking about... I developed the notion of Internal Drive Ignition® and trademarked it. See here.