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It was a normal work day when we all got the email that made our stomachs sink. (Image: Tina Tiller)
It was a normal work day when we all got the email that made our stomachs sink. (Image: Tina Tiller)

PoliticsApril 18, 2024

What it’s like to be made redundant by the Ministry of Education

It was a normal work day when we all got the email that made our stomachs sink. (Image: Tina Tiller)
It was a normal work day when we all got the email that made our stomachs sink. (Image: Tina Tiller)

I was one of hundreds of people who lost my government job this week. Here’s exactly how it played out.

It is a Friday. I’m in the middle of an online Teams hui working out the finer details of a series of workshops we’ll be presenting next week. It’s a normal work day at 10am. Someone has just cracked a joke about how much money they’ve been saving by drinking instant coffee when the email comes in.

“Oh, did you get an email?” Everyone stops talking. We check our inboxes.

An email has been sent to every person involved in the NCEA Change programme: over 300 staff. The programme is supposed to be the biggest reform to NCEA since its inception. 

We are being summoned to an urgent meeting at midday. 

For the past two weeks, the media has been reporting on public servant job cuts. For the past three months, we’ve been getting regular (and weird) memos from the minister(s) about what to read, what to watch, what’s “really wrong” in terms of the NCEA Change package and deep concerns about how badly teachers were teaching, schools were schooling, backroom ministry workers were meddling.

But, we think, we’ll be okay. Won’t we? There are fewer than 50 of us working frontline for the whole country. We still have to help schools. Surely we are safe? Didn’t someone say something about no frontline staff being impacted?

At midday we tune in, and the person who is about four steps down in seniority from Erica Stanford reads out a statement. Firstly she tells us that, at 12.30, the minister is going to announce the push back of level two and level three NCEA changes for two years and secondly, pretty much everyone involved in the NCEA Change programme will now be surplus staff. She goes on to outline the next steps and we are sent a follow-up email.

So into the weekend we go, wondering if we will have jobs. Almost all of us, like me, had given up permanent full-time teaching positions to go into the ministry to work on this project; a role that promised three years of work to help kaiako and kura with the Change programme. One of us has only been in the role seven weeks.

Monday is weird. I’m in the provinces on my way to another town to present a four-hour workshop. Tuesday is weirder. News is trickling through to teachers, who are coming to understand the implications of pushing the change to level two and level three out by two years. My travelling companion and co-presenter is going to cancel a planned family trip to the big city.

Many of my team members are getting in contact with the previous schools where they used to teach. My former head of department says, “If only I’d know yesterday! We’ve just appointed someone.”

Thursday, back in the office, everyone’s on high alert. It’s business as usual, except it isn’t. People are talking about what they will do. Thinking about what schools need. What teachers need. And the kids. 

“Surely,” we keep saying, “surely we’ll keep our jobs?”

Emails from “my schools” continue to come in: can you come see us about…? Looking forward to you working with our dept on… Can you find out…?

I don’t answer them. What can I say? That the planned workshop in May probably won’t happen now?

Twitter is full of others like me. DMs, emails, reckons. The consensus is that education is too important to be left to the whims of successive governments. There was a good reason for the change. There was cross-party agreement. The programme is based on good research and data, created by the finest of minds. 

Then there are questions around how will things be picked up in 2028 if everyone’s made to leave? All that institutional knowledge gone. But worse for the kids. 

For me, I’m even more suspicious about motivation. Change two of the programme is “mana ōrite mō te mātauranga Māori (equal status for Māori knowledge)”. 

On Friday, we’re told that on Monday we will be told whether or not we are to be told on Tuesday what is happening to our jobs. That decision has already been made, but we workers have to wait and worry and stress and fight with our children and our partners and rage at the unfairness of it all weekend.

Me, I cancel the guy who mows the lawn. It’s $81 a fortnight. I can’t do it myself, nor can my husband who has long Covid. But the dog will enjoy playing in the longer grass. Hope the neighbours don’t get shitty. I also go through expenses to decide what’s essential: insurance premiums, subscriptions to multiple media outlets, and about 15 other things. I reduce the pet insurance; hover over our own health insurance but decide to keep it. I stop our Hello Fresh subscription. I’ll have time to prepare meals now, won’t I?

Monday. We wait. Someone from another office says, “the emails have started.” Five minutes later they message again: “It’s like the Red Wedding.”

Ten minutes later, my email arrives. I was expecting it, but it’s still a shock and I burst into tears. My heart races. Luckily, I’m at my GP getting some meds. He says, “you OK?”

I tell him. My chest hurts. 

I cry on the way home and cuddle the dog. I message my lead. I message my colleagues. They’ve got their emails too. The blood bath has continued in the other office, according to my friend. My friend doesn’t get an email, so their job is safe. Thank goodness for that at least.

It is Tuesday. I arrive 30 minutes early and return my work-from-home equipment to the IT people, who look shocked. I have my support person. I have a pen and notepad. Neither are needed.

I am read a script telling me my role is disestablished. Telling me the details of the restructure will be provided tomorrow for consultation. I am given the date of my last day. 

My manager is sorry. I know they are. This is out of their hands. It has nothing to do with competency or output. We all know it’s about promised cuts to public service spending and that the politicians who demand such cuts have no idea the amazing work being done with schools, teachers and children.

I go to my locker and clean it out. I have a few weeks left but I might as well clear house a bit. After all, that’s what this government is doing.

I’m allowed to go home for the day and on my way out I pass a woman crying. I overhear another swearing and angry at the mishandling of her friend’s situation. “Why me and not the others?” I hear one ask as I walk out.

My phone is blowing up with messages from my team from around the country. It is indeed a Red Wedding. 

There is no redundancy pay; no compensation. I’m a contractor. I was employed on a fixed term contract for three years. It lasted six months.

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