We teachers, associate and deputy principals and principals are all sitting here at the moment thinking, “Good grief. I’ve got so much work on I think the best thing to happen at the moment would be for the government to announce a consultation on making changes to the 1989 Education Act.”
As angry as we all are at this nonsense, it is up to us to contribute. As Bill at Save Our Schools has noted, there are many, many lines that need to be read between in this consultation. This I have done and what follows is my response.
Making sure everyone knows the goals for education
What should the goals for education be?
As mentioned in the discussion document on goals, there are already clear goals for education in the New Zealand Curriculum, Te Marautanga o Aotearoa and the Early Childhood curriculum document Te Whariki.
The need for the minister and National Government to want to include “goals” within the act is clearly related to their desire to have a measurable education system. Goals can be measured. Measurement can be done with testing. Results can be reported through National Standards.
As we have seen in recent years, the reporting of these results has been used by media to publish league tables of school performance based solely on this measurement, which, by even the Prime Minister’s own account, are not robust.
I have no doubt in my mind that this government will use the “goals” part of the act to enshrine in law this system of pupil measurement.
What process should be used for setting a national priorities statement for early learning and schooling?
Curriculum documents are a fine way to set learning goals and priorities. The New Zealand Curriculum and other such documents are clear in their goals for student learning.
Curriculums are also working documents. Yes, they last for a number of years, but they can be changed or modified or reviewed. Setting something like this down in legislation puts this decision-making in the hands of politicians (of whichever party). The NZ Curriculum and Te Whariki are too important to be usurped in this way.
No offence, but it is very rare for politicians to have any experience as educators or of education other than having attended school at some point in their lives.
Supporting boards to focus on what’s important
What should the roles and responsibilities of a school or a kura board be?
This section also concerns me.
“Ensuring all learners reach their highest possible standard of educational achievement”
“Working collaboratively with parents and whānau to improve student achievement and wellbeing”
These statements suggest the minister or ministry don’t believe this is happening already. Or if they do think it is happening, they don’t believe boards and schools are doing it in the way the minister or ministry want. Do they feel they need to put some of these ideas into legislation so that boards and schools can be forced to play the game if it is decided they need to?
What changes should be made to simplify planning and reporting?
In order to simplify the planning and reporting of boards, the government needs to give them more independence. As the suggestion discussion document says, removing red tape from schools would be a way to be given this freedom.
A concern for me, related back to some of my previous points, is how will the government and ministry decide what is a high performing school? Will they define this through National Standards achievement data? What about those schools in low deciles that, through no fault of their own, are having to deal with a multitude of issues outside the school gates which impact on these data? Are they going to be penalised or not given the aforementioned freedom because their data doesn’t hit government targets?
How can we better provide for groups of schools and kura to work together more to plan and report?
The Communities of Schools or Communities of Learning idea has some merit. The concern for me, which wasn’t answered by the Ministry of Education at the meeting I attended, was what would happen to the schools who decided they didn’t want to be part of a community of this nature? Would they get a professional learning budget?
The other concern would be any funding for these communities being tagged by the ministry. i.e.: schools or communities of learning can only spend on things approved by the ministry.
How should schools and kura report on their performance and young people’s achievements to parents, family, whanau and communities?
Twice-yearly reporting is currently used. This is generally ok, although can become quickly out of date as classroom learning quickly progresses on to the next thing.
In the current social media climate a better way could be developed to report to parents / whanau using devices and applications to report to parents in “real-time.” This would be an innovative use of ministry resources to develop this reporting tool.
What should the indicators and measures be for school performance and student achievement and well-being?
Under no circumstances should National Standards or any form of assessment be used to measure school performance or compare student achievement between school.
No two schools are the same. Each school has unique set of variables that impact (positively or negatively) on student achievement. As long as the government refuse to accept that factors such as poverty impact on in-school achievement and well-being, any indicators they develop will be meaningless, if not dangerous to the progress of the sector.
What freedoms and extra decision-making rights could be given to schools, kura and Communities of Learning that are doing well?
It really does depend on how you define “doing well.” Does this mean students achieving well? What is the measurement? National Standards?
All schools should have freedoms and extra decision-making rights so they can give their students the best possible chance to become the “life-long learners” the NZ Curriculum talks about.
Enabling collaboration, flexibility and innovation
What ways could boards work more closely together?
I work at a school that already has a combined board with another school. This is a great arrangement. Our school is small, the other school is quite large. There are obvious benefits of the lack of duplication and the struggles our small school would have finding representatives every election cycle. The only issue could be how big is too big? How many schools could be combined under a single board?
What do you think about schools and kura having the flexibility to introduce cohort or group entry?
Allowing group entry of school starters makes a lot of sense. If you have a group of 5 year olds starting on the same day they will be involved in learning routines together. In saying that, as it is now with students starting on their birthdays and trickling into class over the year, each new student is mentored into class and school routines by other experienced students.
What do you think about making attendance compulsory for children once they have started school or kura before they turn six years old?
Some children aren’t ready to begin school at 5 years of age. This idea removes flexibility of this decision from the parents. At the present moment parents are able to keep their child in early childhood education if they believe they are not ready to progress to school. The last thing a child needs is to be forced to attend school if they aren’t ready.
Making best use of local education provision
How should area strategies be decided, and how should schools, kura and communities be consulted?
It should be communities and schools who are consulted over the strategy for the area. Local communities are in a far better place to decide the direction of their education policy than some ministry official in Wellington. Inevitably they are going to be only looking at the bottom line rather than the community they are making the decision about.
What should be taken in to account when making decisions about opening, merging or closing schools?
There is a definite red flag in this question and we have seen it in what the Ministry of Education and Minister Parata have done in Christchurch following the earthquakes. In order to consolidate schools and save money the government announced several closures and mergers with little, if any, consultation with the school communities involved. The process appeared to involve an announcement of closure / merger followed by a period of “consultation” with the involved community. By doing it in this order – announcement followed by consultation – there is an air of inevitability about it in that the government has already decided on the closure / merger and the consultation with the affected community is really just PR window dressing to make them look good.
- I didn’t answer the last question on enrolment schemes because I didn’t have any particular view on that.
- This “consultation” period is a joke. By releasing it at this time of the year, the government (by design or accident) has severely curtailed the number of people who will submit their thoughts. For example, I’m sure the people of Christchurch would like to say a few things about who should have control over the decision making and educational strategy for their local area.