Catherine Delahunty

School boards join the National Standards debate

by Catherine Delahunty

It’s always nice to wake up to good news, and this morning it was the news that 225 school Boards of Trustees will today deliver the message to the Government that they have no confidence in National Standards, and will defer setting student achievement targets based on the standards for at least a year.

The opposition to National Standards is mounting: first teachers spoke out against them, then 38,000 New Zealanders signed a petition expressing concern about them, then the Auckland Primary Principals Association advised its members to stop attending training sessions for the standards because they were “irreconcilably flawed”, then the New Zealand Principals Federation launched a public campaign against the standards. Now Boards of Trustees are getting in on the act.

How much more will it take for John Key’s Government to listen to the message they are getting loud and clear – trial National Standards, not our kids?

What’s especially great about this morning’s news is that it lays to rest the propaganda being spread around that opposition to the standards is somehow limited to teachers, and motivated by self-interest.

In fact, it’s the interest of pupils that’s motivating teachers, parents, principals, and boards. Boards of Trustees have nothing personally to gain from opposing the introduction of the standards; in fact, they’ve been threatened by Education Minister Anne Tolley with “statutory interventions” (read sacking), but, as Jane Forrest, chair of Island Bay School Board of Trustees says, boards are taking a stand “because it was the right thing for the children”:

As representatives of our parent communities, we are joining our principals and teachers to say that national standards are fundamentally flawed, confusing and unworkable and we have no confidence in them.

Is the Minister really prepared to sack hundreds of school Boards of Trustees? The legal criteria for sacking school Boards require far more than that Boards defy an edict of an authoritarian Minister. They require that the Minister:

has reasonable grounds to believe that there is a risk to the operation of the school, or to the welfare or educational performance of its students.

Many of the boycotting schools will be able to demonstrate on the evidence of the reliable, trusted, standardised assessment tools they have been using for many years that they are performing well, and that the Minister has no reasonable grounds to believe there is a risk to the educational performance of their students.

That leaves Ministerial sackings of Boards vulnerable to judicial review in the High Court – potentially hundreds of judicial reviews!

Is that the path this Government really wants to head down? Surely it is time for John Key to tell his Minister of Education to take a step back and listen to the valid concerns of parents, teachers, principals and now Boards of Trustees.

Update I’m at meetings in Auckland today, but my fellow Green MP Keith Locke went down to meet representatives when they presented their opposition to Parliament; here’s a pic.

Published in Media | Society & Culture by Catherine Delahunty on Wed, November 3rd, 2010   

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