Catherine Delahunty
National Standards race to nowhere

Yesterday, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard visited our Parliament and promoted free trade agreements with all the fervour of the faithful.

This position was predictable, but less well known is her stance on education. Julia is the leader who imposed the Australian version of National Standards on Australian schools against the wishes of the teachers’ unions.

On a school visit, John Key admitted to Julia Gillard that we’re having a few problems with our “trial” of National Standards. If only it was a trial! In fact, it’s been rolled out to all schools, but he was right to admit that it’s not going well – many of our teachers and principals have rejected the standards outright.

The Australian education system is not the model we should follow in the race to educational inequity. Their record on public education is tainted by privatisation and underfunding. The Finnish education system is far more successful and innovative and is based on rewarding teachers and uplifting the status of public education. While there are some key differences between New Zealand and Finland – like the fact that there’s very little immigration in Finland – we could learn a lot from the Finnish system. However, I doubt the National Government is interested in anything that challenges its present orthodoxy.

The National Standards are in trouble because they were not a response to a key need identified by students, parents, teachers or academics. They were part of a new Government wanting to deliver on a particular election commitment. By ACT’s standards they are limited response to the call for vouchers and total privatisation in education. But it’s far easier to slowly weaken the public sector and set up the steps towards league tables and performance pay than announce your passion for the private system.

Of course, the signals have been clear since Budget 2009, which granted an extra $35 million to private schools. The present fondness for Cambridge exams over NCEA, and moves towards public private partnerships in schools are more evidence of this trend.

Last year National Standards were the major debacle in education, and the pitched battle over them created the sense of a Government that would not listen to teachers. Now with the resignation of the Ministry of Education’s senior official working on National Standards the cracks are widening. Will the Government acknowledge the need for a review of the mess, or will they plough on further to in the educational race to nowhere?

21 thoughts on “National Standards race to nowhere

  1. …but he was right to admit that it’s not going well – many of our teachers and principals have rejected the standards outright.

    I’m wondering if this is the prelude to him dumping Tolley before the election. Even Key must now see her as his greatest electoral liabilty. She’s spent 2 years bullying and ignoring teachers, principals, BOTs and academic educationalists – only now to be undermined by her own Leader who has effectively admitted they were right all along.

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  2. The present fondness for Cambridge exams over NCEA

    That has nothing to do with favouring private schools, but instead has more to do with some of the problems that the NCEA has – particularly its failure to adequately incentivise high achievement.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0 (+2)

  3. @john-ston 3:57 PM

    I don’t have a problem with alternative assessments to NCEA as long as they are rigorous. But there is a certain irony here with Tolley supportive of secondary schools that offer alternatives to NCEA while threatening funding cuts and even sacking BOTs for primary schools that prefer tried and true assessment methods over her flawed National Standards.

    BTW, where’s photonz1? He’s usually the first to pop up to defend Tolly on a National Standards thread. Guess even he finds it a bit too hard now Key has left her dangling.

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  4. toad asks “BTW, where’s photonz1? ”

    I’m busy helping my kids with their homework.

    I see the ioony you talk about, but it works both ways. Labour are screaming down national standards after enforcing new national standards in their own term in power.

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  5. “The Finnish education system is far more successful and innovative …we could learn a lot from the Finnish system.”

    The Finnish education system is often touted as world-class but its not perfect. One area where it seems inferior to the Australian and New Zealand public education systems is its poor record (and it seems to be getting worse) in welcoming and including disabled students in regular schooling.

    http://bidok.uibk.ac.at/library/inkl-01-09-saloviita-finland.html

    Finland has one of the highest proportions (6%) of students in segregated special schools and special classes, “maybe the highest percentage reported anywhere in the world at the present time.”

    As you say Catherine there are key differences between the NZ and Finnish education systems – perhaps one cause of Finland’s high performance is the fact that its regular schools have few immigrant, ethnic minority or disabled students.

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  6. I don’t have a problem with alternative assessments to NCEA as long as they are rigorous.

    I do – there is a perception that the alternatives are better to the NCEA, and that could have severe negative consequences to those who went to schools who did not offer those alternatives and for whatever reason never went to University.

    Really, the national qualification needs to be rigorous enough that alternatives are not necessary. The biggest problem in my view was the Unit Standards (BTW, these are different from Achievement Standards); not only was it a simple Achieved or Not Achieved (thus reducing incentives to achieve at a high level), but it was the Unit Standards that were heavily abused by certain schools.

    perhaps one cause of Finland’s high performance is the fact that its regular schools have few immigrant, ethnic minority or disabled students.

    The other thing that interested me was the value that families put on education – even in a country like New Zealand, one notices that ethnicities (and families) that put a high emphasis on education (especially the Asians) tend to have children at a high level of success. If we could get all families to truly value education, then perhaps the level of achievement would increase.

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  7. Being on dial-up I couldn’t get the low down on the Finnish system but from what I am reading here seems to be par for the course from this Nat’Act government.

    They always want to push their agenda down people’s throughts in record time. I mean what’s the hurry? Is the world ending after the election?

    I know nothing about these education systems but the principles and teachers do, after all they are the front line experts; right?

    So wouldn’t it be common sense to put the NZCA, Cambridge system and the Finnish system etc. to those working in that field and let them decide.

    They may be able to nut out a system that picks the best from all the others!!!!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0 (+1)

  8. Don’t you get the feeling that the National Standards battle is a little like Monty Python’s Black Knight scene?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gXY9TuuwyL8
    The Standards have no legs or arms but Tolley insists they are fighting fit and up to the job. A continually growing number of schools are just walking past the Standards, shaking their heads at the limbless torso, while the Minister screams “come back now or I’ll take away your PD!”

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  9. Sprout – that applies to the hollow politically driven protests.

    Most of the things complained about apply to the standards currently being used, and have done for years.

    They are working really well at our school – parents are happy – and kids are getting more home help where they need it.

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  10. Photonz1, like I have said previously, if the Standards improved things in your school things must have been pretty bad before. I’m really sorry you haven’t experienced most of the other wonderful schools where the Standards just lowered the quality of what they were delivering before.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2 (+1)

  11. sprout – You take a school that has excellent ero reports, excellent teachers, and excellent results with learning, and even thought you don’t know a single thing about the school, you totally write them off as being really bad because they’ve successfully introduced NS.

    This is typical of the complete nonsense from the politically driven campaign against standards.

    So any school has been successful with introducing standards, must have been awful before.

    Do you actually read and drivel and nonsense you write before you click “post”

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  12. Photonz1, the Principal of the school is a friend of mine and she strongly opposes National Standards and so do her board. You, yourself claimed that your school had bad ERO reports in the past and the improvements you attributed to National Standards are actually just good practice for most schools. Just be careful with your wild accusations and personal attacks they do not serve you well and further demean your shaky arguments.

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  13. sprout makes accusations on the bad performance of schools that (s)he knows nothing about, then says

    “Just be careful with your wild accusations”

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  14. And to prove how shallow the NS debate is, sprout makes up total lies

    “You, yourself claimed that your school had bad ERO reports in the past”

    So what else is completely made up?

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  15. Photonz1- I must admit I was confused by your original comment, as I first read it as meaning I didn’t know anything about the school whose report I linked to (hence my explanation). I realized afterwards what your intention was, so I apologize for my strong reaction. For all that you still missed my point, National Standards currently delivers nothing more good schools already did and nothing that you have attributed to NS in your school is new. For most schools National Standards will actually hinder good teaching and learning. There is nothing political in schools opposition, just extreme frustration in spending hours trying to negotiate the serious flaws.

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  16. sprout – with so many different assessment systems (or some places using none at all), we’re not getting an accurate assessment of how teachers and classes are doing.

    We know kids who were at the top of their class (in a good school with a good ero review), and moved to find they were way behind their peers in their new school.

    A standard measuring system is essential to find what teaching methods work best, what classes and teachers need most help, and what teachers need additional training.

    And there’s news this week that we have teachers whose maths isn’t even at the level of children at primary school, and we have teachers with reading and writing little better.

    So these teachers have been in the current system for years before they were picked up – not good enough.

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  17. Teachers should be assessed with the National Standards as some teachers aren’t as competent at maths and reading as their students. Quack.

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  18. solka the duck denies reality again

    “The Dominion Post on Tuesday reported that secondary principals have found some teachers so lacking in literacy and numeracy they can’t write adequate reports or do primary-school maths.

    The Teachers Council says most of the 174 referred teachers are unlikely to work in the profession again.”

    From Radio NZ

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