Last week, I attended a meeting on National Standards in a small town in the Waikato. It was a cold Thursday evening but about 50 parents and teachers and the three candidates for the Coromandel electorate had a chance to hear Professor Martin Thrupp report from his current research on National Standards in schools. Martin was at pains to say the research is not finished but he made some excellent observations about the way schools are struggling with an imposed and unhelpful measurement system, with about a quarter failing or refusing to comply. [Today’s NZ Herald now reports that of the 2076 schools required to submit Charters including the Standards, 416 sent in non-compliant Charters, 117 are still being assessed for compliance and 30 failed or refused to send in any Charter at all.]
The Principals of two of the local Waikato schools and several teachers gave impassioned contributions last Thursday evening about their commitment to student achievement without labelling and league tables. They believe the narrowing of the focus in schools undermines the support for a diversity of learners. Everyone agreed at the meeting that the education system needs to keep challenging itself and looking at what isn’t working, but no one spoke up in favour of the Government’s untrialled and imposed solution. Normally educational reform is rolled out with major input from academics and teachers as well as politicians. The lack of an evidence base for the Standards may not bother the Government but it isn’t impressing the people in heartland Aotearoa.
I have also attended two hui with kaiako Maori and with Maori Boards of Trustees. At both these hui I received huge support for the Greens position and our poster “Ten Great Ideas in Education, and Ten Concerns about National Standards”. The kura kaupapa have been exempted from the crude imposition of Nationals Standards, but at least 85% of Maori tamariki are in the Pakeha school system so Maori teachers are standing up for these tamariki.
Our curriculum has international respect and our outcomes could improve even further if we looked to Finland where teachers are well paid and respected to enhance the quality of the whole education system – and it works!
I think Education Minister Anne Tolley underestimates the damage done. Schools are hurting and every day parents write to me worried about the impact of this retrograde approach. There is so much we can do to support our children and they only get one shot at primary school.