League tables – who benefits?

One of our worst fears during the last term of Parliament was that National Standards in primary schools would be turned into League tables by the media. Now it’s about to happen as newspapers have requested the information so they can publish it. There was never a legal way to prevent this happening so the Government should have prevented it by not pretending the assessment model was a national standard. The media will use the information they have and it will be an inaccurate description of the quality of education in any given school. The league tables will probably resemble the secondary tables based on NCEA results but based on even less robust information. The secondary tables tell us a story about socioeconomic conditions but little about the quality of the educational experience in a local school. It is sadly predictable that the wealthy schools and communities are ranked highly. But it’s not necessarily accurate in terms of the quality of the learning environment.

The primary schools data is based on unmoderated data which schools are all developing differently. Professor Martin Thrupp of Waikato University has done an excellent qualitative study of the diversity of implementation of National Standards to date. It is clear that a league table constructed by the media or by the Ministry of Education will only be as useful as the information it is based upon. In other words not very useful. However it is easy to convince the parents who are not close to the educational debate that a league table is a guide. Framing the debate on league tables as a “right to know” debate will not benefit families and whānau making decisions about where their children with flourish.

The consequences of this approach to education will create ugly ripples across communities and will misrepresent some of the most innovative and passionate school environments. Parents do need to know what is going on in schools so they should read the ERO reports already available or even better go and check out the local schools. The intangible benefits of culturally strength, inclusiveness and creativity will not be measured by National Standards. I have said it before and I say it again,”League tables are for sports teams not for schools”.  When you see that front page list take a pinch of salt and engage with your community and school not those simplistic lists!

35 Comments Posted

  1. JoomTeach: ie not pretend that it met their election promise to tell everyone how their kid was doing compared to all kids nationally?

  2. JC2

    30 years ago there were NO electronics apart from a radio. You had a carburettor and a set of points and you could set the whole thing going without anything more complicated than a coil and condenser. So what is actually “required” is nil.

    The development of variable ignition timing and fuel injection to make it all more efficient is something I’d prefer to not give up, as efficiency is important. I’d also want to retain the anti-lock brakes. How much do we *want* to do and how do we do it is the only real question.

    Maybe we make a VLSIC fab and do custom designs in that medium. Maybe we fab the basic Microcontrollers and do custom software. Both methods have merit.

    The important point here is that whatever we do, it isn’t really an export item. It is a security of supply item and is expected to be used to maintain capability and to allow our engineers a chance to work with such a system here. Continual test runs of small quantities to ensure the capability is maintained. We’d still import most of what we need because “cheap as chips” has more than one meaning in the current environment.

    It is the production of a “basic” automobile and some “basic” farm equipment that can displace imported vehicles that is my aim… and designing it here on this blog when this thread has already been quite thoroughly jacked 🙂 seems a bit excessive. We can go more elaborate on the Wind Turbines and the Whiteware, as we have a shot at exporting with those… I doubt we’d ever export a car except as a novelty item for someone with more money than brains.

    Hmmm… maybe we would export more than I’d believed 🙂


  3. > Not a lot is actually REQUIRED …

    Ok; but how much *is* required? because we have to be able to do that much, in order for the plan to be feasible.

  4. Yes… there are others.

    Still, the ephemeris of the satellite has to be known very exactly and updated regularly for the positions to be accurate, and the ground stations and the countries supporting them have varying degrees of stability.

    Overall, we probably would have some time before the GPS system stopped being reliable for most uses , and that is a good thing. Hope, for my kids sake, that they don’t have to build chronometers and navigation tables the old-fashioned way.

    Although I kinda wish they’d LEARN the old-fashioned way 🙂

    Using a sextant to find your position is a sort of magic one learns and then can be proud of, not something one uses without understanding.


  5. The USA runs the first and best known GPS system, but there are other systems being developed and usable to some degree. I am not sure of the exact status of these other systems.

    I think you are right in it only taking one ground station to keep the satellites updated, but the accuracy is improved with multiple observing sites providing feedback to that ground station.


  6. Those Satellites are in the control of the USA. Losing control of that ground station is an indication that the USA no longer exists as an organized entity. Most of the monitor stations are remote enough that they are basically immune. Ascension Island, Diego Garcia, Kwajalein Hawaii would be a vulnerable spot… and the center in Colorado too is “vulnerable” to a society breaking down around it. Thinking about it more it is probably not so vulnerable, because it is VERY likely that any of the Monitor stations could keep them functional (if degraded slightly), and the civilian population of Diego Garcia is unlikely to have any influence on the military presence there.

    We might have to ship them food would be all.

  7. I would hope that the nations that run the satellites would allow friendly countries such as New Zealand and Australia to take control of the satellites if they were no longer able to do so themselves. After all, that would be in virtually everyone’s best interests.


  8. Cars may have electronics in them… but computers seldom have fuel injection systems? 😉

    Also, cars can be built with fairly simple electronics. Not a lot is actually REQUIRED if you build basic transportation.

    I was referring to the loss of the ground stations. Without the ephemeris for the satellite being updated the position you get starts becoming unreliable. I am not sure what the system would actually do without the ground stations but they are a key part of the system. I would have thought that a bird that doesn’t get its updates would take itself offline until it got one, because it won’t be accurate, but I don’t KNOW if that is the case.


    Long time since, but it isn’t a simple system… just another piece of the magic… and it isn’t OUR magic so we may well outlive it if things go completely to custard.

  9. bj – Is there a difference between components for cars and components for electronics, given that cars have more and more electronics in them, with electric cars being no exception?

    The satellite navigation systems are unlikely to be totally knocked out unless there is a major war. However the ground stations could be knocked out so having our own ground station could be useful. Having alternative navigation aids would also help.


  10. Trevor

    Now… are we talking about the cars or the chips? Remember I did NOT look on the chips as an economic play at all, nor as the first move.

    The cars can be useful in terms of displacing costly imports… and if the basic definition of the money is changed those costs WILL be there.

    The chips are not so useful in that role and the creation of such a plant is a purely defensive move in terms of our civilization surviving what are likely to be the toughest 200 years in the history of our species.

    Consider that the satellites could go and navigation could return to being an art form. There is a lot of risk on the table already. Insurance of our ability to access and store data electronically is potentially worth a great deal to the civilization we’ve built.

  11. bj – I understand your reasoning, but I just can’t see New Zealand being in a position to be able to make the range of components required, or even New Zealand + Australia. We might have a chance in conjunction with one or more other countries, but New Zealand’s role is likely to be in the smaller volume, higher value componentry, simply because of the shipping distances.

    I would guess that a similar rationale applies to pharmaceuticals.


  12. JC2

    I wouldn’t want to make a NEW design. The strategy I wanted in this would be to license fab for a common existing design. If I were to choose I think that STM has some nice stuff. To some extent it will depend on who is willing to license ANY designs to fabricate. The combinations of ARM and simple DSP cores… basically we’re not competing with the chip maker… we’re just leasing a corner of their market so they lose nothing – and duplicating the fab to have more reliable supply – a selling point for their product.

    This is like — the least of the things I want to do and it has nothing to do with the economics of our place in the world. I am more interested in addressing the economic issues in the first instance, and the only way to make THOSE issues tractable is through the first thing on my list of

    things “we import a LOT of in terms of dollar cost to the nation.”


    What money is in New Zealand, where it comes from, and how we allocate it to different people and projects within New Zealand. I agree with you about the what Capitalism will do left to its own devices, but consider what we have and where we are.

    If we leave Capitalism to its own devices with respect to this nation we will be tenant farmers for overseas landlords on the land our parents owned or ruled. Within 3 generations.

    There really isn’t any other outcome of that scenario, and that is the vision that National has for this country.

    So you can count me among those who would not leave Capitalism to its own devices here. I have no reverential pedestal on which to enshrine the principle of “comparative advantage”, and particularly no place for the mistaken level to which it is pursued here. Yet Capitalism has a fairly good track record in terms of efficiently allocating resources.

    Societies often fail to recognize that sometimes the value of efficiency is NOT as good for society as some other values may be.


  13. In principle, I agree with bjchip. In practice, my default response is to analyse why it won’t happen.

    The normal behaviour of capitalism is to optimise the slack out of a system, to increase the short-term profit, at the expense of brittleness, so this is a proposal to create a space protected from that. Capitalism’s normal response is to borg it as a profit/corruption opportunity, or criminalise it with trade agreements.

    The other thing is technology change, so the Scotts made a memory fab and it was overtaken by events, and we could easily make a hardware plant whose hardware couldn’t run the software of the day.

    BJ, do you have specs for the microcontroller that we would have to expect to be able to build, in order for the project to be worth starting?

  14. Trevor

    I think we already have the ability to make the larger feature size items in some University labs. I could be wrong in that assertion but lets go back to the “why” question.

    In this case, as I pointed out “has nothing to do with the economics of production, but with a darker view of our need to be able to function on our own.” which should give a hint, and there is the further hint ” to be hostage to a supply chain that can cease to exist “

    The places those Fabs exist now, most of them, are vulnerable. Half the the global supply of disk drives was disrupted by a single flood in Thailand. Most of those countries have economic issues as well, and are way overpopulated.

    So do we expect the weather to get WORSE? Do we expect people in overpopulated countries to starve as a result? Do we expect revolutions as a result? Will transport become more expensive? We MAY still have food to trade but even that is not guaranteed when the weather gets less predictable and more extreme.

    Yet as you pointed out, almost everything relies on the electronic miracles. We take those electronic miracles for granted. Our civilization may not function without them and it is certain that much of our technology cannot – which is my response to the “why” in your question.

    I wouldn’t require the latest-greatest-tiniest-feature-size capabilities to serve that worry. Licensing the older designs is apt to be adequate to my answer, but there is a range of “stuff” that falls into the category. I mentioned another just now. Disk drives.

    I doubt we’d get the marvelously compact devices we currently get, built in any plant in Oz or NZ, but the ability to build less compact versions of the those things is not optional, we have to have it along with the ability to build some sort of monitors. We are, as a society, vulnerable to the loss not only of the ability to make the things economically in bulk, but to the loss of the ability to make the things at all.

    Which is basically an insurance policy, not an economic policy, against a set of risks that are currently not on most people’s horizon. It did not have anything to do with economics, and I did say that it is a “defense of civilization” policy .

  15. bj – there are transistors and transistors. The high current FETs used for invertors, switch-mode power supplies and a host of other applications are made using feature sizes only a few steps up from those of high capacity memory chips, and are made on the fab lines that previously made such memory chips and which have been overtaken by improved technology. Advanced microcontrollers have similarly small features. I just don’t see New Zealand or Australia ever having the capacity to make these things.

    We could probably get the technology to make more basic transistors and diodes, but it wouldn’t be cost effective and why bother unless we can also make a whole range of other parts as well?


  16. We have no ability to make a transistor? Really?

    I understand your point. I am still not quite clear.

    I wasn’t talking about raw materials… and I was not excluding Oz in the overall policy… and there are two reasons for having such a policy.

    We would not need a “productive industry” that makes a profit at each level of the vertical stream, but we would need an ability to make the things and that ability maintained (through subsidy if necessary), so as not to be hostage to a supply chain that can cease to exist.

    If a capability is small scale it does not greatly afflict us in terms of prices and it isn’t that hard if you don’t demand large quantities ( I think decent bearings would be harder ).

    Your problem area “chips” would be a poor an example as I could choose… it isn’t an economic issue. Very few countries actually have wafer fab capability, yet I think that between NZ and Oz we should have at least one plant. Call it a research production facility if you like. It has nothing to do with the economics of production, but with a darker view of our need to be able to function on our own.

    The fab we maintain would produce chips and be subsidized to do so. We concentrate on a some of basic standard items, licensed designs so that they ARE standard items. We don’t charge more than the going price for the things, nor less, as we are not about trying to compete in that particular industry. The bulk of chips for our “upstream” products still come from overseas. We do enough to keep the plant alive and its production ticking over.

    The products we build upstream of that use the imported chips for the most part. Our chip production would be a backup capability, if it is ever required and would give some of our graduates a place to refine their skills and advance our own local knowledge of how to build – chips.

    Mostly however, at that level, it is a “defense of civilization” policy.

    In terms of our economics….

    The example of cars or TV’s shipped in disassembled so that we can re-assemble them is what has to be avoided. If a product MUST be in that realm then we do not make it, we just import it. We can however, build up some basic capabilities and support production that displaces imports.

    The things we CAN build here, that make sense for us (with some subsidization of that capability) would be basics. White Goods would be first getting F&P back – that they were last to leave is an indicator. Building the motors for their stuff… not too hard. Bearings and electronics fall in that other defensive category, though an integrated plan can make them more competitive than might otherwise happen. Add Wind Turbines to the Whiteware – also requiring bearings and electronics. The plant that winds motors can also wind generators. We (between here and Oz) need a plant that can produce gears and gearboxes.

    What else do we import a LOT of in terms of dollar cost to the nation.

    Money – which I have addressed with the discussion of money elsewhere, but which solution alters the price of things that are imported not through tariff but through monetary “impedance” in borrowing and speculation.

    Cars – Which we need in some form.

    Farm Machinery – Which we need to maintain the farming backbone.

    Rail Cars – We already can build.

    Consumer Electronics – which we can largely ignore except for the defensive maintenance of capabilities.

    So realistically the added expansion we are looking for is in cars and farm machinery. We aren’t going to produce a Porsche, but Germany developed the Volkswagen before the 911, and the history of that project and product and its effect on German industry is instructive.

    We’d need plants that can cast engine blocks and forge pistons and crankshafts, we are going to need engines for our farm machinery too. The gearboxes and bearings capability needed for the Wind Turbines now get used again. The farm machinery and the car both need pumps and hydraulics for brakes and power steering.

    One other place to build something locally would likely be industrial robots. We don’t use a lot of them but to commence building of consumer vehicles we would use more. We’d have sources of microcontrollers, hydraulics, gears and motors to do it.

    No mistake, there is no free lunch here. The cost of fixing the monetary system and supporting the development of some industry will be pretty annoying, but the cost of NOT doing those little things will be devastating over the long haul.

    Not having jobs in NZ for anyone but migrant farm workers is the future that we are preparing for now. That has to change.

  17. bj – that idea just won’t work. Cars, electric bikes, windmills, wave powered generators and a huge number of other devices use microcontrollers, transistors and other semiconductors, and there is no realistic way that we are going to make them here without importing something.


  18. Hmmm… misworded a critical bit. ?

    “any supported sector of the economy” must not require imports from overseas to produce its goods or services.

    … is vastly different, and is what I actually meant to say.

    Tsk… posting in haste….

  19. onetrack – the nation obviously needs no more scientists and mathematicians… if it DID it would have jobs and pay for them that would keep them here rather than seeing them migrating to Australia. The problems of this economy, in the form that National champions our economy with us locked into trade agreements that give every other nation AND CORPORATION the tools to suck the lifeblood from us, has nothing to do with our education system’s PRODUCTION of such people. It has to do with our industrial and scientific base which has been gutted and continues to be gutted, by an insane worship of “comparative advantage” in an environment where it has the LEAST relevance to what we as a nation need to do.

    The lesson of Muldoon was not that he was wrong about what to build here… it is that he was wrong not to FIRST take control of our currency so that we actually could be a sovereign state. Instead we now exist at the discretion of the banks, have a banker as our PM and service the bank’s ahead of our people. Well lah-di-dah… lets fix THAT and then revisit a core principle – that this nation needs an economy that stands on its own, with the further caveat that for any supported sector of the economy it must stand ENTIRELY on its own.

    That means that if we make cars we also make engines or motors, bearings and tires, and if we make wind turbines we also make blades and bearings and generators… complete VERTICAL integration, no importing in the service of that industrial vector.

    When this country can and does have jobs that pay its graduates they will opt to study engineering more often… but that seldom is a factor in the elementary and high schools of the country – IS it.

  20. “who benefits?”

    The kids just below the failure level, who get attention taken from everyone else, to raise them over the failure level, to raise the school’s ranking. Or at least that’s the reported English experience.

    Are your kids just below the failure level?

  21. The league tables are at the best simplistic, at the worst they’re based on lies.
    And seeing how‘ our country is run by a bunch of backward-thinking, corrupt, hypocrites who seek to punish rather than protect its people’, and the way they stack govt appointed boards with their own kind its a fair assumption that the league tables are about wrecking and changing the world class education system that we do have.

    New Zealand ranks high in the world for our public education system.

    The Nats and Act want to open up all that public education funding to the private sector to make profit$$$.

    They view public money for our childrens education as up for grabs …..

    As usual it will take a while to fix the mess and underfunding that the Nats delivered us in order to give tax cuts and profit$ to their funders and voters …

  22. The Education Review Office writes detailed reports on each school in New Zealand. Included in the reports is the quality of teaching, the curriculum programmes as well as health and safety information. This information is far more robust than a league table score based on ‘data’ (and I use that term loosely).

  23. I agree, Gregor, and you get far more information by actually visiting a school too. Flawed and unmoderated assessments of numeracy and literacy are hardly going to give you the detailed information parents would want. League tables create a culture of “high stakes” assessment that is all about shaping data to make the teachers and schools look good, not about meeting the needs of children. It will also end collegiality and the sharing of good ideas between teachers and schools.

    No country using league tables are ranked near the top in educational achievement.

  24. @photonz1

    Aren’t ERO reports already freely available for all parents to make their own assessment?

  25. samiuela,

    My contention is that schools and teachers do focus on the soft subjects, ie art, kapa haka and enviro, at the expense of the hard subjects, such as english, maths and science. At the moment there is no incentive for them not to do that. I am not saying there would be no art, kapa haka or recycling. But the focus should be different to how it is now.

    A single reason why art is less valuable that other subjects? Apart from how many more artists does the country need compared to scientists and mathematicians.( English doesn’t need a specific mention because virtually everything depends on clear and concise communication), my question would be, which subjects did you need for your job. Out of geophysics, physics, mathematics and art, which ONE could you conceivably drop and still be employed in the role you are in.

    I disagree with your last point regarding zoning. If children were required to go to the local school, there would be little, if any, incentive for a poorly performing school to improve. They would have to get bad enough that people would move house to get the education they want for their children. The people who could afford to move would, the word would get out, the suburb would become cheaper to move into, leading to people who couldn’t afford to move out would be trapped with a bad education. A league table would help stop people moving into the area but that would be about it.

    A school needs students (and parents) who want to be there. A league table represents, to me, a positive feedback mechanism for the school that they are doing what their customers primarily want them to do. I don’t see a problem with a school possibly having slightly lower league table result but explaining to parents that they do put more emphasis on soft subjects. A parent such as yourself would be completely happy with such an arrangement. A good way to formally address this would be for art, etc., to be included in the league table results. But the teachers unions seem to be blindly fighting so hard to protect their “patch” that they are refusing to see the potential positives.

  26. National Standards are standards designed to measure the performance of schools. Schools are rated as either: performing above the standard, at the standard, or actually quite useless. Quack.

  27. OneTrack,

    I am a scientist; I studied geophysics, physics and mathematics at university, so I know the value of these subjects. Having said that, can you give me one reason why art is any less or more important than maths, English or science?

    I agree that being competent in maths and English is important, but I could argue that competence in art is also just as important. In my job I see post-docs with good grades in maths and science, but who absolutely lack creativity. These people make good “robots” who can perform duties under guidance, but when it comes to having innovative and creative ideas on their own, they suck. I suspect that developing creative skills through subjects such as art may do scientists a lot of good, just as ensuring everyone has good skills in English and maths is valuable.

    So what I’m saying is that one cannot really say one subject is more or less important, but that we want to ensure our children have a fully rounded education. Furthermore, if you have children, you will appreciate that children have different strengths. To solely focus on literacy and numeracy at the expense of other skills will result in a lot of talent going to waste.

    Now on to league tables: the problem with these is that they become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Parents who value maths (for example) will send their children to schools with good maths programs. Nothing wrong with this, but I would contend if parents value something, their children are likely to do well irrespective of the school they go to. So when parents select in this way, the good schools end up getting better, and the poor schools get worse. This also causes problems with overcrowding at the so called “good” schools.

    You know, if children were required to go to their nearest school (thus taking away parental choice as to which school they went to), league tables might actually be valuable. They would then provide guidance to each school on areas they could improve on, and the school would stand a fighting chance of being able to achieve this rather than suddenly finding all the good students have been withdrawn and sent to another school.

  28. Parents who care about their kids have the tools to find out about the schools they go to. Parents who don’t won’t use whatever additional tools you provide. The real utility of this sort of thing would be to use it to ensure that the schools are not so unequal in terms of what they offer. That is unlikely to be what National does with the information though.

  29. So you’d prefer if parents are left to blindly guess on their childs future.

    Is the school they send their child to performing really well, or is actually quite useless?

    What is your reason for denying this information to parents?

  30. The primary education you get does change from county to county and from school to school. We have just relocated from Bedfordshire to Norfolk and my son is in year 1. In the old school they focussed heavily on formal work such as maths and handwriting and he was doing very well. On the other hand his new school is still focused on learning through play and activities. Both schools have outstanding Ofstead but he does seem to be more academically advanced than his peers. Having said that he seems very happy at his new school and hopefully in September he will move on to more challenging work.

  31. I have thought of some kind of machine for packing good when I saw the large quantity of goods in the supermarket. Nowadays products made by hand are so scarce that the kind of hand-made things are very precious and of course expensive or just more expensive than the same goods made by machines.However, this does not apply to packing machines or packaging machines. Maybe I don’t know th exact difference between these two kind od machines,but in my opinion, they are both very useful in the factories which produce good that need packing. There is power Powder packaging machine, Liquid packaging machine as well as Paste packing machine,Granule packing machine,Powder packing machine,Paste packaging machine.All of these machines have stock in our company.

  32. “who benefits?” – the children, because their teachers and school would then be incented to actually improve their students abilities in the subjects that their parents and the country think are important, so they can then become contributing members of society. Subjects like english, mathematics and science. As opposed to the stuff that the teachers currently teach, such as kapa haka, art and recycling (aka enviro).

  33. John Keys national government have proven to be masters at ramming through parliament right wing policies and passing them into law under urgency.

    They disregard expert advice and instead appoint right wing political hacks and party faithful onto boards they have created to advice on and implement their political beliefs.

    It’s a disgrace and bordering on corrupt how the Nats hand out these jobs and money to their friends and associates but it works for them, they get the reports and advice they want.

    The backhanders, shoulder tapping and handing out of jobs for Nationals favoured boys and girls is how we get bad right wing political thinking enacted into education policy.

    The other thing John Keys and the Nats like doing is giving Government money from things like education funding to private businesses , and thats where charter schools come in.

    The damage and gutting out of public education that the Nats do typically ends up benefitting the rich and better off, at the expense of everyone else.

    P.s here’s a link relating to hundreds of examples of the corrupt way the Nats dish out jobs to their mates so that they get the skewered reports and predetermined results that they want.


  34. Hear, hear. And guess what. Educators and teachers know this! They realise that these league tables mean nothing because they’re based on a ridiculous, untested, unproven assessment system.
    The problem is, the general public doesn’t realise this and have been lead to believe that National Standards actually mean something.

Comments are closed.