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!