Catherine Delahunty

First Do No Harm – League tables fail the test

by Catherine Delahunty

The media over the weekend was interesting reading for some but for other people whose schools were ranked as below standard it was depressing and debilitating and lacking respect for their children, teachers and parents. There are several major problems with the publication of the data which was described by the Prime Minister as “ropey”. There is the issue of ranking schools based on the first year of un-moderated data and then there is the data itself as a narrow and confused way to measure children’s progress. There is also the meme of ‘failing teachers and failing schools’ which the Government is using to undermine the state education system. All of this is taking place in a highly politicized context. The USA leader of the KIPP Charter schools is touring our country this week promoting a model which emerged from the underfunding of state education in USA and which after 20 years has not revolutionised their achievement.

When I saw the ‘report cards’ in the papers my thoughts went straight to a school I have visited regularly where a large percentage of the children are from migrant and refugee families. Many of these children were raised in places like Afghanistan, Samoa, and Somalia. They are not only learning in a second language they are learning in a second culture. The parents whom I have met at prize givings and fund raisers are passionate about education and believe in active support for this state school. The teachers are dedicated and creative and get good ERO reports. There is very little money in the community for anything extra and programmes like fruit in schools are vital.

According to the league tables this school is ranked low. But I know that is a distortion of the great progress the students are making in this school. It is a harmful label for this school and other schools to rank them against wealthy communities where English is the first language. Parents do need clear reporting and a good relationship with their child’s teacher. They need a conversation often about how they help their child strengthen their skills. The ERO report and the open door are the best ways to assess the school and the progress of children. But if competition is your mantra and privatisation is your goal then the nuanced relationships between schools and parents, and between learning at your own pace and being supported by a broad curriculum is too rational.

We need to address inequality, poverty, child hunger, transience, and cultural bias in education. We do need small classes, professional development and a broad curriculum. Teachers welcome programmes like ‘Ka Hikitia’ and ‘Te Kotahitanga’ to help them give their best to Māori and Pasifika students. Globally we need to look at great educational models like Finland, not failed test and ranking based systems which haven’t worked in England and USA. But most of all we should do no harm to our children by ranking their efforts and their schools.

Published in Environment & Resource Management | Featured by Catherine Delahunty on Mon, September 24th, 2012   

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