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Breathing new life into the curriculum

When the new Labour-led government announced the end of National Standards this month, there were cheers around the country from teachers, principals and parents.

The dumping of National Standards spells an end of the high-stakes regime which troubled teachers, narrowed teaching and learning and made some children lose confidence in their ability.

Hand-in-hand with National Standards’ demise is excitement about the “relaunch’’ of the New Zealand curriculum.

This world-leading document has been over-shadowed by the emphasis that schools have had to place on National Standards in the last nine years.

Teachers have said that under National Standards, teaching was not what it should be – creativity had been stifled, the curriculum narrowed, arts and music and science were playing second fiddle to the Government-led push in reading and writing and maths. Teachers were wondering what they had come into the profession for.

National Standards was assessment of learning not assessment for learning. The focus needed to change.

Children were assessed in year levels which did not give a real picture of their learning, and special needs children were assessed against the standards even though some of them had no hope of being “at” or “above” the levels.

More cynically, commentators feared National Standards would make it easier for the Government to introduce performance pay – where teachers are paid more, or less, depending on the results of the children they taught. It also made it easier for parents to compare their children to other children and to set up competition between schools in the form of league tables.

Parents have a vested interest, of course, in their child’s learning and many remember their own education and the broader curriculum.

Some have expressed anxiety about what will “replace” National Standards. But in a recent editorial in the New Zealand Herald, NZEI Te Riu Roa President Lynda Stuart outlined why there was no need to replace National Standards, as there had been no need for them to be introduced in the first place.

If anything, a post-National Standards regime, will open up a more exciting learning for children, where they can learn to take risks, think outside the box and learn resilience. A recent NZCER study showed that since National Standards were introduced, children had been increasingly less willing to take risks.

Learning will be more exciting.

NZEI Te Riu Roa campaign leader and former teacher Jane Porter says that National Standards were not a good tool for children to use to talk about their progress and learning.

“They had no ownership over what they were doing.”

She says that the eight levels of the curriculum include indicators that can be used to assess children’s learning and to identify their next learning steps.

“No one size fits all. National Standards took the child out of the central focus of education.”

In this way, that National Standards were arbitrary.

“A child may have been on a lower level in one curriculum area than another but it did not explain everything about them. It is a complex issue and you have to look at the whole picture.”

Porter says teaching is a skill and sophisticated practice and teachers are trained in assessment so parents should talk to them about their children’s learning and progress.

Parents should be familiar the curriculum both the “front” and the “back”
The front details the key competencies a child will learn, the different learning areas and why each subject is taught.

It also talks about values, vision, exploration and diversity. The back of the document explains achievement and the curriculum levels. The levels are graphically depicted, and are deliberately blurry at the edges to reflect that children are distinct and learn at different rates.
Porter also says that talking to the child’s teacher is important, including three-way conferences with child, teacher and whānau.

The NZ Curriculum is available online.

See what NZEI has said about what National Standards should be replaced by.


International coverage

Meanwhile, in a win for resistance, Education International says educator unions around the world are celebrating as part of the ongoing fight against the Global Education Reform.

The report says opposition by the New Zealand teacher union to the standards, which were having negative effects on children’s learning and teaching, finally culminated in the them being dumped this month by the new Labour-led Government.

Around the world there has been successful oppostion to the privatisation and commercialisation of public schooling, the high-stakes testing which were part of that, and the creation of league tables resulting in pitting schools against each other.  At the same time, children’s learning was not improving in New Zealand.

“These National Standards were introduced in 2008 by a Conservative government with little or no consultation with teachers or the teacher unions, a retrograde and foolish policy move, given the more common partnership approach historically to policy development in this small nation state and the centrality of teachers to the success of any policy implementation.”

NZ educationalist Martin Thrupp is also mentioned,  as is his new book, The Search for Better Educational Standards: A Cautionary Tale (Springer, 2017), which outlines how the flawed policy was developed and implemented.

Ed note: There will be a review of The Search for Better Educational Standards: A Cautionary Tale in the next issue of Education Aotearoa.