It's Just Politics

The government is steamrolling on with its national standards policy despite the deep concerns of teachers, parents, principals and academics’”and a well supported NZEI campaign to Trial the Standards, Not…

The government is steamrolling on with its national standards policy despite the deep concerns of teachers, parents, principals and academics'”and a well supported NZEI campaign to Trial the Standards, Not Our Kids.

When seven equals 20

20% – children Anne Tolley says are failing
16% – the actual number who failed NCEA in 2009. Of these:
-6% – students who are capable of passing NCEA but chose not to try
-3% – students with multiple disabilities who can’t pass
=7% = students who could pass but don’t, according to Professor Terry Crooks. A lot of research shows a high correlation between failure and social inequality.


Haka delivered at Parliament on March 31st. From second on left: Putiputi Temara, Olive Hawira, Whakaata Stewart.

Implementation nightmare

Schools around the country are boycotting national standards, while others are taking a softly, softly approach. “The board has made the decision to boycott,” says Keri Milne-Ihimaera, principal at Moerewa School in Northland. “There’s no research from the government or that we can find ourselves about how national standards will help with student achievement.”

“We’ve consulted with our community'”this is not a small matter. There are huge concerns'”and they are shared by other principals.”

Those who are trying to implement discover the reality is a mess.

New National Administration Guidelines (NAGs) now say that schools don’t have to report to parents against national standards using the language of˜above, at, below, and well below’.

That’s how schools must report to boards of trustees, but reports to parents don’t have to use that language. And they don’t have to use the charts that have been widely circulated as sample reports'”instead the NAGs use the much more nebulous term of schools reporting to parents˜in relation’ to national standards.

Parliament_2“Schools are in a no-win situation,” says principal Jacqui Duncan from Cashmere School in Christchurch.

“The minister has had a lot of publicity about making it clear that parents are entitled to receive plain language reporting about their children’s achievements. It’s a huge issue.

“The language is so wide. Each school is going to have to work through the curriculum document, the standards documents, and the different progressions'”and make decisions about how they report.”

She says that reports between schools won’t be comparable.

The Schools who pledged: Parliament 31st March 2010

Jacqui attended training recently on national standards, and says that while the presenters were well organised they avoided detailed discussions. She was pleased, however, that overall teacher judgement was deemed okay in assessing standards because this validated the profession and professional judgement. “But it’s going to be very difficult to moderate that.”

Presenters were clear that teachers didn’t have to use language that stigmatised children, but this may be difficult to balance against heightened expectations.

Senior intermediate teacher Niki Mayo said the failure label, if used, would disengage already reluctant learners. “There’s a lot of research that it’s at inFor-post-bus-tour-graphic-mailtermediate age when disengagement starts to come through. Our job is to make students feel connected. It’s a huge problem if they’ve already been told they’re failing.”

Another principal from a low-decile Christian school wrote to NZEI with concerns that national standards would “place the majority of our students below the benchmark. Very worrying as currently our students are mostly above the benchmarks.”

Malcolm Milner, principal at Balmoral School, Mt Eden, Auckland, says the NAG requirement to report in relation to’ to national standards is so vague'”

“If you start to define it legally, what does that mean?”

The bus diaries

A hugely successful bus tour to encourage debate and gather community support for a trial of national standards roared into parliament at the end of last term. Its message'”Trial National Standards, Not Our Kids'”struck a deep chord around the country.

“The excitement and energy were palpable,” says NZEI Te Riu Roa president Frances Nelson. “It wasn’t a question of convincing people of the need for a trial, it’s just been a matter of harnessing that energy.

“It is so clear a trial and testing is needed before rolling out such significant change on such a scale. It’s incredible children’s learning would be put at risk in this way.”

Parliament_4– Feb 2 Day one. Buses drive into a media storm at Bluff and Kaitaia as journalists scent a groundswell support for a trial. Prime Minister John Key weighs in with some good oldfashioned Muldoon-style dog-whistle politics about˜unions’. Academics, parents, principals teachers remain unswayed. Emotional powhiri at Kaitaia Primary and Bluff Schools.

– Feb 5 Bus hits Waitangi. An amazing number of retired British teachers visit the bus keen to talk about national standards. Their overwhelming view is that New Zealand should not go down this route. Dozens of schools are visited: the response is unswervingly positive.

– Feb 15 1000 signatures collected on the petition in two days in Dunedin. Provincial newspapers around the country run positive stories about the bus tour.

– Feb 20 “They’ve been tremendous,” says NZEI campaign organiser Lyndy McIntyre, about the public meetings being held around the country.

– Feb 22 The bus motors around Auckland schools, shopping malls and community centres. Singer and parent Jackie Clarke leads a ukulele group welcoming the bus at Grey Lynn Primary. The bus tour features on television news.

– March 1 Southland is winning in the stakes for the highest proportion of schools signing and returning their community statements. A UMR poll shParliament_3ows 71 percent of parents with primary-age children want a trial. The bus breaks down in Auckland, and an unbranded bus turns up in time to get to Henderson'” teachers from the West Auckland branch save the day with high visibility balloons, t-shirts, placards and banners.

– March 7 A strong emphasis on staff room meetings in the Waikato. Support staff members hand out pamphlets and petition forms and explain the issues to parents. Various MPs and other community leaders visit the buses to show support.

– March 17 Buses tour Christchurch, New Plymouth, Rotorua, Taupo, Whakatane. An editorial in the Wanganui Chronicle supports the call for a trial, and 800 signatures are collected in one day in the city.

– March 31 A lively crowd gathers at Parliament to present 1000 community statements

Key points

– ˜The standards are just a sledge hammer trying to break a peanut¦ all they do is create an added administrative workload.’ Neil Chalmers, Mapua School principal, Nelson

Parliament_5– ˜National standards is a politically saleable policy because it plays on parents’ fears about educating their children in a complex world. Yet we have no idea what effect national standards will have on children’s learning. Would a business do this with a new product or programme? I don’t think so.’ NZEI National Secretary Paul Goulter.

– ˜New Zealand’s education system produces one of the highest achievement levels in the world, according to international research, and there has been no significant change in those levels during the past 10 years.’ Emeritus Professor Lester Flockton quoted in The Nelson Mail.

Sign up!

By the end of term one around 20,000 signatures had been gathered on a petition calling for a trial of national standards. The petition is running until the end of May 2010. Print off a few copies from and keep the signature count growing.