Standards miss the richness of our kids

“There’s a great deal of confusion,” says Jan Tinetti, principal at Merivale School, which has a 98 percent Maori role. “Four years ago our kids were failing, we were one…

Merivale School Principal Jan Tinetti and students.

Merivale School Principal Jan Tinetti and students.

“There’s a great deal of confusion,” says Jan Tinetti, principal at Merivale School, which has a 98 percent Maori role. “Four years ago our kids were failing, we were one of the˜tail’ schools. But now we’re having great success in terms of achievement levels. There’s enthusiasm for learning” the kids want to come to school.”

About half the students are in rumaki (immersion) classes and the rest in mainstream, but the whole school uses Te Marautanga o Aotearoa, the Maori equivalent of the New Zealand Curriculum. “It suits us better and all our work is based around it.”

It’s at the heart of the school’s engagement with local iwi, and guides how whanau and teachers work together to identify what the children need and how to ensure success.

Key points

  • Most educators are either not implementing National Standards or are struggling with the process.
  • Professional development is inadequate.
  • Standards are out of kilter with existing assessment tools.
  • Children who are well on-track to pass NCEA at all levels are deemed˜failing’ under the new standards regime.
  • Students who struggle with poor self-esteem stand to be worst affected. Teachers will try to protect their students.


Jan says the school used to have big behaviour issues but “we’re lucky to have any of that now”. Three years ago 75 percent of students were reading below their age level, last year it was 30 percent and falling. “Some of our kids come in at really, really, really low levels [of achievement]. We put in a lot of work” getting to know them, to know the whanau, and work out how to make a difference. “We are determined that by year 6 they are achieving [at their age level]. “But telling them they’re failing at six years old is not going to do anything for them at all.

“They struggle in this school with self-esteem and there’s no way on earth I’m going to tell these kids they’re failing. They need to celebrate each success.” Jan says one of her proudest achievements is having gone from being called “Mrs Tinetti” to being “Whaea Jan”. “The kids speak te reo at school, even in the mainstream classes” it’s great.”

No need for standards

Like other teachers around the country, Jan met with local MPs in June to raise concerns. “We told them that everyone in the school and the parents know where the students are at” where they’re achieving and not achieving” and we know what we have to do. We don’t need standards for that.”

She’s attended professional development days about the standards, but won’t be going to anymore. “They are not relevant to my school whatsoever. I’m scared and frustrated. But I’m not going to change what we’re doing because we’re getting success.”

Divisive and Eurocentric

She says National Standards are already divisive, with the rumaki classes working towards Nga Whanaketanga and classes in the mainstream using the National Standards.

She’s not sure what the standards will mean to the school’s curriculum. “It looks like the integration will become more difficult but we are trying to develop solutions whereby we can continue to work in this way as it is making a huge difference to our children.”

To statements from the ministry that the standards are “aspirational”, Jan says, “Personally, I don’t believe they are. They miss a lot of what is aspirational for my kids. They’re very Eurocentric, almost middle class. They miss the richness of our kids. They miss the cultural richness.”
Watch Jan talk about the curriculum here.

Successful children “fail”

Teachers around the country are struggling with the Ministry of Education’s requirements that schools tell the parents of successful children they are “failing”.

Children who are well on track to pass NCEA at all levels, and who are well within current norms, do not always meet the new standards. The ministry now says the standards are “aspirational”, but teachers say it is grossly unfair to mark today’s children against tomorrow’s standards.

For example, a year 4 student being assessed for reading comprehension on the Progressive Achievement Tests would have to be in the top 40 percent of students to be at or above the standard. This means 60 percent of students should be described as below standard, even though the majority of them will pass NCEA.

Taranaki teacher Chris Dalliston says a lot of teachers are refusing to describe their students as failing when they’re at or above current norms. “Principals are trying to protect teachers from National Standards. They’ve gone to the professional development but they’re not meting it out to teachers. They’d hoped it [National Standards] wouldn’t happen” that the minister would see sense or NZEI could stop it in its tracks.”

He says the implementation is going “terribly”, and describes a young student at his school. “Her parents were doing everything they possibly could to help this girl to read. I was doing everything I could. The school was supplying external support, and she’s doing everything she needs to do” and she’s making really good progress.

“But she’s still well below the standards for reading, writing and maths.

“The danger for her is that her older brother will see her report and say,˜I didn’t know you’re well below. I was always in the top group.'”

Another teacher reported that at the professional development day she attended, the presenter started his PowerPoint with a slide of his family, on which his daughter had drawn a speech bubble saying,˜Please don’t shoot my Daddy, he’s just the messenger’.

“It’s ridiculous” it’s really unprofessional.”

Simply the best

“We are probably the best public education system in the world,” according to high profile academic and ministerial advisor Professor John Hattie. He was speaking during a National Standards forum of education professionals run by NZEI in June.

But John said he feared what was coming if the issues raised by National Standards were not dealt with. In particular, it was critical for teachers to be involved in solving many of the concerns relating to National Standards, and for the best professional development, particularly on ‘overall teacher judgements’ (OTJs) to be provided.

Academics raised doubts about the OTJs because they aren’t moderated and teachers did not have access to professional development on what was a complex process. “It took secondary schools seven years to do this with NCEA, and they’re only just getting there,” according to one.

Others noted that the relationship between professionals and the minister (and the ministry) was at an all time low, “lower even than in the 1990s”, and unless that could be turned around, it would be “a disaster for the New Zealand education system”.

An Auckland principal, Marilyn Gwilliam said, “We’re getting great results and we don’t need standards.”

Her school had a roll that was 45 percent Indian, 15 percent East Asian, 15 percent European, 14 percent Pasifika and 11 percent Maori students.

“Their parents want high achievement and academic standards. But they don’t want anything that takes teachers out of the class, that takes up a busy teacher’s time. A lot of schools are only doing token implementation.”


NZEI National President Frances Nelson says the problem is that the standards were developed very quickly by a small group in the Ministry, and they don’t align in a meaningful way with current assessment tools and practices in schools.

“Even though New Zealand ranks in the top 10 for educational achievement in the world, and in the top 5 on some measures” teachers are not afraid to move the system forward, and to be part of making that happen. But the people who can make this happen have been left out of the loop.

“Unless there is engagement with teaching professionals over this, we are heading toward a very dark passage in our country. There is a risk of the sector being completely hamstrung.”

The Minister of Education has been influenced by a system of state-wide testing run in Ontario, Canada. Frances visited Canada in May.


From left: Margaret Bennie, Chris Beilby, Pat Hickey, Jeremy Hogue, Angela Moeke and Anne Earland.

“In Canada, 69 percent of students are currently reaching the desired level of school-leaver educational achievement” the equivalent of our NCEA level 2. Their goal is to get to 75 percent. “We’re at around 85 percent. With National Standards, the danger is that we’re creating a crisis when there is none.”

Another insight was that the Canadian government works closely with teaching professionals to introduce change, by way of “support, support, support, pressure”. “Here, it’s pressure, pressure, pressure – and we’ve yet to see real support.”

Operation Orange

St Gerard’s School in Alexandra celebrated Operation Orange day in May, as part of the National Standards campaign. Find out the latest developments here.

NZEI National Standards Community Petition

National-StandardsMore than 38,000 signatures were collected on the National Standards petition and presented to the government at the end of June. At the same time, an NZEI survey of 700 principals found 94 percent had concerns about National Standards and their implementaton, and only 10 percent thought they would make a positive difference to learning. Around 120 of the 700 schools represented in the survey were not implementing the standards.


Principals and teachers who have expressed doubts about National Standards say they are being bullied by the Ministry of Education and the School Trustees Association.

“We ran a survey about National Standards in our school newsletter, with questions that were no more loaded than a Colmar Brunton survey. But we got a phone call from STA challenging us,” said one teacher.

Others have been phoned by the ministry and told that it is a legal requirement to implement the standards.

However, Board of Trustee member and lawyer Simon Mitchell says principals and teachers don’t have to talk to the Ministry and STA because they are legally the employees of their BoT.

“Principals should refer those calls and letters directly to their boards. Principals do not have to talk to them,” he said. People were trying to drive a wedge between principals and boards, but they needed to work closely together in the best interests of their children.

A network of board of trustees members is being set up.