Schools dig in on standards
Talk of commissioners and sanctions do not faze a group of Porirua school principals, who continue to speak out against national standards.
About 200 schools from across New Zealand, and 45 from the Wellington region, defiantly submitted school charters without reference to national standards before the July 1 cutoff.
It is the first time a government has imposed a deadline, as schools normally have until the end of the school year to submit their charters.
In Porirua, principals at Titahi Bay North, Holy Family and Corinna, among others, have been vocal in their resistance to the standards, which set uniform targets for primary and intermediate students in reading, writing and maths.
All three schools put in their charters earlier this year, without reference to national standards.
‘‘There are a number of us who have signed up to BTAC [Boards Taking Action Coalition], which has a large number of schools in this region on board,’’ Holy Family’s Karl Vasau said.
‘‘We don’t like the way the government is going about implementing them and sending through data in the way they want sends the wrong picture about the education a child is receiving. There’s no way to measure value added and it can lead to a school being measured unfairly.’’
The education sector union NZEI Te Riu Roa said last week the standards are ‘‘fuzzy, confusing and hastily-developed’’ and the issue over the charter’s deadline is ‘‘heavy-handed’’.
NZEI president Ian Leckie said hundreds of schools are complying out of fear of having their boards sacked, but will stick to ‘‘the trusted and evidence-based assessment data they have always used’’.
Corinna principal Michele Whiting said the National Standards Sector Advisory Group, set up by Education Minister Anne Tolley last year, has recommended a review of the standards.
‘‘We want to know is the Minister going to listen to that advice?’’
She said many of the schools that do comply are not likely to be submitting accurate data, a view backed up by Titahi Bay North principal Steven Caldwell.
‘‘I know of schools who are going to give ‘junk data’ to keep the ministry happy, but it’s not going to tell us where students are at. The assessment I’m doing right now is reliable and I’m in for a scrap against these standards. I’m not against the concept but these are poorly thought out. I don’t want our kids to be labelled as failures from five [years old], but this is what will happen.’’
Mr Caldwell admitted ongoing discussions with the ministry over the issue had been ‘‘difficult’’ and he was happy to be part of the BTAC group. He felt right now there was ‘‘a calm before a storm’’.
Ms Tolley says underachievement was being addressed through the standards and most schools she has spoken to are in support. The Ministry of Education says it has considered the charters of 1300 schools, and 87 per cent have included targets based on the standards.
It has been widely reported that intervention is an option if schools do not implement them, with commissioners possibly used to ensure they are carried out. Special reviews from the Education Review Office and loss of access to teacher training could occur.
All the principals Kapi-Mana News spoke to said, despite the debate and media attention, it is business as usual, with the success of their school’s children at the heart of all they are doing. Some may review using national standards at year’s end.