Serious concerns are being voiced that government’s ever-increasing emphasis on National Standards is leading to a narrowing of the curriculum for students, with reading, writing and mathematics becoming the be-all and end-all, to the detriment of other subject areas.
This concern has grown with the news that ERO (the Education Review Office) will from this year explicitly use schools’ National Standards data and compare it with local and national averages in order to judge schools.
Principals argue that the move will lead to schools to “neglect science, the arts and other aspects of children’s development” as they become more concerned with how they fare on league tables than about quality, broad education.
There are concerns that it will lead to a focus on those students who are deemed to be just below the “at” level, with those who are “below”*, “well below”* or “above” standard losing out because they are either already over the “at” hurdle or are deemed to be too far away from it to reach in time for data collection.
There are also very valid concerns that the pressure of such a Big Brother system (especially if paired with performance pay as it has been elsewhere) could lead to either conscious or subconscious inflation of test results, as teachers and schools begin to work in fear.
The Research, Analysis and Insight into National Standards (RAINS) project found that National Standards:
“…are having some favourable impacts in areas that include teacher understanding of curriculum levels, motivation of some teachers and children and some improved targeting of interventions. Nevertheless such gains are overshadowed by damage being done through the intensification of staff workloads, curriculum narrowing and the reinforcement of a two-tier curriculum, the positioning and labelling of children and unproductive new tensions amongst school staff.”
Those concerns are clearly not being taken seriously, and instead a new level of pressure is being layered on.
Of course ERO say there is nothing to worry about, as does Hekia Parata. But given this government’s repeated bullying of schools, failures to properly consult, and dishonesty about matters pertaining to education, it’s safe to say most teachers and parents will take that assertion with a large pinch of salt.
* (Note, “below standard” and “well below standard” are government’s terms, not mine. I find them incredibly distasteful.)