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BOTs, Education, Education Act, Effecting Change, New Zealand, Parata (Hekia), Poverty in NZ

Suggested changes to the NZ Education Act – what is afoot now?

target schoolsThe Considering Education Regulation in New Zealand report has been released today and provides much food for thought.

It is clear from reading the report that Taskforce members were far from agreed regarding what changes might be needed to the Education Act.

The report acknowledges that “[t]here was widespread nervousness among respondents about the possibility of any desired goals and outcomes being framed too narrowly,”  and stresses that there was “strong agreement that if goals and outcomes were to be developed for the education system, this must take place through wide consultation.”

The taskforce seems to have dealt with the issue of disagreement by concluding that it is essential there is widespread consultation before any changes are made.

Sounds great in principle.

Sector Consultation

It should be heartening that Ms Parata also acknowledges that “[a]ny review of the Act would require an extensive consultation process with the education sector and with parents,” shouldn’t it?

And yet…

… are we not now all too familiar with what she means by consultation?  Namely, go through the motions, don’t listen to much if anything at all, and then do what she planned to all along.  (Indeed, I am expecting Websters to update their dictionary entry for “consultation” accordingly this year, since it is now so widely understood that this is what it means.)

So promising consultation doesn’t give any comfort that sector views will be heard and acted upon or allay any concerns, sadly.

Double speak?

I took a moment to consider what is meant by Murray Jack, Taskforce Chair, when he comments in the report’s foreword that:

“… the Taskforce has concluded that there is a strong case to review the Act to provide a greater focus on student outcomes and more explicit roles and objectives

“A greater focus on student outcomes…”  Hmmm.

What, do teachers not currently aim to advance students?  Focus on it more how? And what outcomes?  Are we perchance only talking about things that can be measured in a test?  That seems to fly in the face of other comments in the report which made clear that “[r]espondents did not want a focus on just literacy and numeracy, but felt that these needed to be set within a holistic concept of student achievement.”

Holistic or focusing on test scores – which is it to be?

More explicit roles and objectives?

Also, I cannot help but wonder whether this “greater focus on student outcomes” and “explicit roles and objectives” might be somehow heralding performance pay, perchance?

After all. National Standards and the PaCT system are all set up and ready to rock and roll for just that purpose, despite the Minister assuring us that’s not what they’re for.

Something about that has left me uneasy.

outcomes outcomes outcomes

There are a number of other statement in the announcement that ring alarm bells:

“[The Taskforce] recommended a number of regulatory changes to ensure enough flexibility in the education system to keep pace with the ever-changing environment.”

What exactly does that mean?  How does the current legislation shackle schools?  Does the legislation as it currently stands truly stop schools from keeping pace with “the ever-changing environment”?

Or are we to read this as “we need to make the legislation privatisation-friendly, so we can shoe in more charter schools and the like.

Again, three years of following this government’s carry-on in education means that any such ambiguous statements lead to fretting about what’s going on behind the scenes.  I’d love to think it was just me and my paranoia, but so far my concerns have sadly been valid.

BOTs

Boards of Trustees get a wee mention in the report, which comes to the conclusion that in order to determine whether BOTs are doing a good job, they too need to be subjected to “reliable and valid measures of [the identified] characteristics … to assess their contribution to student achievement.”  (p.13)

Truly, it seems the taskforce believe if it can’t be measured, weighed or put in a pie chart is doesn’t count for a thing.

Don’t mention the “P” word

“The Taskforce noted that evidence from the OECD suggests governments can prevent school failure and reduce dropout using two parallel approaches: eliminating system level practices that hinder equity; and targeting low-performing, disadvantaged schools. From the evidence reviewed, the Taskforce concluded that good regulation and effective governance are elements of high-performing systems that support priority students.  Ensuring that they are aligned with other schooling policies and practices can help New Zealand achieve its educational objectives.” (p. 13)

I totally agree we all need to ensure schools are run well and teachers should encourage all students to aim high.  But to ignore the roles poverty and home environment have in the chances of a student succeeding is a failure to address the whole issue and an insult to both the students and staff living that reality day to day.

The bigger picture

I wonder what exactly is meant by “targeting low-performing, disadvantaged schools”?  Targeting for extra help?  Or targeting for a change principal?  Or being changed into a charter school?

Again, if a school is low performing, it may indeed need help and support, guidance and so on, but if all of that is done within a system that is blinkered to the realities of the students and the community that school is in, then it is not considering the whole picture and cannot be expected to adequately respond to the situation.

So, if improvement is really wanted, we do indeed have to mention the “P” word and get real about the big picture.

I await the unfolding of this next phase of the reform agenda with interest, apprehension and a large gin and tonic.

~ Dianne

___________________________________

Sources:

Considering Education Regulation in New Zealand:  http://www.minedu.govt.nz/theMinistry/EducationInitiatives/~/media/MinEdu/Files/TheMinistry/EducationInitiatives/Taskforce/TaskforceReport.pdf

www.minedu.govt.nz/trasp.

http://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/report-education-regulations-released

 

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