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Where is the Charter School data?

wanted 2For a Minister so obsessed with data and, in particular, the sharing of data, it is interesting how little we know about charter schools.  

Bill Courtney writes:

The game of delaying the release of a vast range of information on the charter schools continues.

The Ministry has promised to release a lot of material, including the formal evaluation of 2015 student achievement, in “April” but has refused to state exactly when. They also need to release all of the 2016 quarterly reports, the 2016 contract variations and the second “annual” installment of the Martin Jenkins evaluation of the charter school initative.

In short, lots of information is being withheld for no apparent reason.
When it is finally released, we will go through it and post our thoughts on what it reveals.

In the meantime, propaganda and marketing material fills the void.

Positive Alternatives to Policing Students’ Lunchboxes

Children sometimes bring unhealthy lunches to school – that’s a sad fact.  When you see a lunch box with no fresh fruit or veg, or that’s wall to wall sugar, or just a packet of noodles, or … well, you  get the idea – when you see those lunch boxes, you sigh. But trying to change what lead to that lunch box being in front of that student by policing said lunch box would be wrongheaded.

No educator wants to be in the position of telling kids they should or shouldn’t bring this or that, when in fact they usually have no part in the decision-making around what goes in their lunch box. 

Similarly, it’s not at all helpful to create tension with parents by sending home notes about the food they provide. Of course I want students to eat healthily (and eat enough), but making parents feel judged does harm to the home-school relationship, and that is a bad move. The solution has to be focused on education, not policing.

Education for students around what good food looks like, clever buying, balanced diets etc is much more helpful. In my experience, the more clued-up the students are, the more they influence the purchases of the grown ups around then. We all know how insistent small people can be when they want something at the supermarket!

When I was trying to eat more healthily, I charged my year 5-6 students with checking my lunch box each day, and giving me feedback, and by crikey they took to that challenge like ducks to water: “Have you SEEN how much sugar is in that low fat yoghurt, Mrs Khan! Don’t be fooled by that ‘low fat’ thing!” They also wrote me a list of healthy snack foods for 3pm, knowing my tendency to stop at the local garage and make poor choices when driving home around 5 or 6 pm.  Given good information and a real life problem to solve, kids will almost always blow your socks off with just how clever they are.

So focusing on educating kids and letting them educate the adults seems like a good strategic move. But it must be collaborative, done with the community, not at them. Which leads me to the  brilliant work done by Julia Milne and her team at The Common Unity Project Aotearoa.

The Common Unity Project is a school-based project with a collaborative community model. It started small and got little to no Ministry or official support, but through sheer tenacity and will power and the support of the school in which she is based, Julia has built a magnificent living model right here in Lower Hutt, NZ.  

In their own words, the Project “works collaboratively with Epuni Primary School, a little school with a big heart, in Lower Hutt. We grow food on a disused soccer field – enough to feed our children of Epuni School three times each week. We invite our parents and wider community to come to school each day and learn, share and educate one another. In turn, this has become a collective response to meeting the needs of our children and developing our own resilient solution within our community.”

The Project has brought a community together to learn and grow – literally and figuratively – together.  Learning about food is linked with curriculum work – maths, literacy, science, art – you name it, they’ve linked it, and done so meaningfully.  Identify the problem, find solutions, get helpers with the skills needed, helpers pass on skills to the kids, helpers learn new skills themselves, and BINGO! we have real life learning. This is what The Community Unity Project does.

The kids are cold? Put a call out for wool and some knitters with a bit of time on their hands, and BINGO! the adults are passing on key skills to kids to make something they all need.

The kids are hungry? Put a call out for helpers to come make a meal using food grown by the kids in the school gardens. The helpers teach the kids, the helpers learn new skills, and they all have enough to eat.

Gardening, cooking, knitting,  bike maintenance, building, sewing bee keeping, food budgeting – you name it, they’re onto it.

Real life problems, real life solutions, real life learning. And community.

That’s my kind of model.

~ Dianne

Read more about The Common Unity Project here.

Read more about the issues around food in schools here.

Why high-flying Singapore wants more than grades

characterThis is an excellent article about Singapore, published on the BBC site.

Dr Lim Lai Cheng, former head of the prestigious Raffles Institution school in Singapore and director at the Singapore Management University, explains the push for character as well as qualifications.

“Schools have become highly stratified and competitive. More advantaged families are better able to support their children with extra lessons outside of school, such as enrichment classes in mathematics, English, dance and music.

Those who can’t afford this have to depend on their children’s own motivation and the resources of the school to catch up.

This social divide continues to widen because the policies that had won the system its accolades – based on the principle of meritocracy – no longer support the social mobility they were meant to bring about.

So work is in progress to tackle anything in the system that seems to be working against social cohesion.

Government policies are moving away from parents and students’ unhealthy obsession with grades and entry to top schools and want to put more emphasis on the importance of values.

Schools have been encouraged, especially for the early elementary years, to scrap standardised examinations and focus on the development of the whole child.

To enhance equity, the education ministry has also attempted to spread resources more evenly across schools by rotating experienced principals to schools that need more attention and paying more attention to academically weaker students by strengthening vocational and skills training.

All round, government leaders have expounded a wider definition of success beyond academic grades.

The media and elite schools have been discouraged from showcasing top students and their academic achievements.”

Contrast what you have read above with the New Zealand system, focusing so relentlessly on National Standards.  Add the New Zealand Initiative push towards greater measurement and the publication of the results and you cannot get further from the position Singapore has adopted.

Fact Checker: Vanguard Military School

As the NZ Listener remarked in their October 2015 article on charter schools, the national picture on NCEA pass rates is that they are now ascending into farce.

It is a February ritual to look out for the Vanguard Military School NCEA results release and to comment on what lies behind the meaningless percentages that this organisation releases.

This year’s version from the North Shore based charter school waxing lyrical about their 2016 results is available here.

Thanks to two years of OIA responses from the NZQA, covering the 2014 and 2015 school years, we now know a lot more about what standards the students at Vanguard were entered for and how well they did on internal versus external assessment.

What we now see from NZQA, for the second year running, is that a high percentage of the credits that students at Vanguard achieve are unit standards (42.2% in 2015), rather than the more academic achievement standards; a very high proportion of credits are gained via internal assessment (93.5% in 2014 and 94.2% in 2015) and a wide gap exists between external and internal pass rates (90.5% internal pass rate v 58.2% external pass rate in 2015).  Note the full NZQA analysis for the 2016 results will not be out for several months.

While it is quite fair to say that some courses that Vanguard offers, such as Engineering, will always be internally assessed, our analysis of the detailed listing of standards entered in 2015 shows many “soft” credits being gained by Vanguard students.

For example, 57 entered for “Be interviewed in a formal interview” (2 Credits), 74 entered for “Produce a personal targeted CV” (2 credits), 53 entered for “Demonstrate knowledge of time management” (3 credits), and over 50 entered in each of the Outdoor Recreation courses: “Experience day tramps” (3 credits), “Experience camping” (3 credits) and “Navigate in good visibility on land” (3 credits).  All of these standards are unit standards at NCEA Level 2.

To put these entry numbers into perspective, the 2015 July roll return shows Vanguard had 61 Year 11 students, 47 Year 12 and 15 Year 13 students at that point in 2015. So entries of over 50 students into each of these Level 2 courses is significant.

In addition, a large number are entered for Physical Education standards, which are actually regarded as achievement standards.  This means the students can achieve Merit or Excellent credits which are generally not available in the unit standards.  For example, no less than 96 students were entered for achievement standard 91330, “Perform a physical activity in an applied setting”, which is worth 4 credits at Level 2.

Some of these activities may be useful things to do but you can draw your own conclusions on what this means for the quality of qualifications these young people are obtaining.

The detailed NZQA analysis for 2016 will be released later this year and we will look to see if there is any change from previous years.

A couple of other points about Vanguard are worth noting.

First, Vanguard’s roll drops quite markedly as the year progresses.  Using the 2016 roll return data, Vanguard opened with approx.  152 students in March, dropping to 142 as at 1 July and only 113 in October.  So the roll drops away quite significantly after many complete their NCEA Level 2 and leave school during the year.  With a low proportion of credits gained via external assessment, there is no need to wait around until the end of year examinations.

Second, because of this tendency to leave after NCEA Level 2, the Vanguard roll also drops away at Year 13.  The full 1 July 2016 roll return shows 55 students at Year 11, 69 at Year 12 but only 18 at Year 13.  2016 was the third year of operations for the school, so retention into Year 13 seems to be quite low.

Of the 18 students at Year 13, there were 10 Maori, 5 European, 2 Pasifika and 1 Asian.  Draw your own conclusions about small cohort sizes and the promotion of the 100% Pasifika NCEA L3 pass rate!

As to why they emphasised the Maori and Pasifika results in the release, is management sensitive to the fact that Maori and Pasifika students make up only 54% of the school’s roll?

The policy intention of the charter school initiative was to target Maori and Pasifika learners which is why the charter school contracts have a performance target for enrolling at least 75% “priority learners”.  Vanguard argues that they meet this target because many of their other students are from low socio-economic backgrounds.

The final point to note about Vanguard is the number of expulsions.  Ministry of Education analysis confirms that Vanguard expelled 3 students in 2014 and 5 students in 2015.  Furthermore, these students are not included in any calculations relating to student achievement performance for the year in which they were expelled.

The Ministry of Education insists that they apply their rules relating to students being enrolled for “short periods” consistently across all schools and that this does not advantage the charter schools compared to any other type of school.

It’s National Standards Opt Out time again

This is my annual reminder that whilst schools are bound by law to provide National Standards information to the Education Ministry, we as parents are not obliged to receive that information ourselves.

Here’s my 2017 letter to my child’s school (edited to remove identifying information)…

Dear [principal],

We are incredibly pleased with the education our child is getting at your School. We’re thrilled with his teacher’s work to settle him and others into their new classroom, and honestly could not speak more highly of his experiences there so far.

The School has always supported us in our wish to not receive National Standards information for our child, and I very much hope this will continue in 2017.

As in previous years, we ask that our child’s National Standards levels are not conveyed to us or to him in any way whatsoever, in writing, orally or on display in school. We accept that his National Standards data must be provided to  Ministry – we are aware that schools are legally obliged to do so as outlined in NAG2a – we simply do not wish to know those levels ourselves.

We do not wish to add to the workload of our child’s teacher or any other member of staff, and are happy for any National Standards portions of his reports to be simply left blank as they have in all previous reports.

We’re happy to discuss this with you if you wish,

Ngā mihi,

If you do not want to receive unreliable and unhelpful National Standards data, I suggest you join the growing resistance and opt out.

~ Dianne

#optout

Dear Santa

dear_santa2

What would you wish for?

~ Dianne 

Drop National Standards following damning survey – NZEI

Research showing less than 16 percent of teachers think National Standards have had a positive impact on student achievement is the latest evidence that the standards are not working and should be dropped, NZEI Te Riu Roa says.

A New Zealand Council for Educational Research survey of principals and teachers showed their opinions of National Standards had dropped further over the past three years. Less than a quarter said the standards provided a good picture of studenational standardsnt learning – down from 37% in 2013 – and only 20% said the standards helped motivate students to take on new challenges.

“This survey deals a huge blow to the credibility of National Standards and shows how dangerous it would be to use them as the basis of any future school funding system,” NZEI president Louise Green said.

“National Standards have failed to achieve the two purposes they were set up for –  lifting achievement, and giving parents better information about the progress of their children.

“Its bad enough that the standards are not useful for lifting achievement, or measuring progress, they also offer little to students with additional learning needs – the very group we were told they were supposed to help.

“Teachers have tried hard to make the standards work since they were introduced seven years ago and if they were helping children learn better we’d embrace them, but they’re not.

The survey follows recent international assessment findings that New Zealand children’s scores in maths and reading had dropped since the standards had been introduced.

“If National Standards have failed to lift achievement, don’t provide good information for teachers or parents, and are demotivating for students, the obvious solution is to drop them.

“Parents deserve good quality information about their children’s progress, children deserve a modern, broad curriculum that motivates them to learn, and teachers deserve the best teaching tools. National Standards fails on all fronts,” Ms Green said.

On the Saga of Misinterpreting Student Achievement Performance Standards at NZ Charter Schools

Bill Courtney

Bill Courtney

The purpose of this report, prepared by Bill Courtney of Save Our Schools NZ, is to document several matters relating to the various quantitative measures that have been used to report student achievement in the charter secondary schools, across both 2014 and 2015.

The main observation is that, in respect of 2014 achievement, the performance standard originally set out in the charter school Agreement, the Ministry’s interpretation of this, the achievement reported by the schools and the reported achievement in the Ministry’s publicly available database, Education Counts, are all different! (See Reporting Summary table on p. 2 of full report)

One of the most significant implications of these differences in interpretation is that, on the recommendation of the Ministry, the Minister approved the release of the 1% operational funding retention amount, relating to the 2014 year, for both Vanguard and Paraoa. However, Vanguard did not meet its NCEA L2 Target and Paraoa did not meet either its Level 1 or Level 2 Target.

In July 2016, the Ministry finally acknowledged that there were “issues” related to the current NCEA performance standards as being applied to charter schools. This admission raises serious concerns about the mantra underpinning the charter school approach, which is described as: “Rigorous accountability against clearly agreed objectives.

In a paper to the Minister, it recommended a new set of performance standards be utilised in the Third Round contracts that were signed in August 2016. These will use two new roll-based NCEA pass rate measures along with a clearly stated “School Leaver” measure, calculated in the normal manner.

However, the same paper redacted the sections referring to “Next Steps” that might suggest how the Ministry is going to evaluate the performance of the existing First and Second Round schools on an on-going basis.

At time of writing, the Ministry has published its initial analysis of the schools relating to the 2015 year using what it has described as the “current” interpretation of the performance measures. But it had not yet made any recommendations regarding the 1% retention amounts for 2015.

In order to provide a more comprehensive overview of performance, I have included in the full report data from the Education Counts system-wide data spreadsheets, based on the “School Leavers” metric. These show charter school achievement compared to decile 3 schools and for Maori students.

I have also included an initial analysis of information relating to the “quality” of the NCEA credits being earned by students enrolled at charter schools, based on data provided by NZQA.

Finally, I conclude with some thoughts on the implications of this bizarre outcome in what is supposedly being sold to the country as a “Contracting for Outcomes” arrangement.

You can view the full report here.

~ Save Our Schools NZ

David Seymour and another misleading statement about charter schools

David Seymour has made a clearly incorrect statement to the media about his beloved charter schools and contradicted his Minister in the process.

The question at issue is the incorrect interpretation and measurement of the student achievement targets used in the original charter school contracts for the first and second round charter schools.

Save Our Schools NZ has been involved for over a year in the battle to get the Ministry of Education to acknowledge that both the reporting by the schools and the performance evaluation by the Ministry have been incorrect.

Radio NZ reported on Thursday that Seymour defended the incorrect interpretation by making the following statement:

“The reason that there is a difference, just remember, is that we have been pioneering holding schools to account through a contract, and it was necessary if you wanted to do that to have a different system of measurement.”

This statement is rubbish!

The original contracts did not have a different system of measurement at all.

The performance standards used in the original contracts were stated as “School Leavers with NCEA Level 1” and “School Leavers with NCEA Level 2”.

But both of these performance standards have been interpreted incorrectly and not calculated in the normal way that the Ministry does so for all other schools in the system.

These School Leaver statistics are published in the Ministry’s Education Counts database for every school: state, state-integrated, private and now the charter schools.

The error was obvious once the Education Counts “School Leavers” figures for the first round charter schools were released and it was clear that these were different from both the schools’ own reporting and the Ministry’s evaluation.

But it was also clear that they were not what the Minister had intended when the contracts had been put together in 2013.

Under the Official Information Act, Save Our Schools NZ obtained Ministry reports to the Minister in 2013 that set out the basis for the contract performance standards and the metrics that would be used to measure performance.

These documents included one where the Minister, Hekia Parata, made a hand-written comment on one of the papers in May 2013, discussing the principles behind the contract standards:

“There is to be no compromise on the system-level benchmarks.”

This makes a mockery of David Seymour’s claim that it was necessary to have a different system of measurement.

The  Minister then signed off the contract metrics in September 2013.  These included the following:

“n.          Agree that performance standards for 2014 NCEA Level 1 and 2 should be based on 2012 system-level results for decile 3 state schools.”

So the Minister had clearly intended that the normal system-level benchmarks should be used and the charter school targets for 2014 should be the same as the results of decile 3 state schools in 2012.

It is the incorrect interpretation and measurement of those performance standards that has been revealed and is now being corrected.

Seymour is simply wrong to argue that a “different system of measurement” had always been intended.

~ Bill Courtney, SOSNZ

See also: https://saveourschoolsnz.com/2016/08/16/david-seymours-bizarre-claims-about-charter-school-performance/

Academics Worldwide call for the end to PISA tests

Your triennial reminder that those in the know want an end to PISA…

Save Our Schools NZ

We are deeply concerned that measuring a great diversity of educational traditions and cultures using a single, narrow, biased yardstick could, in the end, do irreparable harm to our schools and our students.

Dear Dr Schleicher,

We write to you in your capacity as OECD’s (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) director of the Programme of International Student Assessment (Pisa). Now in its 13th year, Pisa is known around the world as an instrument to rank OECD and non-OECD countries (60-plus at last count) according to a measure of academic achievement of 15-year-old students in mathematics, science, and reading. Administered every three years, Pisa results are anxiously awaited by governments, education ministers, and the editorial boards of newspapers, and are cited authoritatively in countless policy reports. They have begun to deeply influence educational practices in many countries. As a result of Pisa, countries are overhauling their education systems…

View original post 2,053 more words

PISA circus time again

graphYes, it’s that time again, when the OECD releases the PISA test results and Education Ministers everywhere frantically start to spin the information to justify whatever plans they already had. Statisticians in government departments everywhere lurch across desks in darkened rooms, poring over the data, eagerly cherry picking the bits that serve their Minister’s purpose. Such fun!

Then there are those dedicated researchers who put out articles quick-smart explaining why PISA is flawed and unreliable. They explain in great detail the ins and outs of data collection and test setting and statistical analysis and, despite our best efforts, maybe one in a thousand of us can follow what they are saying. But we read anyway and nod sagely. Because there are graphs and there is data, so it must be good stuff.

The media, of course, enter into some kind of Nirvana, gleefully whipping up a hoohah about countries “slipping down” or “surging up” the tables. Heaven forbid a country has the temerity to stay in the same place – how’s a journo meant to get a headline out of that kind of carry on?

Of course, in all of this madness, we could take the Yong Zhao route and denounce PISA altogether – say no to the sausage factory. But that doesn’t sell papers or make for rousing Ministerial pronouncements, or even attract blog readers, so, yeah nah.

Instead, yet again, we will be treated to the PISA circus, like it or not, so please remember to engage your critical thinking skills.

~ Dianne

Teacher Stress & Anxiety in New Zealand Schools


This is a further summary of findings from the SOSNZ survey undertaken by Dianne Khan and Ursula Edgington. We ran the survey for 3 months from March – June 2016 when it was closed with a total of 684 participants.

Previous analyses of the survey data can be found herehere and here.

Summary of the survey respondents

Most of the respondents to our survey worked in the Primary sector (79%), with relatively equal numbers from intermediate and secondary (5% and 6.5% respectively).

A small number of respondents (2.6%) were from Early Childhood and 3% worked in ‘Other’ schools which were mainly connected to provision of Special Educational Need, with some defined as ‘Area’ provision.

The survey did not separate private school from public provision, although this would be an interesting area for further research on the subject.

Stress and Anxiety in NZ schools

Probably the most significant question of our survey was Question 5, which asked ‘Whether medically diagnosed or not, have you ever taken time off due to stress and anxiety?’

The results clearly illustrate the extent of the problem of stress and anxiety in NZ schools today: the majority, 54% of respondents (365) answered Yes.  44% (296) answered No, and understandably, due to the sensitivity of the subject, a small number 1% (11 respondents) declined to answer. These results are extremely concerning because no matter how subjective, for a majority of teachers to feel it is necessary to take time off in order to recover from workplace stress and anxiety, there will inevitably be consequences for the health and well-being of staff and potentially for the quality of teaching and learning in NZ.

In line with existing research in this area, those respondents who confirmed they had received a formal medical diagnosis of stress and anxiety (Question 4), numbered roughly equal to those who had not (300 respondents, compared to 355), with 22 (3%) declining to answer.

What do NZ teachers do when suffering with stress and anxiety?

Responding to Question 3, which asked for examples of coping strategies, 87% of respondents said that when they suffered from stress or anxiety from the workplace, that they tried to ‘carry on regardless’. question-3-responses

This was reflected in the responses to Question 6, which asked how many days have you taken off work, as a result of stress and anxiety? Most respondents (519 or 77%) had only taken 0-3 days off over the past year. 15% had taken 4 – 7 days, with 3% taken 8-12 days and a small minority (5%) 34 respondents having taken more 13 days or more.

The finding that most respondents to the survey ‘tried to carry on regardless’ despite suffering stress and anxiety, is very concerning because knowing where to find and being able to seek out help in times of distress is crucial in order to prevent the situation from escalating. Worryingly (and confirming our findings from the preliminary data of the first 100 respondents) the main resource for public sector staff seeking help – the EAP – was largely unknown: Over 85% of respondents denied knowing anything about EAP. Of the 11% of respondents who DID know that their school subscribed to EAP, they had not used it (although reasons for this are unclear). Only 3% (25 respondents) had made use of the EAP service, either at their past or current school.

Further concerns about the health and well-being of NZ teachers can be seen in respondents’ descriptions of what they DID do when feeling stressed and anxious. In line with other studies on the coping strategies of individuals coping with stress, 39% find solace in comfort eating, 37% try to extend their sleep, 26% turn to drinking alcohol,  7% self-medicate and 6% find that smoking helps them cope. Only 8.5% book a GP appointment which hopefully in turn would help them find different resources of suitable support. Perhaps most worryingly, nearly 2% (11 respondents) admitted to taking drugs to help them cope.

Looking deeper at some of the qualitative data, for some staff, it seemed a culture of fear existed at their workplace, as additional comments included the following theme:

“Everyone is too afraid to take action, as they fear it can affect their future job prospects.”

Similarly, others described the challenge of feeling pressure to hide their emotions :

“Breaking down and having a good cry and then trying to pick myself up and carry on so that no one knows what is happening to me”.

Some of the comments were heart-breaking, for example those who described how they have taught for many years, but now did not have the strength to carry on in a profession who could not offer the support they needed:

“[I’m} Coming to the realisation that this is just how it is and if I didn’t like it then I should have chosen a different profession.”

“Gave up smoking [but] I did not realise how much of a strong coping mechanism it was. This term I pretty much broke down and am now being treated for severe depression. I am truly passionate about children’s wellbeing and education, but I now don’t know if I want to stay in the job.”

“I will be handing in my notice and will not be returning. I have decided to walk away from this career that I have loved for nearly 20 years and I will focus on helping small groups of children because I don’t think I can teach effectively in the current set up.”

Difficult and high levels of workload were common themes throughout the responses to our survey questions.  It followed then that sharing tips on how to best manage workload and what to prioritise formed a popular way of coping with stress.  

On a positive note, some teachers reported taking constructive steps to reduce levels of stress and anxiety and 40% reported taking exercise  – for instance in the gym, horse-riding or going tramping – as a strategic way to relieve their personal symptoms of stress.

Talking with colleagues, family and friends was the most common additional comment in this section of the survey, illustrating the importance of a community of practice and sharing experiences with those around us. This contrasts sharply with the responses from the first part of the survey, where teachers cited as some colleagues and managers as the source of stress and anxiety, rather than being supportive in trying to alleviate it. Similarly, engaging with trivia on social media platforms was also a popular way that many staff found relief from workplace stress. Reading – both academic and creative texts – were also a popular way that teachers coped with feelings of stress and anxiety.

Key learnings from this section of the survey

  1. Those schools subscribing to EAP need to raise awareness of the benefits of the service and to promote its use more widely. Any potential negative attitudes and stigma attached to using the service needs to be addressed to improve the health and well-being of all staff.
  2. Those schools NOT subscribing to EAP could consider joining, or providing another similar source of help and support.
  3. Teachers at ALL stages of their career need access to help and support that is appropriate for their needs. The complex causes of stress and anxiety (discussed in the previous post) need to be addressed and symptoms of reported stress should be taken seriously and not be subjected to stigma or further bullying.
  4. Provision of healthy ways to relieve stress and anxiety – exercise opportunities and reading groups for example – could be more widely promoted in schools.
  5. Talking with others – colleagues and whānau and others – is an under-developed, under-researched but highly valued coping strategy for teachers in every sector, all over the world. In view of the causes of stress reported in the previous post, school managers could provide more open opportunities for sharing experiences, advice for managing workloads and encouraging ongoing professional dialogue between and within groups of teachers, students, parents and governors.

~ Ursula Edgington & Dianne Khan

Further Reading

What is really stressing NZ teachers?

Stress, anxiety and depression in the teaching profession – part 1

SOSNZ Teacher Stress Survey – Part 2

Survey reveals crisis in beginning teacher workforce – NZEI

Special educational need support changes – mixed reaction

nzei logoToday’s release of a Cabinet paper outlining changes to support for children with special education learning needs has some positive developments but also raises a number of concerns, says NZEI Te Riu Roa.

As part of the Learning Support Update, the Ministry plans to implement a new service model that will include a single point of access for parents, whānau, schools and local communities, and Local Learning Support teams and a Lead Practitioner.

NZEI President Louise Green said such a move would be welcomed, and teachers and parents had long been asking for a single contact point.

“The concern is that there is still no more funding, even though the ministry acknowledges that the number of children needing learning support is growing, and principals are reporting that the significant needs of children in their schools are not being met,” she said.

“There is no detail around who will staff the learning support teams and lead practitioner roles. If they are existing specialist staff, this reduces the available expertise needed by individual children. If the role is to be taken by teachers or Special Education Needs Coordinators (SENCOs) in schools, a lack of resourcing for the extra responsibility will be an issue.”

Ms Green welcomed the acknowledgement that more speech language therapists were needed and that the eight-year cap on frontline staff could be lifted.

“However, they have also signalled a move to some private provision of services, even though it would be more cost-effective to use ministry-employed staff. Fewer children will be assisted if funding is going via private operators. We don’t want to see any privatisation of this essential public service for our children,” she said.

Ms Green was pleased that the new service model would be trialled in one area first, but said many questions remained around the details of the model and their implications on students.

NZ Speech Therapist asks Education Select Committee to create a truly inclusive education system

November 11, 2016

To the Education and Science Select Committee Submission on the Education (Update) Amendment Bill

From Shannon Hennig

As a speech-language therapist and inclusion education consultant, I have dedicated my career to ensuring that students with moderate to profound speech, language, and communication differences can access education and learning in an inclusive setting.

My areas of expertise are autism, AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication), and teaching literacy skills to children with limited speech. I am a PhD level researcher who collaborates internationally on disability issues, assistive technology, and communication disorders.

I also write as someone who grew up in a truly inclusive school system overseas. I was educated alongside children with mild to profound disabilities. As an academically gifted student, I never once felt held back by quality inclusive practice. Instead it made my teachers better, my principals more thoughtful, and my learning richer. I have family members with disabilities as well.

I wish to share my comments, which primarily address the following sections of the bill: 

  • Schedule 2, Part 2: Powers and Functions of Board of Trustees
  • S38: Part 3A Communities of Online Learning
  • S43: Teaching and Learning Programmes, Monitoring and Reporting Student Performance
  • S47: Off-site locations for school
  • S48: Establishment of Communities of Learning

I urge you to make sure that the Update be amended so that it ensures that all children have access to a publicly funded, meaningful, and appropriate education, as is their right.

In its current form, the urgent unmet needs of students with disabilities and their families are not addressed.

Initially, I welcomed the introduction of this bill as a long overdue update to an Education Bill that does not currently meet the needs of all students. However, many students – particularly those with mild to moderate learning differences, children with autism, and students with mental health conditions – have significant challenges in accessing a free and appropriate education in New Zealand.

Before we introduce experimental ideas, such as CoOLs, I urge parliament to delay passing this bill until the funding, equity, and quality of our inclusive education system is brought up to international standards for developed nations. Funding and training are the biggest barriers for achieving this – but not insurmountably so.

Legal provisions need to be created that allow speedy, affordable, and transparent recourse when exclusionary practices occur. Such exclusionary practices are surprisingly common and include encouraging students to attend other schools, stand-downs and exclusions without appropriately providing a functional learning environment for the student, or the more insidious (and often inadvertent) practice of schools that do not include (or cannot afford to provide) universal design. Over time this can foster a state of such anxiety and needless academic failure that a student refuses to attend school. I personally know of at least 6 families in which a student is not in school because their learning environments were unable to accommodate their learning needs.

Without providing adequate resources, policy, and legal provisions to address historic and systematic gaps in inclusive education provision, NZ will be in violation of our international commitments and create future financial liabilities.

For example, there are tangible societal costs to not getting inclusion right:

  • increased underemployment for students in the future
  • increased underemployment for parents of current students
  • reduced educational staff moral and job satisfaction (leading to attrition of trained teachers)
  • mental health conditions from school bullying, academic anxiety/failure, and/or social isolation
  • increased incarceration rates

Of course, the real reason for making positive change should be the children. And their families. And all of us in the teaching professions who are working so hard under such difficult conditions.

The Ministry of Education urgently needs to conduct a consultation that properly considers the concerns of students, professionals (confidentially, without fear of employment repercussions), and families.

Having attended some of the consultation sessions last year, a significant number of parents (a) did not know about the meetings and/or (b) felt that the format firmly steered the conversation away from the issues they felt were most pertinent to their child’s learning. The term “rubber stamping” was frequently used to describe these sessions by parents. There were tears at many of the meetings and angry conversations in the parking lots. The issues they raised do not appear to be well addressed (if at all in some cases) in this bill.

Having previously practiced as a school-based speech therapist in the USA, I believe it would be prudent to get inclusive education policy right as well-crafted policy and legislation, rather than allow it to be created piece-meal through litigation for rights violations. As I am sure many have written, there are concerns that current practice is not aligned with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Equally, the Ministry of Education urgently needs to collect meaningful data that accurately reflects the reality on the ground. Before we focus on student outcomes, we need to understand what is actually happening (or not) to ensure that students are in school, being taught effectively, and feel safe.

Before holding students accountable to standards that may or may not be appropriate for their goals, we need to ensure that we collect meaningful, concise data on what the system is and isn’t doing to create environments conducive to learning. Do all teachers have training in autism? Are there discriminatory patterns in enrolment and expulsion? Do all children with learning and/or communication disabilities have access to appropriate accommodation, assistive technology, and interventions? This is the type of information that must inform policy going forward. I believe it is more relevant and of greater interest than national standards data at this time. Before we can improve student outcomes, we need to measure and address practices that may be setting students up for failure (or success, as the case might be) without being punitive to teachers.

We need to get this update right.

It needs to build on what we are already doing well, and effectively remedy what is not, in a futureoriented manner using NZ centric solutions.

It needs to directly address the issues I frequently observe that I believe conflict with (what I hope is) the spirit of NZ Education policy is. Specifically,

  • I observe families paying privately for teaching assistants in order for their child to attend school
  • I observe families offering to pay for teacher and teaching aid training and being denied this (and no training being offered)
  • I see children with disabilities being denied literacy and communication instruction who have the skills to learn from such methods
  • I see children with mild-moderate learning disabilities being placed in mainstream classrooms without specialised instructed to address their skills gaps, nor resources and training for the teaching staff regarding how to support their learning
  • In some cases, I observe what appears to be well-meaning practice that is outdated, ineffective, and closer to childminding than educational instruction
  • I see bullying being allowed to persist and inappropriate comments from teaching staff reflecting outdating thinking about children with communication impairments. Sometimes these are even said in front of the student (e.g., “they’re just being naughty,” “remember how lovely and quite it was before he learned to talk,” “She doesn’t need this communication device” etc.)
  • Most worrying, I see teachers aching, pleading, and begging for resources, release time, teaching assistants, and training to help them better teach children who learn, think, and understand differently. They are too often being denied such requests, or don’t know how to tap into the limited resources out there.

Specifically, we need an update to our Educational Law that ensures that (and provides provisions for) all of the following:

  • Removal of the introduction of CoOLs until the education system first addresses the systemwide, unmet needs of students with learning needs – including students with mild to moderate learning needs. These students are completely underfunded at this time and CoOLs will not provide the small group and 1:1 face-to-face, personal instruction they need. Many of these students struggle with executive functioning disorders, which by their nature make online learning, self-discipline, and non-differentiate instruction a poor fit for their learning needs.
  • Seclusion should have no place in our education system.
  • Appropriate training, staffing, school culture, and access to specialist knowledge (including parent expertise) is needed so that inhumane practices, like seclusion, do not occur.
  • Transparent and enforceable mechanisms are needed to address any and all violations to students’ right to a free and appropriate education.
  • Inclusive practices need to be reported to the MOE and effectively audited. These should not be cumbersome.
  • Schools with exclusionary practices need to be held accountable. Parents need to have clear pathways for dispute resolution, and all results need to be communicated to families in writing.
  • There need to be clear, enforceable timelines for when concerns are raised about a child’s learning and when appropriate support and interventions are expected to be put into place.
  • Teachers need access to effective training in how to support language development, teach children with learning differences, and have the resources to teach in smaller groups when that is what is what is needed.
  • Teachers-in-training need to have sufficient training in how to understand and teach children with autism, children with limited speech, and those who struggle to use and understand spoken language.
  • Schools and ECEs currently are financially penalised for including students. The reverse needs to be true. All children should be able to attend their local schools with appropriate funding and support. The system should not have policies that make a child with learning needs a “financial burden” for school. This only encourages exclusionary practices.
  • Students’ emotional and mental health needs to be supported at school – funding and support for guidance counsellors needs to be increased.
  • Students’ speech, language, and communication skills are fundamental to school learning and participation. All schools should have access to a speech-language therapist who is available on a weekly basis to provide just-in-time support, demonstrations, and specialised intervention. They should be as valuable and integrated within the school community as music and physical education teachers.

I also want to specifically highlight the concerning proposal to focus funding of specialist support and intervention on the youngest students. To be clear, early intervention is essential. It makes a difference and saves money. That said, many impairments only become an issue when academic and social demands increase in the older years.

Specifically, clinically the following are well known “service request bumps” to any school-based speech therapist from America (where we serve all children with a documented speech-language communication impairment that significantly interferes with their ability to access the curriculum):

  • Around 8-9 years of age, children transition from learning to read to the act of reading to learn. This is a stage where many subtle language differences start being significant challenges. But this marks one of the cut-off ages when speech-language input tends to be reduced in New Zealand.
  • Around 12-14, students need to learn to apply language skills in more abstract ways and process more complex language. This is another period where more kids start to struggle because of subtle underlying language differences. They often didn’t need support before, but now do.
  • In year 10, behaviour support options drop off in our system, however this is when our young people are thrown into a pressure cooker of high stakes tests that are linguistically demanding (even in maths) while attempting to navigate the social pressures of high school. Those with weaker language skills and/or social communication challenges need support and intervention at this stage – often for the first time in their lives. It is a shame to throw away a 10 year investment in a child just as they are about to finish education – for us and for the student.

My impression is that the Update, by design, does not address the concerns listed above. Given this, the following should be omitted from the Update:

  • Global funding – without an appropriate increase in funding levels and school attitudes, global funding is expected to increase exclusionary practices if students with disabilities are perceived to increase budgetary pressures on local schools.
  • CoOLs– children who have difficulty learning without specialised and individualised instruction are unlike to benefit from this model. Furthermore, it goes against the basic principles of inclusion.
  • Giving too much power to school boards without proper checks and balances puts many students at risk. We need an independent organisation to investigate complaints and enforce child rights regarding education.

In summary: while the Education Law in our country needs an update, it must be done correctly and in a matter that targets the known, pressing issues our schools face. This bill does not appear to address these matters adequately.

The Ministry of Education needs to be given the resources, power, and direction to ensure that all children in New Zealand, regardless of any sensory, cognitive, or physical impairment, have access to a publicly funded and appropriate education. Exclusionary practices should be prevented through appropriate funding systems, staff development, and promotion of inclusive attitudes. If exclusionary practices continue, principals and boards of trustees must be held accountable.

The NZ education is positioned to become a world leader in Inclusive Education, but only if this update is amended in such a way that ensures all of our young people will experience school as a place of security, learning, exciting challenge, and community. Families should not be expected to foot the bill for this essential public service.

ALL children are our collective responsibility as a society and we all benefit from inclusive education policy and practice. We are watching closely, and wish you well on this important piece of legislation.

– Shannon Hennig

Parata backs down on bulk funding plans

Demise of bulk funding a big win for teachers, learners and school communities

NZEI Te Riu Roa and PPTA congratulate the Minister of Education and Cabinet for making the right decision to reject bulk funding of schools.

NZEI President Louise Green and PPTA President Angela Roberts say taking bulk funding off the table is a big win for public education and for the thousands of teachers and school support staff who united in unprecedented numbers at more than 50 union meetings around the country in September.

PPTA President Angela Roberts says parents and educators had rejected bulk funding because they realised it was a cost cutting tool that would force schools to make trade-offs between hiring teachers and other costs.  Thousands of parents signed postcards to the Minister calling for better funding, not bulk funding during a national roadshow organised by the two unions earlier this term.

Angela Roberts says the win is good news for learners, as bulk funding led to fewer teachers, larger class sizes and narrower subject choices for students.

She says the two unions welcomed the opportunity to now focus on how funding could be used to improve equity.

“Now that the distraction of bulk funding has been removed we can begin the real work of developing an equitable funding model that works for every child,” she said.

However, Louise Green warned that ditching the decile system and replacing it with more targeted funding would not  help schools unless the chronic underfunding of education was also addressed.

“We call on the Government to take the next step — to increase school funding and restore funding to early childhood services, which has been frozen for six years,” she says.

Both unions’ National Executives are meeting this morning and the Presidents will make a joint statement at lunchtime.

What:               Joint media stand up by NZEI and PPTA Presidents

Where:             Thorndon Hotel, 24 Hawkestone St, Wellington

When:               12:30pm, Friday 18 November

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