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Charter Schools in NZ: Save Our Schools NZ Position Paper, 12 May 2017

charter schools sosnz position paper

1. The introduction of charter schools is both a sop to the ACT Party, with their ideological desire to introduce a privatised, market based model of education, and a follow up to the Step Change Report produced in the term of the previous National Government. [Feb 2010]

2. However, there are significant differences between vouchers, the pure market model usually promoted by ACT, and charter schools, which is privatisation by way of contracting with private sector providers.  Treasury calls this “Contracting for Outcomes”.

3. Treasury, in its advice to the Minister of Finance, noted that: “The evidence suggests that schooling systems that use strongly competitive elements such as vouchers, avoiding school zoning and ‘charter’ schools do not produce systematically better outcomes.” [July 2012]

4. “School Choice” is the phrase used in America to describe the market model.  But New Zealand already has “arguably the most aggressive school choice system in the world” in the view of one overseas commentator. [Marc Tucker, Washington Post, October 2012]

5. NZCER surveys over the years consistently show that the vast majority of NZ parents already believe they send their children to the “school of their choice”. [NZCER]

6. Overseas evidence on charter school performance is inconclusive, at best.  A wide range of individual school performance is evident but with little system-wide effect across the model as a whole. [CREDO and Hattie]

7. This purely quantitative analysis is then subject to further criticisms of many aspects of US charter school practices, including: student selection, including the effect of “self-selection” amongst parents; the proportions of English language Learners and special needs students;  student attrition; school discipline and behaviour management practices; the apparent lack of backfilling, i.e. the tendency to not replace students as they leave; and the drive for what is commonly called “test prep”, in contrast to a genuine focus on the quality of education.

8. The promotional pack from the Authorisation Board boasts that the New Zealand charter school model represents “Freedom from constraints imposed on regular state schools in exchange for rigorous accountability for performance against agreed objectives.”

9. It then identifies the following factors, but without any evidence that these are likely to lead to higher student achievement: Cashed-up per student funding; school day & year; school organisation; curriculum; teacher pay / teaching practice; privately provided / secular or faith based. [PSKH Authorisation Board, 2016]

10. The argument that “freedom” will encourage/facilitate “innovation” is weak.  It is not supported by overseas evidence [Lubienski 2003] and one US charter school industry’s overview even conceded that “… most charters do not employ particularly innovative instructional approaches”. [Bellwether 2015]

11. The combined roll of the 10 schools now in operation was 1,257 as at 1 March 2017, an average of about 125 students per school.  The combined Maximum Roll across the 10 schools is 2,112 students. [MoE Schools Directory, April 2017]

12. The original funding model has already been changed, as it soon became clear how much operational funding these schools were receiving compared to their local state schools.  Small schools are expensive and the government was fully funding the First and Second Round schools with no Sponsor capital input required.

13. Even in their 4th year of operation, the two largest First Round charter secondary schools are receiving cash funding of over $14,000 per student, compared to a system-wide weighted average for all schools, including property, of $7,046.11. [2015 system data]

14. The Third Round funding model now uses an approach more oriented to funding the student than funding the school, as the roll grows.  But the government still provides the property and insurance funding for what is essentially a private sector organisation.

15. Cabinet was told: “A strong evaluation programme will be put in place that thoroughly examines the impact and effectiveness of the first such schools.  This will enable us to make informed decisions about whether or not to open further such schools in the future.”

16. This promise has not been carried out.  The roll-out of the model has proceeded well ahead of the release of any evaluation.  At the time of writing, the Third Round schools have opened this year and applications are being processed for the Fourth and Fifth Rounds!

17. The first two reports from the Martin Jenkins Evaluation Programme are weak and do not rigorously examine school performance or the impact these schools have had. The Evaluation has also completely ignored the failure of the First Round school at Whangaruru.

18. Student achievement outcomes to date have been mixed but difficult to analyse thoroughly given the delays in the Ministry releasing accurate information.

19. By May 2017, the Minister has still not announced her decision on the release of the performance based funding for the 2015 school year!  No operational reports for the entire 2016 year have yet been released, along with supporting documentation such as contract variations and Ministry advice to the Minister.

20. There was a major problem with the interpretation of the original secondary schools’ contract performance standard, which is “School Leavers” and not NCEA pass rates.  This resulted in incorrect reporting of the true state of the 2014 and 2015 secondary performance. [MoE advice to the Minister, July 2016, obtained under the OIA]

21. Superficially high NCEA pass rates are published by Vanguard Military School but NZQA data obtained under the Official Information Act (OIA) reveals issues around the quality of the credits gained, the high proportion of unit versus achievement standards entered and large differences between internal and external pass rates. [NZQA]

22. Primary and middle schools assessed against National Standards have not performed well.  In the 2015 year, only one school out of five – the Rise Up Academy – met its NS student achievement standard targets. [MoE  initial analysis, 30 May 2016]

23. Some schools, including Vanguard and the two Villa middle schools, have failed to meet their Student Engagement contract standards relating to stand-downs, suspensions, exclusions and expulsions.  This is of concern, given the US charter school practices noted above.

24. Charter schools are not more accountable than public schools, simply because they operate under a contract.  Whangaruru was not closed for failure to achieve contract standards; it was dysfunctional from the start.

25. Public school accountability includes parent-elected Boards of Trustees, which must hold open meetings, maintain open records and be subject to the Official Information Act.  Board finances are subject to audit under the supervision of the Auditor-General.

26. No such requirements apply to charter schools, which are organised under a commercial contract between the government and the private sector Sponsor.

27. Public funding must go hand in hand with public accountability.  State and State-Integrated schools both abide by this principle but charter schools do not.

ENDS

Charter School Performance Cover Up

The cover up of the true picture of student achievement in charter schools continued today with the belated release of the second Martin Jenkins Evaluation Report.

The report, with a final publication date of 28 November 2016, was released on Friday 5 May 2017, a delay of over 5 months.

However, even now, the report contains a massive caveat in the section discussing student achievement, which indicates there are still major problems behind the scenes.

Here is the footnote set out under the Evaluation Report’s analysis of Student Achievement:

coverupThe ratings in the May 2016 advice were based on the best information available to the Ministry at that time (and are indicative of the reports that the Ministry had received from schools/kura by then). They reflect the most up-to-date information provided to the evaluation team at the time of writing this report, but are not the Ministry’s final assessments of schools’/kura performance for 2015.  

Source: Ministry of Education (2016) Education Report: Partnership Schools/Kura Hourua: 2015 Quarter Four and Annual Reports, 30 May 2016

So, a formal policy evaluation signed off in November 2016, cannot go to print in May 2017 with a clear statement of exactly what represents the “Ministry’s final assessments of schools’/kura performance for 2015”?

Excuse me?

The same problem is holding back the Minister of Education’s decision on whether or not to release the retained operational funding that is performance related, in respect of the 2015 school year.  And this is now May 2017!

The major problem relates to the issue which surfaced last year, when the Ministry acknowledged that the interpretation of the secondary schools’ contract performance standards had been incorrect.  As a consequence, the schools had also reported incorrectly against their contracts.

These incorrect figures had been used to determine the Ministry’s ratings in its May 2016 advice, referred to in the footnote.  While the Ministry has now acknowledged that these figures are incorrect, nothing further has since been released.

The poor performance of the primary and middle schools is also evident in the Evaluation Report.  Of the five primary and middle schools, which have contract targets set against National Standards, only one school, the Rise Up Academy, was assessed as having met its contract targets.

And problems are also clearly evident in the assessment of performance against the Student Engagement standards.  Vanguard Military School and Middle School West Auckland performed very poorly against the standards for Stand-downs, Suspensions, Exclusions and Expulsions.

Overall, the main takeaway from the Evaluation Report is a fairly damning indictment of performance to date.

But the continued cover up of the true picture should not be tolerated any longer.

~ Bill Courtney

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.

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