The ACT Party’s ideological bent for privatisation is clear when David Seymour talks about the government’s decision to “take school choice away” from kids if his charter school model is abolished.
But the New Zealand system already has a remarkable variety of options available without the need to privatise the provision of public education.
US commentator, Marc Tucker, had this to say on “school choice” in an article that appeared in the Washington Post, in October 2012:
“The country with the most aggressive school choice system in the world is probably New Zealand”
And that was before we introduced the charter school ideology!
Mr Seymour might also want to check the views of parents a bit more widely than asking the National Party pollster, David Farrar, to run a poll for him.
Regular surveys of New Zealand parents carried out by the New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER), have consistently found that around 90% of both primary school and secondary school parents state that their child is attending the school of their choice.
And these numbers have hardly changed over the 25 years or so that NZCER has run these surveys.
Most New Zealanders understand that the phrase “School Choice” was used by Milton Friedman to advocate for the privatised, market model of education provision that he believed should replace the institution of public education.
Fortunately, the vast majority of New Zealand families do not support either the ACT Party or its ideology.
~ Bill Courtney, SOSNZ
David Seymour needs a reality check if he thinks that charter schools are not in trouble overseas.
Here is how Save Our Schools sees some of the key evidence:
1. Professor John Hattie, in his quantitative studies, ranks charter schools at number 183 out of the 195 policy interventions that he examined in his paper “The Politics of Distraction”.
Hattie based his analysis on no less than 246 studies and concluded that within a year or so, the “different” school becomes just another school, with all the usual issues that confront all schools.
2. Popular support for charter schools is falling in the United States. A nationwide poll conducted by the “Education Next” magazine, published by Stanford University, found that public support for charter schools has fallen by 12 percentage points, with similar drops evident among both self-described Republicans and self-described Democrats.
3. The experience in New Orleans is that the locals do not believe that the charter school miracle has worked for them. This editorial by the African American newspaper, the New Orleans Tribune, in November 2017 doesn’t pull any punches:
“It’s been 12 years since our schools were hijacked. And 12 years later, many of them are performing just as poorly as they were before they were stolen. To learn that charter operators set up goals they knew were unattainable just to get their charters approved and their hands on public money and facilities is indefensible. Unless and until these pilfering reformers are ready to admit what they did and that it was wrong and then actually return public schools to real local control without charter organizations and unelected boards that come with them under the current model of return anything else they have to say sounds pretty much like sounding brass and tinkling cymbals—a whole bunch of noise.”
4. David Seymour mentions the CREDO studies but fails to mention their main finding.
In the CREDO 2013 nationwide study, less than one hundredth of one percent of the variation in test performance is explainable by charter school enrolment. Specifically, students in charter schools were estimated to score approximately 0.01 standard deviations higher on reading tests and 0.005 standard deviations lower on math tests than their peers in traditional public schools. “With a very large sample size, nearly any effect will be statistically significant,” the reviewers, Maul and McClelland, conclude, “but in practical terms these effects are so small as to be regarded, without hyperbole, as trivial.”
The reality is simple: there is no genuine educational merit in the charter school model. As John Hattie observes, “these new forms of schools usually start with fanfare, with self-selected staff (and sometime selected students) and are sought by parents who want “something better”. But the long-term effects lead to no differences when compared with public schools.”
~ Bill Courtney, SOSNZ
Nikki Kaye has taken the early lead in the “You must be joking” stakes with her ridiculous press release calling for transparency on charter schools.
Nikki Kaye and her government played an active role in holding back information during her time in office. She is in danger of becoming the hypocrite of the year as she now calls for transparency. And, just for good measure, she is supposedly now worried about the cost to the taxpayer of dealing with the mess that she has left behind!
A few fact checkers may be in order here:
• The charter school model does not have a proven track record as Ms Kaye claims. See our release on the poor School Leavers stats across the model as a whole, which shows charter schools underperforming the system-wide benchmarks used by the government.
• In particular, the charter school sector results are below those of both Decile 3 schools and those for Māori students across the NZ school system.
• Ms Kaye delayed the release of the second Martin Jenkins evaluation report from late 2016 until June 2017. Furthermore, the report could not discuss the true level of student achievement given the problems the Ministry of Education had uncovered in how the schools had incorrectly reported their School Leavers results.
• Ms Kaye took until June 2017 to finally release her decisions on the performance-related funding for the 2015 school year. That’s right – it took 18 months to evaluate only 9 schools and then she fudged the decisions on 3 of those schools.
• As for the new schools that were announced to open in 2018 and 2019, Nikki Kaye takes the cake with these. Not one single piece of official information on any of these 6 proposed schools has yet been released. When the Third Round schools were announced in August 2016, the supporting documentation, including the signed contracts, was released that afternoon.
• The biggest concern we have is how much taxpayer money has already been paid to the Sponsors of the 6 proposed schools and is this recoverable? In the early rounds, the Sponsors received the one-off Establishment Payments within 20 days of signing their contracts. So, Nikki, how much taxpayer money have you wasted?
~ Bill Courtney, SOSNZ
The 2016 School Leavers statistics paint a grim picture for charter school supporters. Figures just released by the Ministry of Education show that only 59.7% of charter school leavers left with NCEA L2 or above in 2016.
This compares to a system-wide figure of 80.3% across all schools within the system in 2016. Looking more closely at specific groups, the system-level result for Decile 3 schools was 74.3% and for Maori students, across all deciles, it was 66.5%.
The School Leavers metric is used as the performance standard in the charter school contracts. Former Minister of Education, Hekia Parata, made her intentions clear when she said:
“There is to be no compromise on the system level benchmarks”. Source: Hand-written comment from the Minister on a Ministry of Education paper, dated 24 May 2013
The decile 3 system-level result for 2012 had been used as the baseline for the charter schools in their first year, i.e. 66.9% for the 2014 year. The contracts then set out a series of performance standards for subsequent years, culminating in the target of 85% of School Leavers attaining NCEA Level 2 or above by 2017.
[There were no contract performance standards set above NCEA Level 2. The contracts for primary and middle schools are based on performance standards using National Standards for years 1 to 8].
But worryingly, even this poor performance masks a weak set of results overall. There were 124 School Leavers from charter schools in 2016 and this is the breakdown of the highest qualification they left school with:
Below Level 1 – 25 students, 20.2%
Level 1 – 25 students, 20.2%
Level 2 – 45 students, 36.3%
Level 3 – 14 students, 11.3%
University Entrance (UE) – 15 students, 12.1%
Given the hype around charter schools, it is disappointing to see that 20.2% of students left school in 2016 without even attaining NCEA Level 1.
And at the top end, numbers above Level 2 fall away quite markedly.
The proportion of School Leavers attaining NCEA Level 3 or above, for example, was 23.4% compared to 53.9% for the system as a whole. UE attainment is low, with a mere 15 students, or only 12.1% of School Leavers, attaining UE, compared to a system-wide figure of 40.7%.
As we await this year’s Ministry of Education evaluation of the charter schools, we are minded to note Hekia’s comment from 2013. Clearly, the New Zealand model of charter school is currently not achieving at anywhere near the system-level benchmarks that have been set for it.
SOSNZ’s 2017 Charter School Secondary School Achievement 2014-2016 report can be viewed here.
SOSNZ’s 2017 Charter School Rolls (2016) Report can be viewed here.
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.
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 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
Yes, 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.
Hekia Parata made a somewhat surprising appearance today at Core Education’s uLearn Conference in Rotorua, prompting again comparisons of her ability to make herself available for certain types of education gatherings and not others:
Still, this is not news, and her appearance this morning was not a total surprise, despite not being on the programme.
At least one person left the room in silent protest.
Some asked questions…
And one, SOSNZ’s very own Melanie Dorrian, made a one-person, silent and very powerful protest.
This prompted a flurry of photos on social media
The protest invoked a lot of positive support from within and without the room.
Melanie, I have never been prouder to call you a colleague. You embody exactly what we want of our teachers and our students – deep critical thinking, a commitment to facts, a determination to hold people to account for their actions, and a social advocacy that puts others’ needs sometimes before one’s own.
To those who praised Melanie, took pics, shared your thoughts, sent her your support – thank you. I hope Melanie’s stance has illustrated clearly that one person can make a difference and your voice – every voice – matters.
Next time maybe you’ll bring your banner, too?
After all, you voted overwhelmingly to stand up to this nonsense.
You can follow Melanie’s own blog here.
Thousands of people have read my post about Hekia Parata fabricating support from a mystical “Special Education Association”, and most were just plain dismayed that a Minister would openly make up information to justify her plans for special education. However, a few hardy
trolls souls dredged up whatever support they could for the Minister, saying that there is indeed an New Zealand Special Education Association (NZSEA) in Canterbury and they probably did support the plans. (This despite Hekia writing on her Facebook page that when she said she had the support of the Special Education Association what she mean was some people generally support her plans). Most people know and accept that Hekia lied – but, you know, some poor devils just wont face those kinds of facts.
So I did what seemed best, I emailed the apparently defunct NZSEA to double check that they are indeed no longer a group and check whether they did or did not support Ms Parata’s plans.
In plain English and to be very clear, I asked the NZSEA whether they are the Special Education Association to which Hekia Parata referred when she said to Chris Hipkins during Question Time in Parliament on 23rd August 2016:
“I can tell the member that the Special Education Association tells me they want to be able to measure progress…”
The answer is no, they are not.
The NZSEA’s reply, received at 9.45am today, said:
Kia ora Dianne,
Thank you for your email. It is timely as I am about to write a letter to the editor disclaiming any association between NZSEA and the Minister’s statement she gave last week. She has never consulted with NZSEA on any matter associated with special education, in the past or now.
Unfortunately, the NZSEA is currently on the process of winding up so it will be interesting to see if the Minister refers to the group again. All the best in your quest.
New Zealand Special Educaiton Association (NZSEA)
Over to you, trolls.
This is what Hekia Parata said in the House on 23rd August 2016:
We’ve already seen how Hekia justified her statement to Melanie Simons.
This is what she said when Glenis Bearsley questioned her:
Anyone else see a pattern forming here?
Analysis by Save Our Schools NZ shows that the charter primary and middle schools achieved only 27 out a combined total of 66 achievement Targets for the 2015 academic year. This is a hit rate of only 40.9%.
For most people, this would represent a “Fail” but David Seymour seems to have taken the dark art of grade inflation to a new height.
In his Free Press release (15 August), Seymour claims that his charter schools are “knocking it out of the park with results and innovation”.
Outrageous comments such as Seymour’s serve to remind us that charter schools are clearly not subject to any serious monitoring at all.
Seymour’s colleagues on the charter school Authorisation Board have just launched a marketing campaign to try and bounce back from the disastrous current application round.
One of the slides in the presentation pack describes the charter school model with this comment:
“Freedom from constraints imposed on regular state schools in exchange for rigorous accountability for performance against agreed objectives.”
But the agreed objectives are those set out in the charter school contracts and not those in Seymour’s fantasy baseball stadium.
It will be interesting to read the Ministry’s evaluation of 2015 charter school performance and to see whether they have also drunk too much of the charter school Kool-Aid.
For the record, the combined 2015 results for the 3 primary and 2 middle schools are shown below.
Contract Targets are set at each Year level, as being the percentage of students assessed as “At or Above National Standards” across Reading, Writing and Maths.
The schools have different numbers of Year levels in operation, as they become established, but these add to 22 in each subject area for the 2015 year.
Targets Met in total: Achieved 27 out of 66 40.9%
Reading: Achieved 7 out of 22 31.8%
Writing: Achieved 10 out of 22 45.5%
Maths: Achieved 10 out of 22 45.5%
– Bill Courtney, Save Our Schools NZ
Prior to the publication of Save Our Schools NZ’s detailed analysis of charter school funding in 2016, we here present a summary of findings:
Finally, it will never be easy to make straightforward comparisons between charter school and State / State-Integrated school funding, as this inevitably involves an apples v oranges comparison. But even in their third year of operation, the first round schools still have high total funding per student costs compared to the weighted average across the school system.
And while things may or may not change over time, our approach will remain simple: “Follow the Money”.
~ Bill Courtney, Save Our Schools NZ
Hurrah! SOSNZ’s investigation into the Teacher Education Refresh (TER) programme has got the attention of the Education Council, and Lesley Hoskin (Deputy Chief Executive of the Education Council) has assured me that they are looking into things urgently.
When I spoke with her, Lesley was very clear that concerns are being taken seriously and that EC is now aware that there are big issues. She said that EC will start by looking into requirements for itinerant teachers and relievers to undertake the TER programme, and will widen the net to look at the criteria in its entirety so that is can be applied fairly, reasonably and with flexibility.
It’s great that they listened, and great that PPTA and NZEI backed up the concerns we raised, but in order for improvements to be made, Education Council need your feedback.
That’s right, it’s over to you.
If you have done the TER, please send your comments to email@example.com or use the online form here. EC needs to know the positives and negatives, in particular regarding the criteria for having to do the course.
If you have not done the course but have concerns, you can also send feedback. Please make it as specific as possible so that the issues are clear. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or use the online form.
I am, of course, happy to receive your feedback re the TER and pass it on to EC for you (anonymously if needs be) but in order to get specific situations reassessed EC will need your full name and registration number, so please bear that in mind.
If you want to have your own situation assessed to see whether you have to do the TER course or not, also email email@example.com or use the online form.
When asking for an assessment, make sure you give them your full name and teacher registration number so they can access your files and get all of your details. This is the only way to get an accurate answer.
If you want to email Lesley Hoskin direct, she is happy for you to do that. You can contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org,nz
Lesley informs the that Education Council typically responds to email within 48 hours. If you don’t get a reply in that time frame, check your email spam box, and if there’s nothing hiding in there please call the Education Council and follow it up.
We’ve now got the Education Council in agreement that the course requirements are not as they should be; to get things changed, you have to let those with the power to change things know what your concerns are.
You know the drill by now: email email@example.com or use the online form
Over to you.
~ Dianne Khan, SOSNZ
This is the first of a series of posts looking at the data from the full Health and Wellbeing Survey conducted earlier in 2016. Our earlier posts looked at the survey’s first 100 responses, but this series considers all 684 responses and looks at the written feedback teachers shared in the open comments sections.*
Teachers report high levels of stress, with over 80% of respondents saying they felt stressed or anxious at work half of the time or more. Over 35% said they felt this way most of the time, and a staggering 7% said they felt like this always.
Only three respondents said they never felt stressed, representing 0.44 of respondents.
Teachers were then asked what they judged to be the main causes of any stress, anxiety or depression they felt due to work. A comments box was included. There were 2028 box ticks and hundreds of comments from the 670 respondents to this question.
Clearly workload is a key contributor to teachers’ workplace stress with 79.4% of people identifying it as a main contributor. Pressure from Management was identified by just over half of the respondents, and Students’ needs and students’ behaviour were identified by 44.8% and 45% of respondents respectively.
Lack of support in school was identified as a contributor to stress by just over 31% of respondents; Changes in educational policies stressed over 28% of respondents, and ERO/audit almost 23%.
Interestingly, the comments were sometimes weighted quite differently.
Overwhelmingly, teachers identified workload as a key issue, with 532 respondents ticking that box and a 29 comments specifically mentioning it as a concern.Comments included:
“Not enough time in the day to complete everything that needs to be done. Increase[d] load of paperwork and assessment.”
“Too many meetings… 3 a week…”
“The requirements for tracking student progress; reporting to parents; and engaging family involvement in student learning (to name but a few)…”
“The paperwork (sometimes in duplicate) takes over.”
“Too many tasks to complete in an eight hour day.”
“I feel stressed that I cannot be both a good mum and a good teacher because of workload and being exhausted most of the time.”
“Paperwork, meetings, balance of work and family time”
“When a 55-60 hour week is the exception, not the norm”
Alongside these and other general comments on workload, some specific areas were mentioned:
Professional Development: Comments identified Professional Development as a specific source of pressure, either because of the volume of it (5 comments) or because it is done and then never implemented (3 comments) which staff said left them feeling that precious time was wasted.
“…so little time to create meaningful lessons because of professional development. Always navel gazing and not producing results…”
“we do what is asked of us then it kind of goes nowhere”
“…our school doing every initiative going…”
National Standards and Testing: Also mentioned were National Standards and the volume of testing (11 comments) and fast-changing education policies (3 comments).
“Seemingly back-to-back testing”
“having to assign a below OTJ [Overall Teacher Judgement] to children at 40 weeks, when I know that they will be totally fine by 80 or 120 weeks, they just need a little more time”
“too much assessment of 5 year olds”
A large number of respondents commented on the negative impact of colleagues, mentioning staff bullying (25 comments), poor leaders (16 comments), pressure from management, poor teamwork and disrespectful behaviour (7 comments) and overly negative colleagues (3 comments) as causes of stress and anxiety.
Comments on management:
“Not enough realistic support from management.”
“Principal blaming poor ERO report on teachers… Seeing colleagues depressed and talking of suicide”
“Unrealistic expectations from management that teachers say yes to because they are all scared to tell the truth.:
“We have a dysfunctional senior management…”
“Poor management … lack of communication, lack of follow up…”
“Bullying Principal who has systematically gotten rid of teachers who support the policies and work of the previous principal…”
“Bullied by Principal, DP and AP”
Comments on teams and colleagues:
“Leading a frustrating team…”
“Trying to work with adults who don’t want to change their practice.”
“Being made to feel inadequate by teaching colleagues”
“I am an experienced teacher… I have had derogatory comments… considered a ‘dinosaur'”
“Politics between staff.”
“… have an extremely difficult staff member in my team and am continually handling complaints from parents and other staff about [that person]”
Parents: Perhaps surprisingly, the factor most frequently mentioned in the comments as causing teacher stress was pressure from parents (35 comments), with only two mentions of the lack of parent support being an issue and 33 commenting on this. Comments included:
“unrealistic expectations from parents”
“pushy aggressive parents”
“…expectation from parents that teachers should be able to ‘fix’ students who are not meeting standards… that it’s not part of a parent’s role to assist students in their learning”
“Parents … not allowing their children to develop their key competencies”
“Parents not reading emails, paper newsletters or notice boards and then getting frustrated that they were not well informed.”
“Parent expectation/pressure/lack of support has also been a factor at times.”
Students: It is, perhaps, telling that student behaviour was very rarely identified in the comments as the cause of stress (3 respondents), with much more focus on concerns about meeting students’ educational, emotional and health needs adequately (over 20 respondents). Of these, eight specifically mentioned special educational needs, five mentioned lack of funding or resources to support students as being of concern, and three mentioned out-of-school factors such as poor housing and health concerns.
(This feedback should be considered alongside that relating to testing and National Standards (above), which also had at its heart concern regarding the impact on students.)
“It’s about the lack of adequate funding to resource the support systems we need.”
“We need a calm space in the school…that is manned by a counsellor for our students whose lives are just too challenging today.”
“5 students, 1 supported… others not diagnosed”
“…teachers are parenting, feeding, psychoanalysing children as well as getting the child to national standard”
“hugely diverse needs of my learners … never enough time to plan and deliver a fully differentiated programme…”
“No help for children who come from a terrible home life to school…”
“children with special needs or high learning needs taking ages to be diagnosed at CDC and even longer… before funding is available for extra assistance…”
“Social issues in families and the wider community”
“Having children with special needs who don’t get funding or a diagnosis quick enough to help support them.”
Clearly there are many and diverse, often overlapping, causes of teacher stress and anxiety, but certain themes are evident. Workload is the most glaring issue, closely followed by internal and external pressures on teachers who do not always feel adequately equipped to deal with those pressures or supported in doing so.
Management, you should be querying your own practice and asking where you can make changes to limit stress and also build collegiality. make sure your staff are properly supported and not overloaded, and ensure PD is targeted to actual needs.
Parents, you must work with teachers. They cannot solve all of society’s ills, and it isn’t reasonable to expect them to do so. Also, bear in mind that they are at the mercy of systems and processes usually outside of their control. It’s easy to become frustrated with the messenger, but it isn’t productive. Most importantly, talk to your children’s teachers – form relationships, be present where you can – truly that is a huge step towards helping your child achieve the best they can.
Teachers, please support each other. Teaching can be the most collegial job in the world, and teamwork can be what makes a difficult work situation otherwise bearable. So actively build those relationships. Where you do have concerns, you can call your union’s helpline, contact EAP (if your school is a member), or call one of the other available helplines.
Whatever you do, please reach out for support. You are worth it.
* Thank you to NZEI Wellington Council for providing financial support to allow us to access the full data set and undertake this analysis.
Image of woman with red folders courtesy of marcolm at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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