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What a dull party it’s been….

So the election is just two weeks away!

From an education point of view, it has been a pretty dull affair and education has largely been absent.

Perhaps the biggest political news is the support being given by the NZPPTA to the policy that once was called “Investing in Success” but seems now to have morphed into “Communities of Schools”. This has always been an excellent policy and it is to the credit of the secondary political lobby that it now is willing to get on board. But just as thrilling as that news is, it remains a great blunder that the NZEI stays away from the party.

I have never understood why the primary sector feels that it should just be allowed to be alone and blunder on. Yes, there are splendid primary schools. Yes, some of the most exciting work in education is being done in primary schools. Yes, many parents are happy with the primary schools they have.

Too many young students reach the end of Year 8 ill-equipped to continue the journey. This group is woefully short of the basic skill levels needed, skills that primary and elementary systems the world over have a responsibility to see taught and firmly in place by the end of Year 8. Refusing to take part in a system wide achievement initiative such as the Minister’s cross Sector Forum on Educational Achievement, and not wanting to co-operate with the Investing in Success / Communities of Schools policy are signs that the NZEI is more interested in the “politics” of education than in the policies and practices.

It is a truth that we are going into the election and are likely to come out of it with only the current Government’s performance and the achievement of the education sector in putting into place such approaches as Youth Guarantee, the clear Numbers/Names/Needs method of tackling achievement, the clear commitment to a true picture, and an assertive focus on achievement as the continued path forward

Other political groups simply haven’t come up point-of-difference policies likely to tackle the issues of achievement. Untargeted ECE resources can be increased till the cows come home without increasing access for many little ones in our community. Compulsory student unions at tertiary will achieve little and ignore the fact that young people have moved on – it’s the nostalgia of the student politicians of the past that keeps this one going! Putting however many devices into however many little hands will not address basic skills, like reading, writing and doing sums. Meals to feed the hungry will not create an appetite for learning if a whole lot of other things are not addressed.

And at the top of the list of what needs to be addressed is the issue of getting competent teachers to do the right thing. The issue with achievement in New Zealand is not one of teacher competence. It is one of competent teachers doing the wrong thing. Education needs to have a focus on best evidence as to what works intensified by a much clearer and unrelenting view on what matters in terms of skills. The target must be that each and every primary school student reaches the end of Year 8 with the skills needed to progress smoothly into secondary school. The goal of secondary school is to prepare each and every secondary student for further education and training and for employment (or “college and career” as they say in the US). This will involve multiple pathways to multiple exit points.

It is not that difficult. And having a succession of school cohorts who meet such expectations will also see an enriched community less dependent on welfare and able to rise above the standards of behaviour made explicit by so much in this election period.

If we want better adults we had better start ensuring that we get better young people.


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