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Month: June 2021

Let’s have a Review, I love music!

It was interesting to read in Ed Insider this week that the Ministry of Education had finally got around to trying to give meaning to the relatively flaccid rounds of consultation in 2018 about NCEA which all the mark of a search for change when it was the pattern, in Charles Payne’s terms of a reform searching for a change to make. 

I wonder if NZQA has been involved in this. I wonder if the outcomes of the Bali Haque soul searching that went on back in 2018 are substantial. I wonder too if those consultations undertaken three years ago, still stand. And was that consultation credible?

I have made no secret of the fact that over the thirty years I have been close to NCEA and know that it has served its purpose of giving credit when a student’s work has shown evidence of competence in this credit-based system that replaced the mad criterion-referenced that rewarded those going to university but did nothing but damage to the rest. Credit can now be given when it is due.

W. Edwards Deming was adamant that “If it was not necessary to make a change, it was necessary not to change.” A pause to reflect on NCEA and the need for change might conclude that it does not require wholesale change.

Some educators and members of the public have not realised that the worm has turned. Thousands of students have shown what a system that gives credit where credit is earned can do. And its use is spread well across the sector. That it is a usefully flexible assessment regime was demonstrated by the Minister in his decision to allocate additional credits during Covid-19. To note that learners can demonstrate learning at a Level should be enough to allocate additional credits especially at Level 1 and Level 2. I wonder about Level 3 which is the launching pad for serious employment-related learning – it is at that point that vested interest of employers cuts in.

We are given reasons why the review is to take place – some comments.

Accessibility: “Well-proven” would not be an exaggeration for the extent NCEA is accepted and accessed by students. 

Status: There is a case for a review of NCEA regarding Matauranga Maori and NCEA both in terms of standards and ensuring that the courses are available. This should not be an issue as there are providers who attend to issues of access.

Literacy / Numeracy: There is no issue with this provided students are equipped with something to be literate and numerate about. Why is it that students leave school to undertake a programme that has applied learning, managed transition, and clear pathways, having struggled with Literacy and Numeracy when it is studied for obvious reason, perform well when the literacy and numeracy standards are embedded in another curriculum? Study of material presented for no obvious reason is pointless, as experience has sadly demonstrated.

Fewer larger standards: Some people get excited about the size of standards. In truth it is less of an issue in terms of size but, more importantly, each standard should have a coherence and integrity and encompass a skill, or skills, that make sense and leads to a sound demonstration of learning.

Simplifying the Structure of NCEA: Complexity and gobbledygook are entirely the outcomes that of a system that is low in trust of teachers, that believes that a standards-based assessment regime must have some of the tricks, the smoke, and the mirrors of the previous examination system. NCEA is inherently simple, that is both its efficacy and its appeal. It is time that this was realised and appreciated. Yes, it could be even further simplified but that does not mean the talking in tongues that went on previously.

Clearer pathways to work:  Hallelujah!!! At last, a desire to comment NCEA to the real world of work and employment. Well, this need not wait for great soul searching and the development of theories and plans. It is already well and truly embedded in Trades Academies known both formally and formerly known as Secondary/Tertiary Programmes. Yes, its really true, right now in 10,250 students are engaged in NCEA in 2021. In the period such offerings have existed (2011 to 2020) approximately 45,000 unique students have had substantial success and high progression rate to employment and/or further education and training.

Keeping NCEA Level 1 optional: This is good news. When the steps on the ladder start with a large step upward the chance of reaching the second step is diminished. Many students need the encouragement, the taste of success and affirmation of their ability. 

Minister Hopkins provided a wonderful example of the flexibility of NCEA during the Covid-19 lockdowns when he created additional credits which rewarded resilience credits for students recognising that students had through the trials and tribulations of the pandemic, demonstrated additional learning. The world did not come to an end.

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The system is stuck in a rut!

It seems that the automatic reflex response to any issue related to schooling in New Zealand is “We don’t have the resources!”

Absenteeism, truancy, declining levels of achievement in Mathematics (sometimes called Numeracy) / Reading and Writing (sometimes called Literacy) and unease about digital and social media skills, and so on. You name it, except for meals at school (which schools should rightly sheet home to the Ministry of Education as one of its responsibilities) the response to criticism is a quick “We don’t have the resources! When a longer response is needed usually from the senior folk in the system

Prolong the explanation which when boiled down amounts to “We don’t have the resources!”

Well, the good news is that the resources are there – they are called school funding and are provided so that schools can provide the activities that will lead to satisfactory and acceptable or better outcomes in reading and writing and mathematics, assist students development of personal and social skills at an age appropriate level and, address the key features of the History of Aotearoa New Zealand although that appears to be controversial even before we know how it is going to be tackled in six months’ time.

As Albert Einstein (and others) have said over time, “to continue to do things which have failed over time is a sign of madness.” I don’t accept the description of “school failure” as “madness” because it masks a much more invidious but benign thing that is the cause of failure and that is ineffectiveness. This is irritating and frustrating for all and is not what teachers signed up for. On the other hand, it is over to teachers to be to change the way schools work, to create a curriculum that is inclusive and to inject a spirit of optimism into a sector that increasingly shows despair. Charles Payne looks around the US education system and simply sees his mantra being played out – “so much reform, so little change!”

Teacher-led reform could I believe produce solutions to the “issues” that are so daunting because the solutions are largely out of their hands. Sheet the solutions home to those who can and must respond.

Truancy belongs to the Ministry of Education – they are the guardians of the education laws in New Zealand and the flagrant abuse of the law in this area beggars belief. For too long teachers have had to have their programmes disrupted by sporadic attention to absences which is against the law and emphasizes the view that if you are not at school there is a likelihood that you are not learning or worse. Up to this point answers to this crisis have not been found while the pile of NEETs simply continues to grow. We need some priority here.

Teachers could help and will help if they are able to place the skills and knowledge on the things they can influence and central to this is a curriculum that attracts students, provides them with skills and interest and a view of the future, a line of sight to what with the help of teachers they are able to achieve. If teachers are distracted from this by needing to do the work of others then the community will just have to put up with it. If students do not get the benefits of knowing how to do sums, to read and write, to work harmoniously with others, and to a willingness to bring energy to going to school they will face a bleak future. So will parents, and the nation, come to that!

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