The end of the school year is rapidly approaching and so is the convergence of a number of spotlighted issues in education in our country. The governance of schools review, NCEA review and secondary teachers pay negotiations are all due to be determined in the latter part of this year.

This is on the back of some startling statistics just released from the Ministry of Education that Auckland secondary schools will be over capacity by 13,000 students by 2030 and 35,000 by 2040.

These (conservative) estimates also tell us that, over the next decade, of the 7892 secondary teachers in the city roughly 2500 will retire.

These figures of teaching supply reduction do not include all the current teachers who will leave the profession or our city for other reasons. Currently, we are nowhere near replacing all of these teachers, let alone growing the supply to cater for this enormous increase in student numbers.

Moreover, a recent article in the Herald highlighted the growing disparities in our education system. One example was the Canterbury University engineering faculty, which had accepted only one student from a decile one school out of a total of 2000 students over five years.

The inference was that the university needs to do better in this area, while the university’s response would be that students from these schools are either not applying or not meeting the educational prerequisites for acceptance.

What these statistics don’t reveal is that many students from lower socio-economic backgrounds would have been accepted into Canterbury from higher-decile schools. Aspirational parents will do whatever it takes to ensure their children have the best possible start in life.

But not all parents will have this option and that’s why it’s important that all our schools are funded and staffed appropriately. A student should not have their future limited or dictated by geographical location, socio-economic background or any other factors they have no control over.

Education is the key ingredient to giving our young people a great start in life. Yet we are being distracted by Government reviews that in my opinion will do little to alleviate educational disparities in our country.

Reducing academic rigour in NCEA (which no matter how it’s been spun, is what is being proposed as part of this review) might make students feel better about themselves in the short term, but all that will happen is that employers and universities will raise their standards higher, leaving a large group of students shut out of being able to make the next step in their lives.

This tells us clearly that while perhaps worth exploring, our educational priorities should not really be the restructure of NCEA and the board model of governing schools (which is working very well in the vast majority of schools).

Our first priority must be ensuring all our schools have quality, qualified, passionate teachers in a respected profession, who will give our young people the best possible start in life.

Successive governments have ignored what has been clearly coming for years: A critically low pool of quality teachers. The need is very much here and now.

And yes, to get quality teachers in front of all our children, we as a society will have to get used to paying them more. Other developed countries woke up to this years ago, it’s time we did too.

James Bentley is headmaster of St Peters College.

Source: NZ Herald


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