There is a depressing aspect of this new government that highlights our sad approach to education in this country. Education policy in New Zealand  lurches wildly depending on the whim of the government of the day. There is no long term strategic thinking. There is little reference to best practises in other countries. There is little meaningful input from those actually involved in the education of our young people.

So national standards are now out. Charter schools are under review . Out with the old and in with the new. For the next three years anyway. Then a change of government may lead to policy lurches in the other direction.

I generally agree with the removal of national standards in primary schools. They were a facade. They were never national In how they were implemented. Each school had its own interpretation of ” national standards.” There was huge variability in terms of how student achievement was measured. It is the same problem that applies in the assessment of NCEA in secondary schools. It is virtually impossible to get national consistency in how student performance is measured if the measurement is done at a local school level. There is also a raft of international research that shows that the use of formal assessment on younger students is harmful to learning and teaching. Teachers often feel obliged to teach to the assessment which narrows their approach. Students learn to associate education with stress at a young age. They are labelled as successes or failures from an early age when there is huge variability in how quickly they learn.

But the abolition of national standards means the efforts and hard work of thousands of teachers and managers over many years has been consigned to the large slag heap of ill conceived education policies, perpetuated by politicians who know best because they once went to school.

The Charter school experiment may also join this slag heap of ill conceived education policies. I have been a critic of  Charter schools over the years. The ability of these schools to employ unregistered and untrained teachers is an affront to the status of teaching as a profession in this country. Why bother doing a degree and post grad qualification if anyone can just rock up,to a charter school and teach?

But several years ago I was approached by Alwyn Poole who has set up several charter schools. He was passionate and sincere about wanting to provide an alternative education for those students who were being failed by mainstream schools. He seems to be succeeding. If this government were to destroy his efforts without examining his apparent success  that would be a tragedy. If he is succeeding then his model should be replicated rather than discarded.

No one goes teaching for the money. The vast majority of people I have met in my time in education are motivated by a desire to do something meaningful with their lives in serving others. But sadly, we have a political system that treats education like a football which is kicked in different directions depending on who has possession of political power. It is a terrible way to run an education system. It is unfair on those involved in education who are doing their best to meet the needs of our children. We need more long term strategic thinking and policy based on sound research of what works best elsewhere. Instead we have an education system largely shaped by political whim. It is hugely wasteful and often ill conceived.

Peter Lyons teaches Economics at Saint Peters College in Epsom and has written several Economics texts.


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