22 Nov 2011

Teachers 'dismayed' by National education policy

10:19 am on 22 November 2011

Primary school teachers and principals are crying foul over the National Party's education policy, saying the plan to make schools more accountable for their results will lead the school system into a dark place.

They say National has left it to the last minute to reveal its plans, meaning they will not be properly debated before voters go to the polls on Saturday.

National announced its policy on Monday, saying it will clarify what is expected of schools, make education agencies actively engage with failing schools and link funding to performance. There is no detail, but it is enough to deeply worry some school groups.

The Principals Federation has fought bitterly against the Government over national standards in reading, writing and maths. President Peter Simpson says National's plans are demoralising.

"The thing that comes through immediately is it's the continuation of the lack of confidence in the sector, the low trust model (ie) we want to get more out of the sector and we're going to do that by whacking them and saying you're not doing a good enough job. And that's quite demoralising and quite depressing from our perspective."

Mr Simpson says New Zealand's school system is already one of the best in the world and it does not need more accountability.

Frances Nelson, past president of education union the Educational Institute, says the policy adopts failed approaches from other countries.

"We are so disappointed that the Government, without speaking to anyone in the sector, has chosen to go down a route that has failed in so many other places. We are now looking at reporting on data in a way that will end up on a league table and we know that that is the beginning of the end in terms of making a robust system work."

Ms Nelson says National has left too little time for debate about the policy.

"This Government, knowing that national standards is such an issue with the community and with its schools, has left it until four days before an election to do a 180 on so many of the parts of education policy that will take us down a very, very negative track."

Not everyone unhappy

Secondary Principals Association president Patrick Walsh is happy that the policy will strengthen the Teachers Council and improve the quality of would-be teachers.

"Well, I think overall, the National education policy for secondary education gets the thumbs up. The policy should ensure that we attract the best and brightest graduates into teaching and remove the incompetent ones."

Mr Walsh says most schools will not be worried about tougher accountability, so long as it does not lead to more paperwork.

But Post Primary Teachers Association junior vice-president Doug Clark says there is not enough detail provided by National.

"There's a lot of things I'm not quite sure what they're getting at. They talk about wanting to move to the highly paid post-graduate, but then they want more compliance and more constant monitoring. So either they trust us - or they don't trust us."

Mr Clark says political parties need to stop chopping and changing education policy, because it is not helpful.