11 Aug 2023

Plea for politicians to offer intelligent education policies, more funding instead of 'clickbait'

11:51 am on 11 August 2023
Primary school learning resources on a classroom shelf. Includes Math and Vocabulary as well as other resources.

Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

An Auckland principal is sick of education policy being used for "clickbait" in the lead-up to elections.

Auckland Primary Principals' Association surveyed 150 principals on pre-election policies, such as banning cellphones and mandating strict time periods for reading, writing, and maths.

A common theme from those surveyed was that education should be de-politicised, ahead of the election campaign.

Teachers were already doing things political parties were claiming they would introduce - such as focusing on reading, writing, and maths, or banning cellphones - but they were also working to feed, clothe, and support children with complex learning or behavioural needs.

APPA president and Remuera Intermediate School principal Kyle Brewerton said politicians were quick to dish out soundbites for free, but reluctant to fund schools to do what they knew worked.

He told Morning Report it was frustrating for principals to hear those policies as they were already in place in most schools.

Those suggestions were to try and grab headlines and would not fundamentally change the most important priority - changing education outcomes.

Brewerton said the sector needed more teachers, more investment in training and the resources to meet the complex needs in the country's schools.

While a possible ban on phones in schools has been promoted by National, he said the clickbait approach "happens every election across all the parties".

He cited the national standards that were introduced at one election (by National) and then were axed by the incoming government.

"Every time we go through an election cycle we have all these policy statements that are largely just around getting votes and getting attention rather than actually putting policy forward that is longterm thinking, is intelligent, informed by research and backed by experts.

"It's all about just getting votes and clickbait and we are meat in the sandwich."

Brewerton said the public wanted to see better student results and principals agreed but schools needed to be better resourced so that they could deliver better outcomes.

"Teachers have been asked to do so many different things without any or very limited training or support along the way."

As an example, he referred to the major curriculum refresh occurring at present which had "no centralised strategic approach to training teachers for it".

While there were some resources, online materials and some workshops available, it was not proper training, he said.

Teachers were being asked to do different things, but the conditions they were working in had not changed.

Class sizes had stayed the same as 20 years ago even though a fifth of the children had complex learning, behaviour or social needs plus there were a lot more migrant children for whom English was a second language.

"The actual classroom looks very different to 20 years ago yet nothing has changed in terms of how we resource them plus we're asking teachers to change what they're doing."

Intelligent policies were needed not "clickbait" policies such as the cellphone ban.

"None of that is changing what we do in the classroom to really affect those outcomes. We're not changing the conditions in the classroom. You're just asking people to do different things with the same toolbox."

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