Genies in the education lamp

March 2014


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Education Review asks prominent voices in the sector to voice their hopes and expectations for New Zealand education for the year ahead.

A wish for equity in education

Judith Nowotarski, NZEI Te Riu Roa president

Inequity in New Zealand is growing at one of the fastest rates in the OECD and means that many of our children do not have the opportunity to thrive and reach their potential. In 2014, we would love to see the Government acknowledge the overwhelming connection between poverty and poor educational outcomes and take practical steps to lift our poorest tamariki out of poverty. This will have positive flow-on effects throughout society as these children grow up, with improvements in health, employment, and crime statistics.

While the out-of-school factors have the greatest impact on a child’s educational success, quality teaching still makes a significant difference. In 2014, we want to see professional development funding restored back to actual PD, rather than being funnelled into training on how to use National Standards. Teachers want the opportunity to enhance their teaching skills in every subject, from art and ICT to music and science, to the benefit of their students.

Schools could not function without support staff, and last year office administrators suffered under the weight of the Novopay fiasco, putting in countless extra hours trying to untangle mistakes in a new payroll system that is still far from adequate.

Many support staff earn little more than the minimum wage of $13.75 an hour. NZEI would like to see support staff centrally funded and receiving at least the living wage ($18.40 an hour).

High quality early childhood education is the foundation for good social and communication skills, emotional well-being and a love of learning which children need throughout their lives.

Unfortunately, government policy in recent years is making it difficult for kindergartens and centres to employ 100 per cent qualified teachers. We want to see more investment in this vital area of education, with small group sizes, improved adult-child ratios and 100 percent qualified teaching staff.

In 2014, we want to see an end to the insidious creep of the Global Educational Reform Movement (GERM). This neoliberal model encourages competition over collaboration and turns education into just another commodity to be privatised. The GERM has been at the forefront of recent policy, with the introduction of National Standards, league tables, and charter schools. It has no place in a quality public education system that aims to raise every child to their full potential, regardless of background.

Every child deserves the opportunity to thrive and that is our ultimate wish in 2014, and every year.

Collaboration needed to make NCEA and National Standards work

Tom Parsons, Secondary Principals’ Association of New Zealand (SPANZ) president

If during this New Zealand summer I was out diving in the beautiful Marlborough Sounds and came upon a genie in a lamp offering me one wish, it would be for all students in New Zealand throughout 2014 to achieve to their personal best. Reality begins with a thought – perhaps with a bit of collaborative thought and cooperation, we can be our own ‘genies in the lamp’ to ensure each student under our jurisdiction has the best possible opportunity to manifest that achievement.

Yes, it often appears in media reports that we as educators may have “lost sight of the fact that literacy and numeracy are the essential building blocks of any education”. I am a firm believer that National Standards will help refocus all of us on placing literacy and numeracy in the penultimate position these two essentials need to be accorded.

From my standpoint, it goes without question that we have a first class system of assessing when a student has achieved at the required standard with NCEA. What we appeared to lack in 2013 was the “collaboration and cooperation” throughout the educational sector to make the two key tools – National Standards and NCEA – work for all of our students.

A desire for lifelong learning and a successful transition into rewarding career paths without doubt depend upon a sound literate and numerate base. Up to date data clearly reflects that NCEA is continuing to gain creditable international recognition and acknowledges that New Zealand graduates are achieving in more specific rather than general areas.

If we use the analogy of truly being the genies in the ‘education lamp’ for New Zealand, I for one will not stop searching for a way to promote the inculcation of National Standards and will not stop searching for a way to promote the first class system of NCEA which I believe we are so fortunate to be a part of bestowing upon this current generation of students.

Our students deserve nothing less going forward into 2014.

Put sound policy before political point-scoring

Angela Roberts, PPTA president

Whether we like it or not, education policy has become politicised. What we would like for this year, as in every year, is for the politicians to put sound policy before political point-scoring. We would like them to resist the temptation to focus on easy to sell one-liners in an election year and instead take the time to consult and develop, to look at research and build some sound policy around which we can have a good debate and come to a consensus.

We would like to see sensible policies based on evidence not ideology. Focusing on headline-grabbers with titles like ‘success for all’ or ‘strengthening the profession’ is not helpful. We all want that – what we need to do is focus on how to achieve it. We would like to see the government focus on building a system that enables collaboration between schools, communities and teachers rather than one based on competition. We would like to see schools resourced to meet the broad needs of all their students, for resources to be better targeted towards our most vulnerable students, and for schools to be supported to become hubs for their communities to better meet their health and welfare needs.

We hope the good things done by the government last year – such as continued investment and support for the Positive Behaviour for Learning Action Plan, the introduction of the Network for Learning, property announcements, and signs of a new and better approach to consultation – become good habits and would like to see these policies sustained into the future. This should be business as usual rather than the exception.

Unite policy initiatives for benefit of vulnerable learners

Phil Harding, New Zealand Principals’ Federation (NZPF) president

2014 will be an interesting year for everyone, and I truly hope that we don’t get distracted by endless debate around the nature of the country’s new flag. There are far more important things to talk about with an election looming, and the early signs are that education will feature strongly.

There have been three different major policy initiatives launched already. The Government’s announcement of $359m towards a re-think about the shape of in-school leadership has had a mixed reaction from principals, with some welcoming it, whilst others are adamant that out-of-school factors such as child poverty are far more critical to any future achievement gains.

Labour’s Best Start proposal seeks to provide assistance to children in their earliest years with targeted funding and other measures designed to support the first years of a child’s life.

The Greens have suggested that low decile schools need coordinated school-based hubs providing stronger links between existing social services and our most vulnerable families. Their proposal includes the expectation that parents will receive advice and support in their parental responsibilities.

Frankly, I would like to see all of these proposals working together and in parallel to make a difference for our most vulnerable learners. There is ample evidence that wealthy children tend to achieve well at school regardless, whilst the roadblocks to success for the poor are much harder to mitigate. School principals are weary of being blamed for the under-achievement of their kids due to factors that fall outside the school gate, while politically-inspired policies are driven into practice despite evidence of their lack of efficacy.

I welcome the notion of a profession that gets to inform and shape the direction of education in a strategic, proactive, and evidence-based fashion, and which is not bought off or blind-sided by poorly designed policy.

Only then will we be able to point to work that deals to both the in-school and the out-of-school conditions that impact on a child’s success.

Collaboration between providers and schools will improve quality of ITE

Beverley Cooper, associate dean teacher education, Faculty of Education, University of Waikato

The coherence between initial teacher education programmes and practicum in schools and early childhood centres is a focus in 2014 for the University of Waikato’s Faculty of Education.

Our collaborative university school partnership project (CUSP) for year one Bachelor of Teaching student teachers, now in its third year and our new Master of Teaching and Learning Programme are exciting cutting edge developments that involve partnerships with a range of Hamilton schools. Our schools have been extremely supportive and are fully involved in co-constucting and constantly reviewing the new programmes. These programmes are allowing us to trial innovative approaches drawing on the expertise of the university faculty and teachers in schools.

This interplay between university academics, teachers, and the wider community has the potential to create expanded learning opportunities for prospective teachers that will better prepare them to be successful in enacting complex evidence-based teaching practices. Research projects associated with these initiatives are already highlighting the benefits for the student teachers’ learning and providing many opportunities for teachers and faculty lecturers to be involved in research and or further study.

We truly believe that universities and schools working in partnership will improve the quality of initial teacher education programmes and produce graduates that are well prepared to work successfully in a range of diverse contexts within New Zealand and internationally.

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