The New Zealand Principals’ Federation (NZPF) has blasted the National Party’s electioneering promise to pour millions into extending national standards and language learning as “completely out of touch”.
“Clearly the prime minister hasn’t been listening to his minister of education,” says Whetu Cormick, NZPF president. “He is completely out of touch with the priorities facing schools.
“National standards have made no significant change to the achievement levels of priority learners since their introduction and that’s why the Government introduced them. We have chronic teacher shortages and we are struggling to address the severe behaviour issues presented in our schools every day.
“We have the children of methamphetamine addicts, who have extreme behavioural challenges, we have young people from homes where poverty pervades every aspect of their lives and we have children with severe autism, mental health issues and other afflictions which require specialist support, which many schools cannot access.
“For the prime minister to suggest that more national standards, foreign languages in primary schools and specialist digital technology teachers are the most important priorities, shows a man completely out of touch with the realities facing schools today.
“Minister Kaye understands that the number of young people with mental health and other serious behavioural issues in our schools, is growing. Like us, she wants workable solutions to those issues, and has offered a small budget – relative to the money being announced by the prime minister for his latest policies – to begin addressing this.
“We have repeatedly put the teacher shortage issue in front of the minister and the Ministry,” says Mr Cormick, “and Auckland principals in particular, are now at the end of their tether trying to juggle staffing to cover the gaps.
“Solving this issue takes a considered strategy including how to lift the status of the profession to make it an attractive option and how to address the cost of living and housing in Auckland. That’s the sort of announcement we expect from the prime minister.
“Clearly, right now, addressing special education and teacher shortages are far higher priority than pouring millions into expanding the poor performing national standards system and teaching primary children Korean or Mandarin.
Teachers’ union NZEI was equally unimpressed with the announcement regarding national standards, saying it has serious concerns about the impact it will have on children’s learning and their enjoyment at school.
In response to the government’s announcement to spend spend millions on a computer tool to track children’s progress in national standards, NZEI demanded to see evidence, the cabinet paper “National Standards Plus”.
“Teachers need to know why the Government wants to expand national standards when virtually all experts say they narrow children’s learning, cause them unnecessary stress and aren’t raising achievement,” says NZEI immediate past president Louise Green.
“There is no evidence that expanding national standards will work to achieve anything positive for children’s learning, and plenty of evidence they don’t. This announcement looks like it’s driven entirely by politics, not what’s in the interests of children.
“We need to know what the decision to expand national standards was based on. Recent evidence shows national standards have failed to raise achievement, while causing additional stresses and anxiety among children.
“The tragedy of this announcement is that educators know what works for children, but the Government is refusing to do it. Children need more time with teachers, access to support for additional learning needs and to a rich modern curriculum that’s not limited by 20th century ideas about the ‘three Rs’.”
“It’s time to get politics out of the classroom, and focus on giving kids the best education in the world based on evidence about what works,” says Ms Green.