Government’s “fundamental” changes to education draws concern from educators

The announcement of six new education priorities will signal a “fundamental” change in education says the government.

Last week Education Minister Erica Stanford announced six education priorities that would mark a “fundamental” change to education in New Zealand, drawing skepticism from the education community.  

In a press release, she said the changes would put “ambition, achievement and outcomes at the heart of our education system” and vowed to reverse declining education statistics. Stanford signalled a “back to basics” approach.  

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The priorities are: 

  • A clearer curriculum. 
  • Better approach to literacy and numeracy.  
  • Smarter assessment and reporting. 
  • Improved teacher training. 
  • Stronger learning support. 
  • Greater use of data. 

Stanford has said that improved achievement for Māori akonga is “a shared bottom line” and said she has met with Māori education representatives and organisations. 

She has said the Ministry of Education will “work collaboratively” with the sector to improve outcomes.  

These new commitments include a promise to create a more “explicit” curriculum. Stanford has said our current curriculum is too vague and high level, resulting in additional curriculum design workload for teachers. Stanford and Luxon stated to media that a more explicit curriculum was something that teachers themselves had asked for, as curriculum design demands were creating additional workload for teachers.  

The announcements have caused concern for those on the ground in the education sector. In a press release, the Aotearoa Educators Collective, made up of senior educators and researchers in education, said “radical swings in curriculum do not work for students” and say the curriculum changes will create a “narrow knowledge-rich curriculum.”  

They added that a focus on standardised assessment and reporting is damaging for engagement and wellbeing “and flies in the face of what good teaching and learning looks like in the 21st century. 

“There is also a concern that obsessive focus on knowledge could come at the expense of much needed competencies like collaboration, resilience, and responsibility.”  

AEC said they would like to see a balance between clarity and flexibility in the curriculum.  

Spokesperson Maurie Abraham said that knowledge is important in a well-rounded curriculum, but so are competencies.  

“We appear to be on the verge of a radical shift in our national curriculum that will see us become out of step with other OECD countries. 

“The current overreach of a small group of researchers at the expense of the wider professional and academic field is cause for concern.” 

NZEI Te Riu Roa President Mark Potter said that although the government had signalled new priorities, they would not work in practise “without significant new investment.” 

They welcomed the announcement there would be an increased focus on learning support, however they wanted to see the government broaden access to learning support programmes rather than enforce narrow targets. Current restrictions on access were causing issues, said Potter.  

Potter also cautioned against the focus on standardised reporting.  

Meanwhile, PPTA Te Wehengarua said that addressing staffing shortages in the secondary education sector should be the priority.  

“We need to get these foundations right before focusing on other priorities,” said President Chris Abercrombie.  

Abercrombie echoed concerns about the focus on tests and reporting.  

“You can have all the monitoring, assessments, science-based models and systems in the world but unless you have ākonga at the centre of all you do, these ‘priorities’ will count for nothing.  

“No student is the same, and no student learns the same – an education system that fails to acknowledge that will lose the students very quickly.”  

Speaking to media, New Zealand Principals Federation President Leanne Otene said that the rollout of such changes was too fast paced and would be overwhelming for teachers. Otene also criticised the recently announced structured literacy mandate, saying that it was “not a silver bullet”. 

Naomii Seah

Naomii Seah is a writer and journalist from Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand. She enjoys crochet, painting, and a coffee or two at the beach. Her work can be found at The Spinoff, The Pantograph Punch, Stuff, and of course, School News NZ.
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