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National Education - Comments from Bill English

16 February 2006

Something Useful For You

In the course of Parliamentary questions, Minister of Education, Steve Maharey has offered for NZQA to provide a seminar to me, in order to explain its new scaling procedures for NCEA assessment. At my request, he has agreed the seminar will be available for any teacher who wishes to attend.

The Minister's offer is generous, and it is a unique opportunity to hear from NZQA's assessment experts about the methods used to achieve more uniform pass rates in NCEA 2005. Before I formally write to the Minister, I would be keen on expressions of interest in such a seminar. If there is sufficient interest, I will ask the Minister to provide the seminar outside Wellington.


The year after an election is the best time to influence an opposition politician. We are humbled by losing, eager to please and thinking how long it is until another election. And it's your opportunity to influence the policy of this government as well as the next one. The Government is revising NCEA and trying to fix up tertiary education as a result of the Opposition raising these issues. Because the Government is increasingly reactive, and doesn't have any new ideas on education, together we can get policy change where it's needed. So bring me your problems, your scandals and propositions and let's see what we can do.

Now the government has worked out how to polish up the pass rates, it's important they tell the rest of us how they did it. There are too many loose ends and bad stories about the impact on individual students. And pass rates are less important than fair and valid assessment for individual students. So expect less scandal and hopefully more robust debate engaging classroom teachers in the next phase of stabilising NCEA.

Blockages on the Superhighway

Information is power and the balance of power continues to shift away from the bureaucracy towards parents. Schools are showing a greater willingness to share information with parents, and parents like it. The Avondale College initiative to provide on-line access for parents to student information is not the first, but it's tipped the balance, and most secondary schools will follow. The early childhood sector has always been open with information, primary schools are generally tentative, and in the tertiary sector, private training establishments have to measure everything while polytechnics and universities produce almost no meaningful information about outcomes. Cheap and relatively simple technology is eroding the culture of secrecy in education


Steve Maharey has started the year by defending the secrecy of information held by schools. The SchoolSmart system collects comparative information across 20 indicators provided by schools. However, only a principal can access the website. The information is relatively harmless as you can see here (38KB PDF). Parents should have access to it, but Maharey is trying to hold back the tide. He fears that the information would be used for "market analysis" i.e, comparing schools. Well Steve, parents do it all the time. A large proportion of parents manage to choose their child's school - despite Labour's best efforts. Parents can choose on the basis of hearsay, fashion, or worst of all decile rating, or they can make an informed choice on the basis of ERO reports and the Ministry's performance indicators. Parents aren't stupid. They want the best for their child, and every child is different. They know the character of a school is complex and it isn't captured by one piece of data. So let's treat parents like grown-ups. Schools will be pleasantly surprised how sensible they are, even with achievement information. Let's see how long Steve can hold out as he tries to burnish his leadership credentials with the Labour left.

Kindergarten Crisis

Labour's early childhood funding formula is the world's most advanced educational voucher and it spells the end of kindergarten as we know it, especially in the bigger cities. News of a settlement between the Ministry and kindergarten teachers turns out not to be a settlement at all; just an agreement to talk. The NZEI has given way on all the claims it's membership went on strike for last year.

Providers are now funded equally with an amount per child adjusted by the hour according to the qualifications of the adults present. Kindergarten associations have to change the traditional conditions of work for teachers or they will lose children to other providers whose services better suit parents.


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