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Maxim Institute: Real Issues

Maxim Institute: Real Issues

Pushing the limits of the NCEA

The huge media attention that Cambridge High and Principal Alison Annan have attracted over the past few days raises the question of what we expect from schooling and the role of the NCEA.

Clearly Cambridge is a school that has prided itself on strict discipline and excellent academic success. In 2002, Cambridge placed second in the New Zealand in the combined academic results of Bursary, Scholarship, Sixth Form Certificate and NCEA Level 1. Principal Annan's strict discipline practices seem to be popular with parents too. When Annan first took over the role of Principal only 62% of the students in the local area were attending Cambridge, the rest choosing to travel to other schools. Now 96% of local students attend Cambridge High School.

When faced with NCEA, the school did everything it could to ensure its students succeeded according to the standards and guidelines of the NCEA. Whilst credit cramming and picking up litter for credits can not be in the best interests of children, it is understandable how this came about.

Kate Colbert from the New Zealand Qualifications Authority has commented that NCEA is about recording what a child can achieve and not listing skills they have failed to master. The latest NCEA update says that: If we think more broadly about assessment it is clear that teachers are free to use any valid evidence of achievement they have recorded.

So is Cambridge High School a victim of following the NCEA too closely, albeit at the expense of its students? And are the ideas of every child succeeding and alternative assessment models that underpin the NCEA helpful?

If we are to accept Ms Colbert's comments as a reasonable assessment of NCEA then it is difficult to see where Alison Annan has gone wrong.

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The difference between tolerance and endorsement

Present debate on issues such as Civil Unions needs to be put in a wide context. What is evident is a tension in the role of law between tolerance and endorsement of certain interests.

The traditional concept is that, in general, law should reserve its highest protections for individual rights and interests that also promote the long-term interests of society. The law promotes these social interests when it endorses, not just tolerates, particular principles, institutions, or behaviours in individual cases. Thus, the distinction between what the law endorses and what it simply tolerates is of crucial importance.

However, we have been moving to a place where individual rights assume that personal autonomy alone, without consideration of the wider good, receive the law's highest preference. The law must endorse or promote whatever principle, institution, or behaviour the law tolerates-because tolerance of autonomous personal choice has become, for some people, the highest lawful good.

The attitudinal shift toward a tolerance of a wider range of behaviours and choices does not mean that there has been a public endorsement. Advocates of the Civil Union Bills are seeking to move from passive tolerance to an active embrace.

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Social contract needs to be re-written

Despite the fact that one third of children in New Zealand are now being raised in household's dependant on welfare as the main source of income, many have become immune to the statistics and the need to reverse this trend. Last Saturday's welfare symposium sponsor Dr Muriel Newman said that more Kiwi kids are separated from their father every three months than during the entire Second World War. The call for reform has been heard before, but this symposium moved forward because it acknowledged that human dignity and community are essential factors in the equation along with systemic change.

Personal stories highlighted the importance of encouragement and support to give people the confidence to move from welfare to work. The relationship between those needing assistance and the providers must be one of trust and respect. This relationship or social contract was identified by several speakers as needing to be rewritten to emphasise mutual responsibility. As a society we need to establish what will be provided and what is expected in return.

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THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Nothing astonishes men so much as common-sense and plain dealing.

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