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Real Issues: Equality, Education, Welfare

Real Issues No. 311 - Equality, Education, Welfare
Maxim Institute - real issues - No. 311
24 July 2008
www.maxim.org.nz

The scholarship debate
Setting clear standards
'More support, more responsibility'

IN THE NEWS
Meal breaks and infant feeding
Freeing up space in the High Court

THE SCHOLARSHIP DEBATE

New Zealand is famous as a trail-blazing nation when it comes to the status and opportunities afforded to women. Since 1877 when the first woman graduated from a New Zealand university, our tertiary institutions have drastically changed. Women now surpass men in many fields of study, with a higher percentage of women graduating from universities than men. Paul Callister from Victoria University is spearheading a project comparing the participation and accomplishments of men and women in relation to university study. He has called for the Human Rights Commission to investigate the place of women-only scholarships in a society where women now do better than men educationally.

Women-only scholarships operate throughout New Zealand, generally designed to encourage women to pursue study in academia and in fields historically dominated by men. No similar scholarships exist exclusively for men. This situation is reflective of a time when women's participation in many disciplines was negligible and financial independence to pursue study was a rarity. Times have changed. Women are now participating in academic life, mastering a range of disciplines with flair. Meanwhile boys are lagging in the education system with the Ministry of Education reporting in 2004 'that a significant number [of boys] are disengaged or not achieving to their potential.' It is time that the place of scholarships be re-examined.

The New Zealand University Students Association has defended the women-only scholarships saying that the financial supports they provide 'pose no threat to others' participation' in education. They make mention of the fact that women do not overall have equality of financial outcomes in the workforce. Yet, the question of workforce remuneration is more a consequence of personal choices (such as opting to take time out of a career to raise children) than it is of limited opportunities for tertiary study.

Education is a crucial aspect of the future of New Zealand. But our focus needs to shift -- women are not the ones who face systemic barriers to education; rather priority areas must be those in the tail-end, often victims of a schooling system that pushes pupils into schools based on family income.

SETTING CLEAR STANDARDS

This week Maxim Institute has released a new education policy paper, 'National standards for excellent teachers, reporting of student progress and the NCEA.' The paper recommends setting professional standards for teachers to identify excellent teachers, and setting literacy and numeracy benchmarks to provide a national report of students' educational progress, currently absent in New Zealand. The paper makes the case that setting clear standards in these key areas would benefit teachers and students alike, by providing more information about progress, and setting clear expectations for excellence and achievement.

There is a pressing need for more rigorous professional standards for teachers, as they could help to solve the problems which New Zealand has experienced at retaining and recruiting high quality teachers. Standards would set clear expectations for what constitutes high-quality teaching and could help restore a sense of accomplishment. It is vital to concentrate on identifying excellent teachers, as research shows they can have a major impact on students' learning. Excellent teachers could also concentrate on developing and mentoring less experienced teachers; with recent dissatisfaction about the quality of associate teachers in some schools this would be a positive step.

Just as standards could help improve the quality of teaching, setting national literacy and numeracy benchmarks could help with monitoring and reporting students' progress. Setting benchmarks would establish the expectations for what our children should have learnt by certain stages in their schooling. They could also show where remedial action needs to be taken by teachers. In New Zealand a classroom assessment tool called asTTle (Achievement Tools for Teaching and Learning) would allow students to be assessed against benchmarks derived from the national curriculum.

Maxim Institute therefore recommends that professional standards be developed to identify excellent teachers. These standards would consider not only the value that teachers add to their students' learning, but also such factors as their involvement in the school community. Alongside this, rolling out the use of asTTle across all schools would provide better information about student achievement. Setting standards would help teachers and students to see how well they are doing, as well as helping raise teacher quality and improving students' achievement.

Read Maxim Institute's Policy Paper, 'National standards for excellent teachers, reporting of student progress and the NCEA' http://www.maxim.org.nz/files/pdf/policy_paper_national_standards.pdf

'MORE SUPPORT, MORE RESPONSIBILITY'

Britain is proposing comprehensive welfare reform, transforming their system with a focus on personal responsibility and encouraging people to move off benefits and into employment. James Purnell, British Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, has released a public consultation paper on a new system that would see as few people living on a benefit as possible. The goal is to reform the welfare system 'from propping up failure to investing in the future.'

The consultation paper, 'No one written off: reforming welfare to reward responsibility,' recommends changes that focus on the personal responsibility of recipients, creating a system that emphasises the importance of work and makes it hard to live indefinitely on a benefit. The Incapacity Benefit, which is already legislated to be abolished in October this year, is to be replaced with two allowances which are structured to move people from unemployment into paid work. This is hoped to be complemented by the proposed new scheme, which would encourage individuals to take responsibility for themselves. This scheme would increase the support offered to those out of work, whether it be through skills training, addiction rehabilitation services or disability aids such as sign language interpreters or medical treatment. Agencies, both public and private, would be available to provide as much assistance as possible to those seeking work.

The vision of the proposed changes is 'to create a system that promotes a work culture rather than a welfare culture.' Purnell suggests that over the past few decades Britain has developed a culture of dependency, where too many people live on benefits; a downward spiral that can be extremely difficult to get out of. This new focus would see a great investment into individuals by the government, but with the requirement that individuals would take responsibility for themselves in return. The longer an individual is out of a job the more support they would be provided; but at the same time there would be tougher sanctions on those who refuse to accept the help or turn down employment.

Paid employment has positive long-term outcomes: it provides the best path for families out of poverty and can help people to feel a sense of ownership for society. Such comprehensive welfare reform is a bold move by the British Government, it shows a committed and forward-thinking vision tackling an issue that has become an entrenched problem in much of the western world

Read 'No one written off: reforming welfare to reward responsibility' http://www.dwp.gov.uk/welfarereform/noonewrittenoff/noonewrittenoff-complete.pdf

MEAL BREAKS AND INFANT FEEDING

The Transport and Industrial Relations Committee has reported back to Parliament on the Employment Relations (Breaks and Infant Feeding) Amendment Bill, recommending that it be passed with several amendments made. The Bill would amend employment laws, giving employees the right to a ten minute break every two hours, and requiring employers to provide a space for women who wish to breastfeed, 'so far as it is reasonable.' The changes, although well-intentioned, are yet another example of a regulation intended to enforce goodwill, but which assumes that employers are unlikely to independently act in the interests of their employees. The Bill is currently awaiting its second reading in Parliament.

Read the report of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee http://www.parliament.nz/NR/rdonlyres/7078DA9B-352C-4FBA-98D5-EEBF06DD231B/89727/DBSCH_SCR_4140_6098.pdf

FREEING UP SPACE IN THE HIGH COURT

The flow of cases through the High Court should be eased somewhat as the effects of passing the Criminal Procedures Bill ripple outwards. The Bill allows, among other things, the High Court to move cases involving Class A drugs (under which methamphetamines are categorised) to the District Court. Methamphetamines were upgraded from a Class B to Class A drug, and consequently from the District Court to the High Court in 2003 because of the serious impact they have on society. While drug crime are serious, this must be weighed against the need for cases to be heard within reasonable timeframes. It is now up to High Court judges to determine in which court each individual case is tried -- a decision which will be based on the complexity and gravity of the case.

Review the 'High Court Workload Statistics' http://www.courtsofnz.govt.nz/from/statistics/files/HighCourtWorkloadFeb07-Jan08.pdf

TALKING POINT

'Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.'

William Butler Yeats

ENDS

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