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Treasury gives incoherent advice to Education Minister

Treasury gives “incoherent”, ‘misinformed”, “confused” and “wrong” advice to Education Minister on class sizes

Professor John O’Neill of Massey University has written to Hekia Parata, the Minister of Education, detailing why the advice given by the Treasury on class sizes was wrong.

“The Minister was told by Treasury that class sizes should be made larger, freeing up funds for initiatives that could better improve educational performance”, said Liz Gordon, QPEC National Chair.

The advice given by the Treasury was apparently based on John Hattie’s book Visible Learnings. But Professor O’Neill points out that Hattie himself notes that increasing class size is poor policy.

Key points made by O’Neill are that:

• All the studies in Hattie’s book that deal with the quality of teaching to learning are actually about tertiary students and their teachers, but Treasury applies it without evidence to schools;
• Hattie only included ‘broad-brush’ meta-analyses in his study (i.e. studies that analyse studies), and the kind of detail needed to make effective policy is missing;
• The Treasury appears confused about what Hattie’s analysis means, and has cherry-picked aspects that support its own views; and
• The Treasury’s view is just plain wrong. There is excellent, high quality research on class sizes that can inform policy that has been ignored. The main finding of such research is that implemented properly, smaller class sizes in the early years can improve the learning of low-achieving or at-risk students.

QPEC’s view is that there has been far too much poor policy made on the basis of ideological views of what should happen in education. Politics often overrides research, and it is distressing when quality research is dismissed in favour of uninformed policy programmes. It is essential at the present time that this does not happen.

“Ministers do sometimes find it convenient to ignore good educational research and go with other views when making policy. But so much effort is being put into programmes to raise the achievement of under-performing young people, and these programmes rest on a reasonably well-resourced classroom. Raising class sizes would be a dreadful policy to implement in New Zealand at present, and would put the reform agenda backwards. We urge the Minister to read Professor O’Neill’s letter and request a high quality summary of advice on class sizes from advisors.

“Alternatively, we are sure that Professor O’Neill would be pleased to help”, said Dr Gordon.

Letter to Minister (PDF File)

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