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Maxim Real Issues: No. 181, 3 NOVEMBER 2005

Maxim Real Issues: No. 181, 3 NOVEMBER 2005

Blair's plans for schools poles apart from New Zealand

The significance of one simple act

ERO report says parents need better information

Blair's plans for schools poles apart from New Zealand

British Prime Minister Tony Blair last week unveiled a landmark White Paper on schooling, called Higher Standards, Better Schools for All. The proposals in the White Paper would offer British parents choice among a more diverse range of schools. They build on earlier reforms which established specialist schools that would see the British school system consist of non-fee paying independent self-governing state schools.

Among the reforms, schools would be able to decide whether to become trust schools, where partnerships will be formed with interested groups in the community, such as businesses and churches. Good schools would be able to cooperate with other schools to increase access to places, and specialist schools would be allowed to specialise in additional disciplines or pursuits. Failing schools would be policed by tighter sanctions that would encourage new trust schools to enter the system. With more schools run by local trusts and with the ability to tailor education to local needs, schools would have more autonomy, more involvement from local communities and the opportunity to innovate.

This is quite different to the situation in New Zealand, where many families have little choice over which school their child attends. In New Zealand, the government does little to encourage schools to innovate. Moreover, they are often limited by a lack of resources. Yet, as mentioned in Maxim Institute's first Parent Factor report on parental attitudes to schooling in New Zealand, Freedom for schools, 76 percent of parents surveyed responded that schools should be permitted to specialise in particular subject areas or sports if they choose to.

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If Mr Blair's proposals are implemented, they will put parents at the centre of the British school system, while in New Zealand the needs of diverse communities remain ignored with only wealthy families having access to a full range of choices for their child's schooling.

To read the British government's education White Paper, Higher Standards, Better Schools for All, please visit: http://www.dfes.gov.uk/publications/schoolswhitepaper

To read The Parent Factor: Freedom for schools, please visit: http://www.maxim.org.nz/parentfactor/report1_freedomforschools.php

The significance of one simple act

The United States has a long history of racism. Segregation laws existed as recently as the 1950s when black Americans were denied many of the rights and protections extended to others. One day an ordinary lady decided to stand up against the injustice which she and others suffered. In an act of civil disobedience, Rosa Parks broke the segregation laws by refusing to vacate her seat on the bus for a white man, despite knowing she was likely to face a penalty for breaking the law.

Civil disobedience essentially involves a citizen wilfully breaking a law they believe to be unjust, usually accompanied by an acknowledgment that they may face the due penalty. Sometimes these acts are carried out as a protest in themselves. On other occasions, the hope is that such an act will draw attention to a problem with the law and begin a process of change.

For a nation's foundations to be strong, its laws must be just. In democratic societies citizens can participate in the legislative process, the electoral system or engage in acts of civil disobedience to help ensure this.

Rosa Parks died last week. Her simple act of bravery has helped bring about justice for future generations. The significant life of Rosa Parks should remind us that one single act can have great significance and there is often a cost involved when standing up for justice.

ERO report says parents need better information

The Education Review Office (ERO) has pointed out in its 2005 Annual Report that significant gaps exist in the information that parents receive about pupil achievement in schools. Such findings need to be taken seriously, as having good information about their child's achievement is vital for parents wanting to be actively involved in their child's schooling.

The ERO is the government department which evaluates the effectiveness of a school's management and teaching. In their latest annual report, the ERO have found variability in the way teachers gather information on pupil achievement and that national information on the quality and use of gathered assessment data is limited.

The ERO has criticised schools in the past for not collecting and analysing information on pupil assessment. This latest annual review shows that little has been done to address the information deficit for parents. However, the ERO, recognising that parental involvement in schooling is crucial for educational achievement, want to make information more readily accessible to parents to help them become better informed about how well their children are doing at school. The ERO have promised to conduct a national evaluation of how well schools use and collect achievement information in 2006.

It is encouraging that the ERO want to improve the collection of information, but that is only part of the solution. The information collected and released about schools should reflect what parents want. According to substantial research by Colmar Brunton on behalf of Maxim Institute released in The Parent Factor: Information for parents; 89 percent of parents want more information about their child's teacher and 79 percent would like to know which schools in their area have the best and worst exam results. If this kind of information on school performance is made clearly available, then parents will be better able to compare schools when choosing which school will best suit their child's needs.

To read the Education Review Office Annual Report, for the Year Ending 30 June 2005, please visit: http://www.ero.govt.nz/Publications/index.htm

To read The Parent Factor: Information for parents, please visit: http://www.maxim.org.nz/parentfactor/report3_informationforparents.php

THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK - Plato (427 BC - 347 BC)

Justice in the life and conduct of the State is possible only as first it resides in the hearts and souls of the citizens.

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