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A 30 Year Plan: An Open Letter To Minister Of Education

Tēnā koe Chris,

On behalf of the schools in our care we are writing to you to express our thoughts and concerns as the Principals of Invercargill Primary Schools. Since the inception of Tomorrow’s Schools, over thirty years ago, education in New Zealand has been in a constant state of change. Whilst we concur that change is inevitable, it is the never-ending change, at faster and faster rates that has educators feeling bewildered and fatigued. The key driver of this endless tirade of change is not research, nor is it best-evidenced practice, rather political ideology. Please note that this is not aimed at the current Labour Government, but politicians in general.

As educators we have been subjected to trials, quick fixes, poorly thought out new initiatives, system revamps, curriculum reforms and presently we have more of these than ever. It is little wonder our results by both internal and international measures are dropping at alarming rates, teachers are leaving the profession in droves and the mental wellbeing of the educators is at an all time low.

Many of the initiatives of the past 20 years leave us, the implementers, with the feeling that the plane is being built in mid air and the destination is yet to be determined. National Standards and Learning Support Coordinators would be two clear examples, of many, that highlight our concerns. Both of these ill-conceived concepts did not come from the profession but from politicians. Neither was asked for, neither was well supported by research; and both were foisted on schools before they were fully planned. Over the past 30 years we could name scores of such initiatives, with the net effect being

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the same; the initiatives only lasting as long as the government of the day; with schools suffering from election anxiety every three years.

To put it simply, if schooling change and subsequent implementation was left to the professionals at the chalk-face we would make less change, far greater progress and much greater gains for the children we serve. As a profession we are imploring politicians from across the spectrum to put first the needs of children, their whanau, and our schools. This has been done in other countries, such as Finland more than 30 years ago, and more recently Scotland, where education and educational reform has been left to the experts and political ideology has been sidelined.

With Finland in particular a national education strategy, informed by research and grounded in best practice has been developed, which it is not subject to change when and if the government does. It is regularly reviewed and tweaked if needed, but not to the extremes we have endured. A national education strategy, removed from political whims, is key to New Zealand returning to a place of educational strength.

In writing this we do acknowledge that the current Labour Government has created a 30 year plan for education, based on the National Education Conversations. This has many good ideas, though it is not truly bipartisan and therefore subject to change. Interestingly, it also ignores many of the key recommendations from its own feedback. One only has to read the current National Government website and I quote from the ‘Back on Track’ paper

- ‘Require at least one hour of maths and one hour involving literacy to be taught to all Year 1-10 students each school day (on average).

- Freeze all other major changes to the curriculum and NCEA for at least two years, so teachers can focus solely on helping students catch up (and teacher-only days required for NCEA change can be cancelled and used for teaching).

- Provide “catch up grants” of up to $400 per student for schools to invest in initiatives to help their students catch up, such as extra tutoring, teacher aides,

counsellors, or longer school days.

Whilst these ideas might seem plausible; once again - no one asked the experts - each of these would pull us in a new direction. All we ask for (quoted from the Muir report from Scotland) is that “regulations of qualifications should be at arm's length from Scottish Ministers.

As a country we need to stop this incessant change and create our own true 30-year plan; unique to New Zealand and its needs, that is rooted in research and best practice. It also needs regular robust review as the key driver of any future change. This plan needs to be developed by experts from within the sector and it needs to be binding for all political parties. Only then will we see each and every student and community thrive.

“Maa te huruhuru ka rere te manu - feathers allow the bird to fly.” What better time than Matariki 2022 to stop the continual political plucking and stuffing? What better time to give New Zealand education proper plumage; plumage fit for purpose.

As a collective of principals, we do ask that you take this suggestion seriously.

Please note this letter has been forwarded to each of the major political parties. It will also be sent to all major news outlets, as this is a conversation that needs to take place in broad daylight.

We thank you in advance for taking the time to read, discuss, respond to, and (ideally) implement our plea.

Ngā mihi nui,

Callan Goodall Kerry Hawkins

for the Invercargill Primary Principals Association.

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