National sets rules for success at school

By Audrey Young

National would make all primary schools test pupils' reading, writing and maths ability, and require schools to tell parents how their children and their school rate against national benchmarks.

In his first major education speech, National leader John Key will outline the policy today at the University of Auckland.

It puts greater emphasis than the party's previous policy on reporting to parents on a child's progress and the relative measure of the school against others.

The policy follows a critical report last week by the Education Review Office, which said only half the 314 schools it surveyed used assessment results to assist their teaching and only half reported achievement information effectively to parents.

National will not have a national exam for primary schools.

And schools will be able to decide which assessment tests to use.

But national benchmarks will be set against which the tests will determine how well a child is doing.

"When you turn up to your child's school, the teacher should be able to pull out some charts, show you how your child is doing, how they have progressed throughout the year and how they are performing against the national standards," Mr Key's speech says.

Many schools were already doing that, but the policy was aimed at the 49 per cent of schools that the ERO said were not doing it.

Schools needed to give meaningful information to parents, rather than comments such as "a pleasure to teach", or "a joy to have in my class".

"School reports shouldn't read like real estate ads. If your child can't read, you want to know that."

The national standard would be set by professionals and would give teachers in Otara and Epsom a common language to describe the progress of their students.

Mr Key's speech challenges Prime Minister Helen Clark to say how many children left primary school last year without reaching the minimum standard expected in reading, writing or maths.

But, he says, she will not be able to answer the question.

"Our country hasn't even decided what the minimum national standards are, let alone gone about finding the kids who don't meet them."

Mr Key cited an Auckland school, the Glen Taylor School in Glen Innes, which he said he had visited recently.

It had turned around its performance by setting targets from assessments of pupils that were shared with parents.

Irene Cooper, national president of the primary teachers' union, the New Zealand Educational Institute, said last night she was relieved Mr Key was not announcing a national test for primary schools to be taken throughout the country on the same day.

Much of what he was advocating was already being done.

"What John Key is doing is perhaps fine tuning," she said.

When referring to "national standards" Mr Key had chosen to interpret it as a "benchmark".

"I would interpret it as a progression of learning for a child.

"As far as I know, most parents are saying they are getting very good reporting on an individual level."

She said Mr Key was not proposing a new direction.

"It's a direction that is already well under way.

"I don't really see that it is going to change the landscape for education that much in terms of what schools are already doing."


National's Plan

* Set national standards that will specify what a child should be able to do in a subject in a year.

* Require schools to choose testing methods that measure their students against others in the country.

* Require schools to tell parents about their children's assessment and their school's performance against the national standard.

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