Minister warns principals against speaking out about standards

By Elizabeth Binning

Education Minister Anne Tolley. File photo / Daily Post
Education Minister Anne Tolley. File photo / Daily Post

Education Minister Anne Tolley has told principals they should stop talking to the media and focus on implementing the controversial national standards.

The Minister was addressing more than 500 principals at the Principals Federation Conference in Queenstown this morning, many of whom have stopped attending national standards training as they believe it is only leaving staff more confused.

The standards are a new national benchmark which tell parents at what stage primary and intermediate children are in reading, writing and maths.

Ms Tolley said she had told the Ministry of Education to monitor training closely to make sure concerns about the standards were being addressed. If there were still questions then principals - who have been very public in their opposition to the standards - should email her or contact the Ministry.

"It's much quicker doing it that way and you will get results, rather than going to the media and making threats, which is just politicking and achieves little," she said.

The Minister then went a step further, saying "and while we're on that subject, you are pretty unique among public servants who can speak freely in the media. May I remind you that I made representations to make sure that continues."

"However, no public servants have ever been granted the privilege of picking and choosing which Government laws they choose to administer. Lawyers, accountants and all the other professionals working in Ministries can offer opinions, but it's the Government that makes policy decisions."

Some principals the Herald spoke to immediately after the Minister's address viewed her comments about talking to the media as a "veiled threat", but said it will not stop them from being outspoken.

President of the Principals Federation' Ernie Buutvel said teachers should talk to the media if they see a problem with the Government's national standards scheme.

"As professionals, we're entitled to an opinion if we've found something that could be improved," Mr Buutvel told Radio New Zealand.

Buutvel said teachers and principals are not the same as other public servants who are forced to toe the Government's line.

He said there are numerous flaws with the scheme which need to be fixed, and said principals and Mrs Tolley are engaging in good discussion to work them out.

Meanwhile, The New Zealand Principals Federation has voted to support regional associations which have decided to boycott training for national standards.

At its AGM yesterday, the federation voted against the standards in three remits.

The first was that national standards were not delivering the outcomes intended and the federation planned to advise the Minister accordingly.

The second was that the only way forward was to seek a complete revision of national standards. This should be done urgently, in partnership with the sector and the Minister.

The third was to tell the Minister the federation supported the regional associations which are advising their schools not to attend national standards training.

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