Jonathan Milne 's Opinion

Jonathan Milne is a former reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Jonathan Milne: Lessons of the motherland

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Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

In England, when I was working for The Times Educational Supplement, teachers and principals would go misty-eyed over our education system.

New Zealand was, they would assure me, an idyllic environment where teachers could teach, and children could grow and run free, without the constant intervention of the narrow-eyed bean-counters and bureaucrats.

No longer.

Now, says a British expert, they look on sadly as New Zealand follows the same testing path as England.

England is famous - some would say notorious - for the regime of testing and measurement imposed by Tony Blair's Government on kids from early childhood upwards.

"Teachers in England have had to deal with this high stakes league table system for 20 years," says Warwick Mansell, an education journalist who published a treatise on the tyranny of testing.

"They will be disappointed to hear New Zealand is following down this road."

The English regime is beginning to fall apart amid revelations of grade inflation - schools and bureaucrats pushing up the numbers each year so politicians can boast about education successes on the hustings.

And, this year, the UK Government abandoned standardised writing tests for 11-year-olds.

England's stringent assessment regime has been widely panned. Yet strangely it is actually better in some respects than New Zealand's new and shonky national standards.

At least in England, the test results are checked and moderated before the inspectors print off the spreadsheets and decide which schools to close down.

English schools are ranked on value-added data - how much children improve from one year to the next - rather than having the raw test results of privileged kids from the leafy suburbs compared directly with those from the concrete council estates.

Value-added data has revealed some of the best teaching was being done in some of the poorest schools. It was in these schools that teachers were really making a difference.

Here, the raw, unmoderated results of 5- and 6-year-old kids in the poorest corners of Otara and Cannon's Creek will be lined up alongside those from Parnell and Khandallah.

We all know who will come off best - and which schools are more likely to be shut down and boarded up.

What New Zealand families need is not quick and dirty data designed solely to back up election boasts, as the Government seeks.

Neither do families need some Communist-style gagging order on information about their children's schools, as the teachers seek.

Parents deciding where to send their children to school need politicians and teachers to work together to provide good and reliable information.

Herald on Sunday deputy editor Jonathan Milne was a finalist as UK education journalist of the year, 2008.

- Herald on Sunday

Jonathan Milne

Jonathan Milne is a former reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Jonathan Milne is a former reporter and deputy editor of the Herald on Sunday. He specialised in politics and education. He won awards for his newspaper and magazine journalism in New Zealand and the UK.

Read more by Jonathan Milne

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