A student learning expert has suggested a top-level review of the schooling system after international testing showed 15-year-olds had slipped in maths, science and reading.
New Zealand fell from 7th to 13th in reading, from 7th to 18th in science and from 13th to 22nd in maths this week in the OECD's Programme for International Study Assessment (Pisa) report for 2012.
Professor John Hattie - who was consulted four years ago by the Government over the introduction of National Standards but disagreed with how it was done - said New Zealand should not worry too much about the comparative rankings between countries as the figures used were "close to random numbers".
But with other data the results pointed to problems in the maths and science curriculum and more importantly, a lack of consistency in the ability of all teachers to push their students to achieve at the next level.
"Maybe it is time for a ministerial working party or royal commission on the status of schooling," he wrote in response to a Weekend Herald invitation to several experts on how the country should respond.
"It has been 20 years since the last Picot report, and we have tampered and tinkered since then. The latest Pisa decline should lead to a major review as to the purpose of schooling, the optimal way to build on successes in the past, but lead us to be systematic about how we educate students in the global world that they will be asked to live in."
The head of Victoria University's engineering school, Professor Dale Carnegie, said many first-year students lacked basic maths ability and needed remedial work.
He blamed the NCEA system for allowing students to gain an "achieved" grade when they had not done enough work and did not understand the material.
Education Minister Hekia Parata said the Government was already acting to tackle the challenges posed by the report, particularly through a $10.5 million programme to improve teachers' understanding and confidence in teaching maths and science.
National testing showed not only that many Year 8 (12-year-old) students were below the expected curriculum level in science but that 40 per cent of teachers did not feel confident teaching students at that level.
"We need to target professional learning and development to these teachers to give them the support and confidence in order to use these resources and data to make a difference in achievement."
The Prime Minister's chief science adviser, Sir Peter Gluckman, said it was becoming increasingly challenging for primary teachers, who came mainly from a humanities background, to answer the complex science questions posed by internet-savvy older children.
He said the big long-term challenge was to create a culture in which families and the whole country valued science, so children would respond to those higher expectations.