Perry Rush: Punishing schools won't make them pull up their socks

Add a comment

The draft national educational standards have arrived and yes, it is possible to be 6 years old and a failure.

Faced with the reality of a Government bent on this policy it seems clear that Anne Tolley will have the most significant impact on schooling of any Education Minister this side of Tomorrow's Schools.

National has championed its education standards policy as being the saviour of the long tail of underachievement and muddy reporting to parents. This rationale seems convincing - both issues need improvement.

Except that there is scant evidence of national standards making a difference for children's learning and voluminous evidence of the damage that such policies cause.

Worryingly, national standards represents a shift away from a high-trust environment between government, parents and teachers to one of low trust fuelled by the drive for public accountability. There exists in the schooling sector deep mistrust of the minister's intentions.

Flying under the radar but occasionally seen is evidence of the Government's intent to author national standards as a public lever to address poor school performance. Tolley's recent statement about standards being "disinfectant" is telling.

As the formal (and very brief) official consultation round begins it is important to remind ourselves that no child ever improved their reading because they were sent to stand in the corridor.

Tolley's "disinfectant" is not an aspirational idea and it has no place in our shared effort to eliminate the tail of underachievement and improve reporting for parents.

Glaringly absent in the advocacy of national standards has been the failure to explain how exactly they will improve student achievement.

What is the likely change in teaching that will come about as a consequence of this policy? As the draft standards are identical to expectations already held in schools the inference must be drawn that it is not the standards that will make a difference but what happens to the information generated by the standards.

This is not about learning in schools but rather control over schools - an issue that should rightly concern parents on school boards who currently hold schools accountable within the context of their local communities.

We can easily predict that higher decile school communities, where children arrive at school with impressive literacy and numeracy skills, will shine against the common standard and those schools who deal with children who start the day hungry and tired, or who arrive at school having rarely picked up a book, will invariably appear to be failing their children.

This sort of basic analysis will ghetto-ise some schools and further promote others as being bastions of success.

If "plain English" is the lever to improve accountability and address underachievement then it is fundamentally flawed. This in itself creates the pre-conditions for misunderstanding between teachers and parents.

The simple truth is that children's learning is not plain but complex and divergent. Any attempt to boil achievement in reading, writing and mathematics down to "above", "at" or "below" a standard makes a mockery of parents' capacity to understand more complex ideas about learning.

Plain English is the language of certainty and it creates a false reality. It makes one feel good, it is reassuring and convincing. But it is not truthful.

As a consequence of this it makes teachers' jobs harder, not easier. Teachers will need to spend more time bridging the divide between "plain English" and the reality of what students are achieving.

It does little to support the sort of partnership and trust that each child requires between teachers and parents. In a thinking economy we should not be reducing information about student achievement to the lowest common denominator.

And therein lies the challenge. Teachers, schools and parents want the very best for children. But national standards are deceptive.

They have been dressed up as a feel-good exercise for parents and an effective tool for teachers when really it is a way of standing schools in the corridor. The danger is that it meddles with the very relationship that has been at the core of Tomorrow's Schools: the trust, partnership and collaboration between schools and the communities who govern them.

Parents and educators have a unique opportunity to comment on the draft national standards. The consultation period ends on July 3. It is an opportunity that should not be squandered. The consequence of getting this policy wrong could be dire for our children, schools and communities.

* Perry Rush is principal of Island Bay School in Wellington.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

Have your say

1200 characters left

By and large our readers' comments are respectful and courteous. We're sure you'll fit in well.
View commenting guidelines.

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf04 at 24 May 2017 10:55:21 Processing Time: 791ms