Choosing your preferred education policy this year comes down to how far you trust teachers.

In one corner of the election ring, National, the Māori Party and United Future believe that requiring schools to get their students up to national standards has forced teachers to put a lot more effort into those - mainly Māori and Pasifika - who were falling behind.

In the opposite corner, Labour, the Greens and New Zealand First all want to scrap national standards and restore what NZ First's Tracey Martin calls a "high-trust model" - giving teachers much more scope to follow the students' interests and let them learn at their own pace.

Gareth Morgan's Opportunities Party is somewhere in the middle, broadly keeping the current system but delaying national standards until Year 6 and postponing the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) until a student's final year in school.

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And out on the edge of the ring, the free-market Act Party has its own high-trust model, placing its trust in competing entrepreneurs and community groups to offer students a wide choice of educational options to suit every interest and temperament.

Remarkably, all the parties agree on the problem they want to solve: the yawning gap between rich and poor, advantaged and disadvantaged students.

Surveys show our average 15-year-olds still out-perform the global median, although we have been slipping from near the top towards the middle of the pack.

But the gap between our top and bottom tenths of students in 2015 was the fourth-widest in the developed world in reading and 15th-widest in maths.

If the point of education is to help everyone get the knowledge and skills they need to contribute their best to the world, then our system is not working for too many of our young people.

To put a number to it, 12.9 per cent - one in eight - of our youths aged 15 to 24 were not in employment, education or training ('NEET') in the year to June, up from 11.3 per cent the previous year despite a strong economy. There are plenty of jobs out there, but these young people are not getting them.

Young Māori women (25 per cent) and Pasifika women (19 per cent) have the highest NEET rates, partly because they are more likely to be caring for children than young European women (11 per cent).

The next-highest rates are for young Pasifika men (17 per cent) and Māori men (15 per cent), compared with 10 per cent of young European men.

NZ First, Labour and the Greens would all give teachers more support by re-establishing a school advisory service that has not existed since the 1989 abolition of Education Department inspectors, who checked how teachers were performing and advised them how to do better.

The Education Review Office now does the checking, but since 1989 schools have had to buy advice and support from private consultants.

There are other differences between the parties, notably in tertiary education where Labour, the Greens, NZ First, the Māori Party and United Future all propose versions of free, taxpayer-funded tuition - another thing we haven't seen since 1989 when former Education Minister Phil Goff started charging student fees.