I don't know if anyone else noticed but primary school education was seldom mentioned throughout the election campaign and yet for everyone with children or grandchildren education plays an extremely important part in their lives.
Why didn't the Government mention it? In my opinion it was the legacy of the Parata regime and there is very little to celebrate and the current minister is completely out of touch with reality.
A comment from her at the Queenstown conference: "children come up to her and say it's the decile rating that affects their performance".
Really! From the opposition party's point of view education is in a state of crisis and they were unsure where they should start to put it right.
With our Government being in a state of limbo it creates an ideal time to discuss the state of our primary school education system and demand improvement.
My former colleagues, whose freedom to comment or express their opinions has been removed by the new Education Council's legislation, make these points.
1. School principals and teachers are leaving the profession in droves. Here in Hawke's Bay I am aware of five local principals none of whom have reached retirement age who are pulling the pin at the end of this year. As one talented principal said: "I have become completely disillusioned with the direction education is currently heading." There was a recent article in the Taranaki Daily News that discussed the plight in that province where seven principals have decided to finish up because they had become highly stressed and/or burnt out.
2. National Standards as many predicted from the outset has been a disaster - that is in spite of the millions spent on it. They were introduced in 2010 so the Year 1 children back then are now Year 8 students and National Standards has made no significant difference to their education and has disadvantaged many. It meant that teachers were continually required to test children as against teaching them. Achievement data and the analysis of it became the mechanism by which schools and teachers were judged. Outdoor experiences were reduced, arts, music and physical activity have all suffered big time because they are no longer being measured and the teaching of authentic situations has gone by the board. It was a very sad day when teachers started teaching to the test and the fun and compassion was removed from their daily lives in the classroom. National Standards did this.
3. The support systems for children with disabilities, or are behaviourally challenged or have real learning problems can no longer cope and the professionals in those fields are stretched beyond breaking point. This means that schools are left with no alternative but to stand down, suspend or exclude pupils because they are no longer being provided with sufficient support. A behaviourally challenged child impacts on the entire class and their teacher. Teachers used to be able to remove the child when they exploded now they need to remove the class to a safe place and leave the child to wreak havoc in their room and destroy their resources. Then go back and clean up the mess. This type of occurrence has become more and more prevalent.
I am a member of a trust that meets monthly to allocate funding to pupils who have a disability. The most common requests that we get are for iPads, EpiPens, assessments to identify learning needs and teacher aide time. Seldom do we have sufficient funding to cover the requests. Our education system is letting these children down through a complete lack of suitable resources. Special education is being drastically underfunded.
4. Schools throughout New Zealand are now having a huge amount of difficulty finding relief teachers. Since 2015 when the regulations changed teachers who have been out of the profession or haven't done 80 days per annum need to go on a teachers' refresh course at a cost of $4000 and train for 12-14 weeks on a refresh course. No wonder they don't bother and move into another occupation.
5. Schools are struggling to cope with overcrowded classrooms and children being taught in schools halls, libraries and corridors. We have prime examples here in Havelock North where eight new classrooms were promised in May 2016 and the schools are still waiting 18 months later. There are examples of this situation right throughout New Zealand. Talk about a housing crisis - education has a classroom crisis.
6. Compliance, bureaucracy and paperwork have overwhelmed the education profession and according to my former colleagues it has got worse and they cannot see any light on the horizon and predict under the current situation it is only going to deteriorate.
Teachers like many other professions all work exceptionally hard to give every student in their care the best possible education.
It is time that the politicians recognised this and fully supported teachers' efforts instead of creating roadblocks, obstacles and paperwork.
Malcolm Dixon is a Hastings District Councillor and retired Frimley Primary School principal. All opinions are the writer's and not those of Hawke's Bay Today.