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The new national standards will narrow educational opportunities for children, says the country's largest teaching union.

"It all adds up to teaching to a very narrow focus and ultimately narrowing educational opportunities for children," said New Zealand Educational Institute president Frances Nelson.

The union has been opposed to standards since National announced their introduction.

The standards were part of National policy before the party was elected to Government. Despite almost a year of talks, the Government has failed to reach an amicable agreement with the teaching unions.

NZEI - which represents about 45,000 people in the education sector - did not attend yesterday's formal launch.

The union is holding a forum next month to work out how the standards will sit alongside "everything else we do in terms of teaching and learning and getting the best results for students".

Ms Nelson said the national standards were causing upheaval and the main issue for the forum was to "ensure a focus on improved student achievement across the broader school curriculum not just in literacy and numeracy".

The New Zealand Principals' Federation, which represents more than 2300 school leaders, also boycotted yesterday's launch.

Education Minister Anne Tolley said foundation skills in literacy and numeracy would put students on track to get at least NCEA Level 2 at secondary school. But the Post-Primary Teachers Association said the narrow focus would actually jeopardise NCEA achievement.

"The last thing primary and secondary schools need is to be forced to focus on assessment at the expense of learning," said PPTA head Kate Gainsford.

Ms Tolley said it was hard to understand how teaching reading, writing and maths would narrow education opportunities.

"If they cannot do these basics, that is when opportunities are closed off."

Ms Tolley said that despite the unions' public statements, they had been involved in the process of setting up the national standards, and it had been a constructive process.

Next month: Teachers meet to discuss standards.
From 2010: Every child's performance reported to parents twice a year.
From 2011: Schools report achievement level to Ministry of Education.