I saw first hand yesterday why teachers are having a difficult job trying to win the argument against Education minister Anne Tolley about national standards.

Tolley was holding one of her community meetings on national standards in Wellington - Johnsonville as it happens - in a large room in the pleasant Johnsonville offices of National list MP Katrina Shanks, though neutral ground would have been better.

About people 30 turned up, a mixture of parents, teachers, boards of trustee members and even three students from the famously liberal Onslow College (Trevor Mallard and Sandra Lee's old school) who said they had permission to be there.

It's not that Tolley was that brilliant. She sometimes sounds like she has had 10 briefings too many from Ministry of Education officials when she falls into jargon like "unpacking" the national standards.

But she has better grip on the subject than the last time Mallard made mince meat of her in the House over moderation of national standards. And once parents join her in the debate, she wins, as was evident yesterday.

Lepeti Tea arrived about 10 minutes late for the meeting and had to sit at the front. The mother of two from Porirua East had worked a night shift the night before as a nurse at a nearby hospital, she said during the Q and A part where she thanked Tolley for coming.

Before heading off to her night job, she had attended the first parent teacher interview of the year with the teacher of her six-year-old son.

And she heard inconsistent messages. He was reading at an eight year reading age she was told but a few weeks ago had completely failed the Star assessment test for reading scoring Zero.

There was no real explanation for the discrepancy other than the possibility that her son had not been listening for the test, according to Tea's version of the parent teacher interview. He was not eligible for reading recovery. Maybe she could teach him to listen better.

She presented as a classic example of a highly motivated parent who feels she is not getting good information about her son from her school.

It wasn't good enough for Tea - and it wasn't good enough for Tolley either who said she should approach the principal about it. If her son was allowed to drift he could really be left behind.

Tolley talked about her own kids - two of whom had been "very bright but very lazy" and her five year-old grandson who has started school in Rotorua. He had told her matter of factly that he was now in group 3 reading, not group 4 where he had started - the point being that kids knew exactly where they were in relation to other kids.

That was a rebuttal to one of the Onslow kids who had Tolley on about the brutality of the new reporting system to parents that would show them (and the kids) exactly where they were in relation to others and could be discouraging.

In the course of the meeting, Tolley described what sounded like a model school - one she had recently been to. It was a Decile 1B (poor etc) school, where the principal and the deputy principal had just finished visiting every single home of every single child at the school, a school of more than 300 kids she thought, in Flaxmere, Hastings, she said later.

Such was the rapport between school and parents, that the recent parent-teacher interviews had had a 92 per cent attendance by the parents and when Tolley had visited, the place was swarming with parents and she reckoned "achievement is going through the roof".

A former principal and a present principal the Johnsonville meeting were quite incredulous that a school would have the time to do that. When Tolley asked why others schools couldn't do it, the intermediate principal said her teachers were already working 50 and 60 hour weeks.

One of the teachers in the room challenged Tolley over what evidence she had that there was any link between national standards and improved achievement.

Her response?

National standards wasn't evidence, it was just a tool to identify the problem to see where how it should be addressed.

She said it was sad and frustrating that she was still having such debates with "the sector". They should be more concerned about what they could be doing to support "this mother" she said, indicating Tea.

Tea insisted later she not a National party member or activist but had voted National which would have upset her mother. She found out about the Tolley meeting through a leaflet sent out by her niece's school, Tawa Intermediate, not her own school which had not decided where it stood on implementing national standards. And she wanted to hear about it "from the horse's mouth."

Tolley has a meeting in Christchurch today then two in Auckland on Thursday with Maungakiekie MP Peseta Sam Lotu-Iinga, in Onehunga then Panmure.

NZEI's bus campaign continues and is in Bay of Plenty, Taupo, Taranaki and New Plymouth this week and will arrive at Parliament on March 31.