Education Minister Jan Tinetti is issuing a challenge to the Opposition to find common ground on education so the sector doesn’t suffer through reform that differs from government to government.
It comes as National unveiled its plan for education which included primary and intermediate schools being required to teach students for at least one hour a day on each of the topics of reading, writing and maths lessons – and children will be tested on them at least twice a year in a new version of the controversial National Standards.
National Party leader Christopher Luxon said National would target getting 80 per cent of Year 8 students at or above the expected curriculum level for their age in reading, writing, maths and science – and to return New Zealand to the top 10 of the OECD’s PISA rankings by 2033.
He said the Royal Society had concluded an hour a day of maths lessons was required and the ERO had highlighted concerns about the decline in basic reading skills.
Tinetti, a former principal, told Newstalk ZB she was “disappointed” education had become a political football and urged the Opposition to co-operate on finding evidence-based solutions to address problems in the sector.
“This causes disruption every time we have a change in government.”
Tinetti said National was simply reviving a “zombie from the past” in proposing a twice-yearly assessment of students’ progress for primary schools – a proposal similar to the controversial national standards National introduced when last in government.
“Forcing children to do an hour each of reading, writing and maths every day isn’t going to make them enjoy it or learn better, and more intensive testing isn’t going to make school a place they want to be.”
Green Party education spokesman Teanau Tuiono hit out at what he considered Luxon’s “persistent lack of understanding of complex issues”.
“Chris Luxon seems more interested in turning our kid’s futures into political football rather than doing what works.
“Evidence has been clear for years that the main issue with educational outcomes is underlying inequality, especially kids who bounce around between schools because they haven’t got secure housing.”
Education union NZEI president Mark Potter said National’s policy didn’t offer any solutions or resourcing to the current problem primary schools faced.
“That problem is the lack of proper support to help learners with higher needs,” he said.
“Schools are understaffed and teachers and principals are overstretched. And as every teacher and parent knows, the ‘basics’ for one child might be different for another.”
Luxon, who spent his time after the announcement touring Silverstream School in the Hutt, said it was “astonishing” that the first national test for numeracy and literacy was not until NCEA Level 1.
“We’ll require standardised robust assessment at least twice a year in reading, writing and maths from Year 3 to Year 8, to check on each child’s progress.”
Detailed results will be reported to parents.
”Other elements of National’s plan include rewriting the curriculum to put more focus on the basics and clearly set out what children should be taught at each stage.”
There would be more training and resources for teachers and trainee teachers on how to teach the basics, and teacher registration fees would be scrapped.
“National doesn’t believe our teachers should have to pay to teach.”
On the curriculum, Luxon said currently New Zealand students started learning maths later than in the UK and Australia – algebra started in Year 6 in the UK and Year 5 in Australia – but in New Zealand it could start anywhere between Years 6 and 10.
”It’s not okay that Kiwi kids start learning basic skills later than their international peers.
”The curriculum’s wooliness means teachers are spending their weekends and evenings trying to figure out what they are supposed to be teaching. They should not have to do that. It should be clear.”
He said National would scrap three-year bands in the curriculum and replace them with explicit achievement expectations.
“We’ll check kids have learned what the curriculum says they should have learned, and we’ll keep parents informed about where their kids are up to.”
Luxon announced the steps at Silverstream today, saying they were just the first of a series of education policies he would set out ahead of the election.
He said no subject motivated him more than education and New Zealand should be world-leading in that area.
However, he said there had been declining student achievement over 30 years.
He pointed to New Zealand’s drop down the OECD’s PISA rankings, and a pilot of NCEA reading, writing and maths assessment which revealed two-thirds of students had not reached the level expected – and particularly bad results at low decile schools.
”The results in education today are more than disappointing. They are more than frustrating. They are unacceptable.”
He said his priority if in government would be to turn that around.
”There’s no doubt there are high-achieving students, teachers and schools throughout New Zealand. But could the Education Minister look every parent in the eye and guarantee their child will receive a world-leading education wherever they live? She could not.”
He did not accept that 54 per cent of children not attending school regularly was okay.
The new policy measures are part of National’s new Teaching the Basics Brilliantly package – which included the earlier announcement that it would overhaul the curriculum to focus more on core subject areas of maths, reading, writing and science.
He pointed to his own history, saying he would not have been able to do what he has done without a good grounding in the basics at primary school, and some outstanding teachers in the state school system.
”I am forever grateful for that start, and I am determined that every New Zealand child should have the chance to improve their circumstances, whatever their starting point.”
He also reiterated National’s other policies, including the Family Boost package, giving up to $75 a week in tax rebates for childcare costs, and boot camps for serious young offenders.
On welfare policy, he said those who did not “play ball” with the expectations of being on the unemployment benefit would face sanctions. “Under National, personal responsibility will be back.”
He took aim at Labour, saying it had presided over soaring inflation and rapidly rising interest rates, and unacceptable waiting times in emergency departments at hospitals, as well as rising violent crime rates.
On National’s proposed resource centre for teachers, Luxon said his party’s proposal would reflect other countries’ approach to giving teachers support on lesson plans, saying we should “steal it with pride”.
Asked how he would address the teacher shortage and how National will attract more teachers to New Zealand, Luxon said MP Erica Stanford’s dual role in education and immigration was intentional.
He said immigration settings were far too restrictive and said New Zealand needed to have more competitive offerings to teachers overseas.
“We’re going to need immigration for New Zealand’s future”.
Removing NCEA hadn’t been part of National’s focus today, which had instead been on primary and intermediate school age groups. However, he did say it was “a bit weird” that some high school students were struggling with numeracy and literacy.
Another former teacher voiced her opposition to teaching children on tablets and other devices, saying they were obsessed with their phones. Luxon responded jokingly, saying he had a few MPs who were like that, which drew a big laugh.
On the refreshed curriculum and what he would change, Luxon said there had been “fantastic feedback” over the last decade about where the curriculum should go. He said it was important to build on what was in place but make sure it was grounded in the basics.
Stanford, addressing the crowd, said she didn’t think what was being created was representative of what teachers wanted from a curriculum and that it needed to be more clear.
‘Their future depends on it’
Luxon said the rollout of National’s new curriculum would cost $10 million.
“We want to be able to start rolling out maths, and reading standards from the 2024 school year,” Luxon said.
“We’re going to do maths, reading and science and we’re going to prioritise that over everything else,” he said.
“We’re not talking about standardised testing - we’re talking about standardised progression assessment, " Luxon said.
“I think if we can teach our kids the basics, they will stay in school,” he said.
“That’s going to really help our kids’ attendance.’
“If kids need a catch-up we can get the resources to them quickly.
“Let’s let our teachers be creative about how they deliver it. I want to be clear, we’re not doing endless spelling tests and maths exercises.
On how the school day would be divvied up, with an hour devoted to each of the three core subjects, Luxon said it would be up to schools.
“We can keep talking about why [our kids’ education is slipping] or we can find solutions,” he said.
“I accept that over successive governments we haven’t delivered the outcomes we need.
“We owe it [the policy] to kids, their future depends on it,” Luxon said.
Today’s announcement follows the Herald’s launch yesterday of Making The Grade, a series on the challenges facing our education system.
Luxon, speaking to media yesterday, revealed aspects of his party’s Teaching the Basics Brilliantly education policy, which included outlining what knowledge and skills primary and intermediate schools pupils must cover each year in reading, writing, maths and science.
“At the moment, one curriculum level can span several school years, which makes it difficult to identify and help children who are falling behind,” Luxon said.
“Evidence shows children’s abilities are often underestimated and therefore the looseness in the New Zealand Curriculum means some Kiwi kids are learning the building blocks of reading, writing and maths later than they should.
“The curriculum also adds a significant workload for teachers who are constantly having to work out what to teach and when.”
Luxon told RNZ that National’s changes would bring New Zealand in line with other western countries.
“For example, in England and Australia, you learn addition and subtraction in year 1. In New Zealand, it can be anywhere between years 1 to 5. If you’re learning algebra, it’s year 5 in England and Australia but in New Zealand, it’s anywhere from year 6 to 10.”