Not All Quiet on the Education Front

 “The battle over the introduction of National Standards in our primary schools is likely to come to a head very soon. None of it will be pretty and, as always with such disagreements in education, the losers will be the children and the parents of New Zealand…*   Dr. John Langley, Chief Executive – Cognition Education

 On this Anzac weekend it’s refreshing to read a point of view on National Standards that is not lobbed shell-like from one or other of the two opposing lines of trenches. No man’s land is a dangerous place to be in the take-no-prisoners world of education politics and you cop flak from both sides.

 As an interested non-combatant I made a point of going to both the NZEI’s pre-emptive public meeting on National Standards in Christchurch on 9 March and the Minister’s public meeting a few days later at Lincoln, where I had to walk the gauntlet of petition waving NZEI supporters to get in. I pointed out that I had already signed the petition for a trial of the new standards at the earlier NZEI meeting, though with certain misgivings in terms of the associated PR circus, now reinforced by this reception and since by some photographs of the NZEI bus tour.

 An NZEI photo at one school shows the somewhat bemused principal, wearing a suit and tie, lined up with about a dozen protest T shirt-wearing and hand-waving school staff and NZEI bus passengers. In front  a revealing white board sign read: “WE’VE GOT NO STANDARDS! But we do have ethics!!”

 At another school near Christchurch the principal appeared in a photo in The Press wearing a jester’s hat as he greeted the NZEI tourists. I wonder what message readers gleaned from that?  He did, however, turn out to be the best speaker of a line up of seven at the Theatre Royal at the union’s meeting that night.

 This meeting was pretty much a spectator sport in a totally unsuitable venue.  A university contributor would have used a datashow for some rather dense but interesting graphs but none was available.

 At least he’d done his homework. With only a couple of exceptions, there was little coherence and intellectual rigour in the seven 10 minute slots though, with Easter on the horizon, plenty of passion.

The bowling club hall venue for the Minister’s presentation and extended Q&A session allowed a more  appropriate forum set-up and she spoke to a coherent, if sometimes controversial, powerpoint presentation–even if a colleague operated it from the wings. (That’s the kind of ancillary help teachers need).

 There was close to a hundred attendees, about the same number as at the NZEI’s  meeting but with a bigger percentage of the public. They expressed a wide range of views from supportive to critical.  The Minister more than held her own, at one stage  staunchly defending teachers from some sweeping criticism from the floor.

 I certainly agree that in rejecting a trial and development approach the Minister or her advisers haven’t learned from the secondary system’s tortuous experience in introducing new assessment procedures from the early Nineties.

They have, however, learned from the experience of other countries who run a single test system. In this country, the use of a range of existing assessment tools and the weight given to the professional judgement of teachers should allay at least some of the more exaggerated fears.

John Langley’s contribution (below*) reminds us that it is important to get beyond the rhetoric on National Standards, lift the level of informed debate and provide neutral forums for it.

 My two blog posts* were written before the two meetings. The second draws heavily on the excellent article by John Hattie posted on the Cognition Institute’s website* before Xmas.

 #Lyall Lukey  24 April 2010


A Step Too Far – Opinion Piece by Dr. John Langley   World War One Trench Warfare


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