Politics and Education

New Zealand has an excellent education system and is world class, especially primary schools. Amongst the 34 OECD countries we consistently rank highly especially in reading (4th in the world) and ahead of countries like Australia, Britain and the U.S. New Zealand ‘whole language’ primary teaching is in high demand in the U.S.

However, we have what is termed “a long tail of underachievement” mainly in Pacific and Maori children. Various figures are thrown around by commentators and politicians of either 20% or 25% depending on who is talking. This relates to the percentage of secondary school pupils who leave school without NCEA Level 2 qualifications. The actual figure is between 15-17% and the success rate is trending upwards. However, the entire education system is branded as a failure rather than being celebrated as a success.

What the politicians don’t quote from the same OECD report about achievement is the amount spent per child on education – we rank mid field of the 34 countries and in the average class size – again we rank around number 17. So in summary, we are doing really well in terms of achievement but with less money and bigger class sizes than half the OECD countries.

We have had the recent debate of increased class sizes which was supposed to impact on better achievement (note to Tui billboard – yeah right!) and the embarrassing back down from the government. Now, publication of school data in the form of ‘league tables’ is being mooted. Personally, I’m not afraid of our data bring published as I know it would give us great pride. However, publishing school data is not going to improve achievement in low performing schools, rather compound the problem as parents take their children away. Performance pay is on the horizon and again I don’t fundamentally oppose it provided it is a fair, transparent process developed with the education community, not imposed upon it.

The government wishes to save money yet only politicians and bureaucrats are involved in the process of identifying savings e.g. put up class sizes. By working with the education sector, substantial savings could be made. My personal suggestions would be to stop or reduce funding to private schools, not go ahead with the charter schools concept at this time and close down the advisory services and special education service, give a component of this funding to schools and make both advisory and special education services, contestable i.e. the schools would buy services from the most efficient and cost effective provider.

In fairness, I state my personal contention that the various leadership of the education sector are not always all that good. If educationalists don’t lead educational reforms and innovations, politicians will, then we are placed on the back foot with a reactive response.