Friday, November 05, 2010

The debates on National Standards are about politics, not education

National Standards in schools are becoming a hot topic as of late. The Minister has said that National Standards are to lift student achievement, while her Ministry has publicly stated that they “won’t make the difference” (to a students achievement) as they are merely signposts.

The trouble with recent debates on National Standards is that the issue has become highly politicised and rhetorical, with much of the news coverage focused on ideological debate and mired in claim and counter-claim. Often the focus on children, schools, and the National Curriculum has been lost altogether. Schools like Balmoral School and Island Bay School, who are publicly outspoken against National Standards and have said they will not implement them, better hope they have good ERO reports or else their educational shortcomings will be highlighted. And one wonders, if Balmoral school Board of Trustees is not only refusing to implement National Standards, but is leading the campaign against the standards in their area, why their school’s charter states it is to report to the Board of Trustees on National Standards in the Annual report. One wonders why its strategic goals state that they will “undertake training and development in the use of National Standards so that the school can report to students, parents, the Board, the community and the Ministry of Education”, when they are publicly opposed to the standards.

So far about 240 Boards of Trustees [full list here] have said they will not implement National Standards. Some have rejected them, others have decided not to provide education targets to the Ministry, but are currently writing school reports mentioning National Standards. Education officials have been reported as saying that the Minister may sack rebel boards of trustees and replace them with commissioners if they don’t toe the line.

While the Education Act does provide for that, if the Minister was to take this approach to boards who do not implement National Standards, she’d be breaking the law. To sack a board or appoint a commissioner, the Minister must have “reasonable grounds to believe that there is a risk to the operation of the school, or to the welfare or educational performance of its students”.

I doubt whether any minister, let alone Anne Tolley, could provide any grounds, let alone reasonable grounds that a board is risking the welfare or educational performance of its schools by refusing to implement National Standards.

But it is not just some opponents of National Standards that are making things up, stating that the standards are setting kids up to fail, supporters are also writing letters to Ministers. One of them, from Island Bay School, sent his letter to David Farrar at Kiwiblog who blogged it - you can read it here( or in the comments below). Among the allegations he raised were: that the Board of Trustees had no paperwork in reaching the schools decision on National Standards; that parents were not consulted apart from one open meeting, and implied that the slides used at that meeting were unavailable unless requested via the Official Information Act. Finally the parent called for the Minister to dismiss the schools Board of Trustees.

As earlier mentioned, the board can’t be dismissed simply for ignoring National Standards. Also the school had consulted on more than one occasion. All paperwork is publicly available, including Board minutes, and the slides were publicly available through the Ministry of Education, so no OIA request is needed. Had this parent bothered to show interest and attend a Board of Trustees meeting, or any other meeting, he could have got some answers. But this man doesn’t want answers, he wants to play politics. Instead of writing to the Board of Trustees, he writes to the Minister stating that schools who refuse to implement National Standards are “ not doing their job”, consequently requesting that the Minister act in an unlawful manner in sacking the board.




Blogger Swimming said...

wo of my children attend Island Bay primary school, in southern Wellington.

The Board of Trustees recently provided a newsletter to parents advising that Island Bay school would not be complying with the requirements of the National Standards policy. This appears to represent a change in position by the newly-elected Board, and replaces an earlier resolution (reproduced on the Principal’s Federation website opposing National Standards) in which the then Board decided to comply with the requirements of the policy, while formally resolving that it did not support the policy.

The newsletter to parents states that the Board has resolved to write to you and to the Secretary of Education directly informing you of the position. They may not, however, have informed you of the poor process used in reaching the decision. We requested copies of Board papers considered in reaching the Board’s decision, and were informed that there were none. There was also no ex ante consultation with parents. The school advertised an open meeting at which it was stated that the Principal would articulate his (well known) views on National Standards: in fact, this meeting proved to be simply a vehicle for the Principal to explain the Board’s decision. We asked for a copy of the presentation slides used at this meeting and were refused - almost certainly a breach of the Official Information Act.

As a parent and as a taxpayer, I support the Government’s apparent desire to lift the performance of our education system and, as part of that, to provide parents and taxpayers with better information on the performance of our schools. I am relatively indifferent at present on the specifics of National Standards themselves, and regret that the National Party stepped away from, for example, the approach to education reform taken in its 2005 manifesto.

But the critical point now is that government policy, backed not only by a clear electoral mandate but also by legislation, must be, and be seen to be, implemented. The Island Bay Board of Trustees, and their employee the Principal, are simply refusing to do that. State schools are Crown entities. Most parents have little effective choice but to use state schools. We therefore expect that you and your ministry ensure that those charged with the management and governance of those Crown entities, which deliver formal education to our children, do their job. I fully respect the right of individual members of the Board of Trustees, and of staff, to disagree with the policy and its application. But they have an obligation - not just a moral obligation, but nothing less than that – to implement it. If they, as a matter of conscience, decide that they cannot implement it they must, as matter of moral obligation, resign. But if they won’t, you have a responsibility to dismiss them. You act for parents, for children, for taxpayers, and for the rule of law. I therefore urge you to make clear to the Island Bay Board of Trustees that they must either quickly comply or face dismissal. If there are no sanctions, the policy itself risks failing before it has ever been given a serious trial.

November 5, 2010 at 1:32 AM  

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