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Gareth Morgan’s political party takes aim at school testing, early childhood and teacher quality

Wed, 22nd Feb 2017
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Gareth Morgan's The Opportunities Party is set to tackle New Zealand's current school testing system, pledging to reduce assessment and delay National Standards and NCEA.

In it's recently released education policy, TOP says that while New Zealand has previously performed well in international education surveys, its performance is slipping.

“This is particularly a problem at the bottom end; some kids from poor families are falling behind and not catching up. We are currently following other countries down the line of greater assessment, and competition based on those results, when there is no evidence that will work,” the party says.

TOP says it will invest reduce assessment in order to give more time for teaching and learning. It says it will delay National Standards until Year 6 and delay NCEA until students' final year of school, giving the, the choice of sitting NCEA Level 1, 2 or 3.

In its policy document, the political party says there are two models for a high performing education system.

“One is a low trust model, where teachers are paid relatively little and are not highly skilled. They are handed a detailed curriculum to teach, and rote learning is encouraged,” the party explains. “ To make sure teachers and students are doing what they should do, assessment is used heavily to ensure progress.

The other approach, TOP says, trusts teachers as professionals.

“They are highly trained, and given considerable freedom in how and what to teach,” it says.

“Deep understanding is encouraged, along with soft skills like communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking.

TOP says the New Zealand education system has aspects of both approaches, and seems to be ‘caught on the horns of a dilemma'.

TOP says both approaches have pretty similar outcomes. However, looking forward, it says, “In this world of rapid change, no more jobs for life, casualisation of work, demands to retrain and/or acquire new skills 0 it the 4Cs that are increasingly prized by employers.

The PPTA looks to be on board with The Opportunities Party's plans, saying no NCEA exams until a student's final year of school is an interesting policy to put on the education agenda.

“We're over-assessing our young people and have been for a long time,” says PPTA president Jack Boyle.

“Students deserve a quality education and that's becoming harder and harder to achieve because teachers are spending too much time doing needless marking and assessing,” he explains.

“PPTA is pleased to see The Opportunities Party taking this sensible and thoughtful approach to their education policy. We hope it will be discussed widely,” adds Boyle.

As well as testing, TOP says teacher quality within the education system is paramount.

“The best education systems around the world treat teachers as valued professionals,” the party states.

“Politicians need to stop their micromanaging and tinkering.

“Better to take the global evidence and just sign off on a best-of-breed public education system, letting the professionals (education academics and of course teachers) do the business.

According to its policy document, TOP plans to ‘restore the status of teachers' by setting the quality standards at entry point. Teachers should require a post-graduate degree at least, and primary school teachers should require at least NCEA Level 2 in Maths and Science.

“The existing stock of teachers also needs to be raised to this standard through Continuous Professional Development.

TOP says as the status of teachers rises over time, their salaries will need to rise as well.

Additionally, the party plans to invest in education at an earlier stage, in early childhood education. The party is pledging to deliver free full time early childhood education with a particular focus on improving quality in poorer areas.

“Over time we would like to see high quality, free, universal fulltime ECE for children aged three years and over,” TOP says.

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