Wider social challenges affect education



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Angela Roberts believes the Investing in Educational Success (IES) policy has a good chance of success – as long as it takes into account the wider social challenges.

Angela Roberts, President of Post Primary Teachers’ Association (PPTA)

Angela RobertsThere’s an apocryphal story about a rather conservative education leader, a regular in the media, who when asked recently at a Select Committee about what would really make a difference for our ‘long tail of underachievement’ replied, “The living wage”.

The point here is that education is completely tied up with broader social and economic policy. As Jonathan Boston demonstrated in an important paper in 2013, simply focusing on raising the quality of the education system without also tackling child poverty won’t be enough to address our achievement gap. As long as we have kids coming to school from overcrowded, unhealthy homes where parents are stressed from insecure, poorly paid jobs, and some schools where this is the norm rather than the exception, we’ll be struggling with this challenge.

While we have a government that resolutely refuses to set child-poverty reduction targets, or implement the advice on this area that numerous independent experts have given, it’s highly likely that the sharp inequities of our system will persist.

With that very major caveat then, recognising that ‘in school’ factors are only ever going to be part of the picture when it comes to how well students do, there is one policy initiative that I think could make a positive and lasting difference. Investing in Educational Success (IES), the $359 million election year promise to settle the feisty education sector, was that rare combination of good politics and good policy.

The slow implementation process has been held up by some as a sign of failure, with no appointments into the new roles nearly two years after the policy was announced, but I see it differently. Schools were always going to need time to work out what they have in common, to get to know and trust each other after being told to compete for the last 25 years. I know that there are boards of trustees and teachers in schools just a few hundred metres apart that have never had a professional conversation with each other.

While IES could still fail, especially if the Ministry enforces a narrow approach to what communities of learning can set as their targets, I’m optimistic that this won’t happen. That’s because this seems to be a new approach to education policy, based on evidence, developed in partnership with the sector, implemented gradually with a built-in evaluation process, and properly resourced for the long term. Now if this became the norm, and was applied to the wider social challenges we face, then we’d see a real difference.

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