Never a dull moment in education

August 2013


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It has been a busy few months in education. Here are some of the latest developments to some of the stories we’ve been following at Education Review.


National Standards

The recently released national standards data for 2012 shows “small but incremental” improvements across the board, with reading achievement up 1.2 per cent to 77.4 per cent of students reaching the standard. Maths achievement is up 1.4 per cent to 73.6 per cent, and writing is up two per cent to 70 per cent.

Minister of Education Hekia Parata says it shows that more children are achieving national standard but performance is declining as students get older.

Professor Martin Thrupp from the University of Waikato’s Faculty of Education leads the NZEI-funded Research, Analysis and Insight into National Standards (RAINS) project and says that while the Government has released the next round of National Standards statistics in a more standardised format ─ making comparisons seem easier ─ the data provided by schools is so variable that meaningful comparisons are impossible.

Thrupp says there are many version of how teachers assess children against the National Standards – which were introduced to primary and intermediate schools in 2009 – and in how schools interpret and report the data to the Ministry of Education.

He says within schools the data may provide an indication of progress, but that was not the case between schools. There was also little to stop schools ‘gaming’ the system.


Novopay – the fallout

Two Ministry officials, including Deputy Secretary Anne Jackson, have resigned from the Ministry of Education in the wake of the Ministerial Inquiry into Novopay.

The inquiry found that Ministers were “not served well by the information they were given on the project”. However, despite the resignation of the two Ministry staff members, there are still some calls for the resignation of the Ministers who signed off on Novopay.

The school payroll system, provided by Talent2, has been fraught with problems since its introduction last year, with many incidents emerging of staff being underpaid, overpaid, or not paid at all.

The inquiry revealed problems in the lead up to and implementation of Novopay. One of the key findings was that “weaknesses in project governance and project leadership allowed Novopay to go live with a number of significant risks which the Ministry of Education and its vendors, including Talent2, were over-confident of managing”.

The inquiry also found that “there was a failure to involve the users of the Novopay system in the schools and appreciate their requirements”.

Newly appointed Secretary for Education Peter Hughes said now that the employment matters related to Novopay were solved, the focus would remain on getting the pay system working for school staff.

“The fortnightly pay runs have stabilised, the defects in the system are being resolved, the backlog clearance unit is making headway, and business processes and communications have improved,” he said.

The cost of fixing Novopay is estimated to be at least $11 million. Schools received $6 million compensation in March for the extra workload associated with trying to sort out problems related to Novopay.


Christchurch schools

At the end of May, Minister of Education Hekia Parata announced final decisions for 16 greater Christchurch schools affected by the Government’s Education Renewal Plans and two new proposals for three other schools.

Since Parata’s interim decisions for 31 greater Christchurch schools were announced in February, 12 of those schools have accepted their interim decisions, with 10 to remain open and two schools to merge into one.

Some of the interim decisions have been upturned. South New Brighton, which had been flagged to merge, will now remain open on its current site. Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Waitaha and Te Kura Kaupapa Māori will also now both stay open on their current sites.

However, many of the interim decisions have been confirmed, with seven schools set to close and six schools to merge to create three schools. The mergers and closures will take effect from January 2014, with the exception of the Lyttelton West and Lyttelton Main, which will merge later in the year.

The closure toll has attracted some criticism because of the number of intermediate schools on the list, with Branston, Linwood, and Manning intermediates all set to close. Hornby High, Linwood College, and Hillmorton High will respectively provide provision for Year 7-8 students from these schools. Parata says the decisions should not be construed as an attack on intermediate schools.

It was also announced that three schools in New Brighton are now subject to two new proposals; either to merge Central New Brighton, Freeville School and North New Brighton School on the North New Brighton site, or to close Central New Brighton and finalise the interim decision to merge Freeville and North New Brighton on the North New Brighton site. Consultation on this issue closed 10th July.

A final decision on five Aranui schools is also expected shortly. Chisnallwood Intermediate fought hard to fight to remain a standalone school after it was initially pegged as part of the Aranui ‘super school’ which is now set to encompass Aranuni, Avondale, Wainoni, and Aranui High schools in a new Year 1-13 campus.

Two schools, Hammersley Park and Le Bons Bay, have already closed voluntarily.


Charter schools plough ahead

Despite fierce opposition from Labour, the Greens, and NZ First, the Education Amendment Bill was passed in parliament, giving partnership schools the green light. The bill passed its third reading by 62 votes to 57.

Despite Labour’s efforts at lobbying the Māori Party, co-leader Pita Sharples said charter schools could potentially help Māori students. The Māori Party’s support was crucial to getting the bill through, as United Future leader Peter Dunne doesn’t support charter schools.

The schools will be state funded but run by community, church, or business organisations. The controversy surrounding charter schools has arisen because the schools do not have to hire registered teachers, and will be able to set their own curriculum and term times.

The rationale behind the schools is that they will assist with the problem of underachievement, by allowing more tailored teaching to better help students who are failing in the state system.

“There isn’t a monopoly on how education is delivered and these schools offer another option,” Education Minister Hekia Parata said during the third reading debate.

Parata says the schools will be focused on results and monitored closely.

However, many opponents to the initiative have labelled charter schools as an “experiment”.

“This is an ideological experiment designed to privatise part of our education system,” said Labour’s education spokesman, Chris Hipkins.

The PPTA, also strong opponents to the scheme, said that many of the organisations who have shown interest in establishing charter schools are already operating within the existing system, and are just after more money from the state sector.

However, despite such objections, now that the bill has been passed, plans will now go ahead to establish the first charter schools in Auckland and Christchurch, both due to open next year.


Change is nigh for Teachers Council

Following last year’s review of New Zealand Teachers Council, a document has been released outlining a number of proposals for changing the governance, structure and scope of New Zealand’s professional body for teachers.

The proposals are based on the review committee’s findings, which concluded that the Council “as it is currently structured, governed and positioned, can’t effectively set and enforce standards for entry, progression and professional accountability with the full support of the profession. It lacks a distinctive brand or effective public voice.”

The committee made 24 recommendations, categorised into four key areas: a new professional body, the regulatory framework for teachers, the disciplinary framework, and resourcing to support a strong, professional body.

A Ministerial Advisory Group, headed by Dr Graham Stoop, seconded from his role as chief executive of the Education Review Office, has been appointed to lead consultation on these proposals. The deadline for submissions is 14 July.

For a full discussion on this issue, please see our article: The future of Teachers Council in this issue.


Karakia conundrum

A Kelston Intermediate teacher questioned whether it was appropriate for a secular state school to start classes and assemblies with a karakia, a Māori prayer. The teacher asked for the NZEI’s intervention on the issue.

The teacher union has responded that such issues need to be sorted out at the school level.

NZEI’s Laures Parkes told Waatea News that while the policy is that the state school system is secular, schools have leeway to adopt cultural practices they feel appropriate.

“The choice that happens with whether to say karakia or say prayers or a greeting for the day or to bless the day or whatever you want to call it, that’s really a discussion that happens in the school and they make that decision themselves as to what they are going to do,” she said.

Māori Party co-leader Dr Pita Sharples said in a statement that he believed it was fitting for a school like Kelston Intermediate to have karakia.

“There are a lot of Māori and Pasifika whānau whose children attend Kelston Intermediate. The school’s culture should reflect the community, and the whānau who send their children to the school.”

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