ED's Letter

May 2014


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Consultation and evidence are key

With the recent release of NCEA results came the Herald’s feel-good story on Selwyn College and its amazing turnaround. Seven years ago, the school had a Level 1 pass rate of 39 per cent; last year, this figure soared to 93 per cent.

Selwyn’s “significant transformation”, as ERO described it, was the result of a myriad of things: better use of student achievement data, better learning environments, improved teaching practices, and according to John Hattie, an “inspired, passionate leadership with a laser focus on students”.

But can lessons be learned from one school’s success story and applied to another?

The Ministry of Education certainly thinks so. Education Minister Hekia Parata says she has written to the schools that have had a 10 per cent shift or more in the last two years in NCEA Levels one, two and three and these schools will be profiled by officials to identify what exactly went right.

Of course, the Government’s Investing in Educational Success (IES) policy, with its “expert” and “lead” teachers and “executive” and “change” principals, hinges on the premise that shared experience lifts performance.

The New Zealand schooling sector is generally not renowned for great collaboration, and while the Minister expects IES to help change this, it is unlikely the policy will get the ‘buy in’ that is hoped for, unless sector groups are included in the policy development process.

Following the New Zealand Principals’ Federation’s recent meeting on the IES policy, president Phil Harding summed up the feeling among principals nicely: “True collaboration is a complex notion that cannot be readily imposed from above. This policy will require the full and motivated support of all the participants to succeed.”

Among the list of provisions under which principals believed the policy could have a chance of success was that the policy development process must be evidence based; that it should not be solely reliant upon National Standards and NCEA results as the only indicators of teacher and school performance; that it should be consultative and flexible.

It seems any policy, particularly one aimed at the education sector, should be consultative and grounded in evidence if the sector is to jump on board, and thereby ensure its success.

It seems a simple notion, yet time and time again policy announcements are met with surprise which quickly turns to mistrust. “Why have we not been consulted?” the sector screams. “Where is the evidence showing this works?” the sector shouts.

At the eleventh hour, as election time looms, the Ministry appears to be getting better at furnishing policy announcements with answers to these questions; the PLD review is one recent example.

When it comes to education, it will always be difficult to appease the masses, but looking at what works, and asking the opinions of those at the coalface, are bound to hit closer to the mark.

Jude Barback, editor


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