Otago schools lead the way

Otago University College of Education student Sacha Hatton (21) takes a reading lesson at George...
Otago University College of Education student Sacha Hatton (21) takes a reading lesson at George Street Normal School as part of her final course placement. Photo by Gerard O'Brien
Otago primary schools have outclassed the rest of the country's schools by recording the highest levels of achievement in reading, writing and mathematics, Ministry of Education data shows.

Public achievement information released yesterday showed 124 primary schools in Otago posted the highest percentage of pupils who were at or above National Standards in reading, writing and mathematics.

In reading, 83.6% of pupils were at or above National Standards, 78.9% were at or above the standards in mathematics, and 76.4% were at or above the standards in writing.

Otago Primary Principals' Association chairwoman Stephanie Madden said most principals had reservations about National Standards, but they were delighted with the data.

''These results are confirmation that the quality of teaching and learning in Otago primary schools is of a very high standard.

''We're very proud of the hard work that teachers, principals and boards of trustees put in to ensure our children receive the best possible education.''

She was not surprised by the data because the region had a strong history of great education, she said.

More than 400,000 primary pupils had their progress assessed in the subjects last year, and about 75% were at or above National Standards.

Fifteen of the 16 regional council areas had increases from 2011 to 2013 in achievement against the standards, including gains for Maori pupils in 14 of those 16 areas.

Education Minister Hekia Parata said the data showed children throughout the country were doing better across the education system, compared with results from 2011.

She said it was evidence the Government's moves were making ''a real difference in educational achievement''.

''From early childhood education through to NCEA achievement, we're seeing meaningful progress.

''It all adds up to kids who will be coming out of our education system with better qualifications and much brighter prospects.''

Ms Parata said continued focus on achievement and use of good information was paying off because it helped identify pupils who were not doing as well as expected.

''But we need to extend the better use of data and these innovative approaches to all our schools to ensure more students enjoy the success they deserve.''

However, University of Otago College of Education senior lecturer and master's co-ordinator Dr Darrell Latham said while he believed Otago schools and teachers were exceptional and among the best in New Zealand, the data should be taken with a grain of salt.

Information which suggested Otago schools were ahead of the rest, and that the Far North schools lagged in National Standards, was ''a flawed comparison'', he said.

''It does not compare apples with apples. Some schools are more likely to experience the damaging effects of the National Standards policy than others.

''They include low socioeconomic schools or schools with lots of English language learners or special needs children.

''English language learners are more predominant in the northern regions compared to the Otago region, for example.''

Dr Latham said recent New Zealand research into National Standards showed despite bringing some gains, the National Standards approach needed to be significantly overhauled in a way that reduced the potential for damage.

He said Ms Parata's statement that the data was evidence of the Government's policy making ''a real difference in educational achievement'' was also flawed.

''This is unrealistic and irresponsible. It is flawed because of the national and regional variations that need to be taken into account,'' he said.

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