Letting teachers teach

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
School is back, much to the delight of many parents, but it may well be teachers, particularly those in the primary sector, who have the most to smile about.

This year promises to be  interesting in the education sector with changes in the way our children are taught already under way. The new Labour-led Government was quick to focus on education when it took power late last year, almost immediately scrapping the controversial national standards, introduced in 2010  by National.

The assessment was used in primary and intermediate schools as a way to measure a  pupil’s achievement against nationally set criteria.

Instead, pupils can now learn at their own pace. Schools will continue to report to parents twice a year about the progress their children  have made in all areas of the curriculum, not just in reading, writing and maths. New Zealand Principals’ Federation (NZPF) president Whetu Cormick this week said it was great schools were free of the national standards millstone which has created plenty of anxiety for teachers.

Mr Cormick, principal at Bathgate Park School in Dunedin,  described the change as liberating and claimed schools could now focus on the wider curriculum, without having to obsess about national standards. They could choose student assessment tools that best fit individual school contexts.

National standards has had plenty of critics.

Teachers claimed the standards  were designed to simply label pupils  into categories such as "well below, below, at or above" the curriculum. National standards  has been called an assessment of learning but not an assessment for learning, with too much focus on reading, writing and maths at the expense of  arts, health, physical education, technology and the social sciences.

But it is not just primary education in line for a shake-up. The Government  is also reviewing the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA)  secondary school qualification, which replaced school certificate, sixth form certificate and bursary in 2002.

The qualification is awarded at three levels in the last three years of secondary education through a combination of internal and external assessments. Higher achievement is recognised with NCEA merit or excellence.

Its critics claim NCEA is too laid back and allows students to do the least amount of work necessary to achieve the credits they needed.  Others say it is the teachers who must achieve under NCEA, otherwise alarm bells  ring among school administrators. Results are widely publicised and bad NCEA results are quickly linked to poor teaching and can, in the cut-throat nature of secondary education, impact on a school’s ability to retain or attract pupils.

There are plenty who still support NCEA. A 2015 survey of teachers and principals showed there was strong support for it within schools.  NCEA has also enabled more students to leave school with some form of qualification.

The Ministry of Education will run the review, starting with a range of stakeholders and opening for public consultation in April. Education Minister Chris Hipkins said the review also needs to look at the overassessment of students and teacher workload, "to counter teacher burnout and put more emphasis on actual teaching".

The changes will be watched with interest but anything which enables teachers to have more time to focus on pupils and  their learning, rather than completing ministry paperwork, can only be positive.

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