Editorial: A lesson primary teachers could learn

It must have dawned on primary teachers by now that the Government remains determined to make their schools more publicly accountable.

Last week, Education Minister Hekia Parata showed she is as committed to national standards and greater transparency as was her predecessor.

The Government's aims are simple. They include allowing parents to have reports on children's progress written in English, not jargon; preparing all pupils to succeed at NCEA2, the academic level that will help them foot it in a competitive marketplace; and making school results available to the public.

Ever since a National-led Government won office in late 2008, however, the primary teachers' union, the NZEI, and the Principals Federation, have campaigned  despite being state servants, and thus obliged to follow government policy  to have the standards ditched. They argue, in essence, that the standards regime will label some pupils failures, that it is not backed by research, and that, anyway, kiddies from poorer homes cannot be expected to do as well as the more advantaged. They have doggedly refused to take part in refining the standards in a way that they believe would measure something meaningful, in spite of a standing invitation to do so.

Their greatest fear, however, might soon be realised. All primary schools must, by May 31, report their standards' results to the Education Ministry. The union opposes these being made publicly available and is threatening to withhold them unless the Government promises not to allow so-called league tables to be created. That won't happen. Ms Parata says she might ask the ministry to itself create and post league tables on the internet, so that those who fund state schools, and the state servants who work within, can see which best prepare pupils for the future.

Former Australian education minister Julia Gillard  now Labor prime minister  did precisely that across the ditch despite union opposition; she classes it as one of her most significant achievements.

On this side of the Tasman, a scrap seems inevitable.

The Government's education policy for its second term does not stop at national standards. Apart from charter schools, it includes developing more effective teacher and principal appraisal, and making secondary-school performance data available to parents.

After all, parents are entitled to know how their kids are doing so they can work with teachers to correct any weaknesses. The ministry must know what schools are doing poorly so that extra resources can be channelled their way. And good principals surely want to know which teachers instil a love of learning in their pupils so their pedagogy can be emulated by the less stellar? It is not enough to shrug that pupils from poorer homes are less likely to succeed; research shows the difference that high expectations and an inspirational teacher can make.

The tragedy of this row is that some children will suffer from their teachers' philosophical opposition to accountability. It is a concept that true professions accept as standard.