Parents should have as much information as possible about the schools they send their children to. That is why The Dominion Post, together with Stuff and other Fairfax Media outlets, today publishes national standards data from more than 1000 primary and intermediate schools.
Gathering the information was not easy. Some schools refused point blank to provide the data we requested, despite a warning from Chief Ombudsman Beverley Wakem that they had a duty to comply under the Official Information Act. Others supplied it in a format that was impossible to decipher.
Ian Leckie, head of the teachers' union, the NZ Educational Institute, says the decision to publish is aimed at selling newspapers, and that it does not meet the journalistic requirements of fairness and accuracy. He is wrong.
The NZEI would rather national standards data from individual schools be kept from the parents who fund them and entrust them with educating their children. We take a different view.
We have also made it clear that the information comes with several caveats. National standards are not on their own a measure of whether a school is good or bad or better or worse than one down the road.
Although literacy and numeracy are the building blocks that will allow children to achieve their full potential, there is much more to a good education. Science, social studies, music, culture and sport are all part of a well-rounded schooling. We urge parents who are comparing their school with others to consider the extensive extra information we have provided online, especially the latest Education Review Office reports for each school.
There can be many reasons why one school has a greater proportion of pupils at or above standard than another. A school that has a significant proportion of migrants who do not have English as a first language, for example, will obviously have a greater challenge in meeting the benchmarks. One that draws significant numbers of pupils from homes in which education is highly valued and whose children start school with their literacy and numeracy already well developed will have an advantage.
Our survey shows many examples of schools that face challenges yet are achieving good results, in many cases much better than might be expected given their circumstances. It is hoped other schools can learn from them.
Parents should also bear in mind that national standards are still very much a work in progress. The system needs to be refined and developed, with more robust benchmarks and central moderating to ensure they are being applied and assessed consistently.
That work will require the co-operation of teachers and their unions, principals, school boards of trustees and those education experts who continue to resist their implementation.
The reality is that national standards are here to stay. The Government has won overwhelming endorsement for them in two elections and has every right to proceed with its promises. Most importantly, parents want to be able to track their children's progress in areas that will be vital to their prospects. They have a right to know how their schools are faring, too.
- The Dominion Post