Policies root of school failures

00:00, Sep 24 2013

New Zealand's education system is failing due to poor policy-making decisions based on skimpy scientific analysis, some of the country's leading education experts say.

A new report released by the Education Policy Response Group slams the Treasury's agenda for education, saying it is fundamentally flawed.

Today, the group is sending copies of its report to the secretaries for the Ministry of Education and the Treasury, the Education Review Office, the New Zealand Teachers Council, the Education and Science Select Committee and political education portfolio holders, hoping to drive public discussion.

The findings follow the Treasury's advice on lifting Kiwi student achievement levels. It released a brief last year based on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's Programme for International Student Assessment.

Treasury says the "significant proportion" of New Zealand students achieving poorly is down to teaching quality, and can be solved through performance pay incentives for teachers and measures of pupil achievement.

But the Education Policy Response Group - made up of education experts Ivan Snook, John O'Neill, Stuart Birks, John Church and Peter Rawlins, from Massey and Canterbury universities - say the findings are faulty and the policy direction is dangerous.


"It's really a simple response to a complex problem. It's not the quality of teaching that's wrong in New Zealand, it's the quality of policy setting, and that's the officials not using their own research evidence or data properly," said Massey University education policy expert Professor John O'Neill.

The group examined evidence from international studies on education systems as well as research on improving teacher performance.

It found performance incentives based on "value-added teaching" were "unjustified and unethical".

"We need to get away from the idea that there's a general tail of under-achievement - there isn't. There is under-achievement in specific areas for specific reasons," Prof O'Neill said.

Massey's Professor Emeritus Ivan Snook said Treasury's suggestions ignored the international evidence of the schemes' flaws. The measures were "highly subjective, invalid and totally unreliable".

Treasury spokeswoman Anna Symmans said Treasury saw teachers as a critical part of the solution to lifting New Zealand's educational achievement.

"In schooling, we know the quality of teaching has the biggest in-school impact on student performance [and] to improve the quality of teaching we need to support professional development for teachers and reward teaching excellence."

Earlier this month, a report by Sir Peter Gluckman, the prime minister's chief science adviser, criticised government policy teams for failing to properly consider research to see how proposed law changes stacked up scientifically.

Prof O'Neill said objective analysis of data was needed and policy setting should be looked at first.

"Then the policy advice will be much stronger, ministers will make better decisions and we'll have a richer array of policy likely to target the problem areas."

Manawatu Standard