Editorial: They're both right

Last updated 12:24 01/11/2012

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Teacher unions and education lobby groups are too readily riled.

They would do well to cool down and re-examine the remarks from Education Ministry secretary Lesley Longstone that have enraged them.

According to reports this week, the heads of groups representing principals and teachers were outraged by Ms Longstone saying our education system is not world class.

The remarks that triggered the heated reactions are contained in Ms Longstone's foreword to her ministry's annual report.

A quick check shows she has acknowledged that two OECD reports this year confirm our education system has real strengths internationally. Our top learners are counted among the best, and our learners perform well, on average, she says.

She gives credit to teachers. But she is concerned that the system is still under-performing for Maori and Pasifika learners, and learners from communities "with significant social and economic challenges". On that count, she is claiming, we are not entitled to call ourselves world class.

She has been quoted since as saying New Zealand is seen internationally as high performing, but characterised by inequity. For our schools to be truly high performing, they must deliver quality for all children.

The teachers who have bridled at her remarks presumably regard them as an affront to their professionalism. They probably have a right to feel offended for being told things they already know, and are working to correct, but they are being too precious.

They are both right.

Ms Longstone should not be in the gun for trying to prevent us from being comfortable with outcomes that are not working for so many young people. But let's bear in mind the problems the education system is inheriting. Teachers are part social workers but that doesn't mean they can solve all the problems we would like.

Administratively, all is not well at the ministry and teachers have genuine grievances - the continuing failure of the new Novopay system for teachers is a glaring example, along with the mismanagement of school reorganisation in Christchurch.

Mr Longstone's foreword sets out a clear goal. It is "to be a world-leading education system that equips all New Zealanders with the knowledge, skills and values to be successful citizens in the 21st century".

Hands up, anyone who would rather set another goal?

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- The Marlborough Express

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