Govt to fast-track school league tables

BY JOHN HARTEVELT
Last updated 05:00 07/04/2009

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Primary and intermediate schools are set to be ranked in league tables next year - against expert advice to the Government.

Education Minister Anne Tolley said in Christchurch last night that she favoured full information about schools' performances being made available to parents.

The national standards for primary and intermediate schools part of the Government's election platform will apply from next year.

They will allow parents to assess their child's progress against national academic standards.

Tolley said individual pupil achievement details probably would not go to the Ministry of Education, but each school's performance would.

The Government could not stop the media from accessing the information and producing league tables, she said.

"We have a society that values freedom of information. Personally, I think the more information that's out there the better," Tolley said.

"If you're going to put extra funding into a school, you want to know that it's being used well and that the school is making progress with the number of students that are below the standard."

People could already produce league tables by collating schools' reports to their communities, she said.

"Our schools are self-managing, which means communities are responsible for the operation of their schools, and therefore you say they should have all of the information possible," Tolley said.

"The best disinfectant is fresh air ..."

The standards will not require each pupil to take the same test but will see existing assessments translated into a result that can be measured nationally. Data on each school's overall pupil performance would go to the ministry.

A consultation group met last week to discuss how the standards will be formulated.

Draft standards will be aired in nationwide consultation, including public meetings, with schools, parents and the community between May 25 and July 3.

Frances Nelson, the president of primary teachers' union, the New Zealand Educational Institute, said there was strong resistance to league tables.

"When you get a league table it makes schools focus just on the things that are going to appear in the league table, and that's what narrows the curriculum," she said. "They are really disadvantageous to kids and we will continue to lobby against them."

The institute wanted legislation to stop the information made public.

"We would be really keen to see that happen because we think that that is an area of risk that we do not wish to see become part of our future," she said.

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"It's not about not being accountable; it's about not having something that will drive things in a way that is not educationally sound, and the league tables will actually do that because people will need to respond to them."

Nelson said the standards could not be properly formulated and implemented by next year, but Tolley rejected that, saying the wider community was "very keen" on the policy.

A policy advice paper to the ministry last month said the merit of league tables should be "judged by the impact they have on those that stand to be least advantaged by them".

The policy advice, called Directions for Assessment in New Zealand, recommended "significant" changes to assessment and warned of serious consequences if the wrong direction was chosen.

"If we get the conditions wrong, if we collect the wrong information in the wrong way for the wrong purposes, we will add to the number of students who disengage from learning and leave school with little to show for it," the advice said.

- The Press

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