Principals in threat to boycott standards

Last updated 05:00 04/07/2009

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Hundreds of primary school principals are threatening to boycott the Government's flagship national standards policy unless changes are made to limit public access to performance data.

A teachers' union claims the Government has backtracked on its timetable to introduce the numeracy and literacy standards, delaying their implementation 12 months until 2011.

Education Minister Anne Tolley denied the claims yesterday and said she was disappointed by the principals' ultimatum, which comes at the end of six weeks' consultation between the Government, education groups and parents.

Under the controversial policy, pupils from years 1 to 8 will be assessed in numeracy and literacy against national academic standards, with school performance data publicly available under the Official Information Act.

In a survey of 1000 primary school principals conducted by the Principals Federation and made public yesterday, 77 per cent indicated they would withhold crucial data if releasing it meant the media could produce league tables ranking schools.

Half said they had received backing from their boards of trustees.

Federation president Ernie Buutveld warned league tables would create a "blame and shame" culture, which could lead to schools being shunned and children feeling inadequate.

Principals wanted the performance data exempt from the OIA. The issue was a bottom line, he said. "This can only impact negatively on our children."

However, Mrs Tolley said it was important for parents to have access to information about their children's progress and the Government was not backing down.

National standards would not make it any easier for the public to access school performance data.

She refused to say whether she supported changing the OIA to exempt the data.

"The Government will not resile from national standards. Parents want them, they have a right to them and this government is going to deliver them."

Ombudsman David McGee said his office did not advocate a law change.

"If we do have national standards then there will be no escaping the fact that these will generate data, and that data will be subject to the Official Information Act the same way as any other data in the public domain."

He cited recently released sentinel event data from hospital mishaps as an example.

Results of individual pupils would not be available under the OIA.

Labour's education spokesman, Trevor Mallard, said the standoff between the Government and schools was unhealthy. He supported moves to exempt the sensitive data from the OIA.

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School Trustees Association president Lorraine Kerr said the principals' threat was concerning. But boards were ultimately responsible to the Government for delivering results and would have the power to ensure principals complied with legislation.

Mrs Tolley said there was still time to work through any disagreement. She was confident the Government would not face the prospect of sacking boards that backed their principals.

The New Zealand Educational Institute said yesterday that an Education Ministry letter showed the Government was delaying the standards until 2011.

Mrs Tolley denied the claim, saying national standards would be introduced as scheduled next year, though reporting would not begin until 2011.

MAKING THE GRADE

* National standards are a way of assessing every primary and intermediate school pupil against the same academic measures.

* The standards will assess pupils' skills in reading, writing and maths though existing assessment methods.

* Information about the performance of each school will be reported to the Education Ministry.

* Schools say public results will lead to league tables that could see some of them shunned over a narrow measure that ignores social and economic factors.

* There are fears this will see parents pull their children from some schools and make pupils feel inadequate.

* The Government says standards will lift educational achievement and parents have the right to know how their children are progressing academically.

By SIMON WOOD, The Dominion Post

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