Tolley and unions strike league tables deal

BY NATHAN BEAUMONT
Last updated 05:00 14/10/2009
SCHOOL STANDARDS: Under the agreement, the Government has confirmed it will make it as difficult as possible for the media to produce league tables that rank schools.
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SCHOOL STANDARDS: Under the agreement, the Government has confirmed it will make it as difficult as possible for the media to produce league tables that rank schools.

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After months of disputes, Education Minister Anne Tolley has struck a deal with primary school unions that will see them work together on its controversial national standards policy.

Under the agreement, the Government has confirmed it will make it as difficult as possible for the media to produce league tables that rank schools.

It follows a threat from hundreds of primary school principals to boycott the policy unless changes were made to limit public access to performance data.

The peace deal with NZEI, the Principals Federation and the School Trustees Association follows months of disagreements between the groups over the introduction of the policy, which will see pupils from years 1 to 8 assessed in numeracy and literacy against national academic standards from next year.

Mrs Tolley told The Dominion Post the deal was a "a momentous occasion".

"I can't stress enough that it took my breath away that we have all for the first time sat round the table and said, 'Yes, we are going to make this work together.' That is fantastic."

She said she told the groups she was prepared to work with them to stop the use of league tables. "We want to make it as difficult for you [media] as possible. It will be too hard and too much work and not worth it in the end. There are a few ideas we will discuss as to how we can do that."

School Trustees Association president Lorraine Kerr was not surprised it had taken the groups so long to come to an agreement because they all had different members with different concerns.

"But now we are all on board we can work towards the same goal – lifting student achievement."

NZEI president Frances Nelson said the Education Ministry and Mrs Tolley had shown a commitment to ensuring the standards were not used to undermine schools. She was happy for performance data to be given to parents.

The agreement came hours before Mrs Tolley was due to issue a letter to primary school principals that revealed details about the standards. It was pulled after the meeting with unions. Instead, the plan will be released next week and will include a joint announcement confirming the new partnership.

The letter obtained by The Dominion Post reveals plans to make school principals more accountable by reporting to the Government about how they intend to lift pupils' achievement levels.

They will also have to report on the percentage of pupils above, below or well below the standard, broken down into groups including Maori, Pasifika and gender.

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Schools that are not meeting the standards will then qualify for a slice of $36 million in extra funds.

"The Ministry of Education holds a great deal of information about your schools, your teachers, your property. What we don't know though is how students are actually achieving," Mrs Tolley said in the letter. "We need this information to make good decisions about how to target our resources to lift student achievement."

The Education Ministry would intervene if a school's results and subsequent action plan were not up to scratch.

"We want to know what they are going to do to lift achievement and how we can help. They need to be thinking more carefully about what are the actions they need to take."

The standards will be issued by Mrs Tolley and Prime Minister John Key on October 23.

- The Dominion Post

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