School unions embroiled in fight on national standards

BY NATHAN BEAUMONT
Last updated 05:00 12/12/2009

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Two unions representing primary schools are locked in a dispute with trustees about the introduction of national standards.

The School Trustees Association, which supports the standards, is upset about a letter from NZEI and the Principals Federation trying to influence boards.

President Lorraine Kerr has written to the groups, branding the action as irresponsible and unprofessional.

"It is hard to escape the conclusion that the motives behind your letter are in the main political," she wrote.

"We believe your letter is irresponsible and unprofessional in inciting boards to place themselves at risk by acting simply as the principal's mouthpiece.

"We have made every attempt to respond to the matters regarding national standards in a thoughtful and pragmatic way. However, by taking the action you have in your letter, you have made it abundantly clear that you have no genuine interest in pursuing an informed and professional discussion of the issues."

The association, which represents 90 per cent of boards, is backed by a principal with 20 years' experience who says union opposition is based on "ill-informed scaremongering".

Mrs Kerr is also annoyed that the unions had argued in their letter that the standards were a waste of time because schools could already identify pupils that were struggling.

"If we already know which students are at risk of not achieving then why does the tail of underachievers still exist?

"It would be unwise for any board to simply state an opposition to the national standards and by doing so denying a parent's right to know how their kids are doing at school without having canvassed the views of their own parent community."

Principals Federation president Ernie Buutveld responded yesterday by saying: "They will start to find there is no middle ground and it is difficult to be on both sides of the fence."

Education Minister Anne Tolley said most people backed the standards.

"Parents have had enough of the misinformation, and it's time the unions stopped playing politics while one in five children are failing to leave school with the basic skills in reading, writing and maths that they need."

Stephen Blair, principal of Tokoroa North School, accuses the Principals Federation of turning the issue into an ideological debate.

"They have accused the Government of basing policy on ideology yet their opposition is based on ill-informed scaremongering," he said.

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- The Dominion Post

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