League tables inevitable, teachers fear

BY JOHN HARTEVELT
Last updated 05:00 29/01/2010

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League tables that rate schools' performances are inevitable once national standards are introduced, a teachers' union says.

Three union groups raised fresh fears yesterday that the new national standards will lead to league tables. Education Minister Anne Tolley said she was waiting for answers from a working party set up to look at the matter.

Mrs Tolley is embroiled in a confrontation with unions over the controversial policy, which comes into effect on Tuesday.

The Government and Education Ministry are spending $26 million on implementing national standards, but Mrs Tolley rejected suggestions yesterday that the money was part of a "charm offensive" ahead of their introduction.

She said the $26m cost attributed to the campaign would be spent on teacher training and support. Of that, $12.7m was for "in-depth training and support" in numeracy and literacy, and "information workshops" would cost $4.35m.

No figures were available on how much other initiatives, including 10,000 brochures explaining the system, would cost.

The standards could allow schools to be ranked on their performance, depending on how the information is held and made public.

The Government has rejected the publication of its own league tables ranking schools and the working party set up last year is looking at how the information might be used.

However, two groups represented on the working party said yesterday it was destined to fail.

"There is nothing that gives us confidence that they will do anything at all to protect the data," New Zealand Educational Institute president Frances Nelson said.

Under the new policy, primary and intermediate schools will have to report on the numbers and proportions of their pupils at, above, below, or well below national standards in literacy and numeracy. From May 2012, they will have to provide a breakdown of performances by Maori and Pacific pupils and male and female pupils.

In a paper issued yesterday, the Post Primary Teachers Association said the central control of assessment data made league tables inevitable.

"These are highly destructive and lead to game-playing and masking of problems to avoid being negatively labelled as a school," the paper said.

Principals Federation president Ernie Buutveld said the working party was "hamstrung".

It's a bit like trying to argue with gravity. You might be able to have a cunning plan to work around it, but ultimately gravity is still going to determine how things are going to fall."

Mrs Tolley said the working group would "look at everything" relating to league tables.

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"I've got that working group set up to explore all of the options ... Their solutions, my solutions. Their ideas, my ideas, the ministry's ideas."

She was considering meeting New South Wales Education Minister Verity Firth to discuss a system that had operated there.

The NSW state government has previously issued achievement data but banned newspapers from publishing league tables.

The NSW law has been superseded, however, by federal laws which led yesterday to the online publication of the academic results of almost 10,000 Australian schools.

Asked if the Australian approach was an option in New Zealand, Mrs Tolley said: "I've said all along, that I, as a minister [and] as a ministry weren't going to publish information. That was never the intention."

- The Press

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