National Standards based on 'shonky figures'

DAVID SHEARER
Last updated 05:00 24/09/2012
David Shearer
DIFFERENT VIEW: Labour Leader David Shearer thinks his old school would be considered a failure should national standards come in.

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OPINION: I recently paid a visit to my old school, Papatoetoe Central Primary, in South Auckland.

It's changed a bit since I was there. It's bigger, has new classrooms and a new sports field. But it still offers the same high quality education.

What is different is that about 30% of the new entrants come from migrant families and arrive with very limited English, if any at all.

Yet by the time those kids leave they're achieving about where they should be for their age. So they've made eight years progress in the space of six - an outstanding achievement.

Compare that to other better-off schools whose kids arrive already possessing rudimentary reading skills and speaking fluent English. They leave exactly where they should be, progressing six years in six years.

Which is the better school?

In terms of the one that's making the biggest impact on children's learning, my old school should come out on top.

But according to National Standards, it is failing because for most of their time there, the kids are behind. 

The Government wants to use National Standards to rank all schools by using league tables.

The problem is that ranking will be based on shonky figures because data is collected differently from school to school and the results are not moderated.

Currently, teachers run a series of different tests on children measuring their progress. They then apply their own judgement on a child's performance - adjusting them up or down - before putting their results into a National Standards format.

The results going in, therefore, can be quite different and comparisons cannot be fairly made.

We should be proud of our education system. It's among the world's top ten. Within that top ten though, only South Korea uses league tables. In fact, they're only used in countries that are performing well below us.

And evidence shows in those countries, underperforming schools have manipulated their results to gain high league table positions. How can we ask our parents to have faith in a similar system?

In the end, just measuring isn't going to lift student achievement. Neither is National's plan to increase class sizes and put unqualified teachers in schools.

In contrast, Labour is committed to delivering a world-class education at every school.

That requires teachers of the highest quality. It means extending reading recovery to all children so they don't fall behind. It also means giving kids food at school if they need it so they're not left hungry, unable to concentrate and distracting others.

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Schools must also be accountable to parents for their child's progress.

We would require the Education Review Office to look into the health of schools and to provide parents with simple, easy-to-understand report cards on their school - identifying strengths, weaknesses and any remedial action needed.

These will be more useful than league tables based on ropey information.

Parents must be able to trust our education system, know that it's world-class and that it will help their children reach their full potential.

 - David Shearer is the leader of the Labour Party

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