Primary schools 'short of maths, science experts'

A lack of maths and science specialists in primary schools means Kiwi children are falling behind international standards, teachers say.

And by the time students reach secondary school, they are already "playing catch-up".

New Zealand's education ranking has fallen from seventh to 18th in science, from 13th to 23rd in maths, and from seventh to 13th in reading, according to a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Just over 4000 Kiwi 15-year-olds took part in the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa), which is done every three years.

Havelock North High School maths teacher Jill Gray, who has been in the profession for 30 years, said she was concerned about the lack of primary school teachers with a maths or science background.

"Primary school teaching is expected to be more general, but that means they need even more support and resources when it comes to teaching maths and science."

Students were increasingly reaching high school at a standard lower than should be expected.

"Within the first year of high school, most are back up to speed, but the further they're behind the harder it is to get them through NCEA level 1."

Professional development in certain subject areas and more money were the only answer.

Cannons Creek Primary School principal Ruth O'Neill said teachers lacked support when teaching science. She agreed that professional development was desperately needed.

"We're all responsible for these children, it's the same for the whole system, and kindergartens and early childhood should be a part of that as well."

Education Minister Hekia Parata said the falling education standards were "serious but not surprising". Several factors had contributed to the slip, including "a significant increase in the number of teachers but under-investment in raising teaching practice".

She told Fairfax Media yesterday that she had announced a review of the Ministry of Education's professional learning and development expenditure, to see where the $70 million a year could best be spent.

"My experience is that some is working very well, and some of it is not so much."

Last week, the Government had also put $10.5m into improving the skills of teachers, and more resources in science and maths, she said. But this would not be used to develop a "one on one" approach, such as with reading recovery, which 30 per cent of schools do not use.

"There are different instructional styles. Reading recovery is a particular approach, but that doesn't work in every subject area."

Achievement would be raised by continuing to push forward with national standards and ensuring 98 per cent of young children were enrolled in early childhood education, she said.

The figure was 95.8 per cent now, and had steadily risen under National. She had examined what other countries were doing well and planned to "cut and paste" successful methods, including Singapore's example of celebrating achievements.

Fairfax Media