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Usual snake versus mongoose

MICHAEL LAWS
Last updated 05:00 07/10/2012

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OPINION: When Education Minister Hekia Parata flipped the bird at the PPTA this past week - by advancing the causes of teacher pay performance and pronunciation - she drew the predictable response.

The PPTA is essentially a division of the Labour Party so there has never been any respite in the struggle between ministers and union. It's snake-versus-mongoose stuff and often imbued with the same death imperative.

And yet this past week was a perfect reminder that education is far too important to be left to educators. And to politicians. Because those of us who are its consumers - either as pupils or parents - tend not to get a look in.

Which is why, with all its flaws, we have embraced national standards. We love the idea of knowing how our children are really doing. And national standards forces teachers to tell us that.

Of course the revolution has taken place in the primary sector - not the secondary sector haunted by the PPTA. So the latter and its concerns are pretty much irrelevant at the moment: the primary sector is commanding the prime attention. And so it should.

By the time a child enters the secondary schooling system, their schooling fate is settled. Primary has always been the bedrock and yet it still commands the least respect in the education sector.

This is a national tragedy. It also accounts for why less than one in five primary teachers are male. Another tragedy. Boys need men during these impressionable years and with so many boys coming from single parent (read Mum) households, they need male teachers even more.

It's not like the pay is crap. A good graduate starts on $55,000 and goes quickly to the ceiling of $70,000. There are those wonderful 12 weeks' holiday a year. And there is a class of 25 kids that are yours for one year - to invest your intellectual and emotional time - and make better.

And the best part of it? It's a job that's almost impossible to screw up. Because the instinctive desire of all children is actually to learn. You've got to be doing something really bad - at either home or school - for a child not to learn.

This is where national standards are useful - in providing a six- monthly feedback to the home, to the parent. It has the enormous opportunity to make teachers and parents regard the kids in a way that is too often ignored: a joint collaboration. It's still the vital relationship missing from most primaries.

But where Parata is wrong is on the league tables. Their publication, when the assessment data is still so ropey, is wrong. You cannot compare school with school on these stats. The attempt should not even have been made. Not yet.

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A glance through the Government's Education Counts website reinforces that ropeyness. Putting aside that individual teachers don't know what they're doing, it's obvious entire schools haven't a clue either. Get the moderation right - then use the stats.

Even then teacher unions will go ape. Because national standards, properly collated, will provide the feedback that no-one else does. On them. And that's long overdue.

mlaws@radiolive.co.nz

- Sunday Star Times

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