Editorial: Tables don't pass grade

Last updated 05:00 20/06/2012

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When Prime Minister John Key said on Monday he liked the thought of league tables for primary schools, Education Minister Hekia Parata could have been excused for thinking "he's got me back".

Got her back for the embarrassing backdown on class sizes when he was away overseas.

He's certainly put her in a difficult spot. She says she doesn't want to buy another fight with teachers.

Well, guess what? She has no choice. Her boss wants league tables. The teachers' union thinks they are "terrible". And another backdown isn't an option.

So, fight on.

What, then, are the merits of league tables?

National standards introduced in 2010 mean comparable statistics now exist, and the Government says parents should know where their kids sit in numeracy and literacy rankings.

Presumably, too, those schools that are not performing will be encouraged, in quite a public way, to improve.

And thirdly, the information is available under the Official Information Act, and Mr Key is worried about how the media might portray it. So he wants it presented in ... well ... a way that is not going to damage schools. Which raises other questions (for another time).

And why are league tables "terrible"?

Because, the teachers say, the data isn't all the same, schools will be damaged, and the curriculum will narrow as schools concentrate only on the publicly measured subjects (good data rather than good students). Oh, and many teachers just don't like being measured against each other, but they didn't say that out loud.

Parents are the key here though, and many will want the comparative data. But what then?

If their school is lagging, will this be news to them? Wouldn't they have a feel now? A comprehensive Education Review Office (ERO) report comes out every three years.

And are English and maths classes the only things they'll judge a school on? And if parents want to move their kids on the basis of the tables, will they be able to get them into the "good" school? And if they can and a whole lot of kids move, will the good school stay good? And what will happen to the "bad" school?

I also can't see a way the ministry can release meaningful figures that don't show which are the best and worst schools in the country. So Mr Key's argument about not damaging some schools is hard to fathom.

How about a halfway house for a start? Give the ERO access to league table averages, and compare these against the school they are reviewing. Parents get valuable information, as does the school and its teachers.

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- The Timaru Herald

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