The Minister of Education, Anne Tolley, was in Invercargill today and was visiting the school where I currently teach special needs children on a part time basis. I had hoped to pass on an open letter on behalf of Invercargill primary principals voicing concern at the flawed nature of the National Standards. Unfortunately the Board decided they did not want any political statement made during the Minister's visit to my school and I was not able to pass on their letter in person.
12 out of the possible 13 Invercargill primary principal's signed the letter.
30 August 2011
Open Letter to the Minister of Education, Hon Anne Tolley
Invercargill schools express their concern about the National Standards system
Minister, Invercargill has a proud tradition in providing quality public education for our children. We come from a city that has learned not to rely on support from further north and to become an independent community that responds well to the needs of its people. The Invercargill Licensing Trust leads New Zealand in the way it manages alcohol sales and directs profits back into the community and our Building Society rejected potential mergers with Australian banks and is now one of our stronger New Zealand owned financial institutions.
Invercargill is also highly innovative and future focused regarding education. We independently support our teachers and students where we see practical needs not being met through nationally funded provisions. Our Licensing Trust sponsors a biannual education conference that provides valuable professional development to ensure our teachers remain at the forefront of education in the digital age. Some years ago the Trust ensured all our schools and classrooms had interactive whiteboards when they were still considered an expensive luxury elsewhere in New Zealand.
We are determined that all our children who struggle with their learning are able to access high quality, individual support for numeracy and literacy. While there are itinerant teachers for literacy and remedial reading there is no national provision for such support in numeracy, so a number of Invercargill schools pooled their resources to fund a team of numeracy support teachers in this area. This initiative has had huge success in raising the achievement of children struggling in numeracy and has provided useful professional support for classroom teachers.
The local primary principals’ association recently saw a need for providing targeted learning opportunities for our gifted and talented children and this resulted in a centre established for this purpose funded by our licensing trust. Enrich http://www.enrich.net.nz/enrich/Welcom_1./Welcome.html has extended and enthused large numbers of our most able children and has potentially helped develop many of our nation’s future leaders.
It was into this local education environment that the untested National Standards were forcibly introduced. Our teaching professionals attended the early, shambolic, professional development sessions provided at the beginning of the implementation and have followed the progress of the Standards ever since. While there is some professional value in the work around OTJs (overall teacher judgements) the Standards themselves cannot do the job they were purportedly designed for. We are hugely concerned with the arbitrary nature of the standards and their lack of consideration for the normal range of child development. Those schools that have attempted to implement the standards have had to devote huge amounts of teacher time to provide information that could already be established using existing measures.
Tested and proven programmes like Ka Hikitia, that directly deal with those children in most need of support, have taken a back seat during the Standards implementation and the introduction of our rich and exciting curriculum has suffered through the termination of the bulk of our advisory services. Children now have fewer opportunities to experience success in valuable curricula such as science and technology and this seems shortsighted, given our nation’s current and future needs.
Our concerns regarding National Standards aren’t because of protecting the interests of teachers, nor are they driven by unions or the Labour Party, they are driven out of concern for the children in our care. Implementing these flawed standards is taking time away from teaching to children’s needs and supporting those who need help now. We value our already great education system and in Invercargill we are striving for excellence. National Standards will only damage what we have spent considerable time and money developing.
Up to this point you have refused to discuss the flaws in your National Standards or allow a properly conducted trial. Rather than punish school communities that have real concerns with the Standards we hope you may begin to properly engage with us and work towards a professional solution that will put our children first.