written 2001 being revised May 2006

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IN PARTNERSHIP WITH GOVERNMENT - Essential Information for New School Trustees has been withdrawn and is now replaced by Guidelines provided through the New Zealand School Trustees Association STAservice. Despite the documents demise, some points raised are still relevant and so the following comments on the document are retained here.

This document is required reading for all Trustees of School Boards. It contains some interesting points which ring warning bells.

In Section 1.1 there is no body which reviews the performance of Policy recommended to Government and implemented by the Ministry of Education. The role of the Education Review Office could easily be extended to perform this task. At present there is no framework which requires the Ministry of Education to quantify its Policy Goals and demonstate their achievement in an objective and quantifiable manner.

Section 1.2 specifies as a Ministry of Education Aim "raise the achievement of all students and close the gap between the highest and lowest levels of education success;". This is a lowest common denominator aim. In terms of allocating resource to schools in situations where major inequity is a continuing problem (effectively a system in crisis), it is a very appropriate aim. There are indeed schools in crisis in the country, but these are managed within a framework and issues addressed. The whole system is not in such a state of crisis that it diverts all Educational Resource.

In a system where basic achievement goals are being met to an acceptable base level and procedures for handling problem situations are in place and functional, the above is inappropriate. Is this aim reviewed in an objective and quantifiable manner?

For example at present the school system is quickly diverging into two classes; the ICT achievers and the ICT have-nots. There is no indication that the Ministry of Education is doing anything to moderate this gap. Indeed the July 2000 Computers in Homes Project sponsored by the 2020 Communications Trust indicates that the Ministry of Education is prepared to delegate its responsibilities in this area to ad hoc lobby groups.

The next most alarming aspect of this aim is that the Ministry of Education has no way of monitoring this aim because there is no National Assessment Statistic below School Certificate in Y11. This means that its policy is generally out of step by 6 years and up to 11 years. We do not yet have statistics that reflect academic achievement of primary school students who first entered Tomorrows Schools. And when they finally are formally assessed in the next few years it will still be impossible to tell what the contribution is of Tomorrows primary schools to students education as there will be no relative data.

The Education System is concerned with preventing educational failure both at an individual level and also at school level. The Education Review Office assesses the degree to which this may be happening or the risks of it happening and report these findings back to government. School Boards should be careful not to take this Aim of preventing educational failure upon themselves.

Any school that addressed the interests of children with special abilities by providing opportunities to accelerate their achievement record would effectively be acting in a way that widened the gap between the highest and lowest levels of education success, and be contravening the policy. This is an example of the institutionalisation of New Zealand's Tall Poppy Syndrome. And it is not addressed just at adult achievers in our society but also at children, who are setup to have their ability to be achievers undermined before they have even started out. This aim may well have been appropriate in the first half of this century when children left school at an early age and basic written and numerical literacy were the goals of the curriculum. It is probably still a good aim in an undeveloped country with a fragmentary education system in which basic national literacy is the major goal. There are probably schools in New Zealand where basic literacy skills are stilll not being achieved for all students. It is appropriate that children with poor literacy achievement get special resource allocation. However, if a child cannot read it is highly questionable whether computers can significantly help the child achieve basic literacy. Other technology like video may be useful. Therefore a board wishing to met its obligations to deliver basic literacy could easily justify deferring any consideration of computers in the school until the basic literacy goal ahd been achieved.

Therefore a BoT could adopt the following resolution:- The school will not consider equipping with computer systems for teaching purposes until the goal of delivering basic literacy skills to all students, other than those with special needs, has been achieved.

What is worse than this Tall Poppy mentality is that this aim allows the education system to degrade yet still achieve its professed aim. A school with a reasonable achievement record but with a wide range of achievement could redirect resources to improving its minimum achievement levels at the expense of other achieving students. This could result in a general deterioration of the achievement level of the school. If a school was required to take on students with low achievement records, this process could be exacerbated. This could cause demoralisation of staff. One might say, who in their right mind would sacrifice a schools achievement record for what might be a minimal improvement in low aceiveing students. But it should be remembered that School Boards are not a professional body, they are a political communtiy body. Board members can pursue political agendas and in this case Board members could quote this aim as a legal responsiblity to divert resources to poor achievers at the expense of the rest of the school.

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