National’s education policy II: The Rest of New Zealand


Whilst there has been a lot of attention focussed on Christchurch and its struggles in a post-earthquake environment to find normality in an educational sense, it is worthwhile exploring how other schools around New Zealand have coped since National came to office in 2008.

When National took office, there were mixed feelings about what would happen. I personally was ambivalent, having seen some good stuff happen under the Labour Government of Helen Clark, but also some very disappointing policy changes. Though the rise of their support party A.C.T. and its desire to see charter schools similar to those in the U.S. be developed acted as a sort of distant red flag, I wonder now if it was a cunning foil to the fact that a novice Member of Parliament Anne Tolley had been handed a ministerial portfolio that is one of the most sought after that a Government could offer: Education.

In hindsight it should have been a red warning light flashing. Ms Tolley was quick to stamp her mark in a way that exuded negativity. Within weeks, she was talking about removing funding from night school classes, saying that they were just hobby classes, and ignoring the fact that many of them taught valuable skills such as accounting, website design, and home economics.

As a novice Minister she made an easy target for the Opposition who quickly managed to score some hits. It was perhaps because of this, she was moved onto other policy areas after one year, and Hekia Parata made Minister of Education. Ms Parata quickly pressed ahead with plans for the first charter schools, and introduction of National Standards. Brushing off controversy about comments over large classroom rolls, she also managed to survive the fallout from trying to close a Nelson school for disabled/special needs girls who were deemed unable to cope in mainstream classroom environments.

One issue where Ms Parata is suffering on performance is the Charter Schools where the first closures as a result of foreseen incompetence by school management have started to surface. These are schools where funding for public schools is being diverted to a school often with no set curriculum and whose teachers may not have been vetted.

The ongoing saga of the Christchurch schools post quake is discussed in the previous post, but it would be worthwhile pointing out that Ms Parata has relented as a result of several challenges to allowing schools threatened with closure to stay open. Not all have been successful and her decision on Redcliffs Primary School is the cause of an appeal.

As easy as it is to blame the current Government for everything, the problems in the New Zealand education system were around before John Key was elected Prime Minister. I have major problems that started to form under Labour Government of Ms Clark, but which have since escalated, with the direction of New Zealand education. I never supported the National Certificate for Educational Achievement. Although I think ideally it should be replaced outright, I accept that it would cause widespread disruption in the education system, and thus believe an acceptable alternative would be to refocus it on trade courses and leave traditional subjects to a graded regime.

One can therefore conclude that although these problems might have started with Labour, said party has been out of office for 7 years now, and it is time for National to accept that it has done little better.

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