Education System in Crisis

Let's stand up for our children and their teachers.

School breakups are a time to celebrate success. But last year I wasn't celebrating, when along with about 600 other parents I heard from our respected Frimley School principal Malcolm Dixon that in his 40 years in education, 2012 was the worst year he'd ever experienced.

It was the first time he'd spoken out like this, but he wanted us to know that our children and our grandchildren needed all of us to start asking big questions of the Government, because they were wrecking all that was great about the New Zealand education system.

Creativity, innovation and the ability to think were being replaced by excessive accountability and endless hours of paperwork. He feared that in five years (now four) nothing would be the same, and he called on us to support our schools and teachers, or we would lose them.

Schools had been thrown into unjustified and unsubstantiated turmoil _ national standards, network reviews (that's school buildings), unjustified closures of special schools, introduction of charter schools, a diabolical payroll system, a failed attempt to increase class sizes with no new classrooms had taken over from letting teachers do their job.

Mr Dixon's call for parents to stand up and fight for our teachers, for the sake of our children's education haunted me all year. 
So I decided to catch up with him, to find out if things were getting better. Nothing had, except millions of education dollars were spent trying to fix Novopay so that teachers could be paid.

Despite having a world class curriculum that empowers our children to learn, the exact opposite is happening. Teachers are conforming and competing, instead of being able to feed the growing minds of our nation. 

We have a curriculum where schools can meet the needs of the children from their community. Take the PipFruit New Zealand education resource on Integrated Fruit Production, developed with local growers, where teachers could make growing apples the IFP way meet a host of curriculum requirements including maths, science and English. Where real-life, authentic learning got students out of the classroom to monitor their own orchard. Sadly this resource sits on a shelf because, while teachers would love to do use it, there's no time.

I do not want to be part of a generation of parents who are left asking where have our children gone? Where they no longer enjoy school as an exciting place to grow their talents because the fun has gone out of the classroom.

One of the biggest changes for primary school teachers was they used to have time to get to know and understand their students as people, not numbers. Where they knew what was happening at home and in their families. But now it's about getting through the work so children are ``standardised'' from age 5.

These national standards that have taken over were devised by a political system with an aspirational opinion of what our children should be achieving. They copied a system used in America and England that now has a regime of teacher bashing. They never tested their expectations in the classroom, instead they quickly turned their aspirations into standard levels of achievement, regardless of a child's learning style or ability. Mr Dixon tells me it's like putting a child on a rollercoaster ride, where one year they might get to the top, yet they next they're at the bottom. There's no feeding or fattening children with knowledge to help them achieve, instead we just test and report to standard.

Schools get minimal feedback on the results. But the standards are fed to the media so the public can judge and divide schools against each other creating more division and greater education and inequality gaps.

Now I'm not against having a guideline to understand how my children are getting on, where I know their age level for reading, spelling or maths - that's what we all know and understand.

But what I really want to know are the next steps for each of my children on their journey of learning, and that this plan is tailored to meet their individual needs because they all learn differently. Frimley gives each child their own learning journey, the school has taken education into their own hands and adopted ``formative assessment''. This is the major system of learning and teaching in Switzerland, Singapore, Finland, Canada and even parts of Australia.

A child's learning journey is their pathway to lifetime success. Formative assessment supports this because it appreciates what a child can do, and provides parents with a learning plan for the next steps their child will be taking in the classroom, aligned to personal development and ability. It's an approach that both parents and children understand because it is real and means more.

We have a job to do as adults and parents. Our children and their teachers need us to stand up and question those in power. National standards are an education nightmare and it's time the Government woke up. We can't afford to waste another year.