Shake Up in School Standards

October 25, 2009 Updated: October 1, 2015

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key (Phil Walter/Getty Images)
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key (Phil Walter/Getty Images)
NEW ZEALAND—Parents will now receive what they have been long demanding—a focus on the basics in education and a report in plain English detailing just how well their children are achieving at school.

Prime Minister John Key announced a return to teaching that will focus on the three R's in New Zealand's English-medium primary and intermediate schools.

From 2010, teachers will be working with new National Standards which will outline the levels of achievement that will be expected from children from Year 1 to Year 8 (5–13 year-olds).

Reading, writing and mathematics will be prioritised and professional teacher support, which has until recently been employed over a broader curriculum, will now be focusing on those subjects, says the government.

“National Standards will lift achievement levels for New Zealand children, and will give parents plain English reporting on their child’s progress,” said the prime minister in a press release.

Parents will receive 'clear signposts' as to just how well their children are doing in maths, reading and writing.

A report advising parents on their child's performance will be sent out by schools twice a year.

The one in five students, left behind in the basics, needed to be singled out early so that the student could be helped to achieve, he said.

Schools will be getting $36 million over a period of four years to help fund the changes

“I fully support the (new) National Standards”, said Bill Noble, headmaster of Fairfield Intermediate School, Hamilton. “They are coming in at a time when it's good for schools and parents and everybody to see—to have something to actually gauge students on on where they should be.

“I have got good feedback from parents because parents want their kids to get a quality education,” he said.

But post primary teachers' union president, Kate Gainsford, says that under the government's plan teachers are going to feel obliged to direct their focus almost entirely to reading, writing and mathematics. These subjects should be developed “within the context of a broad-based curriculum,” she argues.

Under the government's plan, funding for specialist support teachers in science, arts and physical education will be cut.

Cutting funding in these areas will jeopardise students' chances of success in NCEA (National Certificate of Educational Achievement) because they will miss out on having a well rounded curriculum, says Ms Gainsford.

Schools have been putting a huge effort into preparing for the new curriculum, which they will be required to implement from 2010.

“The last thing primary and secondary schools need is to be forced to focus on assessment at the expense of learning,” says the union president

But, Hamilton language teacher, Amanda Colmer, says the changes will be 'fabulous'.

“We have paid $1200 for three terms this year to have our son learn basic arithmetic because at 10 years of age he didn't know his three times tables. He couldn't write properly—his writing and spelling were atrocious.”

Ms Colmer attributes her son's poor performance to being taught 'fluffy stuff' in the classroom.

“Children need to learn the basics that get them through life.” The basic skills are missing, many children do not even know their basic grammar, she said.

*NCEA is the main secondary school qualification for students in Years 11 to 13.