There are a number of legislative and other changes currently being proposed for education. New Zealand School Trustees Association is sending out emails providing advice to Boards of Trustees on them. NZEI currently has a “Better Funding” bus travelling New Zealand encouraging the public to stand against some of the proposed changes. While I agree that education is currently poorly served in many ways (for example, we have to find considerable funding every year to run our school), I also don’t think that we, as an education sector, can keep on burying our heads in the sand and pretend that change isn’t needed. My view is that, rather, we should be proactive about creating the change that is needed ourselves, so that government doesn’t have to.
Reading through the proposed changes, there is a clear intent by the Minister to have more power to force changes on schools. Having devolved and decentralised a great deal of power through the Tomorrows Schools raft of legislative changes back in 1989, the Minister is now wanting to take back some of that power so that change can be required. While certainly not necessarily agreeing with the proposed changes, I can understand the Minister’s intent. It is the same intent that drove National Standards and Communities of Learning. In the absence of leadership (or responsibility-taking) from the education sector itself or from the self-managing schools, Ministers’ of education have felt the need to step in and create change.
However, in spite of all the change that has gone on in education over the last several decades, we still have a tail of educational underachievement in New Zealand. Maori and Pacifica and other priority learners are still under-served in our schools across New Zealand. But also, within the huge group of students who are identified as “at” or “above” national standards, there are many students whose needs are not being met and who are not particularly engaged in education.
The problem is that what I think is needed, cannot be mandated. It is a deep will to ensure educational equity – that the educational needs of EACH and EVERY student is being met. This sounds like a utopian dream and perhaps it is. But it is the only way forward. As soon as we focus on one particular group of students with needs (designated priority learners, for example) it seems that we take our eyes off other students and create new disadvantaged groups. The only possible way forward is for us as an education sector to learn how to meet the educational needs of every student. This is where we need to focus our energies. At the moment, the effort of trying to meet the needs of every student is huge. But I believe our potential to be able to do so is growing – supported by the growing sophistication of technology.
As a school, this is the journey that we have been on. We are not there yet, by any stretch of the imagination. But we are gaining some understanding of what it will take to meet the needs of every student. There is no question - education does need a shake-up. But the shake-up needs to come from within the sector – from the teaching profession itself. Mandated changes will not create the deep will that is required to meet the future-focused needs of EVERY student. It is certainly not the easy road, but we have no choice but to take it!