Dear Parents and Caregivers, First and foremost I would like to say that it is fantastic that the government and the teachers' unions came to an agreement, and the new contract is signed. No one likes to see industrial action impact on our young people’s education.
There is a great deal of change happening in the education sector at the moment. The government has a number of reviews in place that could potentially see an upheaval of education that we have not seen since the introduction of Tomorrow’s Schools and NCEA as our new qualification system. We recently found out, via the media, that the changes to NCEA had now been confirmed and that they were looking forward to working with principals during the implementation. I would have to say that I was not overly impressed with not only the changes but also the communication by the Ministry. However, that is academic now as these changes have been locked in and will be progressed. Below are the changes that I would like to highlight for you. They are not all the changes but rather the ones that probably have the most significant impact on our students and teachers:
· Zero school fees.
· All levels of NCEA will now be 60+ credits to pass. Previously this was an 80-60-60 structure as in Levels 2 and 3 you could carry forward 20 credits from the previous year (a totally pointless exercise and essentially meant that you needed only 60+ credits.) This change has been implemented to encourage students to focus on credits needed, rather than credit farming as many credits as possible.
The not so positive:
· Literacy and Numeracy are fast becoming a major problem in our schooling. Our rates are plummeting. Currently almost half of Year 11 students nationally do not reach Level 4 of the School Curriculum, which is set at approximately Year 8. In reaction to this, the Ministry has removed Literacy and Numeracy from NCEA and placed it outside as a stand-alone requirement. Students will need Literacy and Numeracy to pass NCEA but can achieve it any time from Year 7 to Year 13. The concern here is that our primary schools can now assess these credits in Years 7 and 8. I am not sure if this is going to have a positive effect on well-being if we begin to assess NCEA credits in primary schools, and I do know that it could potentially create a group of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ as students transition into high school. I also believe that pressure will be placed on primary schools to assess these credits by parents, and thus create league tables of results that we already see for high schools.
· There is a change to the amount assessments are worth with respect to credits. Completing a number of small value credits will be replaced with fewer assessments that hold a higher value of credits. This will raise the stakes somewhat as, if a student does not achieve in a standard, they could lose six credits rather than three. Again I do not believe that this will have a positive impact on student well-being as the risks are somewhat heightened.
· Finally, each subject will have only four papers that they can offer. Two will be internally assessed (10 credits) and two will be externally assessed (10 credits). I do believe that this will reduce the flexibility of the system.
There was a great deal of discussion about removing NCEA Level One. Thank goodness this did not happen. Reducing a stressor simply increases the stress when they encounter it the following year as the stakes become substantially higher. Schools can opt out of Level One. Our school at this time is certainly not planning to do this. Full implementation of the changes are planned for 2023 for Level One, and then each following year for each year level.
We are now waiting on the next section of changes from the Ministry, that being in relation to Tomorrow’s School and how schools are managed and governed. The push for this is to centralise control of schools by creating a ‘hub’ that manages about 125 schools in their area (which could be quite large depending on where in New Zealand it covers). Once again there are many complexities to this initiative, and so I will concentrate on the more big thinking ideas. These ideas have come about because after about 30 years of self-managing schools, the education sector has made very little improvement to student outcomes, especially with respect to equity issues. We have to be honest and say that the competitive nature of schooling in New Zealand does create losers and winners in the system. I am also unsure how the initiatives will improve the situation and my fear is that they will follow other examples of increased centralisation of government departments created increased compliance/red-tape, slower reaction time and a lack of understanding of the individual school cultures and communities that we celebrate. Here are some of the big ideas that are being proposed:
· Reduction in the role of the Board of Trustees. This is interesting. Many people do not wish to be on a Board because they are open to being liable for issues such as Health and Safety, and many schools (especially small schools) find it difficult to appoint Board members. Essentially the role will be reduced to trying to maintain the character of the school, and this will be difficult if the Board cannot appoint a Principal, or have the ability to spend resources where they believe it is best for the school. This is a hard one as we are very fortunate to have a fantastic Board and a highly functioning Executive Officer at Kaiapoi High School, but many schools are not in this situation.
· The Hub will essentially take over the management responsibilities and liabilities. This is where there are some real concerns if we are not careful. Government agencies tend to be very risk-averse and require copious amounts of red-tape before making any decisions. Having 125 schools to look after, it is highly likely that we will fall into an American model of performance measures based purely on tangible academic performance indicators, and schools are much much more than this.
· The Hub, with the Board, will appoint principals and teachers. I have no problem being appointed to a five-year contract, which has been suggested. I think that keeps us on our toes. I do have a problem with being shifted to another school, dictated by the hub, and one that I personally have no connection to. One of the main reasons for applying for the Principal position at Kaiapoi High School was that I was excited about the connection to the community and the possibility of making a difference. The other issue that I have with this is that my single most important role in the school is to appoint great staff and I wonder how much this will be restricted by a hub scenario. I can also see the positives of this for schools that struggle to appoint principals and staff.
Whilst these are just a few of the proposed changes, it does show that a one for all fit may not necessarily be the best solution and that we are essentially placing all our eggs in one basket…the Hub. Get the Hub wrong and it will impact not on one school, but 125 schools. Knowing how poorly the government tends to pay its employees, it will be exceptionally important to get the right people in those positions.
It appears that we are in for some interesting times in the education sector. Great to get the contracts settled, however I do feel that in Canterbury we are really only beginning to settle into a business as usual approach after the earthquakes, school rebuilds, zone changes, and more recent unpleasant events. Our school feels like it is in a good place at the moment. We are focusing on improving outcomes for our students (as we always are) and addressing the well-being of staff and students to make sure that they are happy, and feel connected and valued at school. I do feel that if you continue to shake the landscape you don’t really get enjoy the moments where everything is settled and in place. These are simply my thoughts and as always I am more than happy to discuss these in more detail with you all.
Mā te huruhuru ka rere te manu
Adorn the bird with feathers so that it can fly
Bruce Kearney - Principal