Principals’ principles political not educational


The vote of no-confidence in national standards by the Principals’ Federation says more about their principles than the standards.

Principals Federation president Peter Simpson called on his colleagues to reject them.

He told their conference in Wellington on Saturday morning that the standards are purely political and principals should not waste any more time on them.

Almost everything a government does is political, that’s the nature of the beast. Unfortunately the public faces of education, rather than being a professional body – as for example they are in health, is also political.

The federation would like us to believe their stance represents the unanimous view of teachers and schools. It doesn’t. Many schools are working with the standards and doing their upmost to make them work for the sake of the children they teach and their parents who want to know how they progressing.

In her speech to the federation conference Education Minister Anne Tolley read an email from a school board chair:

“Our principal has led the implementation seamlessly and I would say we have found it to be a worthwhile experience. I have been impressed with his professionalism and integrity. The staff have all responded well to the challenge.”

If the principals who voted no-confidence concentrated more on education than politics they too might find they can implement the standards seamlessly and is such a way that the school finds them worthwhile.

The introduction of national standards was part of National’s election policy, it became the government and as public service employees the principals and their staff are bound to implement them to the best of their ability.

Regardless of their political views the principals ought to agree with the Minister’s reasoning:

The evidence tells us that when our underachieving students fall behind they tend to stay behind, and in many cases begin disengaging. Early intervention can address this issue, giving every single young New Zealander the opportunity to reach their potential.

Standards by themselves won’t help the children learn but the extra help those identified as not learning as well as they ought to be will.

Rolls down, schools to close?


The wholesale closure of rural and provincial schools by then Education Minister Trevor Mallard was a major contributer to the Labour losing so much support in the provinces at the 2005 election.

By then the government had put a moratorium on school closures, but it was too late. Children were having to travel much further to school, classrooms were overcrowded, communities which lost schools also lost their focus and those affected made their feelings clear at the ballot box.

Because of that the ODT headline Southern school rolls to plummet  will have been greeted with no enthusiasm at all by the government.

The story which follows shows Ministry of Education roll projections based on birth numbers from Statistics New Zealand:

. . . the number of 3 to 4 year-olds will decline in the Waitaki (-0.4%), Dunedin (-2%), Southland (-2.7%), Clutha (-5%) and Gore (-8.8%) territorial authorities between June this year and 2011 . . . 

The drops contrast with a predicted nationwide rise of 9.4% in the number of pre-schoolers.

A decline in pupil numbers of up to 8.8% will impact on schools. However, this time the suggestion that some might have to close isn’t coming from politicians or bureaucrats:

New Zealand Principals Federation president and Balclutha School principal Paddy Ford said Otago and Southland schools needed to take heed of the figures.

“They might need to look at amalgamation. It doesn’t go down well with schools to say this, but we do have to look at ways of providing the best education we can deliver.”

Talk of school closures usually produces more heat than light and it is often those who no longer have pre-school or school age children who protest most strongly. Those whose offspring are at or nearly at school tend to look at what’s best for the children and sometimes that means school closures and amalgamations.

Schools can reach a tipping point because when the roll drops so does the number of teachers. Parents then decide their chidlren are better off at a bigger school even if it means longer on a bus to get there and the roll drops further until the school is no longer viable.

The concern in rural areas though is that roll projections based on birth numbers don’t necessarily reflect the reality, especially if there is a lot of dairying which has a big change in staff at the end of one season and start of another.

Some schools have more than a 30% change in their rolls over Gpysy weekend at the end of May and a few families moving in or out of a school catchment can have a big impact on pupil numbers.

While schools can provide a focus for a community that’s not a reason to keep a school open if a roll decline means its no longer meeting the educational needs of its pupils. The difficulty is that the Ministry has to work on historical figures and projections which don’t always paint the whole picture.

However, if the projections are accurate, Paddy Ford says declining rolls wouldn’t be all bad news because there is a shortage of teachers.

And while the projections for some southern districts are for falling rolls, huge increases are forecast for the Queenstown Lakes (29.7%), Central Otago (14.2%) and Invercargill (11.4%) areas.

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