Principals suggest school closures

October 5, 2015

School principals are talking sense on the best use of scarce funds:

. . . Principals told Radio New Zealand’s Insight programme that earthquake strengthening, leaky buildings and roll growth meant there was not enough property funding to go around, even though the government was expected to spend $6 billion over next 10 years addressing the issues.

With money short, they said, the government should consider closing schools instead of fixing them.

Principal of Te Mata School in Havelock North Mike Bain questions whether having multiple schools with low rolls promotes the best educational outcomes.

“You’ve got schools of under 100 that are spending a couple of hundred thousand on a new library, or classroom modernisation, or even a complete rebuild – don’t know that that’s the best spend of the money,” he said.

“I’m not advocating that we should have super schools where suddenly everyone goes, but when you’ve got multiple schools of less than 50 kids, is that promoting the best educational outcome for kids?” . . 

The number of children at a school isn’t necessarily an indication of the quality of the education it provides and big isn’t always better. But if pupils wouldn’t have to travel too far, it is usually better educationally and better use of money to have them at one bigger school than several smaller ones.

The Education Ministry’s property business case indicates school reorganisations might be considered in some areas.

It said significant roll drops in Gisborne, Tasman, West Coast, Manawatu-Whanganui and Hawke’s Bay would affect the shape of the school network in those areas.

But Kim Shannon of the Education Ministry’s infrastructure unit said the current property problems would not prompt school closures.

“Property is never the issue why you close down a school. That will always be educationally-driven and it will always be about the education needs of that community.”

School closures are usually contentious. But in my experience it’s often people who no longer have children at a school who fight hardest for it to stay open while parents of most pupils opt for what’s best for the education of their children which can be closing or merging with an other school.

Mike Williams, head of Pakuranga College and a member of the Secondary Principals Association, said the government should think about closing and merging schools.

“We have too many schools and so we have a lot of infrastructure that is very badly utilised. In high growth areas, yes, we’re having to build new classrooms, but there are classrooms all round the country that aren’t used, we have schools with very few students in them.”

Mr Williams said no community wanted to lose its school, but nationally that attitude was not sustainable.

PPTA Principals’ Council president Allan Vester said the government had always found it hard to close schools in the face of strong local opposition.

“There’s lots of communities that actually rationalisation needs to occur. There are more schools than are needed in an area, but it’s politically so difficult to make those changes.”

Mr Vester said the ministry knew where there were too many schools and not enough children, but found it hard to intervene.

Labour is still loathed in some areas because of the way then-Education Minister Trevor Mallard used a sledge-hammer approach to school closures more than a decade ago.

But when a school roll starts dropping, parents start taking their children elsewhere and it is possible with the  right approach to convince those who remain that a merger or closure will result in a school that better meets the educational needs of the pupils.


Otago top of class

July 27, 2014

Otago primary schools have outclassed the rest of the country’s schools by recording the highest levels of achievement in reading, writing and mathematics, Ministry of Education data shows.

Public achievement information released yesterday showed 124 primary schools in Otago posted the highest percentage of pupils who were at or above National Standards in reading, writing and mathematics.

In reading, 83.6% of pupils were at or above National Standards, 78.9% were at or above the standards in mathematics, and 76.4% were at or above the standards in writing.

Otago Primary Principals’ Association chairwoman Stephanie Madden said most principals had reservations about National Standards, but they were delighted with the data.

”These results are confirmation that the quality of teaching and learning in Otago primary schools is of a very high standard.

”We’re very proud of the hard work that teachers, principals and boards of trustees put in to ensure our children receive the best possible education.” . . .

And isn’t it good that there’s a way to measure the results of all that hard work?

Secondary principals think so:

. . . Secondary Principals’ Association president Tom Parsons said parents had been asking for detailed information about their child’s learning for a long time.

“Primary schools will get there with national standards but they’re doing it begrudgingly.

“There’s a political agenda here and it’s doing the youth of New Zealand a disservice. They need to get real.” . . .

There is a political agenda and it’s putting unions’ interests ahead of the needs of children and their parents.

Education Minister Hekia Parata says the latest achievement information shows children throughout the country are doing better across the education system:

Ms Parata says the Public Achievement Information released today is evidence that moves by the Government, reflected in the work of those in the education system, is making a real difference in educational achievement.

“From early childhood education through to NCEA achievement we’re seeing meaningful progress. It all adds up to kids who will be coming out of our education system with better qualifications and much brighter prospects.

“Providing this information at district and regional levels is leading to a wider engagement by communities in our education challenges.

“Fifteen of our 16 regional council areas had increases from 2011 to 2013 in achievement against National Standards, including gains for Māori students in 14 of those 16 areas.

”More than 400,000 primary kids had their progress assessed in reading, writing and maths last year, and around three quarters were at or above National Standards.

“The continuing focus on achievement and use of good information is paying off because it helps identify the kids who are not doing as well as we want.

“Parents and schools never used to have this sort of very specific information, and now they’re using it to make sure that the kids get what they need when they need it. . .

That’s the point – information on how children are progressing enables schools and parents to help them.

The system isn’t perfect but it’s better than no system and it will get better.

 

National standards. Making a difference.


Frame this

January 25, 2014

This was the announcement:

The next step in our plan to raise achievement.

And this is the response:
Photo: Great support for our education policy to get even better teachers in front of our kids: www.national.org.nz/SON2014.aspx

The support of the STA isn’t surprising – they support good policy without political bias.

But the Principals’ Federation, Secondary Principals’ Association and Post Primary Teachers’ Association aren’t usually enthusiastic about anything National proposes.

It was a good idea to frame the comments, such support is rare.


School leaver exemptions to be axed

September 11, 2008

He was bright but hated school. He just didn’t fit in.

He was given an exemeption to leave at the age of 14, immediately found himself a job and is now a happy and well adjusted adult.

Under a law changed proposed  by Labour he would no longer be granted an exemption to leave school early.

The Education Amendment Bill introduced to Parliament yesterday would remove all exceptions to children leaving school before the official leaving age of 16.

There were nearly 2000 exceptions last year, down from 4000 in 2006 after an Education Ministry crackdown.

Parents of students aged 15 may apply to the Education Ministry for their children to leave early on the basis of educational problems, conduct, or the unlikelihood of the student gaining benefit from attending school.

Secondary Principals Association president Peter Gall said though he believed in keeping teens in school, the early exemptions were often a relief to parents and pupils.

Some pupils exempted from school had mental health problems but most were “chronic truants whose fit with school just wasn’t right” and were directed into alternative education or unpaid work experience.

If they were to be kept in school for another year there would need to be more government support for schools to cope, he said.

“Where it will impact is to what extent we have to use the law with some students who just don’t want to be there. Do we have to go through and prosecute the parents?”

This is yet another one-size fits all approach. It doesn’t recognise that keeping some teenagers at school won’t do anything for them and will cause problems for other pupils and teachers.

Exemptions shouldn’t be used in isolation, they need to be part of a package which ensures those leaving school early go in to other training or work.

And when they are used it should be in exceptional circumstances, but they ought to be there for the small minority of pupils who will be better off out of school.

Oswald Bastable has another perspective on this issue here.


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