The National Standards Fallacy
Since the coalition bringing Labour, NZ First and Greens into power, teachers have been rejoicing. Especially primary teachers.
Well, early on in the election campaign, Labour outlined it’s distaste for National Standards and signalled their intention to remove them from our education system. Something that teachers across the country had been asking for since their inception in 2009.
Today Labour announced through the new Education Minister Chris Hipkins that it would keep it’s promise and scrap National Standards.
Inevitably, Nikki Kaye was quick to reply and outlined a number of reasons why it was a mistake to get rid of the Standards.
And while jubilation is all around, and teachers have a new bounce in their step as they skip around the school playground while on duty, there is a small part of us that is left in wonder, concern, and nervousness as to what we’re now meant to be doing now.
See, there is now a generation of teachers who have only ever taught with National Standards standing behind them with a whip and directing every decision they ever made in their planning, their teaching, their practise, and their career. Put simply, many of us know no different. We simply weren’t teachers before National Standards hijacked our education system.
So many of us are left wondering, what can we do now? What are we meant to do? Obviously we still have our assessments, but how often do we need to actually do these now? How much do I need to change in my reports that go out at the end of this term? Some are even asking ‘What do we replace them with?’
But here’s the thing.
It’s all false. A complete fabrication. It’s a fallacy and has been from the start.
Here’s what I mean.
National Standards were pushed out on schools. No beta testing. No ironing out the kinks. Schools had to re-build their charters, teaching programmes and assessment schedules to fit them in. Up until then, schools had been surviving quite well on the assessments they had beforehand. Reporting to parents may not have been as regular as twice a year, but no doubt would have commented on student ability, academic or otherwise, and would have made mention of progress rather than achievement.
The reality is we didn’t need them. We don’t need them. And now we don’t have them.
We do not need to replace them with anything.
When you take a worm out of an apple, you don’t go putting a caterpillar in it’s place.
While they are gone in the blink of an eye, as signalled by Chris Hipkins today, this doesn’t mean it won’t take a significant amount of time and energy to adjust, to rebuild, and to get used to life without the standards. Lots of policies need to be re-written, new systems designed in each school (as best they see fit for their community) and training and support provided for teachers who know no other way (or can’t remember a time without), such is the entrenchment of National Standards on their career to date. This is a huge undertaking, and should not be taken lightly. For my own school, a big job that will need to be done is to return to a mid and end of year report schedule for our Year 1 to 3 students, and of course, a re-design of the school reporting template. These are just two of the jobs that are going to require time and energy to roll out for our school. Multiply this by the total number of schools across the country, and suddenly there’s a better understanding of the task ahead for us.
The bonus of course is that it is hard and difficult work that teachers will be only too happy to do. Some are chomping at the bit to get their hands dirty stripping out any mention of National Standards in their schools. Some are a bit more relaxed. But I’ve yet to see a teacher since this announcement who hasn’t felt like a large and heavy burden taken off their shoulders and who haven’t breathed a big sigh of relief.