Hard News by Russell Brown


Joining the conversation

The Listener's website has long been a frustration to anyone who expects to find timely content on it. Indeed, it sometimes seems the plan has been to withhold editorial content just long enough until it is no longer relevant. At best, it's been unreliable.

That's changing. From today, Fiona Rae is providing daily TV and radio highlights on the Listener site. I'm not sure if there's a permalink available yet, but today's highlights are here. Go look. She has great taste.

There'll also be other kinds of daily content published on the website, including relevant material. This is encouraging, and I hope it goes well.


Also, the magazine's editorial will now regularly run on the website from the issue date. This week's is a broadside on the merits of national standards that is a little … challenged:

How is it, one might ask, that in New Zealand the introduction of national standards in primary schools has been denounced by teacher unions as nothing more than right-wing ideology while across the Tasman, the minister driving this “education revolution” is none other than the Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard? In her bid to improve school standards, Gillard has already muscled aside one of Australia’s most powerful left-wing outfits – the Australian Education Union – to ensure all school results are published on the My School website. This with the express purpose of identifying poorly performing schools.

Well, yes, Gillard was hailed in some quarters for taking on the teacher unions in May. But since its re-election, the Labor government has listened more closely to its critics, and has, this week, announced changes to the My School website to make it even harder for media organisations to compile "league tables" from its resources.

You may recall a post earlier this year where I quoted an internal paper from our Ministry of Education's Chief Research Analyst, Ian Schagen, who – drawing on his experience in the British school system – warned that:

I suppose it would be impossible to prevent the media publishing league tables in order to sell papers, but it is important that the government and Ministry has no truck with them. The Minister needs to have a severe word with anyone publishing league tables and tell them firmly that they are harming New Zealand education. As soon as the assessment judgements underpinning the use of National Standards become high-stakes for schools, we are going to compromise the real value of formative assessment for improving teaching and learning for individual students.

Schagen has gone now, and Anne Tolley still seems to be sleepwalking towards the wrong ideas. She declared in July that league tables in primary schools were an "inevitable" consequence of the national standards regime, and there was nothing to be done about it. How odd, then, that the Australian government seems to have found plenty of things to do about it.

The Listener's editorialist also seems unaware that My School has moved steadily away from a blunt focus on the results of standardised tests. Australian ministers have committed to publishing data about schools' financial resources, fees, charges and voluntary contributions and levels of capital expenditure. In some respects, it will do the job that the Education Review Office does here.

Even where test data are shown, they'll be shown in context. The site shows a given school's improvement over time – and will soon even show results with and without disabled pupils included in the mix. There's a good reason for this: in a competitive "league table" environment, those of us whose children have special needs that might drag down scores will not be welcome at many schools. This has been happening in Australia.

It seems fair to say that the situation across the Tasman is not quite so simple as the editorial would have it.

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