Hard News by Russell Brown


Who'd have thought?

The Prime Minister told journalists yesterday that national standards data from schools might not be published this year after all, as they are too "ropey" to justify such an action.

As Kate Shuttleworth reports in the Herald:

Mr Key said the Minister of Education told him data was not up to scratch - "it's extremely patchy and in different formats and that will make it very difficult to interpret - but over time the Government hopes it will be more consistent because the purpose of having information is to give parents a better sense of how their school is performing".

If these problems ring a bell for you, that may be because I outlined them here two weeks ago, when the Prime Minister absently-mindedly announced that the Ministry of Education was working on comparative league tables of national standards performance. I wrote this:

Consequently, the information that schools have provided can barely be described as data. It is inconsistent, narrow and not subject to meaningful moderation. Even the standards aren’t standard – different schools have quite different written interpretations of what they mean. The information has not been provided in any kind of standard format – most of it, I gather, has arrived on paper, rather than in any machine-readable form. The ministry has only just issued a tender for the database that will be used to compile and present the information. No one appears sure what to do with it. But it will be published anyway.

And so it proves to be. 

As he often does when contemplating his government's actions, John Key discussed them in that oddly passive way that suggests he is a mere observer of events, as if he were watching them on TV:

"It's better for the Government and the sector to agree on a format, but if they can't they're not going to stop media organisations going to schools for the data," he said. "The sector needs to consider what they think will be the most productive way of presenting that data. My sense is that if we could come to a logical way of presenting that data and could give it to media outlets they would be much more likely to use it."

The Prime Minister said data should be presented in a way that compares schools in the same decile group. "There is no point assessing the results of a decile 1 school against the results of a decile 10 school.

"Some very low-decile schools will be presented with a range of issues that may not be the case in a decile 10 school and so you may have a lot of students coming and going from the school, or more kids with English as a second language," he said.

He makes a rather good argument against the validity of the whole project, doesn't he? Honestly, who thought of this stuff?

John Key's government did. They rode it as a campaign slogan in 2008, shoved it through under urgency within weeks of taking office, refused to allow a trial, bullied schools and their boards into doing their bidding, ignored most expert advice and came up with something that barely relates to the existing, carefully-developed curriculum. Who'd have thought there'd be a problem?

It seems at least possible that Key's government could reach six years in office -- be ejected by the voters, even -- without national standards ever working as promised. Along the way, millions of dollars will have been spent and thousands of hours of teacher time taken away from educating children. Our children.

It would be nice to think they'd be held accountable for that.

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