Untested mentor approach raises questions
Published on Saturday, 26 April 2014, 6:41 p.m.   Print Article

 

The Ministry of Education has estimated that 20,000 children (3 per cent of the student population) have severe learning needs and yet the Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (ORS) is rationed to just 2 per cent of the school population. Another 40,000-60,000 children (4 per cent of the student population) have moderate to high-level needs and have to effectively compete to access other special education grant funding through their school.

This means children aren't just falling through the cracks - it's more like a chasm.

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There is a group of stressed- out parents in New Zealand fighting on an almost daily basis to get a fair go for their kids.

People like the solo mum who was told her wheelchair-bound son couldn't be involved in class swimming because the school didn't have the resources to pay someone to supervise him.

Or the parents of the 9-year-old with autism, who is three years behind his peers and will soon have his meagre five hours of weekly classroom support reduced further.

The Ministry of Education has estimated that 20,000 children (3 per cent of the student population) have severe learning needs and yet the Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (ORS) is rationed to just 2 per cent of the school population. Another 40,000-60,000 children (4 per cent of the student population) have moderate to high-level needs and have to effectively compete to access other special education grant funding through their school.

This means children aren't just falling through the cracks - it's more like a chasm. And this doesn't even begin to touch on the effects of poverty on one in four children who face the additional challenges to successful learning created by transience, family stress, hunger and ill-health.

Every one of us knows of a kid who would benefit from one-on- one and small-group attention.

Into this bleak and underfunded picture comes the Government's much-vaunted $359 million Investing in Educational Success scheme to "help raise student achievement" - particularly of priority learners such as children with special needs. When it was suddenly announced without consultation in January, teachers were floored by such a huge injection of money into the education system.

But they were more stunned by the way it is to be spent - on a cadre of highly-paid executive and lead roles for principals and teachers to mentor across clusters of schools as a way of lifting achievement.

The parents and teachers of children with special needs can only look at this massive windfall and wonder what might have been if they had been asked what they thought would give every child the opportunity to succeed.

Instead we have an attempt to raise teaching quality that is untested, unproven and may or may not have a positive effect on learning. But it may also mean disrupted relationships between children and teachers, as the "best" teachers and principals leave their schools for two days a week to work with other schools.

A fantastic teacher would surely have a diminishing impact in their own classroom if they are not there for 40 per cent of the time. Likewise, leading a school is not a three-day-a-week job for principals.

There is a question about whether these new roles are a Trojan Horse for a radical system change in our education system.

The roles are to function within "communities of schools" and each community will determine achievement targets.

Both the appointments to the new roles and the achievement targets are likely to be based primarily on national standards and NCEA results.

This is a major sticking point. National standards are narrow, inaccurate and unfair. Teachers at the lowest decile schools can have class turnover of up to 50 per cent each year as families move to chase jobs and accommodation.

At the other end of the spectrum, children live in warm homes with food in the pantry and have stable and educated families to support their learning. How can you possibly identify the most capable and passionate teachers based on their students' national standards results?

The elephant in the classroom of why some Kiwi kids under- achieve is child poverty. Every reputable study around the world agrees that it is the outside factors like socio-economic status that have the overwhelming impact on children's educational success.

Teaching quality is significant, but across the system it has limited impact if large numbers of children are living in poverty.

$359m is an awful lot of money to spend on an experiment when there are other more obvious solutions for improving educational success.

If the new roles are the pricey magic bullet that is going to override all the disadvantages of poverty, this Government is going to have to do a much better job of convincing teachers and principals.

- Paul Goulter is the national secretary of NZEI Te Riu Roa, an education sector union.

 

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