Community Scoop

Q+A: Shane Taurima interviews Hekia Parata

Press Release – TVNZ

Minister stands by consultation process and timeframe for proposed Christchurch school closures, says it is “unequivocally and emphatically… genuine consultation”. Sunday 30 September, 2012
Q+A: Shane Taurima interviews Hekia Parata
Minister stands by consultation process and timeframe for proposed Christchurch school closures, says it is “unequivocally and emphatically… genuine consultation”.
Parata has admitted some failings in letters to affected schools on Friday, but insists school leaders are wrong when they still say “they [the minister and officials] have already made the decisions”.
“There is no pre-determined outcome. We are listening.”
Acknowledges Christchurch folk under “intolerable stress” but remains on-track for consultation to end December 7 and an announcement on closures come February
Minister doesn’t guarantee reliability of national standards data, says she’s relying on schools’ judgment and data
This year’s data “not reliable” for comparing schools as its not “consistent”, but encourages parents to judge schools on their achievement data, amongst other things
Has target of making  data reliable in five years
“Not acceptable” that 25 schools have refused to give national standards data, but no talk of punishment: “Were going to be working with them”.
Q+A, 9-10am Sundays on TV ONE.
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The official National Standards are out and online, and Education Minister Hekia Parata is promising that school reporting will get better and better. Teachers and principals think the information is neither fair nor accurate, and that’s not the only thing vexing the education sector. Plans to rebuild Christchurch schools after the earthquake has seen Cantabrians take to the streets. Education Minister Hekia Parata is with Shane Taurima.
                        Kia ora and welcome to the programme.
HEKIA PARATA, Education Minister
                        Good morning.
SHANE          Little Johnny’s off to school next year, so Mum and Dad are going to jump online to see how the schools in their area are performing. As things sit now, just how reliable and accurate is that information for Mum and Dad?
HEKIA           So that’s one of the things Mum and Dad are going to do. It’s not going to replace Mum and Dad visiting the schools that they want to enrol their children in. What they’ll find on the website is not only the first year of National Standards data but the ERO report and the annual report that relate to the schools they’re thinking about.
SHANE          So Paul Drummond from the Principals Federation says, and let me quote: ‘The information is very immature and very unreliable. Is he right?’
HEKIA           Schools have had faithfully reproduced the information that they have provided, so we’re relying on schools to tell us themselves what their valid and accurate data is. What we have said from the outset is that this is the first year of reporting in three years of introducing the standards, and we have also put online a five-year plan that represents the fact that we understand that we have a job of work to do ahead of us, and we must get better and better each year.
SHANE          So to this point now you still haven’t answered my principle question, around the reliability of this data. Is it reliable? Is it accurate?
HEKIA           We are relying on schools to tell us that, and schools have. 2088 schools have produced their report on the 31st of May. It’s their data. We’re relying on their judgement.
SHANE          So you can’t guarantee it, though?
HEKIA           Well, it’s schools’ data. What I can talk about, though, is the aggregate that we have pulled together off the basis of that data, and it tells us that 76% are at or above for reading, 72% for maths and 68% for writing; that boys are trailing girls; and Maori and Pacifica are trailing everyone else.
SHANE          I don’t want to harp on about this, but tell our parents watching the programme this morning whether they can rely on this information.
HEKIA           They can rely on what the schools have said about themselves.
SHANE          What’s the point of the information, though, if the Prime Minister, for example, he calls it ropey; the head of your own ministry, she has described it as unreliable.
HEKIA           Well, what I have said all along is that it is variable. For the purposes of comparing schools, it is not reliable. For the purposes of growing our understanding of what the health of our system is across the country, it tells us very important information, and for it to be reliable for comparison, it has to be consistent. This year schools weren’t required to report in a consistent way, and that’s why some schools didn’t differentiate between how boys and girls were doing, some schools didn’t provide all years, some provided it as a narrative, others as tables, others as graphs. Next year there will be a consistent format that is required.
SHANE          So at this stage right now going back to little Johnny going to school next year, parents shouldn’t compare schools based on this information?
HEKIA           It makes it clear on that website what the data is capable of doing and what it is not. But here’s the thing. I think it’s totally appropriate for parents when they’re thinking about their schools not only to visit the schools, not only to know whether they like the look of the schools and the sports field, not only to understand what the arts and social studies programme is. I think it’s totally appropriate that we include achievement data.
SHANE                      The criticism, though, Minister, is that the standards being used for these results are subjective and too vague. Auckland Primary Principals President Jill Corkin says, let me quote: ‘Many of us believe the standards are a bit airy fairy and not specific enough. When you have a standard that says ‘work towards level 3’, what does ‘work towards level 3’ actually mean?’ This is a school principal, Minister, and let’s be honest, one of several, that doesn’t understand the criteria that these results are based on. Is that good enough?
HEKIA           What we do know is that the standards are mapped to the national curriculum and that the judgements that teachers use and the assessment tools that they make their judgements on are then mapped to the standards. So we do have a process here which works all the way from our national curriculum to what specifically is happening for little Johnny in his classroom with his teacher. This is a process of getting better and better. It has taken us about 10 – 12 years to do that for our national curriculum and for Te Marautanga, both of which are recognised as world-leading instruments. It has taken us about that time to also establish and embed the quality of our National Qualifications Framework and so on, and for our assessment and evaluation methodology, for which this country has been applauded. So this is another example using the very same process that we have used for other core parts of our education system.
SHANE          You talk about timeframes. Can we expect a similar timeframe for these results to be up to a reasonable standard? You talk about 10 years, the time that it took NCEA to bed itself in. Can we expect the same timeframe for National Standards?
HEKIA           Well, we have a five-year plan on the Education Counts website. That plan sets out the outcomes we expect in each year for the next five years at learner, teacher, parent, principal, board and sector agency level. So we’ve been very clear and very comprehensive what we are anticipating.
SHANE          So a five-year timeframe?
HEKIA           That’s what we’re proposing.
SHANE          And by that time will parents be able to accurately and be able to rely on this information to compare schools?
HEKIA           Well, the purpose of National Standards is actually to raise learner achievement in the classroom and within the kids in that classroom.
SHANE          And to give parents more information?
HEKIA           Yes, it is, but also between classrooms in the same school and between schools and for the government to know across the system where more precisely do we need to be investing resources in order to grow learner achievement.
SHANE                      Before we move on, 25 schools, as I understand it, have refused to comply and submit their information to the ministry. Is that acceptable? And if it’s not, what are you doing about it?
HEKIA           It’s not acceptable, but then I can say that 2063 schools have, and they have submitted their data.
SHANE          So what are you doing about these 25?
HEKIA                        Well, there are a few more than that that are having problems with data as well, and the Ministry of Education is working with each and every one of them.
SHANE          What about the ones, though, that have refused?
HEKIA           We’re going to be working with them.
SHANE          We’re moving on. On September 13 you announced a number of proposals for Christchurch schools, including – and let me underline the word – proposed closure of 13. Are you happy with the way it was handled?
HEKIA           Look, I don’t think there was one way that could have met everyone’s needs. I think that this was always going to be a difficult conversation to have. There are 215 schools in the network there. 173 are not affected by these proposals. Well, they are in the sense that planning is going ahead on the repairs that need to happen for their schools for the 23 swimming pools and so forth. For the group that have firm proposals in front of them, I’m not sure that there is a best way of communicating information that is not going to be received well.
SHANE          Could it have been done better, though?
HEKIA           I have already said it was unfortunate that colour coding was used in the name tags, but what I can say is that on the 13th we met in advance with the school principals and boards of the schools most directly affected. We met together and only they were there for the communication of that, before we then met with the overall group across Christchurch.
SHANE                      Well, let’s talk about this consultation and the schools, the 13 that are proposed to close. Now, two of them, they’ve volunteered to close, so that leaves us with 11. We’ve spoken to those 11, Minister, who say they feel like they’ve been hit by a bus. Matt Bateman from Burnside Primary told us in quote, ‘We’re offended. We feel totally let down. We feel shunned by the process and we’ll be fighting.’ What do you say to Mr Bateman and the community of Burnside?
HEKIA           Well, I wrote to those communities on Friday setting out what the specific timeline for consultation and engagement is, and they have till the 7th of December to give their feedback. We’ve also indicated that we will fund an independent facilitator so that the schools can focus on gathering what information they want or need. We have ensured that the Ministry of Education has dedicated a manager to their particular process. We are ensuring that they have every piece of information and data  they need to make an informed decision, and we have been strongly encouraging that they involve all of their school community in the discussion.
SHANE          And that’s what was in your letter on Friday, because let me read you the response from one of those schools who we spoke to after them receiving this letter. ‘We don’t believe it’s a genuine process. We believe that schools have been earmarked and that they have already made the decisions’ – you and your ministry – ‘especially in regards to the school closures.’ They don’t believe you, Minister.
HEKIA                        I can tell you unequivocally and emphatically that this is a genuine consultation. We are following the process that is set out in the Education Act. We’re being very clear what the proposal is, and I and the Ministry of Education will listen to everything that is said by the community. We will take the time after their proposals come in to look through them and carefully consider them before I then give a response in February next year. At that point schools will have a further 28 days if they don’t agree what that decision might be.
SHANE          Well, let’s say now, because all 11 of those schools, they don’t agree. You’ve got a lot of work to do.
HEKIA           Well, look. School closures around the country under any administration around the country are always difficult. Here in Christchurch is a community that’s been under intolerable stress for a very long time.
SHANE          Let me interrupt you there, because that’s the point they also make. It feels like it’s Wellington making decisions for Christchurch. You say that they’ve been under a lot of pressure. They agree, and they say, ‘Let’s take a breath.’
HEKIA           And I think you’ll find, too, that in every interview that’s been given, schools are all saying, ‘We know that there has to be change. We accept that there has to be change.’
SHANE          Yes, but consultation, that’s where the question lies. That’s why they’re angry. That’s why they feel like, as I said before, hit by a bus, because they don’t agree with the consultation that’s taken place so far.
HEKIA                        Well, that may be the case, but you can’t have it both ways – that there needs to be consultation, but on what? Because that’s been some of the criticism, hasn’t it? That in October, the consultation was too high-level. In May, it gave some specifics but not enough specifics. In September, it gives too much specifics. Yes, there is genuine consultation, there has been at each phase, and it’s related to different stages of this process. I am listening to every school in Christchurch, Waimakariri and Selwyn, and we will go through and are committed to a genuine process.
SHANE          Minister, last we spoke on the programme you were defending class sizes, and we both know where that ended, and I’m wondering now if the same could happen with Christchurch.
HEKIA           In what way?
SHANE          In the way of backing down, changing.
HEKIA           Well, you can’t ask for a genuine consultation and then not listen and have some different results come out of it, can you? So we are genuinely interested in consulting with all of the schools involved with these firm proposals. We have set out a clear timeline, we have provided resource to support that happening, and then we will listen. We will listen and we will be in a position to give an outcome from that in February next year.
SHANE          Two big announcements, though, Minister. We know how the first one ended. Could this one end the same?
HEKIA           Well, look, again, I repeat – we’re going into this with some firm proposals in a context of two very big consultations that resulted in over 750 submissions which we listened to, and we’re going into that process now. There is no predetermined outcome. We are listening. 
SHANE          And we’ll leave it there. Thank you very much for your time.
HEKIA           Thank you.


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