National's curriculum rewrite pledge won't fix issues - NZEI

Thu, Mar 23

The president of the country's largest teaching union says National's pitch to "rewrite the curriculum" to focus on "the basics" is "not an answer for the problems we have".

Yesterday, Christopher Luxon announced several key points of his party's election-year education policy, which is being fully unveiled in Upper Hutt today.

The party leader pledged that a potential National government would rewrite the school curriculum for primary and intermediate kids to push "non-negotiable" subjects like maths, reading, writing, and science.

He explained that the policy would focus on giving schoolchildren under the age of 13 "the basics" that would build a "foundation" for other knowledge.

Luxon said the change would mean defining the curriculum "year by year" for teachers in order to reduce time spent on tasks like preparing lessons.

"What I mean by that is, at the moment, our curriculum takes one to three years, and it sort of says: 'Oh, we're gonna learn addition and subtraction somewhere between Year 2 and Year 5'. In Australia, in the UK, you'll learn that in Year 1," he told Breakfast yesterday.

When asked today, NZEI president Mark Potter told Breakfast that Luxon's policy suggestions were a "real easy answer being thrown out".

"Do we want a curriculum that's designed by education experts? Or do you want a curriculum that is designed by politicians?" he said.

"Because it's not an answer for the problems that we have. What the basics are for one child is not the basics for their friends or classmates, and it's a very complex picture that teachers are having to draw together."

He suggested the idea of defining the curriculum year-by-year was an "old and unsatisfactory" policy that wasn't suitable for Aotearoa.

"Children don't come in a lovely production line all operating at the same time, at the same level. What we do know about learning, that's evidence-based, is that they all learn at different times and different rates," he said.

"That's what teachers are designing for. To go for a singular approach to say, it must be this year, must be that year is just an old and unsatisfactory approach.

"Cutting and pasting from overseas has never worked well for us, and that's where those ideas are coming from."

Potter said New Zealand has an "excellent curriculum" but that teachers hadn't been given enough time to let it be used.

"We've had various interferences over the years with imposed standards before. That didn't work. What the teachers need is the time to focus on what is an excellent curriculum, and to give the children the diverse learning experiences that they do need."

Teachers went on a historic strike over working conditions last Thursday after pay negotiations broke down with the Ministry of Education. In response, Education Minister Jan Tinetti told teachers that the Government "can do better".

Potter said the union was primarily concerned about investment at the frontline like having more teachers and more specialists available in schools.

"The big problem that we have is we just don't have the resourcing and the numbers of teachers that we need to do their kinds of work," he said.

"What we're not looking for is increasing standards, and different ways of flipping the curriculum again and again, which just creates more work for the teachers at the chalk face."

When asked yesterday, Luxon said he would "fully agree" to having more resourcing and better working conditions for teachers alongside implementing his new curriculum.

"My wife was a teacher, and I sort of observed all the extra work that teachers are doing.

"They're also doing all the work of parents.

"They're often doing the work of social workers and counsellors. We want them to be able to get back to teaching the basics well."