Q and A

More prescriptive curriculum helps neurodiverse students - National

Sun, Mar 26

National's education spokesperson says a more prescriptive curriculum, like the one her party proposes, benefits students who are neurodivergent or have dyslexia.

However, the Dyslexia Foundation is concerned National's education policy would put students who are neurodivergent at further risk of failure in the classroom.

Education spokesperson and MP Erica Stanford told Q+A today that parents of pupils who are neurodivergent want to know how well their children were doing in school.

That was why her party's policy was "so overwhelmingly supported by parents", she said.

Stanford argued the existing practice of presenting curriculum levels in three-year bands lacked specificity. She said that it could mask if a child is falling behind.

"Parents of neurodiverse children want to know how their kids are progressing — really important.

"One thing you often hear is parents of dyslexic children say, ‘I didn't find out until they were at Year 6 that they were dyslexic, because I kept being told they were within the curriculum guidelines, within these broad three-year bands... and they'll catch up, and then they never did, and by the time they were at Year 6, it was too late.’

"A more prescribed curriculum will allow you to pick these things up much earlier.

National Party leader Christopher Luxon with education spokesperson Erica Stanford

"A structured approach to learning, especially when it comes to our dyslexic and neurodiverse kids, is actually a much better way to go than a broad, loose curriculum that doesn't give you any guidance.

"We know that a structured approach works for them."

She said National's proposal to rewrite the curriculum to dictate what must be taught at each year level in reading, writing, maths and science would allow teachers to detect when a student is falling behind earlier.

The policy would also introduce standardised progress assessments for reading, writing and maths for those between Years 3 and 8.

In addition, it requires primary and intermediate schools to teach an hour each, on average, of reading, writing and maths every day.

The fourth prong of the policy aimed to ensure teachers and their trainees spent "more time learning how to teach the basics," according to the party.

National says it would scrap teacher registration fees and create new curriculum resources to help teachers plan lessons.

'No extra funding' for the policy

When asked if National would increase funding for teacher aides and support staff to help teachers deal with students' increasingly complex needs, Stanford said National had "more to say about that" in the coming months.

Stanford said there would be "no extra funding" for National's policy, apart from $10 million for the policy to remove teacher registration fees.

"No extra funding. Because there is plenty of money — $5 billion extra," she said.

"There is plenty of money" from "backline waste" that could be redirected, such as the funds used to restructure the Ministry of Education or for advisers, she said.

"We're going to use what's already in baseline and redirect that back-line waste and put it into meeting front-line need."

She committed to improving teacher pay at every pay negotiation round but wouldn't comment on ongoing negotiations between unions and the Ministry of Education.

Dyslexia Foundation: Standardisation 'will only perpetuate discrimination'

Dyslexia Foundation chair of trustees Guy Pope-Mayell said, without appropriate support, having an hour each of math, reading and writing a day is "tantamount to torture, particularly for those with dyslexia or dyscalculia".

"This sort of stringent mandate sets them up for further failure in the classroom," he said on Friday.

Pope-Mayell added standardised assessment "becomes another punitive tool that simply measures failure".

"There is no doubt the education system is in crisis, with under-resourced and underpaid teachers and we applaud National for taking a stand on this.

“However, taking an old-school standardised approach to change will only perpetuate discrimination for the neurodiverse.

"National's policy has some handy soundbites to catch votes, but is silent on the potential impacts on upwards of 20% of children who have some form of neurodiversity," he said.

Q+A is Public Interest Journalism funded by NZ on Air


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