Government signals education sector reform
By JOHN HARTEVELT - Stuff.co.nz
Last updated 14:31 09/02/2010

The Government will launch fresh changes in education with Prime Minister John Key insisting there is ''no more important area for reform''.

In his statement to parliament this afternoon, Mr Key indicated the Government would not be cowed by controversy over the National Standards and reforms throughout the sector would continue.

''This year National will progress the education reforms that are necessary to address underachievement in our schools, improve young New Zealanders' job opportunities and drive improved educational performance across the board,'' Mr Key said.

The announcement of further reforms is likely to come as a shock to education leaders who believed the focus in the sector this year would be almost exclusively on the National Standards in primary schools.

Mr Key referred to ''legislative and funding changes'' planned to modernise secondary schools.

''These changes will ensure that schools can access the trades and technology expertise they need; give them greater flexibility over their timetables; and ensure they can access the classrooms, equipment and expertise of other training providers.''

He said there was ''no more important area for reform'' than education.

''We know that such an ambitious programme of reform will not be without its critics.''

Mr Key has stripped Education Minister Anne Tolley of the Tertiary Education portfolio in a bid to direct her focus on to the National Standards.

The standards in literacy and numeracy for primary and intermediate schools are being implemented this year.

Mr Key today said the standards would be followed with further reforms to ensure money made it to the children and schools most in need of support.

''We will implement a range of reforms to lift the performance of these [struggling] schools, and ensure that where children need extra help they get it,'' Mr Key said.

Reforms would include improving the training of teachers, refocusing spending on struggling students and ''intervening more aggressively in schools which are consistently failing their students''.

Legislation that is already well progressed through parliament would allow poorly-performing school boards to be taken over by consultancy firms or better-performed school boards.

Mr Key made an apparent reference to the potential for primary school league tables, saying: ''we are determined to be transparent with parents about how their children are achieving.''

He said the Government was developing a policy about the use of information collected through the National Standards.

''We want to strike a balance between being up-front with parents and communities on the one hand, and on the other hand ensuring that information isn't misconstrued or misinterpreted.''

Mr Key said there were ''increasingly urgent problems'' in tertiary education.

There were a large number of providers with high drop-out rates.

More policy changes this year would try to make sure courses were relevant to the job market and of a high quality.

Mr Key gave a further hint that access to student allowances and loans could be tightened.

''We will take a careful look at the policy settings around student support to ensure that taxpayers' generosity is not being exploited by those who refuse to take their tertiary studies seriously, or who show little inclination to transition from tertiary training in to work.''

In early childhood education, participation among the poor, Maori and Pacific communities would be targeted.

From here.