EDUCATION LEADERSHIP Schools On Report – Where is the leadership in education?

Well before the NCEA experiment was unleashed on New Zealand’s high schools growing sense of unease about developments in the nation’s education system was spreading throughout the business community.
Business people – in their capacity as parents, employers, colleagues and participants in the economy – were having grave concerns about the ability of secondary schooling in particular to deliver students well-prepared for tertiary training or with the grounding necessary to participate fully and usefully in the economy.
This concern was triggered not just by personal and anecdotal evidence but by growing body of data, both local (such as universities needing to institute remedial classes to bring new students up to the level required for tertiary study), and international (our relative decline in OECD education rankings).
But it was not until the NCEA had rolled out into schools that there was sense of an education system in crisis. There are currently seven separate ministerial reviews being conducted into the new examination system, triggered largely by questions raised by last year’s scholarship exams.
Late last year the Independent Business Foundation, “charitable trust with business educational objectives” which focuses on promoting SME development, produced paper expressing concern at developments in education. The IBF noted lack of confidence in “the home grown award” (NCEA) pointing out that “a knowledge economy requires secondary and tertiary facilities that meet or exceed average first nation standards”. The report noted that “NCEA is considered insufficient qualification for study overseas [except for Australia and the UK]”.
The IBF believed it was significant that, “private and reputable state schools give their students the option of sitting well-established internationally recognised university entrance examinations”.
It’s not surprising that the current environment is also producing leadership crisis in school principals’ offices throughout the country. There are currently 80 schools under limited statutory management (LSM), compared with 17 in 2002. Last month Secondary Schools Principals Association president Paul Ferris said that the Ministry of Education, fearful of further political embarrassment, was increasingly reactive, moving precipitately to LSM. He was concerned at the increase, arguing that it would put good new young people off leadership roles in teaching. “The field for principalship has declined and it will get worse.
“There’s perception that LSM comes much faster and when that happens the principal’s career is over. Bad leaders can’t be tolerated but it’s the speed with how it happens.”
In his book What’s Up with Our Schools released last month, Allan Peachey, the principal of New Zealand’s largest secondary school, Rangitoto College, claims that New Zealand’s central education bureaucracies have squeezed the initiative out of schools, principals and teachers. He is scathing of teachers’ colleges for too much emphasis on ideology and introducing bright-eyed graduates to the world of “institutionalised mediocrity”.
He calls for return to teaching students the foundations of education, beginning with reading, writing and arithmetic, while instilling in them passion for learning. He emphasises the importance of putting in front of every classroom talented and enthusiastic teachers who are well-educated in their subject field.
It’s philosophy shared by Academic Colleges Group’s Senior College in Auckland City, one of the independent schools offering an alternative to NCEA that is gaining increasing support from concerned schools, parents and students throughout the country.
Senior College principal Kathy Parker says the decision to opt for the Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) was pro-active move – not anti NCEA. “We wanted to provide for the needs of students with an international qualification that was academically rigorous from well-established system.” She says that CIE, established over 100 years ago and used in more than 170 countries was the obvious one that met all these criteria. CIE qualifications are recognised in most countries and are considered equivalent to United Kingdom qualifications.
Parker says it was an enormous task for any country to “change whole system like this” and that there would always be teething problems with any change. She commented specifically on the lack of uniformity of marks in NCEA examinations adding that there needed to be better communication from the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) to schools.
Critics of the old exam system emphasised the scaling required to get consistent results year on year. “There’s no scaling of final marks with Cambridge; it’s very transparent. You get scale and mark.
“We have had staff on the marking panels – we’re very confident of the marking and moderation.
“Examiners from England cover the whole world. The mark students get in an exam is ‘worldwide’ mark.”
To New Zealand critics of the system, including Education Minister Trevor Mallard, who have labelled CIE “third-world” option not appropriate for any country that can run its own system, Parker invites them to pick up any CIE syllabus and see how it challenges students across the board. “It’s incredibly rigorous. I had to up my own game in both depth and breadth [to teach the Cambridge syllabus].”
Some third-world countries do offer CIE but so do schools in many European countries, the United States, Canada and Australia, and it has been adopted as the national secondary school qualification in Singapore.
Here in New Zealand 43 schools now offer CIE with the number of exam entries doubling over the past two years.
Parker says that contrary to the “myth of inflexibility [of Cambridge] it’s the only system I know of where you can take 8-10 individual subjects [for broadbased year 12/13 two-year course] or you can specialise.”
She notes that it’s important to have good dialogue with universities. Senior College has found tertiary institutions “happy to talk” and Auckland University has been very affirming of what her school is doing. “There can be disparity between what schools think universities want and the reality. You need to be very clear and provide clear pathway between secondary and tertiary so you don’t short change students.
“Any institution that cares about its students has to foster the relationship with organisations that the students will move on to.”
Parker fosters links with the business community. “You need to blend the theory from school with the practical.” The links are particularly relevant in business studies, economics and accounting and Parker says she brings “the best practitioners” into the school.
Jacqueline Scorgie, principal of Corran School, small independent school for girls in Auckland, cited “unease amongst staff and parents” when NCEA was first proposed as the driver for looking at other options.
“A significant group of educators, who met way back when an NCEA-type system was being proposed, felt it was flawed in its foundation and expressed concerns back then.”
Like Parker she is quick to point out that Corran’s concern was not just an aversion to something uniquely New Zealand. “Clearly if there was credible, excellent, internationally useful national examination system in this country we would be in favour of that.”
Corran was looking for the best educational programme it could offer its school community. “It’s very daunting thing to take whole school to an alternative [examination] system – I lost lot of sleep.
“We looked at Cambridge, but as small school we didn’t have the resources to implement it on our own.” Scorgie explained that Auckland Grammar had done considerable research into Cambridge which assisted Corran in moving ahead with the programme.
Even so, Corran took cautious approach and conducted trial in 2002 – the first year of NCEA in schools. The year 11 cohort did three subjects – maths, history

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