Principal's comment 23 May

The last two weeks have been interesting for the the arts.  I had a very enthusiastic call from Gregor Fountain, Principal of Wellington College, thanking our staff  and drama students for the two performances of “Two Nights” that were given at his school on Wednesday last week.  The show has a new cast for this year, and this was their first performance “on tour”.

The drama motif was extended by the success of English teacher Ryan Cundy, who is one of ten short-listed playwrights from across the country for the “Playwrights B4 25” competition. Ryan travels to Auckland later this month for the announcement ceremony.  Meanwhile, the writing credits also stack up along the student path, with Jenna Logan of 9GDST achieving success in a national short story competition which is part of Young New Zealand Writer’s Day.  Jenna travels to Rotorua later in the month for the release of the anthology within which her story will feature.  

Outside the school, last week saw the release of the recommendations of the NCEA Review.  There appears to be universal support for the payment of NCEA fees and that step removes what was a real barrier for some students.  However, many of the review recommendations are, in my view, a failure of courage.  The reduction of Level 1 credits to 60 theoretically helps reduce student stress and that is both helpful and necessary, even if inserting a co-requisite 20 credit exercise effectively restores the 80 credit total.  The proposed change to 50% external assessment is no overall gain, working directly against the flexibility of assessment choice that is a major benefit of NCEA.  Even allowing for the fact that external assessment does not automatically mean examination assessment, the ability to fit assessment to the nature of the learning area and to the student at the centre of the exercise is compromised.  That did not need to happen. Similarly, the increased focus on literacy and numeracy sounds fine - who wouldn’t support standards? - but the detail will be the key there.  If those renewed levels set up barriers that disqualify students from demonstrating and having recognised by certification their skills in other areas, I’d argue that helps nobody.  It’s important not to get too energised here before the fine detail is spelt out, but it is hard to see how the outlined changes will contribute to students being able to study programmes that are tailored to their needs.  The New Zealand Curriculum document works strongly to focus on students as individuals and it would be a shame if the NCEA review were to produce assessment changes that produce the opposite effect.  

We’ve had an interesting time in the last week in respect of social media comment around the scheduled Year 9 Dance. The dance was set up along the same model as has run successfully for the last three years, but the organising students were disappointed that on the morning of the scheduled day they had sold only 37 tickets.  That does not make for a successful event and so the dance was cancelled and ticket holders refunded.  Since then there has been a great deal of misinformed social media comment, picked up by the local “real” media and relayed as fact.  It’s an interesting situation when the wider media use social media as their source of facts. Meanwhile, the Year 9 students are being surveyed to see why they did not support the dance.

Tomorrow, the student climate strike occurs.  The original strike in March was on the day of the Christchurch mosque attacks and the students’ efforts were overwhelmed by the day. Tomorrow, they hope to create their core message that as the generation inheriting the planet from their elders, they demand a level of action now that places the environment above profit and convenience.  I think that’s a great message and wish them well.

Next week we move into industrial action, unless there is a last-minute solution.  The current Secondary Teachers’ Collective Agreement expired on 27 October 2018, nearly seven months ago.  The Ministry appears to be overwhelmed by the many different reviews of aspects of education currently under way, and in a phase where teacher goodwill is going to be needed to implement a raft of forthcoming changes it seems extraordinary that solutions appear so far away.  There are always two side of any issue, but in this case teachers are seeking to regain some of the ground they have lost against the national average wage in the last decade.  Not regain all, but some.  To many, it’s a simple case of where teaching sits within the New Zealand salary range.  The current message from the Minister effectively says “It’s dropping and that’s just the way it is.”  Teachers in both the primary and secondary service are saying that’s not good enough.