National has a fairly predictable way of campaigning.
One of its major techniques is to pick a fight with a sector by posing a policy that can fit in a headline and at the same time pick a fight with that sector. The tough guy we know best approach is guaranteed to attract opposition from sectors that do know what they are talking about and the resultant fight hogs media resources and attention. The tactic is known as flooding the zone with shit and Donald Trump is an accomplished genius at the tactic.
And their base love it. Ill informed old people who yearn for a past that never really existed think it is great. And the policy has the added benefit of diverting blame away from National for its education failures that occurred while it was last in power.
Its latest announcement about education fits squarely in this description. National is proposing to direct teachers to use a technique known as structured literacy for the teaching of reading and writing.
From Radio New Zealand:
The National Party is promising to require primary schools to use the “structured literacy” approach to teaching reading and writing.
It would also require primary school teachers to learn the approach as part of certification, introduce phonics checks to test Year 2s’ reading, and bring in structured literacy interventions for those who need extra support.
The Structured Literacy approach teaches reading by starting with phonemes – the smallest units of sound – and building up from there. National’s plan would include putting a “literacy lead” who had received specialist training from an accredited provider to support teachers and teacher aides.
The strategy would be phased in starting with Years 1-3 from 2025, covering all pupils up to Year 6 by 2027. The party expects the policy to cost $60.5 million over four years.
To fund the policy National will “reprioritise” funding for reading recovery although at the end of the document it states that “National will fund the Literacy Guarantee from new operational spending as part of our commitment to increase funding for Education each year in Government.”
But you have to ask why National thinks that it knows better than the experts in the area who have designed a system that has a variety of approaches that work for a variety of learning types, as pointed out by Education Minister Jan Tinetti. From Megan Wilson at the Bay of Plenty Times:
Jan Tinetti – the current Education Minister and Labour’s candidate for Tauranga – said it appeared National was going to cut the reading recovery and early literacy support programme to pay for the new policy.
Tinetti said the reading recovery programme had been changed in the last two years to include structured literacy. The programme was for students who were “not making the same progress that the other kids are making”.
“It really concerns me that the way they’re looking to pay for this is by cutting something that’s absolutely essential to the fabric of our education network.
“Every single school that I go into – and it’s most schools that have a structured literacy approach – also tell me that they need the remedial approach.
“So I’m actually shocked that they’re cutting [reading recovery] because it’s kids who are going to be in danger here.”
She said for about a year, the sector had been working on the best practices for the teaching of reading.
“And I feel like National have just undermined their work by asserting that they know best with this policy.”
She believed academics and sector experts “know best” and it was important politicians “stay out of it”.
“Sometimes people seem to think [structured literacy] is a magic bullet and it’s not – we’re still going to [need] the catch-up programmes as well.”
National’s policy paper contains this rather interesting graph.
The graph is interesting because it shows an increase to 2006 under Labour, a decrease to 2011 under National, a significant drop to 2016 again under National and an easing out to 2021 under National then Labour.
I wrote this in 2012 about National’s change to Education after it was elected in 2008. I referred to the Briefing to the incoming Education Minister and noted the report made two points:
1. The average performance of New Zealand 15-year-olds in mathematics, science and reading literacy placed New Zealand among the top countries of the OECD.
2. The Government was urged to continue with professional development programs. The Numeracy Development Project, established in 2000, had resulted in significant improvements. Between 2002 and 2007 the percentage of Year 6 students achieving at or above the expected level in mathematics increased from 40 percent to 61 percent while the percentage classified as at risk decreased from 30 percent to 13 percent. The Literacy Strategy, also established in 2000, also saw significant improvements. A 2008 evaluation showed that after taking into account expected growth and maturation, students’ gains in reading and writing were twice those that could be expected without the intervention and that schools accelerated the rate of progress for the majority of the at-risk students by four times the expected rate.
So what happened to the recommendations? In Budget 2009 then Minister Ann Tolley gave private schools $35 million extra funding, announced the roll out of National Standards while at the same time cut funding for the literacy and numeracy projects despite their effectiveness. If she wanted to do something for literacy and numeracy she would have not done this. She was looking to appease National Supporters and introduce testing for PR purposes at the cost of two quality programs.
Clearly the same will happen if there is a change in Government again. And National will clearly direct Teachers how to teach if it gets the chance.
These issues ought to be the subject to intense analysis and advice, not a policy document drawn up to scratch political itches.
The intent does seem to be to pick a fight, flood the zone with shit, and dominate media cycles for as long as possible.
It is a shame that politics has degenerated to this.