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ROGER PARTRIDGE: Rising risk of lift in literacy

The country’s education establishment has come out swinging. ‘Destructive,’ ‘weird,’ and ‘radical,’ are how the critics have described the Christopher Luxon-led Coalition Government’s education reform agenda. 


Who could blame them for such strong language?  


Luxon’s Government is not just turning the clock back on progressive education with its “Teaching the Basics Brilliantly” policy. It is doubling down by reintroducing charter, or ‘partnership’ schools.  


Teaching the Basics Brilliantly proposes a radical return to classroom teaching. An hour a day will be spent on each of reading, writing and maths.  


Imagine the horror in progressive educational circles at such structured barbarism. It’s enough to send shivers down the spine of any self-respecting 21st-century educator. 


Marlborough’s Riverlands School principal Bradley Roberts pointed out that dedicating a whole hour to each core subject “is not how the education sector delivers the curriculum anymore.”  


Indeed. Why focus on mundane tasks like reading and writing when the complexities of an ‘integrated’ curriculum have successfully navigated Kiwi students towards the bottom of the international rankings?  


Roberts suggests state schools might resist the Government’s draconian return to focused learning. He could be right. After all, it must take schools years to integrate subjects so seamlessly that students can barely distinguish between them, let alone master any of them. 


With an hour dedicated to core subjects, New Zealand might inadvertently halt its march towards educational oblivion. 


Partnership schools are a further affront to modern educational progressivism. Lamenting the return of school choice, Mark Potter, the president of the country’s biggest education union, NZEI, said the policy would undermine public education.  


Potter may have a point. Why risk giving parents educational choice when all students can languish uniformly under the same flagging system? 


Associate Education Minister David Seymour calls partnership schools “an innovative education model” for disadvantaged children.  


But Seymour’s proposal is bizarrely out of step with what the unions want. It’s like suggesting our one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t fit at all.  


Just imagine schools setting their own curriculum, hours and pay rates, and being accountable for their results. They would have freedom to adapt to the needs of their students, rather than fitting into the Ministry of Education’s mould.  


Little wonder Potter warns of the dire risks of innovation driving different outcomes.  


As the country stands on the brink of change, we can only hope the spirit of educational stagnation will prevail. Otherwise, the reforms just might end up teaching Kiwi students to read and write. 


Roger Partridge is chairman and a co-founder of The New Zealand Initiative and is a senior member of its research team.

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