• Too much focus on schools’ bottom fifth – Mallard

    by  • April 18, 2013 • Articles, News • 5 Comments

    Labour MP and former education minister Trevor Mallard has suggested that the school system might be spending too effort on working with the bottom fifth of students at the expense of “the most talented kids”.

    Giving a lecture in Wellington on Tuesday this week, Mallard noted efforts to make sure the school system responds better to – and is shaped by the needs of – Maori and Pasifika students.

    But, he added: “I’m not certain that working with the bottom fifth, who are disproportionately Maori and Pasifika, is as important as working with the top fifth of Maori and Pasifika to make sure they achieve their potential.

    “One of the anxieties I have is that at the end of my time [as education minister], and since, we have had a disproportionate focus on the bottom end, and we are missing out on ensuring some of the most talented kids, Maori, Pasifika and Pakeha, are achieving their potential. We are losing just about as much with them not achieving their potential [as we do at the bottom].”

    Max Rashbrooke

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    Max is an author, academic and journalist working in Wellington, New Zealand, where he writes about politics, finance and social issues. Sign up to Max's mailing list.

    5 Responses to Too much focus on schools’ bottom fifth – Mallard

    1. graham Howell
      April 18, 2013 at 1:34 am

      Mallard’s comments are in stark contrast with a speach by Peter Fraser, Minister of Education under the first Labour Government. Labour were attempting to ensure every boy and girl could attend secondary school and be educated to the level suitable for their own personal needs

      • Max Rashbrooke
        Max Rashbrooke
        April 18, 2013 at 1:38 am

        Yes, quite. I don’t disagree that with Mallard’s point that we need to focus on the top fifth as well, but – as Fraser would have thought – international evidence from places like Finland is that systems do best when they aim for equity and an even level of treatment, rather than excellence per se. And genuine equity must mean lots more attention and help for the bottom fifth.

        • Steven
          April 20, 2013 at 1:46 am

          When Mallard says “I’m not certain that working with the bottom fifth, who are disproportionately Maori and Pasifika, is as important as working with the top fifth of Maori and Pasifika to make sure they achieve their potential”, he elides what are two different cohorts. The bottom fifth of the entire state school cohort is a much higher number than the top fifth of just the Maori and Pacifika component of that cohort – so he needs to begin by making more accurate comparisons.
          In my view, every student has the right to have their educational needs, whatever they are and whatever their potential, catered to. The monolithic state school system is not the appropriate model for that – it is insufficiently nuanced to cater for difference. in fact it never has been for Maori and Pacific, let alone for large numbers of disaffected Pakeha who lack the requisite cultural capital.
          Mallard of course is an apologist for the State system. Taking the focus off the failures of that system, is one way to perpetuate it. Why not recognize the State educational system as the failure, not its unfortunate inmates.

          • Max Rashbrooke
            Max Rashbrooke
            April 20, 2013 at 1:52 am

            Hi Steven, I’d agree with you up to a point. Plenty of ERO reports etc have shown that the system doesn’t cater well for Maori and Pasifika, true. Although that’s not for a lack of effort by teachers. Problem is, how would you do it differently? The New Zealand system is already seen, internationally, as pretty flexible and responsive to the needs of individual learners. So there can’t be a lot of models out there for us to copy, is one point. And models that promote school choice, such as charter schools/academies/free schools, seem to be based in part on excluding the hardest to reach kids. But genuinely interested in your ideas on that.

            • Steven
              April 21, 2013 at 9:12 pm

              Currently, a much greater proportion of education funding goes to individuals from the top stream, simply because they stay in it longer, and at levels where it is more expensive. This is iniquitous. Those who can afford it should not have free taxpayer funded education available in the top state schools, which tend to be in wealthier suburbs. They already get enough benefits from the existing system.
              Second, a single provider cannot possibly cater to the needs, wants and aspirations of the myriad of students in NZ (and thereby their families/cultures), particularly those who lack the cultural capital that state schools tend to reproduce (white middle/ upper middle class) . Also, can the state provider offer teachers the breadth of vocational opportunities and preferences to cater for their own needs and talents?

              I would like to see an expansion of the existing education marketplace, to reduce the monopolistic effect of the State, and ensure that more choices are available to students, parents (and teachers). This should not be driven by bureaucrats, politicians or trade unions, but from the ground up.
              Remove the barriers to peoples own needs, desires, and agency/energy. I am not arguing against the comprehensive model, just that it compete with other models/providers on more equal terms. The State would remain crucial, as funder, monitor and facilitator, but be the brain of the system, and not the brawn by also monopolizing provision.
              In a word, my approach is person centered, rather than state centered. Call me radical, and naive, but I believe in people, and the individual human right to autonomy of beliefs and practices, including education (as long as these do not infringe on the human rights of others).

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