....but has he found a winner in promising to raise scholastic achievement?
National Party leader Christopher Luxon may be feeling glum about his poll ratings, but he could be tapping into a rich political vein in describing the current state of education as “alarming”.
Luxon said educational achievement has been declining, with a recent NCEA pilot exposing just how far it has fallen: a staggering two-thirds of students are unable to meet the minimum standard in reading, writing and maths.
“National will not allow this to continue. National will make sure every child leaving primary and intermediate school can master the basics so they can succeed at high school and lead fulfilling lives,” he said.
For some time it has been evident that standards in state schools have been slipping. Blaming it on Covid is too simplistic.
The government spends almost $15 billion on education each year, but the results are highly unequal and slowly declining. This is a problem because it is the fastest-growing demographic groups who are achieving the poorest results, and the 21st century will require more and more skills from workers as technology develops.
Children have a wide range of needs, but NZ’s one-size-fits-all education system has failed to adapt and provide every student with a good education. Too many children are leaving school without the basic skills they need to navigate a rapidly-changing world.
NZ experiences significant educational inequality. It has some of the highest-performing schools and students in the world, but also has a long tail of underachievement in disadvantaged communities.
The Hipkins government is vulnerable on the issue because from 2017 the education portfolio was held by Hipkins himself until he became PM.
So National, in jumping on the issue, intends to hammer it vigorously. It said today the first part of the party’s education policy, Teaching the Basics Brilliantly, would be announced by Luxon tomorrow in Hutt Valley.
The party’s curriculum would detail knowledge and skills that primary and intermediate schools must cover each year in reading, writing, maths and science.
“At the moment, one curriculum level can span several school years, which makes it difficult to identify and help children who are falling behind,” Luxon said.
“Evidence shows children’s abilities are often underestimated and therefore the looseness in the NZ Curriculum means some Kiwi kids are learning the building blocks of reading, writing and maths later than they should.”
Luxon told RNZ National’s changes would bring NZ in line with other western countries.
“For example, in England and Australia, you learn addition and subtraction in year 1. In NZ, it can be anywhere between years 1 to 5. If you’re learning algebra, it’s year 5 in England and Australia but in NZ, it’s anywhere from year 6 to 10.”
Luxon said National would be careful not to narrow the curriculum.
“But I can tell you right now when I see the average 15-year-old in NZ is a year and a half behind where a 15-year-old in NZ was 20 years ago with their knowledge based on maths, that’s a problem.
“When they are three-quarters of a year behind on reading and writing from our own students 20 years ago that were 15, that’s a problem. When we’ve dropped out of all the top 10 countries on maths, reading, and science, and writing, that’s a big problem for NZ.”
He said people needed a lot more than “Labour’s curriculum refresh”.
“We must be more ambitious for our children.
“If NZ wants to turn around declining achievement and ensure every child makes consistent progress, we need a curriculum that provides clear and detailed guidance to teachers and parents on what students should be learning each school year.
“National will deliver that and give every child the opportunity to succeed.”
Luxon said education was critical to unlock a better future for all New Zealanders and to equip the next generation with the skills and knowledge they needed to succeed.
“A world-class education system is essential for driving social mobility, helping break cycles of poverty, and giving every child the chance to live the life they want”.
Point of Order is a blog focused on politics and the economy run by veteran newspaper reporters Bob Edlin and Ian Templeton