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Kerre Woodham: Teachers shouldn't be writing the curriculum

Kerre Woodham,
Publish Date
Thu, 4 Apr 2024, 2:18PM
Photo / 123rf
Photo / 123rf

Kerre Woodham: Teachers shouldn't be writing the curriculum

Kerre Woodham,
Publish Date
Thu, 4 Apr 2024, 2:18PM

Didn't Erica Stanford sound impressive talking to Mike on the Mike Hosking breakfast this morning? This is a woman who has clearly been working on her passion portfolio while in opposition, who has come into government ready to go.  

I remember Chris Hipkins when he was in a couple of weeks ago saying we weren't really ready to come into government. What the hell were you doing for the past nine years? Seriously, you're being paid, surely you should be looking at your passion portfolios, you can put up your hand when you're in a party that's been decimated and it's running around looking for a purpose and you can say look, this is why I came into politics, this is what I want to do, and you start work on it. That's what Erica Stanford has done when National was decimated.  

She clearly cares very, very much about education, and about the education of New Zealand children, and about the teaching profession.  And she wasn't out for petty point scoring. The only time she mentioned the last government, she gave them credit for putting secondary teachers on the two-year worked residency visas. But she does want to see New Zealand children be given the right to a world class education that previous generations enjoyed, and I would have to say took for granted. We assumed we could take our place in the world because we were well prepared to do so, and we assumed that would continue. It did not. And that's what happens when you let ideology get in the way of good practice.  

The Education Review Office has found that the new history curriculum that was introduced into schools is being taught on an ad hoc, localised basis, that too many schools and teachers are spending time developing their course studies rather than actually teaching them, and many of them have been overwhelmed by the scale of the changes required.  

ES: The important part here is, it’s really interesting in the history report, schools themselves were saying it’s incredibly time consuming to develop local curriculum. So, we have schools around the country with a very broad, high level curriculum that's done by the centre, they then have to create their own curriculum. So, inconsistent across the country, kids are being taught different things, there’s no consistency of what’s being taught.  

ES: And you said earlier, I was listening to you, about our place in the world and how we started to trade and the first refrigerated ship that went out of, the SS Dunedin, I think, in 1882. That changed the way we traded with the world and changed our economy. We don’t teach that anymore because it’s not specified in the curriculum. 

MH: Why not? 

ES: Because we have shifted in the early 2000’s away from this idea of a centralized curriculum that lays out what kids need to know and when, to a devolved system where schools themselves end up having to create the content and thus saying themselves, “This is too much. We want to get on with the deep, with the magic of teaching, and bringing the content to life.” Because that's what teachers do so well. The, the curriculum is supposed to support them with the details, but since the early 2000’s, we have had this very vague waffly curriculum. Hence our decline amongst, you know, the world. 

Erica Stanford explained it beautifully, and anybody involved in education knows that the changes that have occurred did not happen in the last five years, or even the last 10 years. It's been nearly 30 years of gradual decline.  

But to come back to the point that, you know, teachers should be teaching, that is what they do. That's what they love. That's what they're good at. That's what ignites a passion for curiosity and knowing more among our children. How is it that they are the ones developing the curriculum within their schools when the number of full-time equivalents employed at the Ministry of Education ballooned by 55%?  

The ministry employed 4,311 staff, 1,704 more than it did in June 2016. That was last year. So, 4,311 staff, 1,704 more than it did in June of 2016, and they used the explanation to say that the ministry had ballooned by 55%, as since 2017 it's taken on 550 extra education advisers and an additional 170 curriculum advisors and related staff. So that's a huge increase.  

Nearly 1000 people involved in in writing the curriculum in advising on the curriculum. But wait, there's more. They also rely extensively on consultants for policy development. They tend to contract out for all the major curriculum development services, about 10 small education consultancy firms relied largely, if not entirely, on Ministry of Education contracts for their income.  

So, you've got teachers saying, look, we would love to be teaching, but we're busy developing curriculum. You've got the Ministry of Education having staff ballooning by 55% with an extra 1,720 employed specifically on curriculum, plus ten small education consultancy firms hired to do the curriculum. The teachers should have been receiving guilt-edged curriculum papers by courier, able to add their own frills and flourishes to what was an established curriculum, given the number of people we were paying for to work on this. Utterly incredible.  

Anyway, that was then, this is now. I could understand if the Ministry of Education had stripped its staff right back to a tiny core of brilliant people who were involved in policy development and analysis, and then the teachers were left to their own devices. But to have employed so many more staff members purely for curriculum. To contract out to consultancy firms on the curriculum and then say to teachers, hey, good luck. Good luck developing your own curriculum and then try and teach it, have time leftover to teach it. Unbelievable.  

I loved learning about Aotearoa New Zealand. My history degree, I chose New Zealand history papers, but I was not in the majority and probably because by the time they get to uni most kids have chosen to learn about Tudor England. They have the option of learning about New Zealand history, or they did back then, but they chose to learn about Tudor England, which was like yeah great for fairy stories, but it doesn't tell you who you are or where you come from.  

We really do need to know who we are as a society, as a country, how we came to be and there is rich, rich material in our past to make learning about Aotearoa New Zealand fascinating. But we have to know our place in the world. As the legendary Chuck D of the band Public Enemy once said, knowledge without context is confusion. If all we know is New Zealand and have no understanding of where we fit in, why we came to be, it's just a whole bunch of factoids. It doesn't mean anything.  

So I'm all for learning. I'm all for learning about history. I'm all for learning about New Zealand's own rich, fabulous history. But tell me why the teacher should have to be writing the curriculum when nearly 1000 people and 10 consultancy firms were employed to do just that. Why should the teachers be doing it, taking them away from teaching, which is what they went into the profession to do, and I just wonder how many of them are going to be throwing up their hands, going “more change cool, that's just what we need right now.”  

Learning about who we are and where we come from is vital. But it should not be done on an ad hoc localised basis and the sooner we get back to a curriculum that is nationwide, with room for a little bit of flexibility, for a few options here and there, the sooner we get back to giving our kids the world class education we had, the sooner New Zealand will be back on its feet. 

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