National, Act and the age of standardisation in education

Chris and David discussing the joy of testing.

Whilst we are still awaiting the outcome of special votes, it is pretty safe to assume that we are staring down the barrel of a National / Act Party government that will be bringing a very distinct flavour to the education landscape. Below is an outline of what each party promised for education. 

Front and centre is a focus on "back to basics" and what looks like a whole lot more standardisation (from both National and Act) and testing to ensure we are all "teaching the basics brilliantly". Those of us in schools know that standardisation isn't necessarily the answer and testing didn't seem to turn the dial in the past either. That is the trouble when policies are designed to satisfy parent voters who just want their kids back in school and succeeding. 

In their 100-day plan, National is promising to do the following in the education space:

  • Require primary and intermediate schools to teach one hour a day each of reading, writing and maths starting in 2024. 
  • Appoint an Expert Group to redesign the English and maths curricula for primary school students. 
  • Ban the use of cell phones in schools. 
  • Begin disestablishing the Te Pūkenga polytech mega-merger and restoring local decision-making.
Then we have Act waiting in the wings. How many of their policies land will be down to what happens as they negotiate their terms of reference. To be fair, many of their policies actually echo National already with the dial turned up on tackling truancy (through daft punitive measures) and reforming "failing schools" by having other "successful" Principals duking it out to take over. And whilst it isn't laid out in the policies below there are rumblings that a National/Act government may also see the return of Partnership Schools. I actually have mixed feelings about it as I do think we need types of schools on the horizon, but am also a fan of these all being state-funded.

My gut feeling is that we will see little change in the secondary space. At least in the first instance. I think in the primary years we will see a shift towards "standardisation" across the board. A standard syllabus, with a standardised timetable, with less flexibility for primary schools and a lot more testing in that space as well. It will be interesting to see how long it will take for the government to realise that neither of these things will address the complex myriad of issues we are currently facing. You don't address a world that is increasingly complex, disrupted and moving at pace towards more personalised ways of being by doubling down on an industrial model of education with an achingly "conveyor-belt" notion of how learning, progress and assessment should happen. 

And lord knows what the cellphone ban will look like on the ground, particularly the ban at morning tea and lunchtime, and how effective it will actually be anyway. It will be intriguing to see how this one plays out, particularly in a senior school context like ours. 

Me preparing to ban cell phones

Personally, for the most part, I am hoping we can do what we have always done, just get on with evolving and innovating, regardless of what the national directives are and continue to focus on what matters for our kids, our communities and our teachers. 

That said, it is worth revisiting the policies below (and yes, National does say the same thing several times in different ways) and to gird our loins for pushing back against needless standardisation and centralised control of learning and getting ready to push back against more testing. 

As they say - forewarned is forearmed. 

National Party

Teaching the Basics Brilliantly

Our education system is failing too many children. National will make sure schools are teaching the basics brilliantly, so every child has the opportunity to succeed.

Our plan will ensure kids have the foundation they need in reading, writing, maths and science to set them up for success.

Under National, parents will know if their kids are doing well or, more importantly, if they’re falling behind. It’s not acceptable to allow children to fall further and further behind without anyone noticing or taking action to help them catch up.

National will set every child in New Zealand up for success and restore excellence to the heart of the education system.

National’s plan for Teaching the Basics Brilliantly

  • An hour each on reading, writing and maths every day

  • Minimum requirements for what schools must teach every year in reading, writing, maths and science

  • Regular standardised assessment and clear reporting to parents

  • Better training and more tools to support teachers

Policy highlights

  • National will turn our education system around and make sure every child has the opportunity to master the basics and set themselves up for success.

  • National will introduce minimum class time for the basics, along with clear minimum requirements for the reading, writing, maths and science content children must be taught in each year of school.

  • Regular assessment and crystal-clear reporting will ensure parents know how their child is progressing, where they might need help, and where they can be extended.

  • We’ll make training on reading, writing, maths and science a requirement for new and existing teachers to ensure they have the confidence and skills to teach the basics brilliantly.

  • And we’ll provide teachers with high-quality resources like lesson plans to free them up to focus on teaching, not just planning.

National will:

  • Require an hour of maths and two hours of reading and writing on average each day in primary and intermediate schools.

  • Rewrite the curriculum to outline the knowledge and skills that primary and intermediate schools must cover each year in reading, writing, maths and science.

  • Require standardised, robust assessment of student progress in reading, writing and maths at least twice a year every year from Year 3 to Year 8, with clear reporting to parents.

  • Introduce an exit exam for primary and intermediate teaching graduates to demonstrate expertise in reading, writing, maths and science instruction, and require existing teachers to undertake professional development in teaching the basics.

  • Develop a free online resource bank with lesson plans and materials aligned with the new curriculum to reduce teacher workload.


National’s Literacy Guarantee

Teach every child to read using structured literacy by making it a requirement at primary school.
Introduce short phonics checks for year two students to inform parents and teachers about each child’s reading progress.
Provide structured literacy intervention for learners who need extra support.
Ensure teachers get training on how to use the structured literacy approach

National’s Literacy Guarantee builds on our plan to lift achievement and restore excellence in our education system, called Teaching the Basics Brilliantly, which includes:

  • An hour each of reading, writing and maths every day.

  • Minimum requirements in the curriculum for what schools must teach every year in reading, writing, maths and science.

  • Regular standardised assessment and clear reporting to parents. • Better training and more tools to support teachers.


National will ban cell phone use at school

National will ban cell phone use at school to help lift achievement and support every child to make the most out of their education.

Schools will be able to decide exactly how they enforce it, but it could mean requiring students to hand in their phones before school or leave them in their lockers or bags.


Act Party

Building the Foundations for Education Success

Almost every aspect of a person’s adult life will be defined by the education they receive as a child. An education crisis today will turn into a crime crisis, a vulnerable children crisis, an economic crisis and an inequality crisis tomorrow.

ACT will:

  • Develop a traffic light system for unjustified absences, which will be publicly available in real-time.

  • Redirect funding from centrally controlled truancy services so schools can fund or purchase services directly.

  • Extend the B4 School Check to include education progress as well as health. ECE providers that fail to contribute to child development may risk losing their funding or license.

  • Set minimum criteria that any curriculum taught in New Zealand primary schools must follow, but allow for multiple curriculum versions.

  • Ensure all schools participate in standardised testing.

  • Develop an online league table, like Australia’s ‘My School’, to help parents understand how their school is performing compared with other schools.

  • Refuse to lower the bar for literacy and numeracy standards. ACT will conduct another set of mock exams in 2024 to gauge progress on higher literacy and numeracy standards and commit to enforcing higher standards from 2025.

  • Abolish University Entrance as a separate qualification and replace NCEA level three requirements with the current University Entrance requirements.

  • Ensure employers’ and tertiary institutions’ input is included in the development of achievement and unit standards.

Reforming Failing Schools

Improving schools that fail is one of the most important things we can do to give children better lives. ACT has a plan to reform schools that fail, including allowing successful schools to take them over to give more children access to an excellent education.

ACT will:

  • Use information on school attendance and educational progress to prioritise ERO school inspections.

  • Ensure ERO’s school evaluation reports are consistent and based on clear, objective, and relevant criteria.

  • Improve the Ministry of Education’s slow and ineffective approach to managing under-performance by enforcing a clear and structured intervention process for identifying and intervening in under-performing schools.

  • Replace the current practice of appointing a limited statutory manager or commissioner to a struggling school. A tendering process would enable existing school operators to apply to take over schools that fail. Applications would consider the school operator’s track record of success. Where there is more than one school operator interested in the takeover, the Ministry would be responsible for selecting the best candidate based on who would best serve the school community.

  • Evaluate the outcomes of school interventions, as persistent failure is likely to indicate system-wide weaknesses in the education system.

Guaranteeing the Freedom to Learn

We have some of the highest-performing schools and students in the world, but we also have a long tail of underachievement in disadvantaged communities. Our education system is a slow moving disaster. ACT has a plan for a world-class education system.

Teaching Excellence Reward Fund

ACT will establish a $250 million a year Teaching Excellence Reward Fund to reward excellence in the classroom, encourage professional development, and deliver better educational outcomes.

Solutions to the Truancy Crisis

Almost every aspect of a person’s adult life will be defined by the education they receive as a child. If we want better social outcomes, we can’t keep ignoring the truancy crisis.

Solutions such as:

  • Daily national attendance reporting

  • Empowering schools to deal with truancy

  • Traffic light system

  • An infringement notice regime for parents

  • Accountability for schools through mandatory reporting



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