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Education Reform

Education Reform

Education and a Lifetime of Learning

We all want our kids to get the best start in life, but in a rapidly changing world, what does that look like? It certainly doesn’t look like what we have done in the past. As well as the 3Rs, increasingly employers are valuing soft skills, known in some circles as the 4Cs; communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking.

New Zealand has previously performed well in international education surveys, but of late our performance is slipping. This is particularly a problem at the bottom end; some kids from poor families are falling behind and not catching up. We are currently following other countries down the line of greater assessment, and competition based on those results, when there is no evidence that will work.

Instead TOP will:

  • Invest earlier, in early childhood education. TOP aims to deliver free full-time early childhood education with a particular focus on improving quality in poorer areas;
  • Reduce assessment, giving more time for teaching and learning. TOP will delay National Standards until Year 6 and delay NCEA until student’s final year of school where they will have the choice of sitting NCEA Level 1, 2 or 3;
  • Encourage greater mixing by stopping the comparison of schools on assessment results or deciles, and encouraging people to use their local school;
  • Save money to reinvest in education (or reduce “donations”) by getting schools to cooperate, not compete;
  • Ensure teachers are highly trained, then trust them to get on and do the job;
  • Review the tertiary sector to ensure it is keeping up with the need for lifelong learning. 

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Page last updated on 16-Feb 2017


We are reducing the administrative burden for teachers by cutting down on the amount of time setting and marking assessment for National Standards and NCEA. This will allow more one-to-one work. 

Actually the big challenge at the moment is attracting teachers to Auckland with the cost of housing! Our TOP Policy #1 Tax Reform will take care of this housing affordability issue. We are moving to more of a regional education structure, which will free up back office resources to work on these issues. 

The evidence shows that the return on early childhood education is higher than that on tertiary education, so TOP’s priority is to invest there. Early childhood education also has a bigger impact on reducing inequality and ending the intergenerational trap that vulnerable families are in; a greater investment there ultimately means more people from poor backgrounds can achieve their potential, including going on to tertiary education.  Indeed there is evidence that tertiary education is significantly askew of what we should expect from it – so the last thing we should be doing is increasing demand for a product that is not well enough aligned with the needs of business and labour.

TOP Policy #1: Tax Reform is all about rebalancing the tax system to remove the unfair treatment currently faced by renters. Anyone who rents will be better off through income tax cuts and the end to house price and rent escalation.

The prerequisite for tertiary education remains NCEA Level 3; students will still be able to gain this qualification. The real issue here is that NCEA Level 3 isn’t recognised overseas (apart from Australia). NZQA needs to work on this issue. 

The current government has recently put in place better information on the job outcomes of various degrees, this is totally overdue for students to make an informed choice. 

The major issue our economy faces is a chronic lack of investment. That is because all of our money goes into housing! If we rebalance the economy then we can get a much better return on the money we invest, which would result in more jobs and better incomes. This is what our flagship policy is all about – of course we need people to think beyond the housing market – something that successive Establishment party governments have encouraged them not to. This is a major cultural change that has to happen if the economy is to reach its potential.

The basics are important, but there is plenty of evidence that students need far more skills to be successful today. In particular ‘soft’ skills like thinking skills and problem solving are becoming more important – a lot more important. The good news is that by motivating students to study what they are interested in they can do both at the same time. 

Teachers regularly undertake testing to check what children understand and what they need to work on. That won’t change, we are just removing all the administrative burden of formalised testing. Our changes will also stop the distortion caused by ‘high stakes’ assessment (where students, teachers and schools are judged on the results). High stakes assessment makes teachers and students focus their energy on learning how to take tests, and game the system. What a waste, when they could spend that time learning how to think. We have to overcome this obsession with testing because it is holding us back.

You’d have a point if there was any evidence that these specialist schools are producing better overall results for their students. There is no such evidence. There is however strong evidence that ghetto-ising the residual schools is doing real damage to the students there, entrenching disadvantage and raising the costs to society of the rising inequality that results. There is a case for specialist schools or at least classes for children with special needs, or for children of various ethnic communities. But the trend under Tomorrow’s Schools of “affluent flight” shows no benefit and plenty of costs.

As for charter schools, they could easily be accommodated within the state system – there is no need for them to sit outside.