Christopher Luxon: ‘We’ve let standards slip’ in education

Source: 1News

National leader Christopher Luxon sits down with 1News political editor Jessica Mutch McKay to reflect on the year that’s been and his plans for 2022.

Christopher Luxon says 2022 is the year National stops focusing on itself and starts concentrating on what matters to Kiwis — and part of the focus will be about education.

The National leader said his aim in Opposition would be to have four to six topics where the party can propose big policies in.

“The most startling thing I’ve found since I’ve come to Parliament is our education statistics,” Luxon said of one of the topics he’d like to focus on.

He said it was worrying that, by Term 2 of 2021, only about 60 per cent of students around the country attended school regularly.

There were lots of root causes behind that figure that needed to be addressed, Luxon said.

“But even when we get them into school, we’re not managing to teach maths, reading and science to the levels we’ve historically have.

“So, is the next generation going to be set up to be able to go out into the world to compete and to have the skills to get higher-paying jobs so they’ve got more choices. It’s a big issue for New Zealand and it’s been there a long time.”

He believed education was the “biggest enabler” of social mobility, and reflected on his state school education in east Auckland and Christchurch.

He attended Cockle Bay Primary, Howick Intermediate, Howick College, and Christchurch Boys' High School. Luxon also had a one-year stint at the private school Saint Kentigern College.

“I’m very struck that my state school education here in New Zealand and, being the first to go to university [in my family] set me off on a pathway where I genuinely could compete with the Oxbridge kids in London or the Ivy League kids in America. I want that for everybody,” he said.

“Our education is not what it once was and we’ve let standards slip.”

When challenged on that claim about slipping standards, Luxon said a big part of it was that the education system hadn’t supported teachers as well as it could have.

“I want, fundamentally, parents to be able to send their kids to state schools and know they’re getting a world-class education, they’re getting a great curriculum, their child is being monitored … the teachers are being invested in and developed.”

When asked if he’d sent his two children to state schools, Luxon said he didn’t but that it was a “function of where we lived, the schools that were close and our circumstances”. Luxon’s son attended Saint Kentigern College and his daughter was a student at Diocesan School for Girls.

Results from the OECD’s Programme for International School Assessment (PISA), which tests 15-year-olds around the world in math, science and reading every three years, found in 2018 that reading scores for Kiwis were more than 50 points higher in private school students than those in public schools.

The research also found that students in public schools that were of a similar socioeconomic level as private schools did equally well.

A Q+A education special in May found New Zealand students were falling behind those from other countries in math results.

Associate Education Minister Jan Tinetti said at the time part of it could be attributed to the fact many teachers felt “very unconfident” in teaching maths.

Luxon said he’d visited schools around Christchurch to learn more about how the system worked. Luxon said basic teaching programmes that were backed with scientific evidence seemed to have worked well.

The former Air New Zealand CEO said National would, over the summer, be planning what it wanted to do in 2022 “quarter by quarter”.

“We plan to get organised … there are seven quarters to go until the next election and we want to make the case for why we’re going to be the Government in 2023.”

Among the previous National-led Government’s education policies, it introduced National Standards in primary schools in 2010.

Then-Prime Minister John Key said assessing students against benchmarks in writing, reading, and maths, and then reporting those results, to parents would help lead to change because children's abilities could be monitored.

However, teachers’ unions fought the changes, saying it would lead to increased workloads, schools comparing each other, and negatively impact students who were behind.

The Labour-led Government scrapped the system in 2017 but said schools could choose to continue to use it if they wanted.

Watch the rest of the interviews in this series: Jacinda Ardern, David Seymour, Marama Davidson and James Shaw, Rawiri Waititi and Debbie Ngarewa-Packer