Hobson Article - April 2015

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

One of the joys of life, when I’m not in Wellington and the opportunity arises, is to walk our two youngest to primary school.

Our route takes us through the Remuera shops.  Past the little brick wall in front of the library, along the top of which several generations of children have balanced.  On a typical journey I’ll meet a dozen people that I know.  Several suggestions as to how the government might improve its performance will invariably come my way. 

Auckland is a series of villages.  In this village the community spirit is strong.  I love to see older primary school kids walking on their own.  Their parents trusting them and their community to navigate their way safely.  I read a few weeks ago of a policeman saying, in frustration immediately after an accident, that it was unacceptable for parents to let their children walk to school alone.  I’m glad to see that is a minority view.  I see the number of kids walking to school on their own, or with their siblings, as a measure of our success as a society.

It wasn’t until our first child reached schooling age that I realised the central role schools play in the community.   Other clubs and institutions, such as churches, voluntary groups and sports clubs, are very important but their reach is not nearly so broad, across all generations. 

We are blessed with excellent schools across the Epsom electorate.  But none of us would take that as a given, or think there isn’t room for constant improvement.  We’re living in a period of rapid change, with technology opening up new ways of doing things and requiring new skills.   Meantime, mastery of the timeless essentials of reading, writing and numeracy has never been more important.

The challenge is to ensure our schools are innovative. In most spheres of life, the great driver of innovation is consumer choice and competition.  The battle for survival spurs innovation.  Traditionally that hasn’t been the model for education in New Zealand, although the relatively small private and integrated sectors play an important role in that regard. 

Partnership Schools are another option for parents and students, giving them the ability to choose the type of education that best suits their learning needs.  We need to give them a chance – they have been set up so that vulnerable kids who are struggling in the current system are given the opportunity to succeed in education.

Meantime, we need to innovate in our funding arrangements.  National’s $359 million Investing in Educational Success initiative is designed to lift achievement in Kiwi schools by helping schools share their best resources – their best teachers and principals.  Children will benefit from shared teaching practices and expertise.

We want to see greater collaboration among schools, improved transition through the education system for children, and better career pathways for teachers.

As ever, I’d be interested in your views on these topics.