The debate about school standards, like the debate about climate change, has well regarded experts on both sides with firm views. It’s hard for laymen to join a debate with professionals, except in the case of education; we’ve all been there. My primary school, which provided basic education along with catechism and gardening, was nevertheless a pleasant experience. The teachers were hard-working and kind and the principal was involved. My secondary school was probably as bad as it gets. Poor teachers under a principal whose sole concern seemed to be the administration of punishment. To be fair I should add that it was not only the teachers who were a rough bunch. If there was an outside agency concerned about educational standards where I grew up it was not diligent.
As a parent I had two experiences relevant to the current debate. In 1980 I returned to England for a year after an absence of fifteen years. My children were young adolescents and because I wanted the best possible school for them I sought objective advice. Naively, I began interviewing principals, teachers and officials from the education authority. I was met by either obvious bias or stone-wall unwillingness to disclose an opinion.
Years later, on moving to Invercargill and seeking a school for my youngest child, I came up against the same dearth of helpful information. Unless you were in the know you had to take a lucky dip. I got one teacher by himself and said, “Come on, if it was your child which school would you want her to go to?” He struggled with his conscience then said, “I’ll tell you this much: I wouldn’t send her to a certain school south of Tay Street.” He refused to name the school, which was unfortunate since at the time I didn’t know where Tay Street was or how many schools were south of it.
It should not, therefore, be hard to work out my view of national school standards and league tables.