Alwyn Poole is an academic adviser of Villa Education Trust, which runs three private schools in Auckland.
OPINION: It is well known that the New Zealand education system is under huge stress and, with exceptions, under-performing. For decile 1-3 schools full attendance is around 40% and 2021 NCEA results saw not only a decrease in overall performance but ever widening gaps. This worries a lot of parents.
The very best thing about the Tomorrow’s Schools system is that much of the power resides with parents. This is appropriate given they pay for the system, and it is their children enduring it. If a parent wants the school their child goes to thrive then a lot of the responsibility lies with them.
The second thing is that there have been huge changes to our understanding of critical developmental stages, methods and activities that work. Many of these are home-based and rely on the parent (s) being the first / best teacher and staying deeply interested and engaged throughout the child’s education – regardless of their own educational background.
Wherever your child is at now there are ways to improve things but let’s start at the beginning.
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The first three years are crucial to the brain development of a child. They must feel safe and nurtured. They must be stimulated thought massive amounts of words and conversations. Good music, books being read out loud, trips to the park and the beach, interactions with other children.
I hear too many parents say that they can not wait for their child to start school, so they can learn to read. That is their job and then the school can build on it. From as soon as they can sit up and look in the right direction read to your child. Do not worry about “phonetics” of “whole language”; just read and slowly encourage them to do the same. Have paper, pens and crayons all over the place.
Once they start school be sure to be involved. Go to the school as often as you can. Talk to the teachers. Sit in on a class. Do not be put off by being called a “helicopter parent”. The school belongs to you.
Sometimes go to board of trustee meetings and get to know the heartbeat of the school. Be supportive and help where you can. At every level of schooling be sure that you know what is being taught. If you can not do the maths to help with homework, do not say; “This is so different to my day” or “maths was never really my thing” or “when will you use this in the real world?”
As your child moves to high school (or is already there). Find out all you can about the performance of the school. If the results are good, find out how best to support your child in their pathway.
Understand NCEA (including the 2023 changes) and the very important pathway to University Entrance as a top qualification regardless of an intent to study for a degree.
Make sure your child goes to school every day and talk to them about being positive and engaged. Keep visiting the school. Sit in on some classes and understand the culture of the place. At home have a good place set up for homework and study and have very good device rules.
If you research the school and the qualifications results are not good or there are worries with things like attendance, behavior and retention then, if it is the school that your child has to go to, do not be passive. Advocate for your child. Get together with other parents and seek improvement from the school. Be persistent and do not accept excuses or mediocrity in any form. Your child’s future depends on it. Be constantly supportive and if they are struggling seek help and do not quit until you find it.
Too many parents are waiting for the government and ministry to improve things and have become passive. Regardless of your education background, ethnicity, wealth, connectivity or personality if you are a parent then you can see your child through to being in a position to make good choices going into adulthood. When it is too tough for you, reach out to others and even hit the streets demanding better. Change is your responsibility and you have the power.