National education policy revealed: More assessments, daily hour each on maths, reading, writing, no teacher registration fee

The National Party will impose new requirements about the amount of time schools allocate to reading, writing and maths as part of its proposed education policy, while also introducing new assessments to check on kids' progress before they reach high school.

Teacher training and professional development will also be refocused onto the "basics", National is suggesting, while the party would ditch teacher registration fees.

The 'Teaching the Basics Brilliantly' policy was announced by National leader Christopher Luxon on Thursday after being teased on Wednesday. The party's promising the education curriculum will be re-written if it forms government after the October election.

It's a response to what National says is an underperforming education system "with too many kids failing or not achieving their potential, or not being extended." 

Luxon points to a recent NCEA pilot which found two-thirds of students couldn't meet minimum writing standards, while also highlighting concerning statistics around school attendance.

It's National's expectation that 80 percent of Year 8 students are at or above the expected curriculum level for their age in reading, writing, maths and science by 2030 and that Kiwi students are in the top 10 in maths, reading and science, as measured by the international PISA rankings, by 2033.

"I am announcing that we will be aiming high in education. We will not accept mediocrity in the school system. The social cost and the economic cost of failure are simply too high."

Speaking in Lower Hutt on Thursday, Luxon said National would require all primary and intermediate schools to provide at least an hour of reading, an hour of writing and an hour of maths, on average, every day.

This doesn't mean children will be sitting doing spelling tests or repetitive math exercises for an hour a day, the National leader said.

"Our teachers are committed, innovative and creative professionals who know their own classes and will teach in the way that works best for our children."

National believes there is enough time in a school day for an hour on each of the subjects.

"Absolutely," the party's policy document said. "Many great schools already achieve this and deliver excellent outcomes for their students. National will ensure timetabling practices from the best schools are shared across the system, so every child is given that opportunity."

The party would "share best-practice guidance with schools on timetabling to support them to meet the minimum class time requirements".

As mentioned on Wednesday, the curriculum would be written so there are clear expectations of what is expected across reading, writing, maths and science at every year group, rather than in bands of year levels.

"The curriculum’s woolliness means teachers are spending their weekends and evenings trying to figure out what they are supposed to be teaching. They should not have to do that. It should be clear.  

"So, National will get rid of the three-year bands, replacing them with explicit expectations of achievement and knowledge dissemination for each year group."

To test how Kiwi kids are going, National would require standardised robust assessments at least twice a year in reading, writing and maths from Year 3 to Year 8, to check on each child’s progress. Detailed results will be reported to parents. 

National would also introduce "an age-appropriate skills check-in towards the end of Year 2 to assess basic skills such as counting, phonics, and letter formation".

Luxon said that currently there "no assurance that schools objectively know the learning progress of every child". He said it is "astonishing" the first national test for numeracy and literacy is not until NCEA.

"This will provide something we don’t have at the moment – a reliable, national picture of how New Zealand children are progressing at primary and intermediate school. It will also provide data to principals, teachers, and parents about how their kids are doing."

One of the concerns that may come from the additional assessments is that it means more work for teachers.

National said it plans to reduce teacher workload by developing a high-quality, free, online resource bank that includes a variety of teaching materials such as lesson plans aligned with the new curriculum.

After his speech, Luxon was asked how National would develop the resource bank quickly enough. He said they exist in other countries and could be brought into a New Zealand context.

Luxon said National is not asking teachers to do more and doesn't want teachers "spending your weekends re-inventing the curriculum and devising teaching materials".

"National wants to support you because what children learn in your class this year, and what they learn next year, and right through school, will play a big role in determining their life outcomes. It’s that important. "

Luxon said National will ensure "teachers and teacher trainees spend more time learning how to teach the basics and we’ll provide them with more classroom tools to help them teach reading, writing and maths brilliantly".  

Teacher training will be refocused so that all new teachers are confident in the subjects they are teaching. That will be a requirement for registration. 

For existing teachers, National will change professional development priorities to focus on teaching the basics.

As a sweetener to teachers, National will scrap registration fees. It expects this will cost $10 million per annum to be funded from the operating allowance through the annual Budget process.

"New Zealand needs more teachers, New Zealand needs great teachers and National doesn’t believe our teachers should have to pay to teach."

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, the former Education Minister, said curriculum matters are usually approached on a bipartisan basis with incoming governments instead of rewriting the curriculum "to suit their own political agenda".

"We try and achieve a bipartisan consensus around curriculum because I think that is something where we should be able to reach agreement.

"Of course, we agree that there are some basics where we can do better. Reading, writing, maths - those are foundation skills every young person should have.

"The curriculum rewrite that's underway at the moment where we are still trying to strive for that bipartisan consensus, I think is an opportunity to explore that."

He said he'd "hate" to see parties putting "specific curriculum initiatives up in their manifestos".

"That hasn't been a feature of our recent New Zealand political history because I think parents, kids, teachers deserve to know that we've got a stable curriculum regardless of who the government is. I just don't want it to become a political football."

National said the Government should be more ambitious than it is through the current curriculum refresh, first announced by the Government in 2021. 

The refresh replaces year levels and achievement objectives with five phases of learning - essentially groups of year levels - that are "the signposts that guide the learning pathway". 

"Each phase of learning contains progress outcomes that describe what ākonga should understand, know, and do at each phase of learning," the Ministry of Education said. 

Consultation is currently underway on a draft framework for the refreshed curriculum.