Roadblocks on the roadmap to change

Roadblocks on the roadmap to change

At present, there is an uneven and uncoordinated groundswell across New Zealand calling for change in education at the “chalk-face”. This bottom up pressure has come mainly from parents, teachers and some school leaders, who are currently left to grapple with the consequences of student failure in literacy and numeracy.

In response to this pressure, some moves have been made towards addressing this situation, which may be regarded by many as a “crisis” in our society1. Along with the measured roll out of the tax payer funded “The Better Start Literacy Approach to some interested schools, Associate Minister, Jan Tinetti, and the Ministry of Education have released a pleasantly illustrated and aspirational document, the Literacy & Communication and Maths Strategy2. This strategy aims “to guide action to shape the early learning and schooling system to deliver equity and excellence in literacy & communication and maths teaching and learning”. The document promises the development of “a cohesive teaching and learning pathway2, and calls to make literacy & communication and numeracy explicit within the curriculum. While the strategy claims to draw on a range of research and evidence to support teachers, the very short list of references is dominated by a few NZ academics (mostly based at Auckland University, the training centre for Reading Recovery teachers), as well as a few Ministry of Education (MoE) and Education Review Office (ERO) reports. Other than information drawn from 3 international monitoring surveys (e.g., PIRLS 2016), critical and highly acclaimed research from international experts and studies has been omitted.

The next step in the implementation of this strategy is outlined in the “Literacy & Communication and Maths Roadmap”, and involves the development of a Curriculum Practice Model (CPM) “to provide clear, evidence-informed guidance on how to effectively teach literacy & communication and maths from early learning to year 13”3.

Missing from this roadmap is:

  • The means to shift from an ideologically driven stance on education (within the MoE, Faculties of Education, teaching organisations, and schools) to an evidence based approach to instruction.
  • This may be a particular challenge to those in the MoE, as the majority of the MoE leadership team4 do not have a background in education. An understanding of cognitive psychology (or “how the brain learns”), and education (beyond just curriculum and policy documents) is critical in order for the MoE to provide effective direction and leadership to implement any successful change. In addition, principals and other members of the school leadership teams will require extensive professional development to equip and support their staff in the implementation of these changes

Implementation of any change.

  • At present, decentralisation of the educational system has enabled schools and their communities to determine “what” is taught, and “how” it is taught, particularly at primary school level (the critical period in a child’s education for establishing the foundations for literacy and numeracy). At present, schools can elect: to identify which students may have additional needs upon entry (or at any point of their learning), how and IF a student’s progress is monitored, what data is collected and reported, and how and IF a student receives additional support. Continued decentralisation of the educational system will continue to allow schools to choose whether or not they implement any changes to their practice.

Monitoring of change.

  • The impact of any change requires evaluation. As part of this evaluation, key performance indicators need to be determined BEFORE the implementation of any change, and further data has to be gathered at different periods to evaluate the impact on achievement. On a micro-level, many teachers will require extensive professional development to shift their teaching practice from an ideologically driven approach to a “science of learning” model. Such support will also require advice and feedback from mentors to ensure that all changes to practice are implemented with fidelity. Teachers may need additional support in using a diagnostic approach in order to gather meaningful data to monitor their students’ progress, and how to modify their instruction accordingly.


  • Adequate funding will need to be provided to support staff in their professional development (i.e., a supply of fully trained relievers to cover for teachers attending PD), and to equip them with the necessary classroom resources. Currently, NZ schools and teachers are required to undertake their own research into the efficacy of an extensive number of curriculum programmes, and classroom resources. This expectation places burdens upon their time, and demands on their level of research knowledge and abilities. At present, there is no advice given to schools nor even a database to record what programmes are used, nor what programmes are considered to be “gold standard” in terms of evidence (NB. Such advice is given in other countries). Consequently an unknown amount of taxpayer funds is currently being spent on programmes that may or may not be assisting students (e.g., Reading Recovery continues to be implemented in NZ schools and is being re-branded as part of the new literacy strategy despite extensive NZ and international research questioning its efficacy5).

Evidence based framework for delivery.

  • A Multi-tier System of Support or a Response to Intervention Model involves a staged delivery of instruction based upon students’ needs. Such models require data gathering to ensure that evidence based instruction is being provided at Tier One (or classroom level), and students requiring additional support are identified and provided with specialist intervention either at a small group level (Tier 2), or one-to-one (Tier 3). Currently schools may or may not be monitoring their students’ progress. While some students may receive support through the Resource Teachers of Literacy and Behaviour or Resource Teachers of Literacy or other specialist teachers, students may also be placed with a teacher aide for learning support (NB. Schools can choose who to employ in these positions, and so their knowledge and experience can vary)

The Roadmap from primary to secondary education.

  • Although the CPM is aimed at supporting teachers to “effectively teach literacy & communication and maths from early learning to year 13”, many secondary school teachers will require professional development in teaching literacy and numeracy, particularly to students who have not developed proficiency even at a basic level.

While this is not an exhaustive list of the challenges that lie ahead, there are numerous roadblocks that will have to be carefully managed in order to deal with the current crisis in education.

Cathryn Bjarnesen

Literacy Specialist and Assessor of Specific Learning Disorders.

These are my personal views and are not reflecting the opinions of any organisations that I am associated with.