Education Minister Chris Hipkins has applauded the Post-Primary Teachers’ Association (PPTA) for pushing ahead with a new policy to rid classrooms of streaming by 2030.
Union delegates attending its annual conference in Wellington were presented with a paper on Wednesday calling for support for de-streaming, acknowledging what it called the “historical and current harm caused to rangatahi Māori” by the practice.
As well as supporting the introduction of the policy, the PPTA also pledged to advocate for more resources for schools to support the transition to streaming.
Streaming in secondary schools saw students grouped by ability, but research showed the practice was damaging to Māori and Pasifika students who were over-represented in low-stream classes.
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“Streaming is harmful because it is the tyranny of low expectations,” explained PPTA junior vice-president and teacher at Invercargill’s James Hargest College Chris Abercrombie.
“If you’re in the low-flow class, students know … and we know that affects them and their confidence and their ability to try, and even their ability to be exposed to certain ideas,” he said.
Advocates of streaming argued that higher-achieving students would be “unfairly handicapped” by the change, but this assumption was not supported by research. In fact, students benefited socially and had no academic impact from being in a non-streamed class, the paper said.
Mr Hipkins told delegates streaming had “no place” in the New Zealand education system and there was “absolutely no evidence” to support the most able students would be adversely affected if the system was removed.
“There’s absolutely no evidence to support that. In schools where they don’t have streaming, the high-achieving students are still achieving,” Hipkins said.
Speaking in support of the paper, Abercrombie told delegates that streaming was “racist, sexist, elitist” and that the change was necessary.
He also dismissed claims that higher-achieving students would be affected if streaming were removed, saying there was no evidence of this.
“The consequences of de-streaming at the middle and top [performing students] is nothing. The worst outcome is that nothing changes for them. If they’re still high achieving, they’re going to continue to achieve high, and in fact, we’ve found that some of the social aspects of school actually improve for those students,” Abercrombie said.
Some schools — where streaming was deeply entrenched — may find the de-streaming process more difficult than others, but Abercrombie felt it wasn’t impossible.
“With the right support, with the community behind it, with the students interested in it, the research says it’s the best thing for our students … it’s not about telling schools what to do. It has to be about what is best for them in communication with their community, their parents, their whānau and their students,” he said.