Tinetti goes back to school after her truancy numbers are questioned in Parliament

Buzz from the Beehive

Education Minister Jan Tinetti no doubt welcomed the opportunity to go back to school after being tested on a few portfolio issues at Question Time in Parliament.

She popped up at Puketapu School in Napier yesterday to say the Government would repair and rebuild damaged education infrastructure, and to praise local education heroes

… who went to great lengths to restart education services for children and young people as quickly as possible in the wake of Cyclone Gabrielle.

She also showed she knows how to highlight numbers that might win favourable publicity:

  • All but six schools and kura have reopened for onsite learning
  • All students in the six closed schools or kura are being educated in other schools, online, or in alternative locations
  • Over 4,300 education hardpacks distributed to support students
  • Almost 38,000 community meals provided by suppliers of the Ka Ora Ka Ako | Healthy School Lunches programme
  • Student loan living support payments continued through special approval for students in Cyclone-affected areas.

She announced her whereabouts – lest uncharitable Opposition politician suspect her of wagging – in a statement headed

Minister praises education heroes in cyclone damaged regions

All of the over 400 schools and kura damaged by Cyclone Gabrielle are now back up and running, either onsite or in alternative premises, Education Minister Jan Tinetti announced today.

This can be found alongside two other fresh  Beehive announcements –

Aotearoa New Zealand supports Pacific countries to combat animal disease 

New Zealand will provide support for Pacific countries to prevent the spread of harmful animal diseases, Associate Minister of Agriculture Meka Whaitiri said.

Government delivers better public transport for Christchurch

The Greater Christchurch community will soon have access to more frequent and reliable public transport services saving them time and money, Minister of Transport Michael Wood announced today.

Tinetti spiced her press statement with the patois promoted by the Labour Government, blending English with te reo,  to describe the deeds she was lauding:

“The tumuaki of Te Kura Kaupapa Māori O Ngā Taonga Tuhuru Ki Tokomaru evacuated her kura to a local marae. The acting principal of Patoka School navigated a river to get to her school and then organised with a construction company and local Ministry of Education staff to get a generator, and an electrician, flown in by helicopter.

“The tumuaki of St Joseph’s Māori Grls College school in Napier accommodated young women from Hukarere Girls along with 500 other evacuees. The principal of Puketapu School helped organise for children to cross a river by boat and then to catch a bus to school.”

Businesses, suppliers and vocational students organised by the Ministry of Social Development had also made a tremendous contribution to getting our schools and services up and running again, and by supporting the delivery of food, power and shelter to those who needed them.

At Question Time in Parliament earlier in the week, Tinetti’s numeracy skills had been put to the test on the matters of truancy and the NCEA.

Erica Stanford, East Coast Bays MP, asked for the percentage of time associated with unjustified absences in term 3 2019 compared to term 3 2022, and had the percentage of time associated with unjustified absences increased over that period?

Hon JAN TINETTI (Minister of Education): For 93.5 percent of the time during term 3 2022, students were either present or away from school for a justifiable reason such as illness. For 6.5 percent of that time, students were unjustifiably absent when measured as half-days. For 95 percent of the time during term 3 2019, students were either present or away from school for a justifiable reason. For 5 percent of the time, students were unjustifiably absent when measured as half-days. Due to COVID-19, all absences went up, but, proportionately, more absences were justified; in other words, proportionately, when you look at the total time spent in the classroom, more absences were due to justifiable reasons in term 3 between 2019 and 2022.

The distinctions between justifiable absences and justifiable ones – it soon became evident  – are important.

Stanford recalled the Minister telling the House on 23 February that “Unjustified absence is dropping rapidly between 2019 to now”, but the official data showed unjustified absences had climbed to the highest ever percentage recorded in term 3 2022.  How come?

Hon JAN TINETTI: Because, as I said in my first answer, all absences weren’t under COVID-19, but proportionately, more absences were justified. In other words, proportionately, when you look at the total time spent in the classroom, more absences were due to justified reasons in term 3 between 2019 and 2022.

What I will say is that I do appreciate that attendance data is complicated and does often use different basis for talking about the same thing. Therefore, I have asked officials to consider what the best way of describing student attendance is so that we can all understand where the real issues are and focus on making improvements.

Stanford noted that the Ministry of Education, in their term 3 attendance report, said, “There was an increase in the percentage of time associated with unjustified absences in term 3 between 2019 and 2022”,  whereas the Minister of Education had said, “Unjustified absence is dropping rapidly between 2019 to now”. So who is correct?

Hon JAN TINETTI: If the member reads the same report, she will also see that the Ministry of Education say that, proportionately, when you look at the total time spent in the classroom, more absences were due to justified reasons in term 3 between 2019 and 2022.

Erica Stanford: Are there more children taking unjustified absences in 2022 compared to 2019?

Hon JAN TINETTI: As I’ve said, due to COVID-19, there are more children taking absences full-stop, but the proportion between the two shows that there are more justified absences. This is a really pleasing trend.

Tinetti was keen to draw the distinction between two sets of data:

Hon JAN TINETTI: … as I’m trying to explain here, we’re talking about two different data sets, and one data set shows something very, very different but the same thing. Now, I know that sounds confusing, which is why I’m talking about proportionality of the absences as a whole. When you see and look at the proportion of total time kids were in the classroom in term 3 2022, there were more justifiable absences than in term 3 2021 and in fact 2019. That is a promising trend.

Erica Stanford: Can she finally admit that the total number can increase even though the percentage, as she explains, is decreasing?

Hon JAN TINETTI: As I’ve said—I’ll repeat what I’ve said—absences—absences—overall in COVID are greater. I’ve said that three times now.

Stanford recalled Tinetti saying the previous day “I almost need a whiteboard to explain it to you because it’s so complicated.”. Why say that when comparing percentage figures is a skill that’s taught at year 8?

Hon JAN TINETTI: Because the way, when you are using two different data sets, is obviously really difficult to understand—to compare the two. The data systems need work to be more accurate and efficient. That means they need investment, which is why we’re putting in $7.7 million over three years to do just that. This will fund experts who’ll be assigned to work directly with schools and communities to improve the quality, understanding, and the use of attendance data.

Stanford put Tinetti to a further test – on the matter of literacy and numeracy – during the week.

She asked if Tinetti agreed with the reported statistical analysis carried out by the New Zealand Council for Educational Research into the NCEA Literacy and Numeracy pilot.  It had found that the assessments performed well.

And did the Minister stand by her statement in September that she is “absolutely not” considering making the tests easier?

Hon JAN TINETTI (Minister of Education): Yes, and yes.

Erica Stanford: Why, then, just one month after she said she is “absolutely not” making the tests easier, did the Ministry of Education officials write to New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) requesting that they use easier words, fewer questions, and let students use a spellcheck?

Hon JAN TINETTI: Because I consider that—I expect that my officials consider all evidence that’s put in front of them. I also expect experts in their field would disagree on evidence and analysis from time to time. I expect robust discussions to happen between agencies in this area.

Stanford asked if spelling was a foundational literacy skill; and did allowing the use of spellcheck to assess basic, foundational literacy make the literacy test easier or harder.

Tinetti fudged this one and we are left uncertain about her position on spellchecks.

Hon JAN TINETTI: The member is referring to some advice that was given through to a document. That is not advice that I have personally read. It may have been sent to my office in a no surprises before the release, but I have not personally seen that so I cannot comment on it.

Erica Stanford: Given the answer that the Minister just gave to this House, shouldn’t she be aware of her officials’ advice going to NZQA; and who is running the Ministry of Education—is it her or her officials?

Hon JAN TINETTI: As I’ve said, I expect the experts to work through that information, to have those robust discussions. Final advice hasn’t come through to me at this stage. I await that further advice.

And the country awaits how Tinetti might deal with that advice.

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