The Post Primary Teachers' Association (PPTA) is throwing its weight behind abolishing school streams, after a damning report revealed those divisions were frequently racist, sexist, and elitist and often not even weighted to a student’s performance.
Dumping ‘low and high ability’ classes was tabled at the union’s conference in Pōneke this week. A vote in favour doesn't mean the streams will be eliminated because that’s up to the government but union leaders say the statement would be influential.
"Streaming is based on a racist, sexist, elitist past, and, so, it's about changing that system and making sure we can support all our students to be the best they can be,” PPTA vice president Chris Abercrombie said.
"Research shows streaming creates and exacerbates inequity; it 'helps to perpetuate influences from the social class background, by segregation of students from different social classes in different streams'," the report says.
In talks with teachers, the report’s authors revealed the way in which classes were streamed was often less about marks, and more about the financial means of a family to participate in extracurricular activities like sport or school camps.
“The impact of compulsory international trips, or even expensive national ones, was raised as a form of streaming,” the report says.
Funnelled into courses leading nowhere
“If a student was not going to be able to afford the trip, they were essentially excluded from the learning (or provided a miserable alternate option),"
The classes students were to end up in were in some cases decided by race according to Abercrombie, often to the detriment of students’ futures.
"Sometimes Māori and Pasifika students are funnelled into courses that don't lead anywhere," Abercrombie told RNZ’s Morning Report.
The report says some schools already want to dump the streams but that parents’ misconceptions about streaming being a way to ensure a better quality of education may mean school rolls will shrink as parents moved kids to schools that maintained the practice.
"Perhaps the biggest fear of schools who wish to de-stream is the potential loss of students to schools still using those teaching methods," the paper says.
Fears students perceived as 'high performing' won’t have their requirements met by being mixed with supposed lower-performing students weren’t borne out by the evidence.
Barriers come down
Non-streaming of classrooms creates more well-rounded socially-adjusted rangatahi the report says.
"Social and ethnic barriers came down as students worked cooperatively."
Streaming has been used to make up for lack of resources and staffing, and professional development for teachers would be key to successfully moving away from streaming.
Lessons would be adapted to different students within classes, ‘to ensure all students received a quality education’, something that already happened within streamed groups, Abercrombie said.
Additional reporting - RNZ