By John Gerritsen for RNZ

The leaders of the secondary teachers’ union, the Post Primary Teachers Association (PPTA), want schools to stop grouping students in low and high ability classes by 2030.

They told the union’s conference in Wellington this week the practice was racist and recommended delegates agree to lobby to end it.

A paper presented to the conference said the proposal was likely to provoke debate, but streaming was harmful, especially for Māori students.

“Research shows that streaming creates and exacerbates inequity; and that streaming ‘helps to perpetuate influences from the social class background, by segregation of students from different social classes in different streams’,” it said.

“There are often fears that higher-achieving students will be unfairly ‘stunted’ through being placed in a more heterogeneous classroom. In reality, the opposite appears to be true, and students both ‘gained socially, and did not suffer academically, from being placed in non-streamed classes’.”

The report said research in four New Zealand schools that stopped streaming in their maths programmes found academic achievement improved, especially for Māori and Pacific students, and Māori and Pacific students studied maths for longer.

“Social and ethnic barriers came down as students worked cooperatively,” it said.

However, some parents and teachers resisted the change in the four schools and the paper said some PPTA members also believed there was a place for streaming.

“Perhaps the biggest fear of schools who wish to de-stream is the potential loss of students to schools still using those methods of teaching,” the paper said.

However, it said most PPTA members consulted about streaming agreed that it should be abolished and said it happened in their schools, usually by separating the lowest and highest achievers into separate classes but also through pre-requisites for senior classes in language, science and maths.

“In one discussion the impact of compulsory international trips, or even expensive national ones, was raised as a form of streaming. 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 paper said.

The paper said schools and teachers would need more funding and training to help them drop streaming.

“Lack of adequate staffing levels leads to large class sizes, and streaming or banding is used to mitigate that. Streaming has effectively been used as a way of masking the inadequacies of the New Zealand school system. Māori and Pasifika students bear an inequitable burden of this mitigation,” it said.

PPTA delegates will vote on the idea this week and vice president Chris Abercrombie said if it passed, the union would advocate for the change.

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PPTA calls for end to academic streaming in schools by 2030

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