Mind the gap! : policy change in practice : school qualifications reform in New Zealand, 1980-2002 : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Education at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
'Policy gaps' in education mean that the visions of policy-makers frequently fail to materialise fully, or at all, in teacher practice. This thesis argues that a significant 'policy gap' developed in New Zealand around school qualifications policy during the 1990's, and puts forward some explanations for that. A significant shift in government discourses over that period, from largely social democratic to predominantly neo-liberal discourses, was not matched by a similar shift in the discourses of teachers or the union that represents them. During the same period, teachers and their representative bodies were excluded from policy development, reflecting this shift in government discourses. Government and teachers were 'talking past each other'. As a result, qualifications reforms that might have been expected to be generally welcomed by the profession, as a government response to calls from the profession over many decades, were instead rejected by the majority of teachers. Furthermore, the absence of the teacher voice from policy development meant that the shape of the reforms moved significantly away from the profession's original vision, a further reason for its unacceptability to teachers. Reform was only able to be achieved when teachers and their union were brought back into the policy-making and policy-communicating processes and a version of standards-based assessment closer to the union's original vision was adopted by government. Nevertheless, the National Certificate of Educational Achievement that resulted appears to still be perceived by teachers as externally imposed and its origins in the profession's advocacy for reform over many years have been lost. This indicates that 'policy gaps', while easily opened, are not as easily closed.