Paying the Price for Daring to be Different


Stuart Middleton


13 February 2018


The Government’s 100 day gallop is over and education got the trifecta.

First, tertiary free fees for the first year of tertiary study introduced at speed and free of any targeting.

Secondly, National Standards go out the door replaced by nothing at all, leaving parents to wonder if their children are on track.

Thirdly, and this was no surprise, Partnership Schools will go or perhaps remain in some other form, or perhaps…… Whatever they will be wrapped back into the very system to which they offered an alternative.

These changes were each signaled in the election campaign, an event that inevitably sees a scramble of ideas is tossed into the fray by all and sundry, underpinned by little policy and even less consultation other, perhaps than with a chosen few people and organisations.

The Government’s reported reasons for dealing to the Partnership Schools are somewhat puzzling; while claiming that they were abolishing them because they were introduced for ideological reasons, they now appear to be taking these steps for their own purely ideological reasons. Let’s see a robust argument that will counter the considerable evidence internationally that would support the view that they are well worth supporting – the best of them are superb. In fact, just as there are excellent, struggling and indifferent public schools, there are excellent, struggling and indifferent charter schools. To characterize them all as unworthy is misleading and unfair.

Right across the English-speaking world, Partnership Schools were seen as a different way of working which could bring success to students who were not catered for in the mainstream system. In New Zealand this included significantly, Māori and Pasifika students. New Zealand has a variety of school types; State, State Integrated, Independent, Special Character, Kura Kaupapa, Special Needs, Alternative Schools, each cater for different sets of students in different kinds of communities.

Partnership Schools with their capability of working differently, offering a changed curriculum, using different organizational approaches, offering students different ranges of teachers, and so on. The different business model that Partnership Schools were able to use might have informed the mainstream system had it been allowed to flourish but it now seems likely to be dampened by the conventional and outdated resourcing structures that hold schools back.

And what is so frightening about this tiny number of schools prepared to be different?

The mainstream schooling system in New Zealand might no longer be fit for purpose into the 21st Century. It does the conventional well for the 33% who go on to university or into degree programmes at Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics. But it serves the rest in a very patchy manner. It has taken the development of Secondary / Tertiary Programmes to show that with motivation, different programmes, using NCEA to its full capability all based on sound working relationships between secondary schools and tertiary institutions which results in a very significant number of students succeeding where once they had mixed results.

The conventional secondary schools of the English-speaking education systems will always face difficulties in trying to achieve equitable results simply because they have for the past 60 years never had to. Current secondary schools are simply not equipped to do so. The scale of disengagement from the school system escalated when schools saw the industrial arts go into postsecondary settings blocking off the valuable pathways to employment that schools had once provided for so many.

A Totara Falls, Many Mourn and a New Day Dawns


Stuart Middleton


9 February 2018


Kua hinga te totara o te wao nui o Tane

The death of a chief is described by Maori as the falling of the totara tree in the great forest of Tane. The totara tree at Manukau Institute of Technology has fallen in this little part of the great forest. MIT has been mourning the death of Kukupa Tirakatene, our long serving Kaumatua, Kaiako o te Reo Maori, Kaiākau, Rangatira, Matua, Papa and friend to so many both at MIT and across Aotearoa.

Such a period of time is cause for reflection and as the tangi held at MIT ran its course, I thought often of my twin brother, Ewen, who passed away two years ago and who had worked with Kū at Rosehill College over a decade or so when Kū introduced Te Reo Māori into that school and was the only Maori teacher on the staff. As was the case in those times when this was common, the teacher of Te Reo was the go-to person for all matters Maori and all issues facing Maori students.

Such a role was demanding and my brother often mentioned the remarkable work being done by Kū in that setting, the assistance given to teachers and the huge contribution made to the school.

It was not to be the only time that Kū was to take an education institution and hold its hand as it took first steps and then increasingly bolder steps along the path towards a place where equity, parity, tino rangatiratanga, Te Tiriti, and manaakitanga started to impact on the minds, awareness and eventually the practices of those who work in it. It is quite a journey as this tapestry is woven.

Kū’s trademark kaikōrero at powhiri was “E kore e taea e te whenu kotahi ki te raranga I te whariki kia mohio ai tatou ki a tatou mā te mahi tahi o ngā whenu” – “The tapestry of understanding cannot be woven by one strand alone”.  The extended metaphor of weavers working together to achieve the fabric was how he exhorted people to behave, to work with others to achieve results but to also take note of the mistakes made (the “dropped stitches”) because there are learnings in them.

At MIT Kū lived these principles over a long time, working with some remarkable people – Tupae Pepe, Hapimana Rikihana, Dr Ranginui Walker, Sonny Rauwhero, Blackie Pohatu, and Maurice Wilson are names that spring to mind – to achieve things that were then new to MIT; teaching te Reo Māori, courses on Treaty Awareness, processes for ensuring that programmes took up opportunities they presented to reflect ako Maori and in the late 1990s the establishment of the Nga Kete Wananga Marae. All of these developments ebbed and flowed over time but increasingly such concerns were coming on to centre stage locally, regionally and nationally throughout Aotearoa.

In the early 2000s MIT instituted a project called Target 2010. Its goals were appropriate for then and focused on professional knowledge of staff and increased participation of Maori and Pacific communities in polytechnic education at MIT. A key element of this work was that the focus was on both Maori and Pacific and Kū’s contribution to bringing Pacific communities and students into a closer focus should not be underestimated. He celebrated both strands of the project and supported initiatives that established the key principles which saw the Pacific focus flourish but alongside a context where the kawa and tikanga of tangata whenua was respected and perhaps even strengthened.

MIT is embarking on a new wave of activity to achieve parity between priority learner groups and the overall performance of the institute. And as it pushes it boats out on this one, it will be without Kū Tirikātene, we will not have our Kaiākau, Papa Kū, to steer the canoe but we do have the learnings we have taken from his whakatauki, his karakia and and his example.

After a great tree has fallen in the forest there is a time of silence – the forest is grieving. Then over time the birdsong returns, other trees start to fill the gap and the forest seems to return to normal. But it is never the same.

Kua hinga te totara o te wao nui o Tane

Haere ra e te rangatira, haere, haere, haere atu ra.




Hitting the target of poverty or firing blanks?


Stuart Middleton


31 January 2017

Today our still fresh Government will release its first major statement about poverty. It already has had mixed responses but an open mind might wait until we see what it says then we can wait a little to see if anyone does what it says. One hopes that the approach doesn’t set to establish poverty as a unique and new condition that requires a raft of quangos, new trusts, and significant expenditure on response infrastructure. Some of the answers to the questions are blindingly obvious.

There is in every community within walking distance a capability to address poverty, and with a bit of assistance it could see that capability contribute significantly to the eradication of poverty. They are called schools and they are networked and with a change of attitude could well be the pathways from poverty into the space where there is equality.

For there is general agreement that poverty and literacy go hand in hand to attacking the shameful levels of poverty in this blessed and rich country. To call it “child poverty” is cute but somewhat dangerous. There are adults living in the condition that results in child poverty – it is poverty, full stop! Furthermore, the issues are not totally age-related but are embedded across the society in which we all live and for which we have responsibilities for all those who make that society what it is – the good, the bad, and the ugly. When it comes to those large societal issues there is no them, only facets of us. Someone else said that but it rings true to me.

I started school in 1951 and the shadow of World War II still hung heavily over the country. But were children in schools ignored? Our health was constantly monitored by health professionals who prodded and seemed always to poke needles into us, and weighed us and generally got hold of parents with support and advice when necessary. A half a pint of milk, often warmed by the sun I recall, was our compulsory morning tea. Dental nurses followed with interest the growth of our teeth and exhibited interest in what we ate. There were health camps for young ones who would benefit from fresh air, a change, and perhaps better habits.

In the standards we were taught by an older fellow from the Department of Agriculture how to have a garden. Seeds were given to us and demonstrations given, before we planted them at home. I recall that several visits were made by the “Ag. Guy” before a final inspection at time of harvest and, if we had done well, a Dept. of Agriculture Certificate was issued. It instilled knowledge and habits that have lasted a lifetime


My point is that there is a lot that schools can do and some are doing already to provide the tools that have some potential to beat poverty. The basic and essential skills of literacy and numeracy are central – schools need to have a much more greatly developed focus on these skills – they are central to developing a level of equality between members of a community. A child who reaches the end of primary education without the basic skills has been disabled by the educative experience because they most surely arrived with the capability of learning in them.

Well, perhaps all do not! This emphasises the critical importance of early childhood education. If 94.1% of under-fives have access to pre-school then I worry about 5.9% who do not. This is quite a number and they will be concentrated in particular communities. Each and every school should have a pre-school department. And this begs the question of whether the ECE provision currently available is of an evenly high standard across the sector. Quality measures have to be applied to centres to call out the centres that are simply there making money for the shareholders (and making plenty thanks to ill-targeted government resources). This should be easy but in itself will not be enough.

Schools are a critical weapon in fighting poverty. Primary, secondary and tertiary education institutions should have goals that must be reached. But there is only a faint chance of this when we see the education system seemingly moving away from measures at the primary level (ref. National Standards) and from targets for achievement in the secondary school (ref. PBS Goals). Will tertiary follow suit to soften the demands being made? I think not as greater focus is placed on qualification completion, parity of outcomes for Maori and Pasifika and a developing awareness of first-in-family students (as high as 40% of students in some institutions). Does an untargeted fees free environment in Tertiary guarantee that these issues will be addressed? Targets, expectations, performance measures are all weapons in the fight against poverty. Without the targeting of state resources poverty will continue unchallenged.

Finally, education has to be accompanied by employment. Working from a base of 22% youth unemployment without clear initiatives that will result in the opportunity to earn and family sustaining wage, will only continue to perpetrate poverty and the ugly social behaviours that can accompany it.

So the Government knows where the target is, now it needs a full quiver of sharp arrows.


Paying Lip-service to Learning and Teaching Languages

Stuart Middleton


16 January 2018

One might have thought that New Zealand had by now understood the critical importance of teaching languages other than English.

The shameful shepherding of Te Reo Māori towards a point where there was a possibility that it might be lost as a language that was used, just as the languages of Wales and Hawai’I had become was probably closer than the public understood. Reaching that point is one of potential social devastation. The performance of the NZ Education system and its poor, even lamentable results for Māori over many decades, can be seen in some part as a consequence of an education system that used the first language of the colonising community while demanding that the indigenous and all new-comers learn in a second language.

More importantly, the road back from that point where the existence of a language is under threat is has been difficult, expensive and a burden borne disproportionately by the respective communities. But attitudes are changing, actions are being taken, and status to Te Reo Māori is being accorded. Over a long period of time the language will survive and even flourish. Is New Zealand going to sit around and see successive generation of children from the Pacific go down that same route? New Zealand as a South Pacific Island nation has special responsibilities in this!

As a country we have only nibbled at recognising other languages publicly – but it is only a start in comparison to the efforts in Ireland and Wales. We have only nibbled at the notion of bilingual signage, simultaneous translation, and use of other languages on public occasions. Progress is seen mostly with the official languages. Canada has found that it comes easily when you want to do it!

As a country we still suppress the first / community / home languages of many children in schools –thousands of them. Each day children leave the security of their homes where they understand the language being used to walk into a foreign land where a new and different language is used. At the end of the day they walk home to India, to Samoa, to Somalia, to….

We have shown little commitment to supporting (including teaching) Pasifika languages in schools. This is reprehensible in light of the responsibilities New Zealand has as a South Pacific Island nation.

It is not that nothing is being done. But the scale is inadequate, the speed with initiatives too slow and the resources too scarce.

“We have a shortage of teachers, let’s make that a priority” is the cry. When it comes to the teaching of community languages this is simply untrue. The different communities that reflect the array of languages has within its ranks large numbers of members of the community who with resources and with relatively light support could teach these languages to children. But of course, teaching remains the closed shop and that has in part been a contributory feature that has exacerbated our slow progress with languages. The conventional programmes taught by the conventional (and talented) supply of teachers has not yet addressed the language issue. So we need to work differently. Scandinavia sets the standard for utilising the community resources in languages to see that those entering its school without the language of the school are supported. The way is there but we now need to find a will!

Quite simply, bilingual brains are better brains. A student’s strength in a new, second, or third language is dependent on the strength of the student’s first language. Suppress that language, the language of the home, and you suppress cognitive growth and the capacity to learn.

Google Joshua Fishman to find out how the pattern of language loss for communities takes only 2-3 generations to have become an obdurate problem for communities. We know what will happen. We know what needs to be done. But we yet have little appetite to get on with the job of reflecting the pluralist society we have become. Let’s do it in a manner that celebrates our diversity and acknowledges the important role and place in our community of difference.

The lucky ones who never “left school”

Stuart Middleton


15 December 2017

I went to a prize-giving last Thursday. In itself that is not an uncommon thing to do at this time of the year. But this one had some unique differences.

  • Without exception it was a set of stories about students who had failed in school.
  • But none of the students present would ever “leave school”.
  • Many had studied for NCEA at multiple levels.
  • All had started this journey to success from a dark place.

It was the Prize-Giving for the Manukau Institute of Technology School of Secondary Tertiary Studies (popularly known in wider circles as the MIT Tertiary High School). It is a “school” that accepts students who are facing the wall at school, the ones who are left behind, even discarded. They come to the school and simultaneously study for secondary qualifications and tertiary qualifications.

What was beyond their reach in a secondary school was within their grasp in a programme that focuses on essential skills, on pride and a belief in self and on a burning purpose for learning. The students are motivated to meet expectations placed on them. The journey can only be undertaken with the guidance and teaching from first-rate teachers not only from the ranks of the secondary profession but also from a wide range of tertiary teachers and the support staff that a large post-secondary institution is able to muster. Exceptional leadership is a sine qua non.

Failure was staring them in the face at the age of 14–15-years and seemed inevitable for many. But with the benefit of a wide variety of insights from schools, parents and caregivers, grandparents and those other influencers that young people are exposed to, a different path wass chosen. And there we were, celebrating the progress and success of those on this journey.

So, what was special about this day?

There was a clear focus on high level academic success, NCEA, postsecondary qualifications, further education and training, and employment.

There was never a point when they left school, an act celebrated in conventional settings as an achievement in itself. The students has made the transition from secondary to tertiary in a totally managed way. They came in as early secondary students and leave as qualified tertiary students – there no single point in time at which this happens – it’s called managed transitions.

A number of students were receiving recognition of having achieved two different levels of NCEA in the year. Not for them the tedious progression through the levels, 1 to 2 to 3, not for them the old time- served approach. Their progress was at a pace set by them. Their programme allowed for this by understanding the flexibility of the assessment structure that is NCEA in which credit is awarded across subject and sector boundaries when the requisite skills and understanding and learning was demonstrated.

One of the students, let’s call her Agnes, summed up the potential of the Tertiary High School when she addressed the audience. She spoke honestly about the difficult and dark place she found herself in at age 15-years. Facing no prospect of success or perhaps even of staying in her school, she enquired about the THS, went through the enrolment procedures which involved her school, her caregivers, MIT and , most importantly, herself, agreement all round declared that it was worth a try.

Agnes cut her long story short by modestly glossing over the great efforts she had put in to developing wide skills of learning, achieving the secondary qualifications up to NCEA Level 3 as well as the tertiary qualifications associated with the programme, to the point where she was able to enroll in a degree programme. Almost as an aside she mentioned that in amongst this progress she also became a teen Mum. There was spontaneous and enthusiastic clapping and cheering when she concluded by telling the audience that she had completed her degree programme, was now employed and would start work the next day putting her Bachelor of Applied Sport and Exercise Science to good use.

Agnes is not the first student to gain a degree through the THS, quite a number have over the eight years the programme has existed. Many more have achieved high level technical qualifications across the wide spectrum of courses available at MIT, most have achieved NCEA to Level 2 and 3.

This is not an advertisement for Manukau Institute of Technology. but it is a testimony that there is no need for students to fail. That the education system must never give up on each and every student that it has responsibility for. Students fail because of the intractability of education’s processes, programmes and progression patterns. When different pathways are offered, purpose develops and success is possible. When care is taken to treat each student’s journey individually, solutions and engagement follow.

EdTalkNZ has tracked the issues of truancy, failure, poor educational outcomes, disengagement, and NEETs consistently over the years but seen little movement in the tragic statistics of failure. Yesterday showed that there is hope, there are better ways of working, and that there is success for all students when pathways to it open up for them.

It is not impossibly hard (there are challenges), it is not expensive (certainly no more expensive than conventional schools), and it can happen. But first we have to want success for all students.


A Primary Education without Standards?

Stuart Middleton


13 December 2017

At this time of the year in days gone past students would carry home a school report and parents would read them with great interest in one key thing – was their child going “up” to the next standard. Would that pathway from Standard 1 to Standard 2 and so on up to Standard 6 continue? And great pleasure was expressed when this was the result – usually a grunted “Well done” rather than bestowing of presents which seems now to greet any perceived achievement!

But as we approach Christmas this year, something just doesn’t make sense!

In an act that might be one of bravado or perhaps one of inspiration, the Coalition Government has abolished National Standards for the primary sector without any idea of what can or will replace it.

This has apparently been based on a call from primary teachers and principals to be allowed to “stop all this testing and reporting” so as to be able to “get on with teaching” and on a view that parents didn’t want the information that was being given to them

Let’s look at these positions and remember that this is happening at a time when it is becoming increasingly clear that student achievement is declining as they progress through primary schooling and, without being churlish in mentioning it, when confirmation has been made that on average 76,000 students are not at school on any given day (of course secondary schooling also contributes to this statistic).

If primary in responding to National Standards have indeed been focusing on literacy and numeracy at the expense of other things, it just doesn’t seem to be working nor does it show. And this might be for a very obvious reason.

You cannot simply focus on literacy and numeracy as if they were subjects in their own write. In the panoply of “school subjects”, they do not exist. “Literacy” and “numeracy” are descriptions of the application of skill-sets to learning, to the growth of skills and knowledge, to the increase in social skills and so on. In other words, they are the descriptions of progress in just about everything that primary schools should be doing and would claim to be doing.

You cannot study literacy and numeracy for no obvious reason. You cannot become literate and numerate without demonstrating the application of the skills of literacy and numeracy to learning about other things and developing other skills. You cannot report on literacy and numeracy without having observed all this.

And there is a growing body of evidence to support this view.  At Manukau institute of Technology pathways are made available to students to study, in an applied manner, many different technical areas and, in the case of the MIT Tertiary High School, undertake all their schooling in such a setting.

Typically, many of these students, after 10 years of schooling, have struggled to get the credits they need in literacy and numeracy while in the school programme. But given settings where they are required to practise the skills of literacy and numeracy for real applications and uses, they have little difficulty at all reaching the standards that are sought.

The second issue, do parents want to know what National Standards deliver to them? The TVNZ vox pop. would have you believe that they really aren’t too fussed about it. But that was when asked about National Standards which was criticised and pilloried by the primary teaching community and its leadership from their very introduction until their demise. So, who blames parents for have such views? It could even be a sign that teachers are respected in a way that is not simply rational but more a passionate grasp of the importance to schooling to later life.

It would be tragic if schools and teachers were to abuse that trust. I have never met a parent or caregiver that did not believe in the value of schooling and who did not grasp the critical importance of the work of teachers. I have, however, also met parents who asked the question “What went wrong? We sent [son/daughter] to school and [he/she] has failed.” A recent leader in education was want to say “Parents send their best children to us.”

In abandoning National Standards, the government has made a commitment to parents that increases in student achievement will be follow. In greeting their demise with pleasure, the teaching profession has declared that they can deliver higher and more equitable outcomes with a curriculum free from distortion that will take students along a pathway upwards to great things.

What a Christmas Present to parents and caregivers it would be if both the Government and the teaching profession were able to deliver great improvements and benefits this a result of this announcement and all that it leads to.




Parity of Esteem in Post-Secondary Education.

Stuart Middleton


4 December 2017

Gandhi was once asked what he thought of Western civilisation. He replied that he thought it would be a good idea. What about parity of esteem in post-secondary education? That also would be a good idea.

It has long been the received wisdom of those who come from the universities and those in the community persuaded by their pronouncements that a university qualification trumped all others. Seldom was this backed up by convincing data and those who did know the real data knew that it was simply untrue.

This educational myth was based largely on a lack of parity of esteem that the universities held for most of the other forms for post-secondary education and training which at times bordered on simple arrogance. It was also a reflection of an education system which resulted in a schooling system that valued the academic track to university above all others. This happened from the 1970s on with the slow decline in the industrial arts in secondary schools, some of the curriculum changes (especially the Technology curriculum) and the heavily “sectorised” post-secondary education system.

Thanks now to Josh Williams, CE of the ITF, who commissioned a report from BURL and a well written piece by Liam Dann (Weekend Herald, 2 December 2017, Business Section) a well-regarded economics commentator, we have some good New Zealand data that supports the view that there is little advantage to either side in a comparison of the lifetime earnings of a citizen qualified in the trades and one who has graduated with a university qualification. The difference is small.

I for one celebrate this – a well-educated person (trades and university based) is an excellent investment for a society which relies heavily on the skills of both, getting qualifications across the board is critical to success of communities. With the certain knowledge that people learn and develop skills in different ways, we need a broad sweep of areas for learning, ways of developing and opportunities for contributing. This might sound like a multiple pathways approach!

Internationally, across the English-speaking world, there is a growing realisation that the privileging of a university track to post-secondary education and training had contributed in part to the skills shortage now experienced across those countries, some of the resultant competition for skilled migrant labour and to the growing number of young people who choose neither trades nor university in part because they cannot enter one (the university) and they have succumbed to the view that the other (trades) has been discredited by ill-informed (a polite way of saying uninformed) criticism of those trades as a lesser pathway.

The developments in New Zealand since 2008 (well and often described by EdTalkNZ) have shown many thousands of young people that a trades pathway can be both a track to a lifetime of success and reward and, as other evidence confirms, academic excellence, This is something the universities have claimed as their own but which in truth can be achieved and is being achieved through applied education in the trades.

The BURL report appears to miss a key advantage held by the trades, the ability to start at a relatively early stage, your own business. Many trades people settle into early experiences and quickly develop an independent grasp of the skills, knowledge and ways of doing business in those trades. Their futures are sound, especially for those prepared to work hard and are prepared to meet the demands created by labour shortages.

But the BURL report rightly makes clear that trades people often do not have the burden of debt created by the longer and more expensive university courses. This advantage is not to be underestimated.

A healthy community is one which values the contributions made by all who live in it. University graduates alongside tradespeople are to be valued, afforded parity of esteem, rewarded well, and valued for the contribution they can and do make. It is time for the Trades (Automotive, Electrical, Building and Construction, Infrastructure, Painting and Decorating, Roofing, Technicians and so on) to stand alongside Law, Medicine, Engineering, Business and Economics and the Arts as worthy careers and pathways that can be recommended confidently to young people.

The Empty Desks

Stuart Middleton


39 November 2017


WOW! Every day a whopping 76,000 young New Zealanders are not at school where they ought to be reports the NZ Herald.

Imagine it! Seventy-six empty secondary schools every day assuming an average size of 1,000 students. Measured in term of primary schools, it’s about 250 primary schools empty if the average primary school roll is 300 (which it isn’t). Of course, they don’t all absent themselves from a limited range of schools. It is a pepper-potting of truancy and absenteeism that hides this appalling statistic which is getting worse not better.

Perhaps this escalating issue provides some explanation of another statistic that isn’t rising but instead is falling – that is the set of statistics around achievement as many students seem progressively to show lower achievement levels as they work their way through the school system (according to the Education Review Office).

Can New Zealand be said to have a functioning school system when so many students absent themselves from it? Can we be said to have got it right when students decline in their achievement levels instead of showing a steady increase in understanding, knowledge and skills. The origins of the pile of NEETs starts long before age range of 15-24-years where they are recognised as a category and an issue, and are reacted to with difficulty and patchy success.

There has to be some explanation feature of the education system which is becoming hard-wired into the expectations of educators.

Is it the increasingly ethnic diversity of the student body? Are our teachers able to practice their crafts in ways that are culturally inclusive? Can they provide language education in ways that equip students for an English-speaking system? Do schools make effective use of the skilled community members from different language communities? Is the gap between home and school simply too great – writing of the situation in London school in the early 1980s a colleague finished a study with the sentence: “And at the end of each school day, Sharma walked home to India.”

Is it the seemingly unsuccessful truancy initiatives and services? A considerable resource has over time been spent on the issue of truancy and various interventions tried. Few have succeeded largely because of the circularity of returning young people to the place they have left to become truants in the first place. The solutions to truancy and absenteeism can only lie within the school but unless the school can offer a different kind of experience or an alternative school system is developed, there is little hope of the school system getting on top of the issue.

Add to that the worrying feature of the achievement decline demonstrated by so many students as they proceed through school and the outcomes can only be at some point to an inevitable inadequate academic preparation for education and training that could bring success.

I haven’t mentioned the role of parents and caregivers. Every truant and absent school student has a parent or caregiver somewhere. The statistics must in part be a reflection of the pressure so many households are under. Fix the fundamentals of employment, housing, health and support and the issues might go away, they will certainly become smaller. Education might then be able to offer the 13% who regularly excuse themselves from schooling, the benefit of an education.

Are we going to ignore this? Will we continue to fiddle with the school system in the hope that education can achieve something in which society generally and its governments in particular have failed?

This looks like a significant issue about which we should be worried. Many reports have been written, perhaps the time is now right for those reports to be read and acted on.

Tonga 3: NZ could learn from Tonga

Stuart Middleton


22 November 2017

The two most recent EdTalkNZ blogs have detailed the exciting events in Tonga as hundreds of secondary school students have received the Level 2 Tonga Certificate in Vocational and Technical Skills developed through a partnership between Tongan Secondary schools and education agencies and Manukau Institute of Technology.

It was suggested that New Zealand could learn from the success of this programme and here’s how!

  1. Honest recognition of the extent to which secondary students are not engaged with their schooling.

We continue to delude ourselves about the level of successful outcomes in our schooling system. One wonders whether the move to abolish National Standards without replacing it with some form of measure and accountability, and the support that this proposal is getting, will simply add further murkiness to the view that parents and caregivers have of their children’s progress. Until secondary schools and tertiary providers report on cohort outcomes rather than qualification completion there will continue to be a distorted view of the levels of success. Meanwhile, the snowball of failure that is the NEETs issue continues to roll and to grow.

Tonga grappled with the issue of disengagement, was prepared to try an approach that was positive and is being rewarded with responses that are promising. New Zealand has to also be prepared to work differently if the outcomes are to be different.

  1. Providing early access to trades training.

There is clear evidence that early access to applied learning (in this instance, trades training) benefits all learners including those making good progress as well as those needing  boost. It is not simply the potential disengagers who are being disadvantages, the bright and the gifted could also be making better progress earlier if they were to escape the diet of programmes presented under the banner of the word “academic” that hides many pedagogocal and curricular sins.

But,  for the disengagers escaping the conventional school programme is a clear and incontrovertible pathway to success. Trades Academies, Dual Pathways and initiatives such as the MIT Tertiary High School are proven ways of providing managed transitions and seamless pathways for students. Questions must be asked. Why does New Zealand persist with a curriculum that is interpreted so as to suit the 30% who are headed towards university and ignores the 70% who are not? Why are the initiatives that have been shown to increase successful outcomes not being rolled out? Why, are NZ students being denied the options that emerge from a multiple pathways approach that is less bounded by lock-step progression and characterized by flexibility, more success earlier and a purposeful pathway to a future?

  1. Creating multiple pathways.

As an education system, we do not create multiple pathways for a number of reasons. It doesn’t suit the turf protection mentality which has built the walled cities we call sectors (early childhood, primary, intermediate, secondary, and tertiary) – turf once gained must be protected. The education system is, by and large, designed to suit those administering and delivering programmes rather than those who are seeking and learning and hoping that it will provide for them a future.

We can create multiple pathways but we choose not to and this is to the detriment of many students.

  1. Placing the responsibility for the management of transitions in education on the institution.

Too many baby-boomers grew up reading war comics and learned that you collaborate with the enemy! The lack of collaboration, partnerships has led to the concretisation of the sectors and as the inhabitants of each walled city are busily focusing on their own activity, it is left to those least able to manage the difficult transitions early childhood into primary, primary to secondary (sometimes through intermediate) secondary to tertiary and tertiary into employment. Partnerships and collaboration are critical of if we are to create pathways.

  1. Actively promoting collaboration with Secondary and Tertiary working together- the value of partnerships.

Of course, Tonga secondary schools and tertiary institutions (MIT and the Tonga Tertiary Providers) have taken collaboration and partnership to a well-advanced level where curriculum design, delivery of programmes, the use of teaching spaces / specialist facilities, involvement of ex-student bodies and, in the next project, industry sector groups, businesses, all work to contribute pathways for students who might otherwise not succeed. In simple terms, it is achieving a lot with a little in a setting where resources are scare and those that exist must simply be shared.

  1. Injecting purpose, confidence and success into education for young students.

Finally, students who emerge from their schooling in Year 10 and 11 the Certificate in Vocational and Technical Skills have found purpose and confuidence to move into further trades training, or back into the “academic programme or, perhaps, return to their village and community as a person with the skills to help others and to make a useful contribution.

If every secondary school in New Zealand adopted these goals and, perhaps, had a programme similar to the Tonga programme, our education system achieve more equitable outcome and students would be much more successful. Malo au’pito to our colleagues for this opportunity to work with them on bringing about change in education in Tonga.

Tonga 2: The Prize Giving

Stuart Middleton


17 November 2017

The Queen Salote Memorial Hall is a huge facility on the main road close to the centre of Nukualofa in Tonga. When looking into the hall on the day before the MIT CITVS Graduation we were of the sound opinion that the hall would be too large, a view that was dispelled immediately we arrived the next morning. With a half hour to go before the start, the hall was packed, the only empty seats were those still be filled by the graduating students. Seven hundred graduates and over a thousand supporters

In they filed, four abreast to the exuberant music of the Tupou College Brass Band – a superb musical group that played some classics from the brass band repertoire with skill and volume! I should have mentioned that this was the “junior” band – young boys who at an early age had the mature skills of the best.

The metrics for the graduation were somewhat eye-watering. The nine schools in which MIT delivered the Certificate in Vocational and Technical Skills in 2017 were collectively graduating 659 students (which included 80 female students). Some completed the certificate over two years while others completed it in one year. (A further 423 students completed Year 1 this year and will graduate next year when they complete the second year.)

Over a 3.5-hour ceremony, 30 degrees outside, families clapped each recipient who walked up on to the stage, bowed respectively to the presenter accepted their certificate, took two steps back and bowed a second time. A wonderful sense of pride and achievement filled the hall as lei were draped around the necks of the successful by the proud family members.

I am told that for many this was the first recognition of achievement that they would have received. They are students who, for a variety of reasons were not on track to have success in the conventional secondary school programme. Their futures had looked a little bleak but now their world has expanded.

Pathways into postsecondary education and training were opened up to them. Their Level 2 Certificate in Vocational and Technical Skills was their passport into further education and training one of the different tertiary providers that exist in Tonga. The largest of these is the government-owned Tonga Institute of Science and Technology (TIST) which has been a partner with MIT for these developments.

Over the past two years there has been a 50% increase in enrolments in the range of Level 3 programmes that TIST offers and this can be attributed directly to the MIT programme. Those who have an incomplete understanding of the situation in Tonga have raised the issue of training people when there are no jobs. They are wrong, there are jobs and there is a shortage of skilled and trained people to fill those positions. But it is also a miscomprehension about developing countries and the structure of their economies. Alongside the formal economies in which certified and qualified tradespeople operate, there is a further group of what is becoming known as “Community Tradespeople”. This group operates outside of the formal structures to undertake a whole range of work for which payment is managed a little less formally. It is a wholly good outcome that more educated and trained people are able to enter the community tradespeople environment which supplements the world of formal employment.

First, the CITVS qualification was developed to provide three pathways:A smooth pathway into further education and training in trades. That has been achieved and is already operating well for a significantly large group of students.

Secondly, a re-engagement with education for students who decide to returning to the conventional school programme with confidence, skills and purpose. That is clearly happening for a group who now see a future for themselves more clearly and understand its connection with schooling.

Thirdly, a third group, for a variety of reasons, will finish their formal education at this point and return to live in their village with family. But this group will now have skills and will not be a burden on their wider families and the community.

MIT worked with TIST to have the CITVS accredited on the Tongan Qualifications Framework and TIST is the owner of the qualification which is absolutely the equivalent of a NZ Level 2 qualification – so a fourth pathway that will be less travelled opens up, study in New Zealand.

To finish, a story. At the beginning of this year 46 school leavers turned up at TIST ready to start their programme. They were in correct uniform, had the requisite boos and equipment and were keen to get started. The only problem was that they had not enrolled! They had simply assumed that since they had a Certificate in Vocational and Technical Skills they were able to take the next step without such a formality.

That has to be the epitome of a seamless pathway!