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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!

A Small Country Outstrips the Big Countries

Stuart Middleton


15 November 2017

I write this in a plane as we fly to the Kingdom of Tonga for an educational highlight – the graduation of 200 students from Year 10 and 11 with a Certificate in Vocational and Technical Skills. They have studies four different technical areas and shown that they can achieve Level 2. And this Level 2 is a match with the NZ Level 2.

Wind the film back. In 2013 MIT applied for and was successful in getting a Partnership Programme Project accepted in the first round of such projects introduced by the NZ Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trades. The idea is the MFAT funds two thirds and the partner picks up the other third.

When the idea was discussed with colleagues in Tonga there were high levels of enthusiasm and a demand for an immediate start. It was, they said in so many ways “exactly what we need.”

Early school leaving (what we would call “disengagement” and the Americans, “dropping out) is at high levels throughout the Pacific and that includes Australia and New Zealand. A critical point where this becomes an issue is around the age of 14 years / second year high school – and that includes NZ and Australia. The conventional academic curriculum spread from and by New Zealand and Australia simply wasn’t suited to all students – nor does it in New Zealand and the Pacific.

The idea was simple. In order to encourage students to stay in the schooling system beyond Year 10, a programme would be offered a Certificate in Technical Skills CITS. Schools were quick to see that this might be most easily done by creating a cohort who studied for the Tonga SC in other subjects.

The programme would have three objectives:

It would introduce students to a different kind of learning, applied learning, and a new set of curriculum options, the trades. At the same time it would assist postsecondary providers to widen the range of subjects and the levels at which they were taught.

  1. The programme would encourage students to follow a trades pathway for which there were post-secondary training opportunities in Tonga.

MIT knows through the experience with its Tertiary High School and the many Trades Academies, that applied learning in trades will re-engage students who cannot see the point of what they were learning and indeed might even on the edge of dropping out.

  1. The programme would lower disengagement levels by re-engaging students in learning – either by pursuing a trades pathway or returning into the conventional school programme with skills for learning, with renewed confidence and with a sense of purpose and a surprising number are in this category.

But inappropriate curriculum and the conventional reasons for dropping out are exacerbated in an island community by economic factors, the hardships of living in isolated settings, the difficulty of getting to school and so on. Ordinary life is a challenge in ways not encountered in New Zealand. Inevitably some students would still fall by the education wayside. Or as one church leader so eloquently describes it – “they are the ones who are left behind.”

  1. If a student undertook the programme and then became early school leavers they would return home to their villages and communities as people with skills.

They would be able to build a house by themselves but having done courses in building and construction electricity, and plumbing. They would be a great help to someone who was. They could help with the gardens and plantations having done a programme in horticulture or fix elementary things that go wrong with cars or machinery.

Wonderful things happened:

  • Secondary and tertiary providers developed strong partnerships;
  • Some schools privileged the CITS students through developing a different uniform that was the envy of others;
  • Students in the different programmes undertook work that really helped the school – building furniture and developing school gardens are a couple of examples;
  • Old Boys Associations became enthused and in one school made sure that the facilities were improved and then provided the materials needed and covered some of the costs;
  • Parents were enthused and a number of schools now report waiting list for the programme.

And there are the graduations. Last year’s graduation was the first and a huge crowd turned out for it, traffic chaos, nationally televised live and broadcast over the radio, five cabinet ministers, the Presidents of the church school systems, government agency leaders and just hundreds of family members supporting their “graduates”, and, because it is Tonga, a brilliant brass band.

What awaits us this year?

As we descend my anticipation rises. I shall report back on Friday.

Bringing About Change: Sector Reform

Stuart Middleton


8 November 2017

I have just realised that BIM does not stand for “BLOG for the INCOMING MINISTER” but I could not resist the temptation to make one further suggestion.

It seems to me that Associate Ministers of Education should not simply be assigned to responsibilities that are in the nature of keeping the education kitchen tidy and education lawns mown. They present an opportunity to tackle reform and change where it is needed. And one of those areas might be Sector Reform.

Sectors exist simply because education systems have expanded from the traditional first provision at elementary and, interestingly, university levels, to grow down into early childhood provision and up through secondary schooling into a post-secondary environment that includes an array of institution-types making distinctive contributions to academic, technical and vocational education. Like Topsy it grew and is now topsy-turvey!

The education sectors are it seems so distinctive that they require different qualifications to work in, different pay scales for those workers, different organisations to represent them, different trade unions to fight for them and usually, different Ministers or Associate Ministers to look after them.

The sectors do not reflect how students grow and develop. The one thing you can be certain of is that the difference between early childhood and primary is a birthday, the difference between primary and Intermediate and secondary and tertiary is a Christmas Holiday and…so on.

The worst part is that once territory is won, it defended and the education system in New Zealand does just this with vigour to the detriment of professionalism and ultimately the students.

I suggest that Associate Ministers might be deployed to achieve change in areas such Sector Reform. One Assoc Min. could have responsibility for Years 0 to 10. – an Associate Minister with responsibility for Core Education. This would be the education and training that the state accepts as its clear responsibility to meet the goal of providing all students with the skills, knowledge, dispositions and aspirations to enable them to start along the pathways that will take them to employment, to family sustaining incomes, to a life that contributes to communities and to the quality of interactions between citizens required in a civilised society.

But above all there would be an assurance that all students were still in the education system and prepared academically to undertake education and training in the year Years 11-21 by which time they should have completed a post-secondary qualification, be ready for employment or further study and have the maturity and understandings required to contribute to the community and the nation. It is this second set of goals that the Associate Minister for Further Education could be responsible.

A set of principles and challenges would be given to the Associate Ministers to achieve change in the education system which would lead to a system based on multiple pathways, which seeks to manage each transition now required of a student as they progress seamlessly through the education system and, from the students’ perspective, is seamless.

Assigning Associate Ministers responsibilities in this way could lead to a qualitative lift in education generally and take it one step forward to being a student-centred, unified education system served by a highly respected and professional teaching force at all levels.

Or, will we just accept current levels at which students drop out of the education system, the extent of failure at all levels of the education system and the worries about equitable access to early childhood education? Are we happy to continue an education that has drifted over time to meet the needs of those working in it rather than the students who come into it? We could with change sort out all these issues but never with the current fragmented, system, comfortable in its silos, defending turf, out of which students simply disappear to face lives of lesser quality.

If we are tackle the root causes of child poverty, domestic violence, skill shortages, growing prison populations and so on we need some new approaches to mending the pathways.

Review of NCEA

Stuart Middleton


31 October 2017

I met a young fellow the other day, he’d drifted out of school last year, realised that he was going nowhere, so he had finally taken himself to the Tertiary High School (THS) at Manukau Institute of Technology. He has this year completed Level 1 NCEA and Level 2 NCEA achieved two certificates and was planning next year to get started on his career pathway and would also complete Level 3 in case he needed it later.

Such stories are relatively common, a speedy transition from failure to success because this is a different programme that takes students unlikely to succeed in a school setting, brings them in to MIT where they get basic skills into place and complete NCEA while simultaneously experiencing applied and technical disciplines before determining which pathway they will head down. The results speak for themselves – extraordinary high NCEA results and employment ready technical qualifications and, for some, a pathway into a degree programme.

None of this would be possible were it not for NCEA.

NCEA has been a liberating and powerful mechanism that has allowed different pathways to emerge. It has also.allowed a common currency of credit to develop making possible secondary / tertiary links that are probably at this moment reaching in excess of 17,000 students throughout New Zealand. Take Trades Academies as an example – MIT has 400+ students from secondary schools coming in for a “trades academy programme”, earning NCEA credits which they carry back to school to put with the credits gained in the rest of the programme.


NCEA has not flourished as it should have in many schools for a set of simple reasons.

Schools persist in equating Level 1 with Year 11, Year 2 with Year 12 and Level 3 with Year 13 for no apparent reason other than this is what they have always done (i.e. Yr11 School C, Year 12 6th Form Cert. and Year 13 Bursary / Schol). The THS at MIT has shown comprehensively that multi-level assessment and award of credits at different levels within a school year is possible, that NCEA is not a time bound qualification but an assessment regime that is flexible.

Vocational Pathways was launched in a slightly raw state – a bit longer in the oven would have helped. Vocational Pathways should be an organising principle for course development and design in the senior secondary school rather than the “academic pokie machines” that they sometimes appear to have become. Schools programmes are completed and the lever pulled down. Ka-ching, Ka-ching  Ka-ching , the barrels tumble then stop, three pineapples appear – wow, primary industries, fancy that! Vocational Pathways should be guiding the development of pathways in schools that link to postsecondary pathways and not just something to pop on the CV.

I was pleased to see that there is wider recognition that Unit Standards and Achievement Standards are NOT the curriculum. The standards can be used to assess a variety of different curriculum contents, organised in a variety of ways across a range of curriculum disciplines and at a number of different levels. The Record of Learning is there for a reason.

The announced Review of NCEA is welcomed provided that its goals and the way it works do not lead to capture by those still harking back to the “good old days” and who reject the powerful opportunities for change that NCEA offers. And dare we hope that review can be brave enough to deal with the promise made when the qualifications were reviewed in the 1990s? “Time served would be dead” we were told. But time served has never looked more secure. Calendar year blocks of education and training punctuated by Christmas Holidays might well be challenged in a review. After all there are only two institutions where time served is critical and in one you get time off for good behaviour!

The NCEA Review must position the secondary system and to some extent the tertiary system to be ready for NZQA when they reach their goal of assessment “anywhere, for anyone, on line and on time.” There is a train a’comin” down the track!

NCEA and the NZQA developments might eventually coalesce to be the only paradigm shift that we are likely to experience in education in our lifetime.


Fast Free-for-All in Tertiary

Stuart Middleton


24 October 2017

Hey wait! Quick isn’t good. Right is good. Is it right to rush headlong into a free-fees tertiary regime? It seems OK to abolish National Standards without knowing what is to be put in its place so perhaps it is OK to abandon fees without knowing how it is to be done and who should get most benefit!

But ideology is a funny thing which has a logic all of its own. Back in the 1980s the ideology of an unfettered free market drove a wide range of political Principles such as freedom, equity and open access all critical to a high performing education system were less important than other considerations.

A set of briefing papers to the incoming Minister of Education in 1987 was prepared by the New Zealand Treasury and published with a touch of grandeur. This was an early and key outline of the view that post-compulsory education was a private gain and not a public good. The government’s contribution was to provide allowances and a loans scheme which gave students the cash to purchase education and training from the Government.

Now the political whim is to reverse that situation and over a period of seven years, students in post-compulsory education and training will be free of fees again. But to achieve equity in education it is often critical that different groups of different people are treated differently. This free-fees development has all the look of a policy that will not be targeted well if at all. Rather than simply say that the fees must go eventually, there is here an opportunity to fine tune provision in ways that respond to a range of issues and allow the post-secondary education and training sector to make marked improvements to levels of equity and access and to its contribution to communities and the national good.

Clearly the staggered approach which sees a start of 1-year-fees-free, then to 2-years-fees-free and, finally, to three-years-fees-free, is governed by fiscal considerations – there isn’t the money to achieve it in one go. But perhaps that is because of the assumption that everyone undertaking post-secondary education and training should have access to a fees-free pathway. As this policy is further developed prior to implementation, it could become a more sophisticated, nuanced and targeted policy than was the simple rhetoric of the simple election campaign announcement.

As part of that development I would like to first see evidence that there is a body of people who are qualified to enter tertiary education and training but are unable to do so because of financial hardship. I would also like to see an analysis of the ways in which provision can be directed towards skills shortages and the needs of business industry and commerce.

I would suggest that getting more people qualified to enter tertiary education and training in general is a higher priority than immediately rewarding all those who are already qualified to start next year. Attending to the stockpile of talent that sits at great cost to us all, untapped and wasting away, is a higher priority that firing money that those who have over the past 20 years shown that they can get to tertiary and indeed do so in spite of the debt incurred.

This will require a willingness to address in a serious and meaningful way the issue of the NEETs pile of people which is, often at no fault of the individual, such a dead weight on productivity, social costs, poverty levels and the well-being of families.

I would suggest that targeting fees-free initiatives towards Maori and Pasifika students continues to be a higher imperative and will continue to be while participation rates are inequitable and parity of outcomes not yet achieved.

Targeting a fees-free initiative towards First-in-Family Students entering post-secondary education and training would have a major impact on families – the evidence is clear, the first-in-family member who completes postsecondary education and training qualification influences and transforms the family as other family members follow in those family-first footsteps.


Currently there is a range of initiatives in place for fees-free postsecondary education. There are learnings in this for further developments and it would be a lost opportunity if they went unheeded. Targeting areas of skill shortages both by skill areas and by qualification levels would be a sound response to the current needs of business, industry and commerce and might focus on the serious skill issues for entry level and middle level workers.

A significant number of people probably cannot afford to contemplate post-secondary education and training simply because their schooling has left them ill-equipped and to pass through the gate to tertiary and probably resource poor in facing the requisite commitments implied. Creating a fees-free pathway specifically for such people, many of whom are headed towards joining the NEETs, must be a top priority.  The removal of the either/or relationship between training and benefits would be a good start.

So, the point of this is that there might be a set of principles that will produce a greatly more targeted policy in this area than the simple roll-it-out-as-we find-the-cash approach proposed. Policies that are not well-targeted might be thought to achieve change but they seldom produce impact.

Along the way much more could be achieved. Simply transplanting free-fees intro the current postsecondary education and training sector will be great for some but overall, a disappointment once again, for many. And a lost opportunity.


Standards and years and progress

Stuart Middleton


24 October 2017

It is one thing to see merit in scrapping National Standards in primary schools but quite another to know what to put in its place.

The first cohort of students to proceed through primary education under the National Standards regime of reporting progress which was introduced in 2010, will be about to move on to secondary school. This pudding is about to be eaten and that will be the proof of whether or not they have had an impact on student performance.

National standards were introduced for a set of very reasonable expectations which were:

  • that teachers were able to assess the progress being made by their students in key areas such as reading, writing and mathematics;
  • that these would effectively communicate the level of progress being made to parents and caregivers;
  • that the levels of progress would be calibrated so as to ensure that students were ready for secondary school when they moved on.

The evidence of the past few years shows that Maori students have stay around the 68% level in the areas reported on, while Pasifika, Asian and European/Pakeha have all dropped back. Numbers of students reaching ‘at’ or ‘above’ the standards have been flat for the past five years. As these were the 2011-2016 results, teachers should by then have become proficient in applying the standards.

More worrying perhaps is that student achievement in primary schools seemingly get worse rather than better from Year 1 to Year 8.

So there could be an argument around whether or not a standards approach will raise achievement but there can be no argument that parents and caregivers deserve to have clear and accurate information about progress and whether students are being prepared for secondary school – a key role for any primary education system.

As the call to abandon National Standards has been consistent from their inception, it is strange that no-one, not teachers, not academics, and not even journalists, have been able to suggest a replacement for them. Is it simply beyond education systems to account for the impact of teaching and learning to be reported to the community one way or another. Can not a simple statement be made about the progress made and whether the student is “on track” or not.

Ironically, in the old days your progression was measured in “standards” which referred to the level of class you were in and taking the school report home also carried in it the confirmation that Mary would be going up into the next standard the following year – a statement greatly valued. “Standards” have been replaced by “Years” and your education is an automatic elevation through the standards.

Elections and Education – What a Polly Scramble!

Stuart Middleton


20 October 2017

So now we know! The die is cast! The road less-travelled has been chosen. Our fates are cast to the wind. Or to put it another way, the Government has been declared. Education wasn’t a central star in the drama of the election campaign but plenty of ideas were dressed up as policy. Now there will be a scramble to give effect to some of it. It will be a little like a lolly scramble when energetic adult hurl lollies over the heads of children. The result can often be tears (“I didn’t get any!”) or complaints (“They pushed me and I fell over!” and even shrieks about fairness (“I only got two and he got fistfuls!”)

The next year will be something of a “Polly Scramble” as the three parties that will make us the next government scramble to get some meaning to wrap around their slim descriptions of policy intention let alone to bring it into fruition.

The thirty or so policies that I spotted are like a bag of all-sorts. Some are big, others are small but unlike lollies, some cost a huge amount while other have little cost beyond simply asking us to behave differently. And that is the challenge.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions and education policies that have failed or perhaps not even been implemented or, and this is quite common, been socialised into the education system so that we can continue to act in the old way while seeming to adopt the new.

So, I offer the list below as an aide memoire when you are asked about the progress being made by the new government in Education. Or perhaps even when you are asked what it is that you need.

Education System             

  • Spend $6b over 4 years to include $1.8b for more teachers, PD, resources (Labour) nationwide PD for teachers to ensure meet student needs equitably (NZ First).
  • Increased PD and training for Trustees.
  • Increase spending by $315m to build a more inclusive education system (Greens).


  • Bring back more funding for ECE Centres employing 100% qualified and registered teachers (Labour).
  • Fund primary classes of 26 students and secondary classes to a maximum of 23 students
  • All ECE Centre employ at least 80% qualified staff within three years (Labour).
  • Extend 20 hours free ECE to 2-year- olds (Greens)
  • Actively support more public centre in areas of low provision (Labour).
  • $150 per student for school not charging fees or compulsory donations (Labour).
  • Re-establish curriculum and school support advisors (NZ First).
  • All students to have access to mobile digital devices (Labour).
  • Low decile schools to get free after-school care, free holiday programmes, free lunches and the all the schools get school nurses (Greens).
  • All schools to have modern classrooms within 12 years (Labour).
  • $2,000 PM Awards for Vocational Excellence selected by the school (Labour).
  • Review truancy contracts, their centralisation and the extent to which they meet local needs (NZ First).
  • Double the funding for the Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (ORS) and the Early Intervention Service (EIS) (Greens).
  • Scrapping Public Private Partnership for providing school(Labour).
  • Doing away with Charter Schools(Labour).
    • Strengthening child rights in the Education Act to ensure every child can be included in their local school (Greens).

Tertiary Education           

  • Increase living costs to $50 allowance and a $50 increase in the amount that can be borrowed (Labour).
  • Postgraduates to get student allowances (Labour).
  • Tertiary students to get free off-peak travel on public transport (Greens)
  • Long course allowances and loans extended beyond seven years (Labour).
  • Free tertiary education (1 year free for a 2018 start and 3 years free by 2024) (Labour).
  • Wage subsidy equal to the unemployment benefit for employers taking on apprentices (Labour).
  • Bring back ACE funding for night classes for adult learners (Labour).
    • The School Leavers Toolkit school leavers will be getting a driving licence, possess workplace competencies, be financially literate, have budgeting skills and know their democratic rights and responsibilities (Labour).


  • Fund properly Children’s Champions on the ratio Champs to kids of 1 : 400 (Greens).
  • Students with additional learning needs will have the opportunity to experience school camps and activities just like every other student (Greens).

I suggest you print this off, add any other policies that you come across and tick the ones that are implemented. Or when changes are suggested and/or made, see if you can spot them in this list.

Tertiary Education Free-for-all!

Stuart Middleton

30 August 2017

WOW! Free first year for tertiary education scaling up to three free years. This is a significant policy! If Labour succeeds in becoming the Government this should make a huge change.

But wait! Do we really know the extent of the problem that financial hardship which it is claimed stops people from going to tertiary? How many young people are qualified to go to tertiary but are unable to get there simply because of financial issues? Most of the students interviewed by the media who attest to financial hardship seem to be uniformly pakeha and, let’s not forget this, they are already at university. Addressing financial hardship for them is not about access it is about improved living condition and experiences. In terms of parity of outcomes and equity of access – is financial hardship a fact or an untested assumption?

In am aware of studies which suggest that in the southern region of Auckland by and large, those who are qualified to go to university, do get there. Many institutions have programmes for financial aid, for scholarships and so on. Youth Guarantee places in tertiary treat the right to a free education up to the age of 19 years more fairly than used to be the case.

But I would expect that if the financial issues of going to tertiary were examined with a little more granularity it would show that those not qualified to go to university include the greatest number of students who face financial hurdles is accessing tertiary educationof different kinds.

The media seems unable to reflect the fact that “tertiary”, as the word is used in New Zealand, covers a range of post-secondary opportunities and experiences not just going to university. The range of these distinctive tertiary pathways includes Wānanga, Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics, and Private Training Organisations. And tertiary could also be taken to include in different ways, the ITO’s who do engage in training in a different ways. And there might be a case to argue for those undertaking apprenticeships and other forms of in-work, post-secondary training to get some benefit from the no fees model?

But the real cost related to the post-secondary environment is not the cost to the students who successfully enter a tertiary institution but the cost to those young New Zealanders who leave school inadequately prepared for the next step. They still continue to give up before the finishing post and many students stumble across the line then fall. Failing is failing at whatever level and however it is funded. The cost of failure to a student is not the cost of the fee but a huge, damaging, and enduring cost to their lives and their families.

Secondary schools have responded well to the NCEA Level 2 Targets and to the opportunities gathered under the Youth Guarantee policy in Secondary / Tertiary Programmes (such as Trades Academies, Dual Pathways and ventures like the MIT Tertiary High School). Indeed, some schools have noted the mutual benefit to both sides of the provider relationship of such programmes.

If failure remains an issue in schooling then It seems odd to me that there is a fervent desire among the policy developers who propose no tertiary fees but with the same enthusiasm propose to remove national standards. An education system that is performing well has to do so at every level. Early Childhood Education, Primary schooling, secondary schooling and tertiary education all face challenges of student failure and disengagement and all have a responsibility to see that they did what was required of them to prepare students for life. Secondary and tertiary operate in an environment that has increasing accountability measures. So too should primary schooling.

Equity of access in education is not the ability to get through the gates of the academy, rather it is the quality of life and the opportunities that result from an excellent education. On this measure, we have some way to go!

Flexing Learning Environments in a Rigid System

Stuart Middleton


10 August 2017

There has been chatter in the media about “Modern Learning Environments” (a.k.a. Flexible Learning Environments in MOE-speak) and even a Principal wondering whether what was being provided under this guise was suiting all children. Of course, this was countered by an enthusiast who had a catalogue of the key words –collaboration for innovation, teamwork, challenge, projects, and so on while making the link that such environments in the early years prepared students for the world of employment. All good!

But I do wonder whether the thinking recognises sufficiently that education is an inside-out process rather than outside in. A good teacher provides materials, opportunities, support, guidance and the tools for students to work with the material they have and, when the judgment of the teacher is sound in the provision of all this the student increases their knowledge, skills, interest and development by building on what they already have and we describe this as progress, growth and, in the end, learning.

New Zealand’s great teacher, Sylvia Ashton Warner, described the process as “taking the native imagery of the child and using it for working material.” Vygotsky wrote about “the zone of proximal development” where learning took place at the edge of what the learner already knew.

So, does the environment matter? Yes, it does. Some environments might actually impede learning and I note quite a large emphasis placed in the discussions of the modern/flexible learning environment on creature comforts – warmth, space, light, friendly acoustics, soft furnishings, lively colour schemes, these all add to the schoolroom being a place that is welcoming and nice to be in.

But it is not in itself, sufficient. To invite students into a setting that has the colours, activity, noise and stimulation of a theme park will not on its own achieve good educational outcomes. All these discussions end up back at a fundamental truth – teachers make great classrooms, not architects, interior decorators and elegant technological gadgets (now known as “devices”).

I have seen brilliant teaching under a tree in the outskirts of a village in the Solomon Islands. It was a young teacher. I sked here where the village school was and she replied that this was it. Under a tree, minimal tools, an easel with a small blackboard, students at multiple levels. I would guess that this was not the only school like this. And in developing countries I have seen facilities more reflective of the 19th rather than the 21st Century. But where the teachers were excellent, the students made great progress. To deny that teaching and learning cannot take place without a modern learning environment is to deny most of the world an education.

So, the truth is in the middle. It is great to have excellent facilities, no doubt about it. But it is better to see that every child is working with excellent teachers in ways that reflect their needs in terms of progressing their skills, knowledge and development. This requires teachers prepared to change and to work in new and different ways if the old and one-for-all approach has failed.

Students failing in school is still the biggest challenge and failure in one environment looks much the same as failure in another.