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!

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.