Beating the clock!

Stuart Middleton


12 June 2017


There are only two kinds of institution in which time served is of critical importance – one is an educational institution and in the other you get time off for good behaviour.


So, what is going on with the practice that defines “learning” in terms of the time that has been spent? It’s everywhere it seems. With NCEA you do Level 2 only after you have done 10 years in school, a degree can be described as a three-year degree or a four-year degree. Tertiary gets itself into the arguments about what is direct or face-to-face teaching and what is “self-directed learning”. It is not an exaggeration to suggest that education is controlled by time served.


NZQA used to have a little booklet called Learning and Assessment and it said that “Framework assessment is about standards of performance achieved, not how learning occurred.” It even went on to say that “there is no requirement for prior course attendance, work experience or time served.” Wait a minute! Does this mean that students could get a qualification if they passed the assessment before even attending the course? It does but then the booklet says it gets called “Recognition of Prior Learning’!


If it is good enough to recognise prior learning on occasion, why is it not good enough to recognise it as an ongoing feature of assessment generally? For instance, one way would be to allow multi-level assessments in schools – one programme could lead to awards being made at different levels as a result of multi-level assessments being used. Perhaps students could nominate the level at which they wished to be assessed. Or there could be a flexibility in assessment.


Let’s use the example of the Drivers Licence Test – a good example of standards-based learning. You know in advance what you need to know. You can practice as much as you like. You can sit the assessment when ready. You pass or fail on the basis of an assessor’s judgment. Except for the actual driving of the car of course. But the rode code knowledge could be assessed on line.


Just as the knowledge and therefore competence of Justices of the Peace is now measured in order give them the “Accreditted” tag in New Zealand. Actually the JP test is even more daring as the accreditation test can be taken any time, you need to reach a certain score of correct answers, if you do not you fail but have the right to come back straight away and have a further go at the questions you failed. In short, the question asked in most secondary and tertiary institutions – How much time have you spent on this? – is never asked.


Think how different education could be if freed from the artificial constraints of time. A colleague used to frequently say that “God created time so that everything didn’t happen at once!” And, perhaps, to allow education to run according to the clock.

Chipping your way into a house

An interesting article in the NZ Herald this morning – yet another piece about how hard it is to get your first house. But this was one story with a difference.

A young man in his twenties had not only bought his first house but also had another rental property. Not bad you might think – rich parents obviously!

But no, his story was simpler.

He decided early on that he wanted to be a builder so he enrolled in a programme which led to an apprenticeship and he was on his way. He attributes the fact that he could “earn while he learned” as something of a key to his entry into the property market. He is modest in not claiming to have also been diligent about saving!

The other string to his success bow perhaps reflects the skills he was developing. When he found he needed more money he  be rejected by those who”got a second job.” This will no doubt be rejected by those that this is simply not possible. But it seems that it was because he had marketable skills.

He noted that others were off travelling or still working into and through university while he was making his way in the world.

It was something of a testimony to the value of technical skills and training that leads more quickly into work and therefore into an income. Often the anecdotes are about how those with higher education qualifications earn more than those with what are thought to be “lower qualifications”. But stories such as this one show that  this is not always the best way.

“Earn while you learn” – it seems something of a glib slogan but when it can be done and when it is done the results can be good for everyone. Of course, a set of personal qualities that allow for some energetic commitment to hard work is also quite helpful.

It made for a different story and a different take on the difficulties of getting into the property market. Get skills then take them into the market.



Moving sideways in order to go forward

Sometimes policy, both formal and informal, attempts to act at something of a distance from the world in which it has an impact.

There currently is a “policy” that students enrolling in a Youth Guarantee place in a tertiary institution should be in a programme that is not at the same level as the qualification they already have. In theory that sounds right and proper.

Youth guarantee places are available to students between the ages of 16 years and 19 years. It continues the entitlement that New Zealand students have to a “free education” until the age of 19 years addressing the anomaly that schools for a very long time had the monopoly on provision in the 16 – 19 year space with regard to free education. The YG places provision goes a little further and provides a travel allowance. This pathway is not a universal one – it is capped and additional conditions apply.

One such condition is the restriction placed on a student repeating a Level 1 or Level 2 course if they already have NCEA Level 1 or Level 2 regardless of the subjects that might involve.. And herein lies a problem.

Orwell declared that “All pigs are created equal but some are more equal than others!.” We might suggest that “All NCEA Level 2 achievements are useful but some are more useful than others.”

Quite often the student has a NCEA Level 2 for which they have worked hard but which is inadequate preparation for the pathway they wish to pursue when they pick up the opportunity to continue their education in a Youth Guarantee place.

It is not yet the case that the Vocational Pathways development has led to a situation in which the pathways become the basis for student decision making with regard to courses in schools nor have they yet become a set of organising principles for curriculum. Add to that the stubborn difficulty that seems to continue in providing adequate career counselling and advice, and the students are left with little choice.

In order to move forward some students must first move sideways. They need to make a horizontal adjustment in their knowledge and skills if they are to proceed smoothly along the pathway of their choice. This seems to be more of an issue at Level 2 rather than at other levels.

And yet politicians continue to ask questions in the House putting a complexion on this issue which suggests it is a sinful act on someone’s part. Far from it, it is typically and simply, evidence of good decisions being made about what constitutes a robust pathway for a student. In time both sides of the secondary / tertiary divide will get better at synchronising programmes and students will have access to information and opportunity to spot the pathways earlier.

Making the horizontal adjustment seems a much better option than failure.


No! You can’t take that away from me!

In amongst the swirl and the noise created by the suggestion of “Global Funding” and “COOLs” and other things in the Education (Update) Bill currently before the house, a really tragic change is about to be visited upon the school system and yet I hear no cries, of “Stop!” or allegations that the very heart of our traditions are being destroyed. No, just a silent acceptance.

I refer to the proposed change that gives to Boards of Trustees and Principals the right to decree that children reaching the age of 5 years might have to start school at the beginning of the next term rather than on their birthday.

Is nothing sacred?

Since the beginning of history going to school is what you did when you turned five. Any four year old, when asked about the forthcoming birthday, will reply to the question “What happens then?” with a bright and cheerful “I go to school!” “And what will you do when you get there?” the conversation continues. “I will learn to read and write!” is the confident reply from one who has yet to discover that learning is not always a piece of birthday cake!


Most New Zealand homes have photos of the respective first days at school – nowadays often showing the poor little person in a grotesquely large school uniform that they will “grow into” sometime in the years ahead! My own mother made sure that my twin brother and I had a photo taken – new shirts, new shorts, new sandals, new school bag and a sun hat large enough to camp under.

It was a significant day not just for us but for Mum and our older brothers one of whom still went to the primary school. For one day of the year we were important. And when we got to school we joined a class of other little people but we knew some of them – they were from the neighbourhood. Others had been there a little while and could look after us – they knew the ropes. Miss White the teacher, a tall woman with a big boot on one foot paid special attention to us and the day went well. Actually this was not taken on my first day at school but the day before. This was because we were going to be too busy on the morning of our first day according to Mum.

But so important was this day that Mum, who had something of a feel for events which she would describe as “history” and therefore accuracy was a critical. After the first photo taken on this gloriously sunny February day in Hamilton we had to go and dress up in our wet weather gear in case it was raining on the first day at school!

pic2I always had my twin brother with me so never felt lonely or lost but what a relief it must be when a five-year old first goes to school to have the help of others in the class. Teachers make very effective use of this – “Tommy, will you show Stuart where the toilet is?” Imagine the chaos of a whole room full of newbies, five-years old, all having left their mothers or fathers, milling around wondering what to do, where should they be, and when is “Mum / Dad / Carer / Au Pair” coming back to get me out of here? It will be like a paddock full of lambs after they have had their tails docked and have not yet been reunited with the Mummy Sheep.

Once again, schools are to change their way of working to suit the grown-ups rather than taking account of the needs of the children. Once again we are doing something because Australia has done it – the old let’s-copy-someone-else rather than have the courage to do it our way.

Voltaire once said that “when it is not necessary to change it is necessary not to change.” Rather than simply promote the change, let’s have some reasons why it is necessary from a five-year old’s point of view to change our tradition of introducing young ones to school on their fifth birthday.

Success in Education – The Only Lifetime Guarantee that Matters!

So Youth Guarantee is not working according to those TV experts (TV1, Sunday, 18 September 2016), a view supported by some political statements, refuted by others, and brought to the attention of the education community by Ed Insider (19 September 2016).

The TV story was a mishmash of confusion between Youth Guarantee as a policy, the Youth Guarantee Fees Free Policy and the Trades Academies that are separate from the Fees Free places but are under the Youth Guarantee Policy setting

A key reason for giving young people the opportunity to continue their education and training up to the age of 19 years without cost to them is one of providing an equitable opportunity for them to have positive outcomes. It was always wrong that students could stay in a school up to the age of 19 years and fail elegantly for free while a decision to leave at 16 years (when they legally can) to pursue their education and training in a place other than a school would cost them a great deal.

Why should schools have a monopoly on free education up to the age of 19 years?

Then there is the clear truth that many 16 year olds are ready to leave school and get on with a career especially if they perceive that their chances of scholastic success in a school setting are not strong. So many of the Youth Guarantee students who pick up the opportunity to continue at an ITP might not be the strongest group of students, but many will discover strength as a learner when they are immersed in an applied educational setting.

The whole point of understanding a multiple pathways approach to education is to see the value in students’ being able to match the pathways to their needs, their aspirations and their views of where they are headed.

The TV News reporter and others have complained that “they do not stay in the course”. A simple enquiry would have enlightened the commentators to the fact that one of the key outcomes for YG places is to see them undertake study at a higher level and that is usually not a YG fees free place. The fees free place is a point of entry. Actually the successful outcomes, while they do vary somewhat between providers, are in many instances above 75% of students and Māori and Pasifika close to these levels. These are typically students not likely to achieve these results in a school setting.

The outcomes for trades academies should be viewed a little differently as many students undertake a trades academy programme at Year 12 and return to school for Year 13 with renewed engagement – a positive outcome. Nationally students in trades academies are out-performing comparable students in the schools.

The growth of secondary / tertiary programmes is an important channel through to employment but it is an even stronger weapon in the fight against the western education systems’ ugly statistic – those who drop out completely – and join the group called NEETs (Not in Employment Education or Training). It will take a raft of initiatives to first stem the flow of young people into that group and then undertake the huge task of moving those already in the NEETs group on into productive employment and a better life.

The Youth Guarantee policy setting is not a panacea for the considerable issues education faces, nor is it on its own going to meet the BPS goals. But it is working for a considerable number of students who do not deserve to have such opportunities denied them because of the ideological whims of others who have benefitted from a sound education.

Giving young New Zealanders a guarantee that their education will prepare them for a satisfying life, a family sustaining wage and an opportunity to make a useful contribution seems the least we can do.



The Tertiary ICT Conference theme for this year is  Bring IT On which focuses on identifying and sharing the key issues and opportunities for ICT in secondary and tertiary education, now and into the future.  A must for those in ICT Management, Teaching personnel and Service delivery teams.

For more information and to register, please go to: 

A generation that loves COOL!

I have always felt that the teacher who thinks they can be replaced by a computer ought to be!

The response to the recent announcement of COOLs drew some superficial, hysterical, and quite astonishing responses. The announcement was characterised variously as a conspiracy to privatise education, to diminish the importance of teachers, to put our education system at risk and to fail many students. Again, the quick default to opposition of an idea showed its ugly side.

It seems to me to be a truth that, in some ways, COOL is already here and that most young people are already deeply immersed in it. Their “communities of online learning” encompass many of the concerns that young people have, the circles of friends that they make, their points of engagement with a world-wide web that takes them to places far more enriching, challenging, and rewarding than a school environment could ever hope to be. The sadness is in the extent to which schooling so often stands to one side of this and offers the conventional as an antidote to what it seems to suspect, might be poisonous.

On the other hand, simply importing a kind of embrace with on-line learning could be dangerous. The post-secondary world of learning internationally has shown through its MOOCs what a sham it could all be. I enrolled in a MOOC at the University of Edinburgh. Never have I been so warmly welcomed instantly, never have I had so many friends in such places as Nigeria, Luxembourg, Belarus and even Greenland in the various chat rooms, never was I more excited about learning. Excited I remained until I got delivered into my computer the first session. A talking head, reading from a script took me through material in a manner that transported me back to my university experience in the 1960s. This was repeated in all seven sessions in the course, the only difference each time was a change of talking head. We had a set text as well. Yes, you guessed it – seven chapters written by seven lecturers and sold on Amazon!

If a school and the teachers in online instruction harnessed the skills they have as teachers and as people and used them to enhance programmes they will be needed in the learning process more than ever. The flipped classroom, the new pedagogy, the 21st Century learners, each demand an increased quality and variety of interaction between teacher and learner even though the delivery of content and the activities to make learners comfortable with managing the course materials and content will be accessible to anyone, anywhere, on time and on-line.

Those last few words seem familiar. They should be! They are the commitment of NZQA to deliver assessment to anyone, anywhere, on time and on-line.

When teaching programmes are freed from the tyranny of place and students are free to experience the encouragement of assessment arriving at the point at which it is most needed, the world of education will be a very different place. And it is difficult to see how this will not happen. There is inevitability about the power of IT to transform the processes of banking, retailing and the practice of medicine, to simplify access to music, to books and to information, to enhance and ease the interactions between friend, colleagues, customers and, yes, bullies and those at risk – human beings are a lumpy lot!

But there is something more fundamental about change that is at play in those first reactions to the COOL idea. I read an article a long time ago. (I photocopied a couple of pages but have since lost the source.) It was a book review (the book was called “Tinkering Towards Utopia”) and it noted that “reform” and “change” were not synonymous. It referred to an article by Cuban (1992) called “Computers Meet Classroom: Classroom Wins”. It was written at a time when computers were being brought into the classroom and the writer reported that it was noted that “as the level of computers and devices were brought into the classroom, we are beginning to observe changes in the relationship between teachers and students brought about not by a reform, but by the fact that the students have acquired a new kind of sophistication – not only about computers but also about ways to learn and methods of research.”

 The article, which I am guessing was written somewhere near the end of the 1980s, concludes that what was happening “exemplified one of the major principles in its presentation of the generic life-cycle of reforms. The reform sets out to change the School but in the end School changes the reform. One may at first blush see a tautology in using this proposition to explain failures of reform. But to say that School changes reform is very different from simply saying that School resist or rejects the reform. It resists the reform in a particular way – by appropriating or assimilating it to its own structures. By doing so, it defuses the reformers and sometimes manages to take in something of what they are proposing.”

Perhaps this process had started some time ago in our schools with the uses made of  computers, devices and the technological advances in instructional technologies. The COOL announcement might well be a useful wake-up call. There are enough young people alienated from learning and education without inviting those already comfortable with a community of on-line learning to join them.


I keep useful papers and bits and pieces in a loose collection but have not always been punctilious about noting the sources. Well that is not good enough and quite inexcusable when sitting at a computer! I set about using my skills and discover in a few seconds that the paper referred to above is in fact “Why School Reform Is Impossible” written by Seymour Papert which appeared in The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 6(4), pp. 417-427. Now, finding that out so quickly is very cool!



The Tertiary ICT Conference theme for this year is  Bring IT On which focuses on identifying and sharing the key issues and opportunities for ICT in secondary and tertiary education, now and into the future.  A must for those in ICT Management, Teaching personnel and Service delivery teams.

For more information and to register, please go to: 

Investing in student futures

Stuart Middleton


16 August 2016



It is looking as if the teacher organisations are simply allergic to any discussion about school funding. Mention funding and any changes as to how funding is currently delivered and they break out in a rash of anger, predictions of doom, and greatly exaggerated accounts of the impact of any change.

The logic is clear. The schooling system is bringing success to a good proportion of the students who attend schools and there are incremental improvements to the groups that have not been traditionally well-served. Further improvements in student outcome will require the school system to work differently. To work differently funding will need to be delivered differently so as to be more flexible and managed closer to the student, their needs and their aspirations rather than be squirted out in a formulaic manner centrally.

The argument is persuasive. We have been dining out on our “self-managing” school system for nearly thirty years but have yet to allow Boards of Trustees to have a real responsible role in managing the key resource – funding.

The teaching organisations can’t have it both ways. It simply doesn’t cut it to be nervous about schools based on a different model of funding (e.g. charter schools, independent schools etc. for instance) which allows them to work differently while at the same time blocking changes in the state school system that might also allow the state schools to work differently. The role of charter schools (still in its early days in this country) have across the world been given space in which to emerge largely through the performance and rigidity of the respective state schooling systems. This of course is a little less clear in Scandinavia and Europe where the state systems of schooling have flexibility, a greater ability to reflect individual student need and multiple pathways to achieving outcomes we envy.

Allowing some funding to follow students is the next step – in fact it is already happening. On the one hand with Trades Academies at Year 12 (Level 2 – a 4 day + 1 day model) it is managed professionally and without heat between the schools and the ITPs. On the other hand with the Year 13 (Level 3 – a 3 day + 2 day model) will be funded on a simpler model where schools will receive 60% of the funding for the student who will be at school three days a week and the ITP will receive 40% of the funding it would normally receive from a full time enrolment.

Once again, New Zealand makes progress through a simple solution to issues which have dogged other jurisdictions for a long time – especially North America. It solves the issue of trying to work across the boundary of two dissimilar funding methods.

And guess what? These developments will result in increased school rolls and the more astute school leaders understand that 80% or 60% of a student’s funding entitlement is better that 80% or 60% of a disengaged student who is not on the roll. These flexibilities are keeping students in school, returning those facing possible disengagement and exciting those who might be incipiently disenchanted.

The prediction I made when developing the MIT Tertiary High School was that the Multiple Pathways approach would be a powerful tool to keep students in education and training. The changes made to the Education Act at that time have allowed the Youth Guarantee Policy to flourish and that prediction is being confirmed by the evidence in our part of the world.

So, let’s have that discussion about funding understanding that it could lead to increased retention in the schools, higher levels of successful outcomes for students and a better future for many of our young people.

It is said that some allergies can be psychosomatic.


NCEA is not at fault – but how we measure success is

In its editorial (20 May 2016), the NZ Herald was concerned about NCEA because “nearly half” of teachers surveyed were concerned.

The editorial provides a neat summary of what NCEA set out to do and notes that the moderation of the assessments has “worked well.” Then it notes that schools and parents get concerned when the “league tables” are published. Well, who publishes those tables?

NCEA is the most liberating innovation in New Zealand education for decades, and certainly since World War II. At long last, students are able to get credit for what they know and can do, rather than be punished for what they cannot do.

A parent that cares can see progress and, if the time is taken, can understand the skills that their young person has. The student knows what they have done successfully and what they need to do to build on that success. An employer has the potential to get more information about school success than ever before.

But most employers aren’t looking for whether a student can pass a test. They are looking beyond NCEA, for further qualifications that indicate the skills required to be work-ready and to understand the basics of the profession. And this is where NCEA has proved a winner.

Historically, our education system has been weak in helping students transition from secondary to post-secondary education and training, beyond the traditional high school to university track.

With NCEA being a portable qualification – where students are able to generate credit for knowledge and skills demonstrated in different places – education takes on a whole new meaning. It means these students, who never saw the purpose in what they were doing especially, now see the point of education and how it can be practically applied to their lives.

Since 2010, the Youth Guarantee scheme has seen the development of a variety of new approaches.

The Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) Tertiary High School catches students judged by their schools at Year 10 to be in danger of disengaging (or as the US calls it, “dropping out”). Four years later, we see a very different story. Our students are gaining high levels of NCEA and simultaneously completing vocational and technical qualifications that are industry recognised.  For those that like the league tables: NCEA results as reported by NZQA are for 2014: Level 1, 100%; Level 2, 91.4%; and Level 3, 83.3%. In 2015 the pattern was repeated: Level 1, 80%; Level 2, 87%; Level 3, 100%.

The innovation of Trades Academies into schools is more conservative but equally as successful. Students go to a tertiary provider (a small number of schools do provide their own Trades Academies supported by tertiary providers) – for example, MIT provides Year 12 students training opportunities across 10 vocational and technical areas. Each student on average gains 18 NCEA credits that they are able to add to the credits they have gained at school.

But the gains go beyond this credit transfer, they develop a purpose for learning and they improve across all of their schooling as a result. They develop a line of sight to the world of work. And they also develop an understanding that education and training matters. A significant number of students involved in Trades Academies return to school to complete Year 13.

None of this would have been possible without NCEA. It allows for flexibility, it allows for closer connection between students and the purposes for pursuing an education. It is in essence an educational currency that accumulates to a point where they have the entry price to a great future. It allows for students to develop an understanding of how their learning can be applied to the real world.

It’s not NCEA that is at fault in creating too much work for teachers. It is the simple fact that our education system for the past 70 years has greatly over-assessed students. Even the old examination system was characterised by too much assessment. It’s what teachers do! We need to change how we measure success – do we value test results, or do we value real-world learning that leads to life-long skills in the workforce?



Te Ara Whakamana is New Zealand’s largest forum dedicated to education and employment pathways and transitions.  Now in its sixth year, this event brings together educators from both secondary and tertiary sectors, industry representatives, policymakers, and researchers to share good ideas and practices, and to be challenged by different perspectives.

Wellington, 28-29 June 2016

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Giving credit where credit is due

One of the key findings of the Pathways and Transition suite of programmes at Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) is that students who otherwise might find school hard reveal considerable talent and ability to learn when an early experience of applied learning triggers some inactive, inert ability that has not been released. The experience at MIT in 2015 suggests that given the different right stimulus, different learners will respond.

In sum, the total credits gained in the 18 classes across 10 different technical disciplines averaged out at 18 credits per student from a course that was the equivalent of one day in school. Two things stand out.

First, Māori gained on average 17 credits per student, Pasifika 16 credits per student and “other”, 20 credits per student. So success seems to be not displaying the same levels of discrepant outcomes that we are working to improve, it is more equitable.

Secondly, literacy and numeracy taught in the context of these 10 is such that progress seems not to be the hurdle that schools would have us believe. This is also the experience of students at the MIT Tertiary High School. The programmes that are done have literacy and numeracy embedded in them – you learn the skills of literacy and numeracy in a context where they can be applied.

It was therefore disappointing to hear the radio interview with the Principal of a large school claiming that NCEA Literacy and Numeracy was not working. He called for a return to having dedicated literacy and numeracy teachers – that would, he claimed, get the system back on track.

This would of course be taking the teaching of literacy and numeracy back to the 1950s where the notion of teaching in a context of use had never occurred to any one. This also characterized schooling in the 1960s but it received a jolt in the 1975s with the publication of James Britton’s A Language for Life. It was from this that the notion of “language across the curriculum” gained ground. The argument was simple – every teacher uses languages therefore every teacher is a teacher of a language.

Reading in Secondary Schools was a real focus of the late 1970s and into the 1980s. This was a good thing – you learn to read by reading and you also learn to write by reading – schools dabbled with reading sessions for all in one way or another.

The University of Waikato back then and on into the 1980s did pioneering research in Science that showed that students succeeded in science largely to the extent that they could master the language of science.

The evidence at the Tertiary High School, and in Trades Academies suggests that only in a few instances is specialist intervention in language/English and numeracy/mathematics needed. Of course, as happens in education, as soon as something is described as if it is a specialist task, an aura grows around it and the job is handed over to the experts. In the Tertiary Sector all lower level courses have literacy and numeracy embedded in them and the tutors are required to be trained to do so.

Embedded literacy and numeracy trumps literacy and numeracy for no obvious reason every time.

The education system has put on Edward de Bono’s seven hats ad nauseum but it doesn’t show. That is what is coming to the surface in secondary/tertiary programmes and not only in New Zealand. Early access to applied learning (e.g. trades, STEM, etc) develops cognitive skills in learners who have not until then been excited by learning. In other words, they become academic. A group of students who enter the MIT Tertiary High School because they are making worrying progress at school in Year 10 discover through the NCEA / Technical integrated programme that they can learn, and that they want to learn, and they carry on to get NCEA Level 3 and University Entrance. That is a small group but the rest of the cohorts achieve Levels 1 and 2 with some ease (and a lot of sound teaching!).

The NCEA results (as reported by NZQA) underline this. The 2014 results were NCEA Level 1  100%, Level 2, 94.4%, and Level 3, 83.3%. The 2015 results are similar – L1 – 80%, L2- 87.9%, L3 – 100%. (Remember that the L3 groups are small). Most schools would feel pretty good with results like this!

But wait, there’s more folks!

In addition to NCEA achievement the THS students also get a range of technical qualifications at various levels simultaneously.

Now this is not a competition between secondary/tertiary programmes and schools. It is simply evidence that multiple pathways that see education/school delivered in different ways, will get different results. We simply have to develop a level of comfort about those pathways and celebrate that it offers to many students better levels of success than they would face in the conventional school setting.

Programmes such as the THS and Trades Academies are making a contribution to the outcomes for many and NCEA is a wonderful vehicle that allows students to bring their achievements together.

Did I mention that MIT through its STAR courses programme allowed students to gain 40,914 credits (that is an average of 12 per student)? It couldn’t happen without NCEA.




Te Ara Whakamana is New Zealand’s largest forum dedicated to education and employment pathways and transitions.  Now in its sixth year, this event brings together educators from both secondary and tertiary sectors, industry representatives, policymakers, and researchers to share good ideas and practices, and to be challenged by different perspectives.

Go to: 

Housing, transport and schooling


All last week the NZ Herald produced another of its blockbuster page-after-page coverage of a key topic. This time the target was Primary Education.

This made a welcome relief for those of us suffering from AHSFS (Auckland House Shortage Fatigue Syndrome) which is a regular both for full-blast coverage and for other – it seems daily – shots fired through single articles. The full rotation is completed by the ongoing saga of that complaint called Auckland Traffic Congestion, a nasty complaint that strikes citizens usually twice a day and for which no cure has been found and an epidemic seems inevitable.

I wonder if it has occurred to the NZ Herald and to others that these three stories – schooling, housing and traffic are perhaps one and the same issue?

Take schooling for instance. When you see Auckland smiling for no obvious reason it is because it is school holidays and the transport system runs quite smoothly without congestion at the level it is during term time. Why does schooling create this increase in traffic?

I suggest that there are three reasons. First, following the disappearance of a young girl walking to school back in the 1980s it became quickly and seriously thought that it was now unsafe for children to walk to school. So driving the children to school has become something of a norm. Valiant volunteer parents manage a number of “Walking School Buses” but the majority descend on the schools in SUVs of military proportion.

Being outside many schools at the start and end of the day is not a pretty experience.

The second reason is that in desperation parents seek out the “best schools” regardless of where they live. Of course this requires a logic that ignores the fact that if they went to the local school, that school would be better! It also requires that our roads become clogged right when everyone is getting to work. This quest for Nirvana Primary is something created by real estate agents and to quite some degree the schools themselves.

Thirdly, despite the heavy emphasis on cycle lanes and the need to get out of cars, young people cycle less than at any time in the past one hundred years. Up until the 1970s nearly everyone cycled to school in the towns, the rest walked.  I saw a report yesterday that claimed that only 4% now cycled to school and that is certainly not where I live!

The housing shortage is in part the result of the quest to be housed in an area where there is a “good” school” (see above) and the premium of $1,000,000 and up from there to get into a Decile 10 area is a key driver in the scramble.

It is ironic that a house in Otara is attracting no buyers even though there is an excellent Decile 10 school nearby – the MIT Tertiary High School which produces NCEA results indistinguishable from Decile 10 schools. That aside, there are also clear indications that schooling is not the only factor – nostalgia is fairly prominent, nostalgia for the times when the quarter acre section was the God-given right of all. Related to this is the fact that antagonism towards the notion of intensive housing and high rise apartments despite the fact that every large city I have ever visited anywhere has found it necessary to head in these directions. Sprawl and fight to get back into the city centre on choked roads wins the day.

Of course our shape as a city is unhelpful for planning transport systems. The narrow waist line as the Tamaki river heads towards the Manukau Harbour provides challenges and it is a certainty that one day we shall simply have to build bridges over it and bore tunnels under it.

Intensive housing areas built on the fringes are hopeless unless they are accompanied by responses in schooling and transport. We need only look to Christchurch to see what happens when significant housing is supplied without an increase in arterial routes, both the number and the size.

So perhaps the NZ Herald could start to promote thinking about the spaces between the big issues of housing, schooling and transport that have been well and truly thrashed in a somewhat mistaken belief that each has a life of its own.



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