Graduating Pleasures

‘Tis the season for graduations to gradually appear across the tertiary landscape a little like the burst of flowers in early spring. Graduands appear dressed in their splendour, family groups arrive seriously intent to support Mums, Dads, Siblings, Children of all sizes, Grandparents and so on. It is a seriously significant occasion Sunday-Best occasion.

These events and those people should never be taken lightly for they are changing the futures of communities as each batch of first-generation tertiary students flood into communities to leave a determination that the young ones, spectators on these occasions, can have opportunities to see higher education as an attainable goal – one day they will cross the stage. If Brother Sione, Sister Susan, Mums and Dads and other family members can do it – so can we.

I love graduations. The huge efforts made to get to the finish line of qualifications – a promise of a future that perhaps were thought of as a feint and distant rosy glow of Shangri La, are within the grasp of not just students, but also of their families. It is not simply to get a job but the start of many careers.

In my career I have been responsible for managing graduations leading teams that work hard in the background to get these shows on the road! Over this time, I have been at over a hundred graduations, perhaps more. The largest number of these have been in South Auckland and I have always thought that they work, not just to anoint, as graduates, those who walk across the stage in the time-fashioned manner to receive their accolade, but they are changing communities. I have been at graduations at many New Zealand institutions, at some Australian graduations and had the pleasure to attend graduations in Pacific Island countries.

No matter where or what the awards were, there is always one outstanding feature and that is the pride with which graduands present themselves to become graduates, and the huge pride with which families greet their freshly Graduated family members back into the family – the same but different.

Some time ago I graduated at Massey University and on that occasion received the highest award bestowed that day. That led to my leading the student procession down through the main street of Palmerston North. Did I feel proud – yes, it took me back many years earlier when I graduated with my twin brother, new first-in-family members of the family and the brand-new university that was Waikato University. Going to university was never in our plans – but that is another story.

I Love it for the Music

Strewth! Only Australia would appoint a cabinet minister to promote and administer progress towards are publican form of government in this week of all weeks.  Presumably this will be a change from the Monarchy. It could be that the Honourable Anthony Albanese had got behind in his reading and failed to notice that the Queen of Australia was this very week celebrating being Queen of Australia for 70 years.

Couldn’t they have waited for the Platinum Jubilee Weekend to pass and then set the poor fellow out to argue the case for a change which will inevitably split the ranks? 

I have come across quite a few occasions when royalty has edged into my life, and it all started at school. Primer 2 saw us in 1953 drawing rather poor sketches of crowns, flags and other stuff like that which we would surely need when Queen Elisabeth II visited New Zealand. We were pumped up with excitement to see the Queen in 1954. Well, we waited for ages in Dad’s office on the second floor of the NZ Dairy Company Building on the corner of Victoria and London Streets where his office was. We waited for ages until the royal cars passed. We actually saw the Queen’s hat and a white glove from the second floor but that prepared us for the next sighting when we were assured that the Royals were just over there, on the other side of the adult crowds.

But we were happy to go home and play with the concertina picture of the Golden Coach which all students had been given at school before we broke up for the year along with and this was  a real highlight, a real metal medal complete with a purple ribbon.

The next visit was a rather grand occasion. It was 1963 when hordes of school children were gathered together in rows on the grass at Seddon Park on a terribly hot day. Actually we sat on seats because we were in the Fairfield College Brass Band and I imagine that we played as the royals waltzed past the corner of the field on the back of a Land Rover. This was unlike the Trooping of the Colour and there was little precision to our playing.

That didn’t stop a citizen of Hamilton from writing to the Waikato Times to compliment the band etc. etc. This pleased us enormously and it was only some years later that our Mother revealed that the citizen was indeed herself.

Visits of the Queen to New Zealand followed in 1970, 1974, 1977, 1981, 1986, 1990, 1995 and 1992 but came and went without involving us.

I wonder if bumping into a visit of the Queen Mother at the University of London in 1983 counts? Probably not! But I do love military music and played for some years in the Regimental Band of Queen Alexanders Own. But I have neither time or space to spare to regale you with stories of National  Service. I should tell you that I did savour times when medals have been pinned!

It’s time to give secondary students something to induce a return to school!

Nancy Hoffman, long-time CEO of the Boston based Jobs for the Future Foundation and a central figure in the development of Early College High Schools. These schools now stretch across the USA. Several years ago, she stated that Career and Technical Education (CTE) had become the “next best thing in high school reform.” She is clear about what a CTE landscape should look like.
So should we be clear about the interface of secondary schools and the imminent and significant impact of the new responsibility of Te Pūkenga in the creation on 1 July 2022 that Te Pūkenga will have for all Career and Technical Education that up until now has been spread across 16 tertiary providers – the Institutes and Polytechnics and some other providers that have come out of the ROVE restructure of the post-secondary career and technical.
I heard some one comment the other that “nothing will change.” I replied that it had better change or New Zealand will have lost a golden opportunity to reshape the senior secondary school which needs new direction. The Early College High Schools of the USA working with high school graduates has highlighted the opportunity for there to a “be an improvement in the match between what high school graduates know and the skills employers need.”
The next biggest reform that has to happen in New Zealand is to expand the operation of New Zealand’s only Tertiary High School. If students drop out of secondary schools in New Zealand the process has started before Year 11 and will have finished at the end of Year 12. At the MIT Tertiary High School over more that 9000 students have found success by getting into an environment that is both secondary and tertiary – Te Pūkenga need not cast around for a model – it is there ready to be replicated – the legal framework I has been in place since 2010, secondary schools , especially in the Southern Auckland region, have demonstrated a need to complement their programmes with these options that are so successful with those who are left behind. Early runs on the board for Te Pūkenga .
Another area where developments could move quickly exists. When I succeeded in having the in 2009 to get the Education Act changed in order to legitimate the Tertiary High School for the students who would be both secondary and tertiary in age, curriculum studied and legal school leaving age (this one might not matter anymore!) I also had in mind the development of trades academies which we were also proposing. And so this proved to be. The legislation that enabled the Tertiary High School to come into existence became generalised into the Secondary Tertiary Programmes and were an easy fit.
In essence, the trades academies are Tertiary/ Secondary – Lite programmes. Students are at the Trades Academies for two days each week and at their Secondary School for the remaining three days. Students like the mix of activities. Schools like the opportunity to have trades NCEA courses credited to them. Since the introduction of Trades Academies in 2003 over 50.000 students have undertaken a Trades Academy programme. Easy pickings for Te Pūkenga. These are all great stories all of which have been polytechnic built and driven with support from the Ministry of Education.
But as the saying goes – Wait!! There’s more! On the 25th May this year, the South Auckland Career and Technical community gathers to announce the start of a set of PTech Secondary school – students in the those schools will programmes. These programmes have grown out of a mix of Secondary Schools involvement, the engaging of business, industry, and commerce, and the opening up of postsecondary courses at an age earlier than the conventional age. In fact the clue to this is in the last three letters of the acronym: “PTech:” Early College High School!
South Auckland schools and those who join them are at the forefront of quality appropriate education. The challenge for Te Pūkenga is to take advantage of these proven models of education. What’s more – the increased opportunities for more and more students who are given these Career and Technical education do what they do best – provide conventional courses to students seeking traditional academic pathways.

THE NOT-NEW-CRISIS

New Zealand education has a cute capacity for explaining some ugly features. The latest is to blame COVID/OMICRON for the failure of students to return to school after the lockdowns and disruption of the past several years. It sounds convincing but face facts – declining school attendance has been a feature for quite some time. It’s not new! We have known this but declined to accept it.

In the first decade of this millennium, I used to make speeches that included warning that students were dropping out of secondary school at rates approaching 20% of each cohort and over time this had become a stubborn statistic. It was a growing feature of secondary schools but was not unknown in primary levels – it appears now to hav seeped well across the whole system and 20% has increased to 40% – the compulsory sector has become optional!

By the 2020’s, levels of absenteeism were increasing at all levels with schools and the government were challenged to find ways of arresting this. Recent reports showed that regular student attendance declined to 58%, down 6 percentage points following a brief period of stability in 2018 (64%). This means that around 40% of all students did not attend more than 90% of their available class time.

A lack of attention to managing transitions across levels was resulting in gaps in academic preparation and training. It was becoming more and more problematic as increasing numbers of students were presenting themselves ill-prepared and well behind in their academic development, They were ill-prepared for successive transitions. This was a recurring issue for students starting at both secondary school and when starting a post-secondary qualification.

The number of NEETs (Not in Education, Employment or Training) continued to creep up on educators. A new realisation was dawning that the growth of NEETs was an outcome of the performance of the schooling systems and their increasing inability to teach the full range of students. To be fair, some of this was exacerbated by social factors added to the load for schools.

Secondary students were staying longer at school. The old Turn-16-and-Celebrate-by-Getting-a-Job was no longer the custom. This was despite the evidence that extending the length of compulsory schooling and encouraging students to stay longer in conventional schools, repeatedly failed to have impact on outcomes.

The culmination of these factors – absenteeism, failure to manage transitions, the growth of NEETs, staying at school longer regardless of outcomes – has created a significant problem triggered to an inescapable level by a pandemic. But this mix of factors has seen a pattern of an increase in the number of dropouts which might have become hard-wired into the educational and skill landscape.

Analysis of school leavers’ destinations in Auckland, just before the pandemic, showed that “going nowhere” constituted the largest group of secondary school leavers. It could be that schools will have somewhat radically altered the way they work as it might not be that case that returning to school is unpalatable. Rather, what galls students faced with going back to school might be the programmes that they had faced, the ways learning was structured, and the general culture of NZ high schools. The gap and its enforced time out of school might just have been enough to encourage the reported trend among some students to not return but to seek employment.

This might not be only the encouragement of parent but a signal that they feel ready prepared to make this move. The system might be wise to consider this and their response to it. It could be that significant numbers of learners are sending the message that they are having to stay at school past the point where school seems useful and perhaps even bearable.

Now, the issues of primary school absenteeism is a different kettle of fish entirely.

Finally the penny has dropped – lit’racy has gong to the drogs

It is a simple truth that you learn to read by reading. It is also a truth that you learn to write by reading. For decades both have been ignored in school to the extent that this most useful subject, most important skill, and most important mark of a good education has been unable to exert itself into the school curriculum in an adequate manner
In the 1970’s and into the 1980’s adults who should have known better preferred to waste tine that rightly belonged to learners with the Phonics v. Ready-to-Read Debates. We have always known that both were essential. Students who simply bark at the print are denied the fact that learners get meaning from print by bringing meaning to print etc. Rich experiences in the home and the school are the fuel that feeds these fires. Stand back and think about that and you will also catch a glimpse of why some learners learn more easily than others.
And the material which is put in front of learners need not always be flash and ghee whiz! I have a modest collection of School Journals, going well back, and believe me – some of the material put in front of students in all decades was very ordinary. But there was also fiction and non-fiction of high quality, written by New Zealand’s most respected writers that provided a diet that was requiring all kinds of genre, all levels of difficulty and so readers were able to built a set of gears that they could harness and bring into use for reading a healthy range of reading using the different gear that have been developed.
Like everyone else, I was fed a series of readers at school (dutifully carried home in our little reading folders) which in our house were read numerous times. Some of those readers were an English version called Janet and John, it was a copy from an American series called Alice and Jerry.
School Readers were sometimes the cause for debate and hot demands for action from the officials. One such was the Washday at the Pa controversy. A special edition reader was a photographic booklet by Ans Westra, one of our best photographers, that focused on life among the communities of the East Cape. The book was launched on the morning of a conference in Wellington and immediately drew fierce complaints from the conference delegates. Children should not see such stuff. Stuff which honestly was a sensitive portrayal of the realities of real life in those communities. All copies were burnt overnight. The reaction was more measured on another occasion when a Ready-to-Read journal had a story about a Pakeha family who had trooped out to the airport to wave Daddy goodbye as he headed to Wellington in the Viscount Aircraft to attend a meeting – oh so middle class! New Zealand had a tendency to ban material as Alister Taylor discovered when the The Little Red Schoolbook appeared in schools!!
My mother took the view that “The stuff the boys read. Well, what we understood would do us no hard and the stuff we didn’t understand would also do us no harm.” This was a pretty safe bet in a Presbyterian home!
Thank goodness reading and writing (and mathematics) is at long last to be centre stage. Many learners will have withstood the absence for too long through the drought of instruction in those critical skill areas.

New Curriculum : The Road Ahead

Back in the halcyon days of schooling in the 50’s and the sixties what the History we had was driven by the Second World War and such events as rationing, the Spanish ‘Flu (Grandad died) and our proud success in converting grass to food.
Then, in intermediate school and the high school, we never got past the central North Island with the blow-by-blow accounts of the development of the set of power stations on the Waikato River, a feat shadowed only by the main line railway which died somewhere in the King Country when the social studies teachers ran out of steam.
What is a significant and long awaited development in New Zealand Education is the recent launch of the New Zealand Aotearoa Curriculum Refresh – full of better than good expectation with its hint of change and not the usual confidence and patter that perhaps promised difference in what will be developed.
The promise is that this next four years will take us to a place that, frankly, we should have reached long ago. T S Eliot got it right:

“What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from…
And the end of our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”

(Little Gidding)

The goals are clear:
(1) Honouring our mutual obligations to and through Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
(2) Creating a curriculum which is inclusive so that all ākonga see themselves and succeed in their learning.
(3) Making sure “The New Zealand Curriculum” is clear about the learning that matters.
(4) Making sure The New Zealand Curriculum is easy to use for teachers.)

I guess these four things need to be said but they are simply no-brainers. The first must address the shameful gaps of the past while the second is a faint hope if the picture they are asked to see themselves in lacks a strong frame. The clarity in expressing the learning students need to learn (something which has for too long escaped the complexity of educational process) is the key question. Ease of usability for teacher. I have doubts about this last one – if it means clarity, OK, if it means accessibility for Parents and caregivers, OK, if it means that students will learn, OK.
But if it means diluted curriculum then the scrutiny of who does the refresh must be rigorous? The collective educational community has brought the system to where it is now. What “refreshment” will be required for them before they start and as they go though the development process. How will teacher and all involved not only be refreshed but also be capable of refreshing their thinking and recognising the elements of the refreshed curriculum as it emerges.

That will be the tough part of all this. That is why Charles M. Payne persists with his mantra – So Much Reform – So Little Change!

One of Philanthropy’s Best Kept Secrets

There is in Auckland a wonderful opportunity for students who are about to leave school to apply for a scholarship that will provide a grant of $25,000 dollars towards the costs of their initial years of study at a university.
The unique feature is that the students who benefit from this great assistance will benefit from the grant with few strings attached other than an expectation that the student will apply themselves to succeed. They will have already proved that success is the given outcome through their demonstration throughout their school years. They will have achieved through over coming adversity, been outstanding scholars and shown superb leadership at their school and in the wider community.
The grant is not compromised by the institutions which often make what is styled as significant sums of money creating gasps from the students at prize giving but which are in effect grants through money in kind – accommodation, course costs, and so on.
The Sir George Elliot Charitable Trust was founded in 1956, the year of the death of Sir George Elliot who was a businessman with a stellar career in different parts of the country including several long stints as Chair of the Reserve Bank in Wellington. He was also the President of the Auckland Exhibition, a most successful event in 1913 thanks to his guiding hand.
The link with education had always been there. He was a stalwart supporter of St Kentigern and St Cuthbert’s donating substantial sums of to both schools and indeed the donation to St Kentigern, which was made anonymously, allowed the school to proceed with its establishment.
The Sir George Elliot Trust in 2000 set up the scholarship, $25,000 for three students who met the criteria – achievement through adversity, exemplary academic standards, and clear leadership in both their school and their community. Twenty-two years later the trust can be proud of the 70 students that have passed through the programme. Many are now in mid-career, and all are fulfilling the confidence that that the Trust members have in each of the successful awardees, confident in the quality of the scholars.
Seventy scholars have either been through or are still in the programme. As those who start the journey when school leavers build on the qualities recognised by the award and continue to demonstrate the capability to give effect to their early promise.
A rather nice touch is brought to the programme each year since its inception by the involvement of the Governor General of the day in sponsoring a function at Government House, Auckland. They are joined by the awardee’s Principals who receive a grant of $500 for the library to mark the contribution made to the awardees earlier education which brought them to the threshold of a Sir George Elliot Tertiary Scholarship and the opportunities that go with it.
Giving does not need to be surrounded by brash publicity.

Let’s Hear it for the Educators

Sometimes teachers are asked to bring an unruly child into line and this usually means dealing with a degree totally unreasonable behaviour, mixed with recalcitrance topped off with a generous dollop of a degree of total self-centred behaviour. None of it is usually reasonable nor is there any understanding that you simply cannot run a school with this kind of unruliness. I used to give such rare displays of temper and indolence a bit of rope and when I came to see that such behaviour is also irrational and the umpteenth aggressive challenge of “Why should I…….? do whatever is being requested would be met from me with “Well it is really a simple case that I am the principal, and you are in Year 8.”

But I am going to have to re-consider my strategy after the exhibition of the gathered people in the grounds of Parliament Buildings. Clearly the behaviours that we would once have called childish, arrogant and selfish are OK. Stopping the good students from working with the teacher and seemingly they would rather work against them, instead of with them.

Overall students are more reasonable that that. Schools that work alongside their students enjoy an atmosphere that is collegial by and large. Many a school has built a structure that involves the students who respond in a reasonable manner adding the value of their ideas and enthusiasms. And during the various iterations of Covit school students have demonstrated impeccable behaviour. This has been supported by teacher displaying a commitment to their profession at a time when it would have been easy to give up.

In the previous endemics that education has had to deal with, teachers have stood out with keeping the programmes moving along. That tradition has for the most part been maintained. And that applies to all sector – early childhood, primary, secondary and tertiary.

We would do well to pause and consider the great good fortune that teachers and educators, and those working to keep the education system going. bring with them each day of the year.

Yes, changes have been necessary – new ways of programme delivery for instance, the places where instruction takes place, the role of parents, and so on. It is hoped that the system considers these and build on the best of them.

The Honour that keeps on Giving

I was astounded when the letter arrived from Parliament Building advising that I was to be promoted from the rank of Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit to the next rank – Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit. Once is a big thrill, twice is unimaginable.
But I don’t want to talk about all that. I want to spend a few moments to reflect on the congratulatory comments and thanks. Of course, the honour is focused on a single person but that must not be allowed to hide the fact that the thrill is a great personal one but the it resounds across many many people.
At one point I shared the firmly held belief that I have talked about for many years. That is the conviction that we can not achieve anything on our own and that the best of our work is when we allow things to see the things achieved through collaboration. At the school level the best teachers work collaborative with other teacher, with students, across the wide compass of activity. I used to point out, often on the last assembly of the year when I was in full verbal flight, how important students doing great things are rewarded with what leads to schools claiming being able to claim greatness.
I have had the pleasure of ideas catching the wind and moving faster than I could and further than I could have imagined. One very special example of this was the idea, cooked up on the leafy lawns of the University of California at Berkeley to be served up as soon as I was back home. It was the simple belief that all students could succeed if we caught then early enough and excited them enough and opened their eyes to the offerings that are waiting for them. Now this was a big bite to take and swallow.
Over the course of 2009 the numbers who gathered around the idea. The then Secretary for Education, Dame Karen Sewell, put several of the top MOE officers to see how far the ideas would stretch and gradually the ground shifted from What! to How? Teachers, school trustees, parents, Members of Parliament, Cabinet Ministers and students all started to think collaboratively and collectively – realising that opportunities that appear only exist when actions follow! New Zealand education had something of a reputation once summed this up in the witticism that “The road to Hell was paved with wisdom and failed education programmes.”
There are many times in my career that I have experienced the joy of collaborative action but fewer opportunities to adequately embrace the educators who saw wisdom in getting on board and build the future – I would like to think that all those messages that I received were written in the spirit of collaborative action.

EDTalkNZ’s Greatest Hits

The Beatles did it so it seemed like a good idea, at the start of the year, to reflect on the blogs that have been the most read, having the greatest number of visitors. EdTalkNZ has posted 186 blogs after picking up the role when APN Educational Media ceased to publish the New Zealand Education Review which carried the The Last Page column for a number of years (around 225 columns). So here we go the 10 most popular blogs from EdTalkNZ in 2021.

You can click the links or log on to www.edtalknz.com to access the library.

EdTalkNZ’s Greatest Hits 2021

1. NCEA must not be Distorted

Published: 14/06/2019

So NCEA is to undergo a major review and guess what, the end point of all this fuss will look more like the past than the future! For instance, there is to be a renewed focus on subjects…

2. It was the heading that caught my Eye

Published 30/09/2021

It was inevitable that the urgency to get people vaccinated would reach the schools. This is no new step, schools have a long, honourable, and successful relationship with vaccinations…

3. We’ve got the Apples but not the Teachers

Published 26/07/2021

The Government’s solution to the apparent teacher shortage is to increase their engagement in Covid-Roulette by opening the borders to 300 teachers from overseas…

4. Ten Years: Opportunity of Sentence

Published: 18/20/2021

Ten years is a very long time. Calculate the numbers of Māori and Pasifika students who face the provision of programmes that have been declared as failing in terms of equity and therefore access to a sound tertiary programme…

5. Happy New Year!

Published: 21/01/2021

As thousands of school students, school leavers and tertiary students face the challenges of a new start to new places and new levels of learning it is an anxious time…

6. Well done Minister! You’ve done it again!

Published: 14/11/2020

Those struggling to conclude the review of NCEA have been shown the way by Minister Hipkins who has a practical and student-oriented understanding of the way NCEA works and the value that it brings in its current shape to many students…

7. At Last NZ’s Dirty Big Secret is out

Published: 09/07/2021

At last, the dirty secret that education has by and large brushed over is to be brought into the open with a serious review of absenteeism in the school system. All power to their arm…

8. Covid or Coffee ; The Lowdown on Lockdown

Published: 06/09/2021

Where did this mania for drinking coffee come from! It seems to be to the middle classes and the rich what Kentucky Fried is to the great unwashed. It’s nuts. Well. Quite literally…

(NOTE: The Greatest Hits were compiled using the data on number of reads – the No. 1 is a Golden Oldie from 2019 with in excess of 9,000 “hits” technically speaking. The lowest level in the list scored 500 hits!)