Sporting Opportunities emerge out of disruption.

Covid-19 has been a disruptive, nasty business which has impacted across the community and hit sport particularly.

From the All Blacks down to school sport we have seen disruption, uncertainty and a rather blind pathway taken by administrators to restore regular sport. This has too much had the look of “same old, same old” with bizarre sums of money coming into the picture to be used to shore up sports activities which do not in all seriousness +look like a new and refreshed plan.

One specific area which I have not understood for a few years has been the unwillingness to consider the development of sports programmes emulating the College Sport programme of the USA. This programme across many sports has major impact on the community and is a serious pathway for the development of young sportspersons.

New Zealand could consider a Kiwi College Sports Programme which would pathway from the high school sports activities through to a college programme in the universities and the major ITPs (Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics) in New Zealand. Initially there would be about ten or twelve licences issued across three conferences for a “season” that that was appropriately fitted in to the sporting years.

The advantages of such a proposal (which of course would challenge the old brigade of administrators) are obvious.

The suite of sports in such a programme could be the major sports – Rugby, League, Netball, Football, and Weightlifting for example – with growth of other sports being possible.

There would be equitable focus on both men’s and women’s sports (as in the US).

The key aims are development of high-level skills that would enhance the entry into the professional sports that follow would be a high priority and would gain from having an intake of people with just such a set rather than simply displaying some flair that blossoms in school sport but is not capable of sustaining a professional career.

The programmes would have a educational programme alongside – as happens in the US despite the tar that is brushed across the US College Sports programme which see only Sporting Jocks paid sums of money the bolster the reputation of institutions. This is not the case and the sports activities go alongside the academic requirements which must be sustained to remain in that programme.

Inevitably not all aspiring sports people make the grade and delaying the focus on sport until maturity increases would avoid the habit of discarding this group, characterised by shattered dreams and no future path to follow – a situation not unheard of in New Zealand secondary schools. In sport as in most activity, working to “get back to normal” after post-Covid does not mean returning to the same, opportunities follow from disruption must emerge.

Looking Back to the Future: Coping with an epidemic

It was 5.30 am when the taxi arrived to collect me for a trip to Auckland Domestic for the first flight to Wellington for a meeting. This particular driver lives close by to me so he is pleased to have this early morning fare.

“And where are we going to this morning?” he asks.

“Wellington,” I reply and in answer to what takes me there I inform him that I am headed to a meeting of the Board of Te Aho o te Kura Pounamu. 

“That’s the NZ Correspondence School,” I explain thinking that I am being helpful. And with that a conversation lasting the length of the distance to the airport is kicked off.

“Back in 1947 I was a pupil of the Correspondence School,” he tells me.

“Where did you live?” I asked helpfully suggesting some options including a lighthouse, sheep station and a couple of other remote locations that typically were the staple diet of the Correspondence School.

“No, none of those. I lived at home in Auckland and at the time every school child in New Zealand was enrolled with the Correspondence School. It was the time of the poliomyelitis epidemic at its height in 1947 – 1948. Our school finished early for the year in 1947 and was closed along with all the primary schools at the beginning of 1948 to be opened when the Government felt it was safe.”

Poliomyelitis was also known as “infantile paralysis” as it predominantly struck the younger members of the community. The closing of the primary schools meant that only primary students had to work differently. The closures did not affect the older students (secondary) or adults.

At this point the cab driver became quite animated.

“Our mother was supposed to supervise us and I guess she did a good job. We were not always willing students because we were aware of what could happen when our teachers received those green canvas envelopes to mark our work. But mother was astute in managing her class of the three of us! Our envelopes were delivered to our house by our teacher, I think she did this for all our class – I was in Standard 5.”

I asked about the teachers and how they coped.

“That was the thing that we thought was amusing,” came back the retort. “All the teachers had to go to their school each day and sit at their desk during school hours, marking the work that had been handed in – and there were reports that Department of Education officials were occasionally assigned to make visits to see that this was being enforced.”

In time schools were opened when vaccines were available and finally the Sabin Oral vaccines made universally available and this kick polio to touch thank goodness.

Some interesting parallels between 1947 and 2020 emerge. Seventy-three years between the Polio epidemic and the Covit pandemic would see procedures that bore similarities the one to the other. Materials were distributed – green canvas envelopes on the one hand and multicoloured material from the cloud on the others. Teachers played a central role at all levels with students at different levels.

For both the 1947 Polio and the 2020 Covit epidemics the New Zealand Correspondence School (renamed Te Aho o te Kura Pounamu by 2020) was able to meet the curriculum needs of the school system. In the case of 1947 the Correspondence School was able to increase the range of materials and with it a strenuous programme of 40 radio classes each week. In 2020 Te Aho o te Kura Pounamu was equipped to support the Ministry of Education with the provision of programmes of learning for all levels of the school system.

(Stuart Middleton is a member of the Board of Te Aho o te Kura Pounamu.)

Curriculum – it ought to be simpler!

The curriculum is starting to carry the load of responsibility for the sliding performance of New Zealand’s school students. Language and Literacy, Mathematics and Numeracy, Reading (presented as if it were a separate and disconnected subject) have each taken hits recently.

Calmness is called for. New Zealand has always had a bipolar system of education with a proportion of learners up at the top of the international comparisons – students who could compete with the Scandinavian and Singapore and Shanghai students. But there was also the group that just did not respond to schooling as successfully. There were many and varied reasons for this but essentially they were the ones left behind. There are still top students able to compete and still struggling students who can not.

 It seems to me that what has happened is the comparative sizes of each of these groups. And the coming out in the open of what exactly is happening. I spent quite a lot of time and energy in drawing attention to what the real situation was during the 1990’s and the next couple of decades but New Zealand sailed along preferring to ignore the warning signs until perhaps 15 – 20 years ago when those disengaging from schooling education were starting to increase in numbers and could no longer be conveniently ignored. We picked up from overseas the term NEETs but without understanding the dynamics of it. We have continued to ignore the fact that 20% of students had left school before the legal age of 16 years had come around.  The community could seemingly ignore the statistics related to daily absenteeism, youth unemployment, and scholastic performance.

And when the discussion of all this reached open air the responses has generally been a touch of tinkering rather than a deep calm and informed response.

The recent educations reviews and the recent concern over the curriculum areas that have had a downward trajectory for some time shows an education system that is resistance to advice and seems not to value the involvement of the wide community who are the stakeholders and who simply require the system to be performing, simply that.

Take the concerns over a n area of the curriculum. Shall we call if Subject Q. The same old scenario develops. We have a problem with the teaching and learning of Subject Q in schools. How is this to be fixed? Immediately the education community looks inwardly and seeks solutions from those within it who have had responsibility for Subject Q. We do not see value in consulting the stakeholders that have a burning interest in in. They will in time be presented with the homegrown solution.

This could be any curriculum area – surely a better process would be to ask questions “Who has greatest need of a community of highly performing Subject Quians? How much of Subject Q are required by people at what level, and in other academic areas such as the sciences, the arts. Where is the line to be drawn for the level of competence a community sound in Subject Q ought to have.

So the search for improvement in the teaching of mathematics (or any subject for that matter) should start not with the mathematicians but with the wider communities of the professions – the engineers, the medical experts, the architects, the educational curriculum experts in all areas, and so on.

This would enable a sensible scale of importance to be placed on how much, what and at what level elements of the subject mathematics do students need to have? This brings us to the real issue. Maths is like other school subjects currently – students keep on studying a subject until the fall by the wayside because they generally do not know why they are learning it. They need to have purpose in their work and certainly by Year 10 and 11 the vocational pathways that might interest them should be opening. When students have purpose in their learning and a line of sight to a future learning occurs.

The End is Where You Start

It’s the last day in January, tomorrow is the first day in February and there is no escaping the certainties that in the immediate future schooling will start for another year. Some of those starting will be new to schooling (although the access to Early Childhood Education has galloped ahead at some pace to include many more little ones than it used to) but a fair majority will be continuing the 13-years-of-expectations of schooling.

I am driven by what I see, to wonder about that the progression through school and the issue of the “confidence course” of transitions.   We need to pause and take stock of what transitions mean for the organization of schooling and, indeed, the impact on what should be a guarantee of student success that is implied by the notion of compulsory education.

Too many of those starting schooling over the next week or so will present themselves as keen and starry-eyed students only over time to have the light in their eyes fizzle out.

There are big transitions – changing institutions and ways of working such as happens when primary routines give to intermediate before secondary cuts in to take students to the most important transitions of all – vocational, technical, applied education that lead to employment.

There are many actual and potential smaller transitions both obvious and hidden within these – changing teachers, changing friends, coping with the demand of simply growing, grappling with subjects which march on to higher levels of difficulty, and so on.

The big transitions will usually be approached on a cohort basis and managed by teachers, the smaller ones are mostly left for students and their care-givers to cope with on their own.

I have characterized schooling that is often anything but a smooth ride resembling the seamless process that it ought to be much less often that it ought to.  I am talking about learning here. Each student at whatever level needs to be catered for in a manner that sees a seamless progression in terms of learning across or through those big transitions. I am not thinking of the regimented nature of curriculum which has the look of smooth transitions and happiness, but which can only leave, trailing in its wake, groups of students characterized by difference. If there is not a seamless and smooth transition year-to-year, let alone between one day and the next, one year and the next, then students will likely be left to work things out for themselves without the help of the instruction manual.

One of the features that works to destroy effective transitions is the high-level segmentation of learning into sectors which does not reflect the ways students learn but rather the ways in which the various sectors have developed over a hundred years or so. The result is that having won territory and having created different ways of working with the exclusive rights of ownership to a portion of a set of ages, creates a scenario of territory to be defended.

The result is that time-served is well and truly alive in New Zealand which ensures that for some the curriculum will more too slowly, for others too quickly. Put this into a setting where subjects can usually only be accessed in a single school and often with little scope for high-level specialization as a musician, an artist, in sports using digital skills, performing arts, high level cultural skills and so on.

Of course, there are exceptions such as Te Aho o te Kura Pounamu (The NZ Correspondence School), the Manukau Institute of Technology Tertiary High School, the development in some schools of tertiary trades programmes and other instances where some exciting work is being done – pathways provided, and transitions managed. Interestingly the colourful exceptions to the beige standard education of the system seem to be more available to those students that schools exclude.)

Schools will open for another year of business. Covid-10 could play a part, but schools have shown and ability to engineer schooling through such times. What remains are the big issues of tackling the still expanding growth of NEETs, higher levels and consistence in school attendance, flexibility of programmes and their availability, greater use of the skills of the community and…….  greater use of seamless pathways and managed transitions with perhaps, increased willingness to deploy managed engagement! Best wishes and good luck for 2021!

Happy New Year

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. I am in a somewhat different position. I am making a close. An end on 52 years of work in education but already I realise that to make a finish is to make another start. T.S.Eliot had a very perceptive view on this. The processes of education are circular and somewhat akin to exploring new ideas, new ways of working in new and different places. He put it like this:

What we call the beginning is often the end

And to make an end is to make a beginning

The end is where we start from ….

…. We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of our exploration

Will be to arrive at the start

And know the place for the first time [1]

Students meet teachers who are meeting new classes and that which has been learnt will be challenged and enhances by the new.

And EdTalkNZ will continue to churn over the issues in an effort to know that place called education for the first time.

Let 2020 end and 2021 begin!

At the end of last year, I commented on the fact that some Manukau Institute of Technology Tertiary High School students had completed two levels of NCEA within one school years. I asked myself and the readers if this had been done in other schools in a slightly challenging way, stating that such occurrences ought to be the norm. Well, I forgot to mention a group of students that I have no excuse for forgetting. Students at Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu (NZ Correspondence School) have had the opportunity and have taken the chance to do just that for some time – apologies and congratulations to all concerned.

Remember that the space between the end to one school year and the start of another is simply a Christmas holiday. The process of learning, if it is to be seamless which it must be, should have a continuity that reduces the numbers and names of levels to no more that a device to keep the bookkeeping of education under control.

So, a new year starts. But if students have known and understood the end of their previous learning, their exploration of all that follows this new beginning will be secure. And in time they will develop a new level, a new end! Meanwhile, I shall set off to explore once more.

[1] T.S.Eliot Little Gidding, Four Quartets from Collected Poems 1909-1962

Back to normal is not the goal

A Statement from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Patrick Methvin  

“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew.  This one is no different.  It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next”. — Arundhati Roy
If a pandemic creates a portal, then what exactly does our current environment – a combination of a health crisis, an economic crisis, and reckoning with longstanding racial injustices – create? None of us really know. We can cling to our security blankets of stock market forecasts, political prognostications, and vaccination modelling, but the truth is we don’t really know. Any one of these variables could affect the others in ways we can’t imagine.  

So if we can’t predict the future, what can we do with these portals to the unknown?  We can, as Roy also suggests, “choose to walk through [them], dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred…or we can walk lightly with little luggage, ready to imagine another world.  And ready to fight for it.”   

There are some education “carcasses” that we should leave behind:  Inequitable funding that provides institutions serving predominantly Black, Latino and Indigenous students 20% less resources than others. Arcane credit transfer rules and incentives that result in wasted time and money (for both students and taxpayers).  Students’ pathways (into and through postsecondary) that are unclear, inequitable and do not focus on student success. Climates in our colleges, universities and places of employment that are not equitable and fail to draw out the talent of all of their people.

And what can we fight for in this period of uncertainty?   Systems that count all students and hold us accountable for their equitable social and economic mobility. Policies that reverse discriminatory financing and pathways and, in the process, create stronger and more reliable roads to opportunity for today’s students. Teaching and advising approaches emerging this year from innovative faculty and staff who are marrying the best of technology and human engagement to help their students survive and even thrive. Institutions that boldly pursue transformation to ensure they are engines of equitable social and economic mobility. It should come as no surprise that I don’t have a particularly strong appetite for the phrase, “When we get back to normal….” I don’t want to get back to normal, because “normal” in American higher education is not currently living up to its potential as an engine of equitable social and economic mobility.  

But we are optimistic that this enterprise can live up to its potential, which is why we continue to invest. We don’t have all the answers, but through partnership, we believe we can take dramatic steps toward this vision. My greatest admiration and appreciation goes out to you, our partners and friends, for your resilience and brilliance during this most difficult year. The end of this year will not magically lift present-day uncertainty, but we feel fortunate to have you walking with us through whatever portals present themselves in 2021.

Reason to Celebrate

I have been to two wonderful End-of-Year Prizegiving ceremonies.

The first was at Aorere College where I had been Principal in the 1990s when the school was changing its demographic complexion rather rapidly. Well, that process is complete and those who received awards were Mᾱori, Pasifika reflecting all the South Pacific, Asian, and a range of other ethnicities. It was a parade of success at a school that set the tone and the standards in so many ways. Pakeha were noted for their absence.

Some things I wondered about – the gaining of an excessive number of credits at each level raises questions of the necessity of this. Would students have been better to meet the requirements and move on to the next level? Or was it perhaps an organisational matter where the clarity in course requirements became clearer as the student progressed, or perhaps essential credits appropriate to pathways had become more apparent as the year proceeded was the simple explanation. The practice in the US is to guide the students with academic plans which set out pathways frown on over-crediting – food for thought? Whatever the reasons there was great delight when it was announced that successful student after successful student had received every one of their NCEA credits at “Excellence” level.

This school over the thirty years since I left had virtually doubled its role to 1600 students. Does our system understand that the new high performing schools are emerging from schools such as this one? It is tragic that so many students across South Auckland still daily migrate to a central city school where the evidence that it is in their best interests is flimsy. Perhaps they will gain a few more credits but cultural competence and leadership emerges from the south and this is a desired outcome in the diverse future NZ is rapidly becoming.

Overall it was an exciting afternoon to be followed the next day by more.

The prizegiving at the Manukau Institute of Technology School of Secondary Tertiary Studies (more widely known outside the school as the MIT Tertiary High School) was different, it needed to be if it was to reflect its mission to cater for those who had been left behind by the school system. The school group (1,500 students have been at the MIT THS since its establishment in 2010) is comprised of those who are in danger of disengagement or, in some cases have already multiple reasons seen the relationship between students and school become broken. The group as a whole carry with them a range of pressures, of family setting issues and a host of other potential setbacks. But underneath each of the different personae there beats hearts and greatly hidden talent.

The setting for the event was decorated in a wonderful display of outstanding art, of cultural reminders and this set the tone. In the course of the morning achievement was recognised. Some also received recognition for attendance (100% was the standard) and the message that this was important was part of the mandated engagement drive that characterises the school.

But the real highlight for me was the celebration for a group of five students who had achieved BOTH NCEA Level 1 and NCEA Level 2 in the course of 2020, one year – two levels because they were motivated and able to do this with the encouragement and support of teachers. The students move at their own pace rather than follow the conventional path of 1 year – 1 level. At last the promise emphasised by officials in the late 1980s and early 1990s that in the STANDARDS-BASED NCEA ENVIRONMENT WOULD BE DEAD has had instantiation at the Tertiary High School. Is this the only known case of such an outcome.?

It seems to me that encouraged by NZQA and years of doing the conventional that schools have simply replaced School C with NCEA Level 1, Sixth Form Cert with Level 2 and Bursary with Level 3 to retain the time-served habit. I was going to say that there are only two institutions thatdo this but I was wrong, one of them gives time off for good behaviour!

So two schools, both excellent in what they do, engaging students and enhancing lives enjoyed happy events in what has been a difficult and somewhat broken year.

But so very different in the way they do this.

The Emperor’s New Lesson Plan

We know what succeeds but just can’t bring ourselves to do it!

New Zealand cannot continue to countenance the level of school failure that prevails in New Zealand. For years, we (i.e. the teaching profession, government officials, think tanks, parents and the employment sector) have known that the stubborn New Zealand statistics of failure are not good for  the community, families, the economy, business sector, the health system and the young  people themselves.

Bill Gates realised this, for each of the English education systems share the same sorry story. He concluded that:

“Once we used to say that school failure was not good for all those young people not succeeding and we must do something about it. Now we realise that we must do something about it because it is no good for us!”

The picture paints a sad and sorry story, a tale that has persisted for many years. 20+% of 16 year-old young people are not in school when the school legal leaving age is reached. The accumulation of NEETs (15-24-year-olds Not in Employment Education or Training) shows no sign of either diminishing of its own accord or responding to programmes to turn this around. There is talk from the education sector that absentees from school reach 76,000 each day – that is the equivalent of 2,533 empty classrooms!

Perhaps we should be reporting some of this along lines similar to the way that we have effectively made the community aware of the status and progress of the Covit-19 pandemic. Education failure is also of epidemic proportion, let’s go hard and go early!

How did this situation occur? Older members of the community will recall the situation 40 or so years ago when students often celebrated their 15th birthday by leaving school to get a job. My own high school presented me with a Fourth Form Certificate in Form 4 (Year 10) aimed at giving students something tangible – that at a time when about 15%studies for School Certificate. Students did not stay in secondary school unless they wanted School Certificate or University Entrance.

The young people who took vocational and trades subjects were imbued with the view that the purpose of education and training was to equip oneself for the world of employment. Scenarios that predicted that in just a few years we would not recognise current jobs, we would all be in the information age, and so on were simply figments of the hallucinations of the trendy. It was not true, it never happened. Even today occupations bear great similarities to how the picture looked 60 years ago.  Never mind, education kept up the mantra that “more schooling was better”. Technical subjects and the applied trades disappeared from school curricula and reappeared in the tertiary sector.

In 1960 around 20% of students stayed at secondary school for 5-years but by 1990 that proportion had grown to 65% accompanied by increasing levels of failure.

The message is clear: more does not mean better.

But there have been developments which are bringing considerable success to students – all is not lost in fulfilling the aspirations of young people and opportunities are being presented to them to proceed to careers. This is being achieved through high levels of collaboration between secondary and tertiary education sectors.

 2011 New Zealand saw the first Tertiary High School introduced at Manukau Institute of Technology. Students who had disengaged from school at around Year 10 (age 14-15 years) and if the truth be told,  well and truly withdrawn from school and learning were offered a chance to come into the Tertiary High School programme. Right from the start they were identified as tertiary students and studied a range of subjects – Level 1 and 2 NCEA and Tertiary Trades programmes (four in the first two years) and a range of programmes and activities to grow their confidence, their social skills and their line of sight to employment. The brilliance of the NCEA qualification was that it enables these flexible programmes to happen easily. From NCEA Level 3 for those proceeding to degree study. Others continued heading towards a career in the trades continuing to other entry levels for the trades.

This programme was radical and required the government of the day to make enabling changes to the NZ Education Act. The creation of the category of programmes characterised as Secondary / Tertiary Programmes and the changes to the Education Act allowed for a further development – the creation of Trades Academies in secondary schools. This development sees students selecting to attend a tertiary institution for one day-a-week for a Level 2 NCEA trade programme or two days-a-week for a NCEA Level 3 programme.

There are twenty-six providers offering these programmes. The largest is the Manukau Institute of Technology where success rates in were 87% for Maori students and 90% for Pasifika students. Evidence shows that progression rates into higher studies and/or employment are very high.

Having in place programmes that meet the needs of the student groups noted above, Manukau Institute of Technology is now implementing, in collaboration with three other Tertiary Institutions, a programme of research into effective ways of increasing levels of Learner Success at all levels. Work is proceeding on a detailed survey of the issues students face in the journey into tertiary study, the issues they face during their period of study and effective and early interventions to keep the students’ study momentum building all the way through the programme. This will take a holistic view of the student.

This work will build on the very successful programme developed at Georgia State University (GSU) which through careful and detailed analysis of the needs of students resulted in moving the GSU Priority Learner Groups (Hispanic and African American students) from being the least successful in terms of results to being the highest performing groups in the University.

Manukau Institute of Technology shares the aspirations to see the same shifts. There are answers to issues of performance to be found, developed and implemented – if only eyes were open to them and having seen the prospect of increased student success were prepared to go after it.

Does size matter?

Many studies have found that students who attend small schools outperform those in large schools on most measure of academic success. There are claims that they are also less likely to dropout and more likely to go on to tertiary. And research points to a greater feeling of connectedness in smaller schools.

The weekend paper tells me that there are 28 schools in New Zealand that have fewer than 10 students. Now that’s really small and I guess that the discussion that hinged on the government’s reported planned move to include consideration of schools of 4,500 students by the 2040s will not consider that group as being threatened by these suggestions.

There is bound to be some hysteria surrounding the proposal to build mega-schools and that will not  be very sensible. The issue is not the size of a school, but rather the quality of the school’s programmes, the levels of student success, the choices and options promoted by the programmes, the variety of sports, music, arts, languages, and so on. Of course, it is quite feasible for a small school to have a specialist programme in some of the above and indeed that is seen in other countries. But New Zealand has developed something of an obsession with being “good” at everything when it comes to assessing the quality of a school in terms of the standard general curriculum.

Let’s pause for a moment and consider some of these issues. Most New Zealand secondary schools do not have strong approaches in preparing students for life beyond schooling. This is compensated in some schools through collaboration with the 26 providers of trades academies programmes the Secondary / Tertiary Programmes to around over 7,000 students. This level of adding to the “size” of the options and choices for students does not require adding to the footprint of the school. This is a win-win for students who access a wider choice of pathways without adding to the “size” of the school.

Many other countries overseas have a greater degree of specialism in their operation and students have the opportunity to attend these specialist schools which cater for interests such as, all the technical areas, the arts and so on. If “small” means greater focus on specialist areas then let’s have some small schools. If “big” results in access to specialist equipment and facilities then a big school or two might fulfil gaps in the offerings.

But this would require educators to accept that the general school curriculum does not suit all students. It is a triumph of hope over experience that the view that standard programming will suit the young of New Zealand over the 13 years they attend our schools.

The statistics of retention, attendance, progression and success should be enough to trigger action to diversify the curriculum, the settings in which those diversified programmes are offered, and the spread of expertise and skill among those who teach. If the creation of “big schools” is designed to deal with a demographic issue, an opportunity would be lost. It would simply be the “intermediate intervention” all over again. 

But first some things would have to change.

First might be a serious investigation of the notion and worth of education sectors which seem to me to have outlived their usefulness. Apart from the difficulties of the transitions they create, readiness through academic preparation for moving on is in no way reflected other than in lock-step movement of groups of students who might or might not have met the requisite level to do so. Students should be able to proceed at a pace that engages them. Some students spend too long working slowly through material that should be completed faster. Others respond to a more measured pace. The great promise in the late 1980s  that time served would be dead evaporated early on – it is as alive as ever.

If the government is serious about creating big schools it should forget about 2043 or whatever its predicted year for introduction is and set about designing an education system that engages all students, rethinks the pathways through education and training, and starts to serve the nation by ensuring that students pursue a pathway that will see them in secure education that provides a family-sustaining income. This is urgent and New Zealand deserves no less.

Groans and Moans about the Zones

The system of “enrolment schemes” is rather more scheming than simply enrolments! More commonly known as “school zones” which serve as the golden key to the coveted entrance for out-of-zone students. They carry the power of Grand Arbiter to a Better School in the minds to parents and caregivers who dismiss the local school as “not up to scratch” (this does not require any evidence) and applications usually paint a picture of “you would be lucky to have XYZ here” which is much the same as what the school is thinking.

As a Justice of the Peace I assist the gathering of evidence required by schools that stops short only at a blood test. Breaking the school zone barrier is certainly not a high trust exercise as a fistful of certified papers and evidence is amassed to get the required result. About 20% of New Zealand’s school-aged citizens have gone and will go, through this process successfully.

There are consequences to all this. In Auckland it is marked most annoyingly by the increase in vehicles (often humping great SUVs, but sometimes a bus) from the fleet that carts students to the schools of choice (well their parents choice to be honest and quite a number in addition to the zone-hoppers are seriously pursuing a faith choice). All Auckland knows when the school holidays are on simply by the quieter roads between 8.15 am and 9.30 am.

A review has been suggested. But if this simply concerns the mechanics of the process and suggests a role for central authorities and perhaps more automated clerical procedures, an opportunity will have been lost to consider the extent to which school zones serve the students and the country to best advantage. Is it time we took a serious look at the Scandinavian education systems?

Now granted, New Zealand is not Scandanavia which has on the whole rather less demarcated social differences than New Zealand. But Pasi Sahlberg, known to New Zealand, has constantly argued that Finland does so well because of a single factor and that is equality. Each classroom will have a balance of students from across social backgrounds. This is a constant theme in research on effectiveness of school systems.

There are other lessons to be learnt from Finland: teachers are more central in the schools, teachers and teaching are highly valued, they are a bit more traditional than NZ teachers. But there are no national tests. But, and this might be the key, no child is left behind – students underperforming have access to resources and especially to increased teacher time.

Has New Zealand dropped the ball on the development of a society characterised by equity and access? Perhaps the haves and have-not social clusters become embedded and while governments talk about addressing rich and poor it is really only talk and not action. I suggest that we have given up, it is just too hard it seems.

So how will fiddling around with school zoning make differences that matter? New Zealand has for a long time had a bi-polar schooling system that at the top of school success is as good as anywhere in the world, but at other end and with different students, is as bad as it gets. Our education statistics stubbornly refuse to show improvement and numbers of students deserting the system continue to grow.

We need a serious consideration of equity in and access to quality schooling and to pathways for success in life as social beings and contributors which reflects the rich and diverse society that could be New Zealand but is too often hidden by ways of proceeding that have failed.