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Month: November 2009

It’s a beautiful game

Stuart Middleton
New Zealand Education Review
Vol. 14 No.45, 20 November 2009, p.16
APN Educational Media (NZ) Ltd.

It is no wonder they call “it the beautiful game!”  2010 was going to be such a drag of a year waiting for the Oval Ball World Cup and the incessant drivel that goes with it. Will the stadium be ready? Will the wharf be transformed? Wild guesses as to what the world cup is worth to the country (think of a number between $7.50 and $934 million). All of this would have been mainstream news if the All Whites had not beaten Bahrain and taken us into the greatest sporting event in the entire world. We can now be focused as a nation on the beautiful game.

What a good thing for schools, especially the primary schools. Football is such a wonderful game for the young ones – girls can play with boys, skill matters more than size, it can be played on any surface and it doesn’t require a lot of expensive gear.

The start-up rituals of football games under the control of FIFA is so civilised compared to rugby. The teams walk out, side by side led by officials. They are here to play sport after all. The players lead out the little ones – they are the future of the game both as supporters and as players. The anthems are dignified, hands are shaken between players and officials, pennants or flags are exchanged and the teams are ready to go.

Compare this to the bullfight testosterone laden start to rugby internationals. The teams charge out with steam bellowing from their noses like bulls on a hot Madrid afternoon. The anthems are sung by celebrity artists and then, if New Zealand is playing, a haka is performed with grotesque sincerity and greeted with the undignified arrogance / indifference of the opposition.  No hand shaken, no pennants exchanged.

The comparisons don’t stop there. In one game you can see the ball while in the other you simply guess where it might be. In one game the referee is in charge and whistles without the self indulgent yapping of the rugby referee who seems to want to coach the teams as well. In one game the focus is on the skill of beating the opposition while in the other it is simply on beating.

Little wonder then that someone once said that Rugby was a game invented by gentlemen but played by ruffians while soccer was invented by ruffians but played by gentlemen.

And that is its attraction to a lot of parents. Kids can play the sport and be relatively safe. Last year rugby beat other sports hands down with more than 49,000 rugby players injured. Football and netball were a distant second and third. I am the first to admit that I played football because I was small and had I played rugby in a weight division I would have been playing with eight year olds when I was fourteen. So football, which was never available at our primary school became the game of choice.

And a good choice it was too, especially at secondary school when Arthur Leong joined the staff of Fairfield College and shortly after was selected for New Zealand. Coached by an All White! (Well, actually that name came later.) We played for our club and learnt the trade from a set of dour men of Scots and Dutch and English extraction. The 2-3-5 formation was soon being put to one side for we had seen grainy films of the great Puskas and his Hungary team. What a thrill for us as youngsters when our club’s top team, Tech Old Boys from Hamilton, won the Chatham Cup in 1962.

My greatest thrill as a player was in my last year at school when the great English Captain Tom Finney led an FA Team to New Zealand and a schoolboy representative team that I was in was asked to play an exhibition match with them – forwards and backs split to make composite teams. I had Tom Finney beside me which led to a wonderful footballing teacher and colleague, Dave Metzger, always following an introduction of me to someone else with the statement “He played with Tom Finney you know!”

My own coaching career never went beyond being a young teacher who took a sports team but I enjoyed coaching boys of far greater skill – I was happy to hand over the reins of the First XI when a better coach joined the staff. Damn! A year too early – Ricki Herbert arrived at the school and I never got to coach him.

He was a tremendously talented and focused footballer. He knew with certainty that he was headed for the top and had all the skills to do just that.

The nadir of my coaching career was when I was coaching one of my son’s team of six year olds. Having succeeded in getting them to consistently remember that after halftime you headed for the goal at the other end of the field, I was perplexed by the performance of the goalie one day who let through a number of goals while making Nureyev-style moves with his back to the ball. I headed around behind the net and asked what the story was. Off he goes into another pas de deux on his own. “Well?” I asked. “Look,” he said “over there. Look at the shadow I make on the ground when I dance!”

As Danny Blanchflower said: “Football is not really about winning, or goals, or saves, or supporters – it’s about glory. It’s about doing things in style, doing them with a flourish.” Sport can do that for little ones and what better sport than football.

That’s why I am excited at the imminent launch of a FIFA programme – Just Play – into some primary schools in our part of the world that will teach children the beautiful skills of the beautiful game in an exciting way.

The wonderful victory of the All Whites will inspire so many students to get into football and quickly acquire the skills of this game of which the simplicity is its beauty.

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A solid first innings

Stuart Middleton
New Zealand Education Review
Vol 14 No.43, November 6, 2009, p16
APN Educational Media (NZ) Ltd

When it was said that journalism is merely history’s first rough draft, the commentator was suggesting that we should stand by for at least correction and some revision. Which is just as well when you read some of the stuff that passes for commentary on Education in the weekend newspapers.

Take for example recent articles on the achievements of the government in its first year in office. Let’s ignore all the overall comment and focus just on education. One writer awarded Minister Hon Anne Tolley 3 out of 10 on the basis that the National Standards were causing a bit of a fuss.

There were also comparisons made between the UK’s Prime Minister Thatcher and New Zealand’s Minister of Education Tolley suggesting that her relationship to the education unions as something akin to that between Thatcher and the National Union of Miners in the 1980’s?  That reporter put forward the proposition that just as Thatcher couldn’t finish off the miners in 1981 and had to wait until 1984 to do the business, Tolley could not deal to the PPTA and the NZEI at this time but was stockpiling coal in order to get them in about 2011.

The reporter should be reminded that there is more to history than Billy Elliot and that the education union leadership in New Zealand is a little different from Arthur Scargill and his hoons.

A good report card should emphasis what the student has done so let’s do just that.

National in opposition and leading up to the election had some clear policies which included the development and introduction of National Standards, Youth Guarantee, and Trades Academies. This trio of initiatives was to address the clear focus in the policy on 15 to 19 year olds where considerable concerns had arisen. Interestingly, Labour was also putting an emphasis in this area through its Schools Plus set of initiatives.

Words are one thing and actions another. The National Standards were developed and have been written and are now being promulgated. There has been opposition to them, hardly of Scargillian proportions, but opposition nevertheless from the education unions. This appears not to be shared by the community in general. Getting my first glimpse of the National Standards last week I was impressed by the extent to which they should not distort the curriculum and if their implementation is done with flair they will be a useful addition to the tools that teachers have in assisting dialogue with parents.

So, National Standards promised and on track after 12 months.
Youth Guarantee was intended to address the barmy situation where in order to continue education outside of the secondary school, students had to forfeit their right to a free education. Extending the entitlement to free education and training to settings other than schools should provide for more flexible pathways for some students.

Intended to be introduced in 2011 the provision of 2,000 places for 2010 is a good effort and allows tertiary providers to position themselves to offer productive programmes for this group of school leavers.

So, Youth Guarantee promised and on track after 12 months.

Trades Academies were pretty much only a germ of an idea as the election loomed so where has that got to? A call was put out for ideas, a little over a hundred came from providers, shortlists were developed and it looks as if five proposals are under more intensive development with a further six being worked on in some way. These programmes will place schools and post-secondary trades training providers into a closer relationship and allow students to access industry recognized trades qualifications earlier.

So Trades Academies promised and on track after 12 months.

(Interest declared here.) In 2008 Manukau Institute of Technology proposed to and was encouraged by the previous government to establish a Tertiary High School – a programme that allowed a group of students to continue their senior secondary schooling in a different setting, dual enrolment, dual qualifications and so on. The new Government has also supported that initiative.

Now it all hasn’t been progress that has been received with unrelieved happiness. The cuts made to Adult and Community Education hurt some and their severity surprised many. This all had something of a look of unfinished business that seamlessly flowed from the relentless attacks on low level courses made by the then National Spokesperson on Education in the couple of years leading up to the 2005 election. The then National Spokesperson on Education was now the Minister of Finance and even the rhetoric was much the same – Moroccan Cooking has replaced Twilight Golf. Someone should take fingerprints!

And the Education (Polytechnics) Amendment Bill that set out a programme of radical surgery on the Polytechnic Councils produced a series of submissions to the Select Committee that made pleas for the large and representative councils to be allowed to continue. But while the submissions were heard they seem likely to have fallen on deaf ears. Governance in the polytechnic sector has been identified as an issue to be dealt with.

In amongst all the other bits and pieces that have surfaced there has been increased funding for Early Childhood Centres ( must try harder here), increases in the Youth Opportunities provisions (pleasing) and a positive reaction to the job summit discussions with support for the university programme of Summer Scholarships and increased place in polytechnics (well done).

This incomplete survey of the first twelve months of the new Government in education gives enough for us to conclude that there has been a clear commitment to policy – and voters that don’t like the actions that flow from policy can hardly retrospectively replay the election. Students and young people have been a focus in developments (that’s why I haven’t mentioned school property) and that is pleasing.

So where do we end up with the scorecard for the Minister? Well, the scores are fatuous so none of those. In summary, a strong year with substantial policy targeted in the right areas and brought to life in a time of austerity (now there’s a Thatcher word!).

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