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ThinkEd: Questions that are ponderable

Stuart Middleton


31 May 2010

 There are questions that float around the education world that I wonder about. Do you?

Have we learnt the lesson that policies which are untargeted will eventually become perverse?

The 20 Free Hours was always going to miss the group it intended to help – those who struggled to get children into early childhood education because they simply didn’t have the money for fees. Instead it became a means of freeing up money for those who were already able to get their children into a programme. Alternately it meant that some who could afford say three days early childhood education while they returned to work were now able to increase that to a full working week.

They should not be criticised for that by any means but the outcome of all this was that there was no increase in access for those sections of the community that could not afford any ECE or were in areas within the community where none was available.

Why reward employers rather than teachers when teachers improve qualifications?

 Again, Early Childhood Education has provided a valuable lesson for the rest of the system. Linking the MOE subsidies payable to centres to the level of qualifications of staff meant that over time lifting the level of qualifications of the teaching staff in a centre became a perverse driver for profit rather than a positive driver for quality provision. Private providers of ECE were able to offer incentives for those whose qualifications were gained on the back of other centres and were then rewarded with higher subsidies.

Teachers should be paid for improved qualifications but that should be reflected in wages. There seems no good reason why Early Childhood Centres should not be on the same financial basis as the primary or secondary sectors.

 Was it inevitable that National Standards would become less of an issue when teachers got on with what they do best – teaching and knowing what they are doing?

The great hoohaa about national standards always reflected poorly on the professionalism and quality of teachers. They know all of this stuff and the existence of a framework for reporting enables them to demonstrate to their communities just how well the children are benefitting from good teaching. League tables when they make their inevitable appearance will be simply a load of media piffle.

Have the reforms coming out of Tomorrow’s Schools reached the end of their useful life?

Voter turnout for our national elections sits currently at about 80% of voters while local authorities are get about half of this voter support, about 40%. The recent elections for Boards of Trustees make for pitiful reading. The advertisements in my local paper show that the average of the top three candidates elected to their respective six Boards of Trustees  did so on the strength of a turnout that was 12.5%, 16%, 16%, 18.5%, 23% and 33% of parents respectively. Boards of Trustees must now have the lowest level of turnout in elections held in New Zealand (this included a good range of deciles too).

Now this research will not create a new standard in the psephological arts but I am wondering whether it is time to say that the governance of school is by and large undertaken by groups that might not really have a warrant to do so in terms of democratic representation.

What recent statistic rang bells for me?

A small group of developed countries now takes a hugely disproportionate number of doctors and nurses trained in developing countries. That group is New Zealand, Australia, United States of America, Canada and the United Kingdom. This is the same group of countries in which the phenomenon of disengagement from education had developed and flourished.  Go figure, as they say.

New Zealand is also in this pattern with one exception – it finds it hard to welcome and integrate health professionals from the Pacific largely because of English language requirements that a good proportion of home-grown health professionals would not reach.

Whose end of the court is the School Ball in?

Why don’t some people get it? The whole school ball fiasco is the responsibility of the school – the Pre-balls (and why they have escaped attention beats me), the actual Ball (can there any longer be any point to these at all?), and the After- should all be consigned to the scrap heap of social change along with the Debutante Balls, the Grand Parade at balls, the Maxina and a whole lot of other stuff which might once have been good but which now are not.

 Will it take a scandal or tragedy before schools say, sorry but…. And the idea that parents should accompany their children to the after-ball for the sole purpose of buying the plonk is so bizarre that we give thanks the idea came from businessmen and not school teachers.

There will be other questions but they will have to wait.

Published inEducation


  1. Allan Vester Allan Vester

    Good morning Stuart. I agree with your concerns about the very poor turn out for BOT elections. While the low turn out to vote does not mean that schools end up with poor Boards it does call into question the whole notion of the locally elected BOT. Of course the problem is what might take its place? Are parents [and others] elected on a low turn out going to be worse than a department made up of people appointed for life who are open to all sorts or arm twisting from more organised communities.

    After ball parties are territory that every school looks at with dread. While not wanting them, while not supporting them and while actively trying to stop them schools know that should there be a problem the parents who actually supported the nonsense will slip quietly back into the crowd leaving the schools reputation to suffer.
    I agree that pre balls seem to have escaped comment. I guess that is because they go from those to the Ball and most schools are very careful about letting intoxicated ball patrons in. That acts a a fair brake on consumption prior to the event.

  2. It’s always heartening to see a probing mind, and especially heartening when the prober is also an educator of note. As you say, Stuart, there are more questions to be asked so please keep on asking them. Giving voice to curiosity is always a first step towards development – just remember how penicillin came about – if Alexander Fleming had not been curious about the mould growing in his ‘dirty’ laboratory, history would have charted a somewhat different course and the pharmaceutical companies would have made money out of other options.

    Personally, I’d venture that amongst the most important questions to be asked about education is a suite of queries pertaining to the now decimated adult and community education classes (ACE). I need to confess that I’ve written about this in another forum (see The drift of it all is that the current Minister has, in one foul swoop, scuttled a century of history of provision of second chance education, obliterated a raft of recreational education activities and most importantly, she has decimated training for the voluntary community and voluntary health supporters’ sectors, a sixteen billion dollar enterprise according to KPMG.

    Given that around half of the training provisions for the voluntary community services and voluntary health supporters’ sectors stemmed from ACE activities, one has to ask these two questions:

    • With respect to the voluntary sector of community services and health delivery, why did the Minister (and the ACE sector) not conduct an audit of ACE activities to establish who learned what through which ACE activities, for what purpose/s and with what consequences?

    • What steps, if any, is the Minister now taking to monitor the impacts which cutting ACE programmes will have upon the voluntary sector and what forecasting, if any, will be undertaken to determine the medium and longer term economic consequences of these cuts to voluntary sector providers within Aotearoa New Zealand?

    There are, as you noted, Stuart, other questions to be asked, including ones about adult literacy, second chance education, tertiary education access and social equity, and, the importance of education for justice, but these questions too should wait for another time.

    Ka kite

    Dr Jens J. Hansen

    Woodhill Park Research Retreat

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