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Month: April 2011

Pathway-ED: In the name of service

Stuart Middleton
27 April 2011

By golly, when a New Zealander comes over to Australia for a little while you never know just what you are going to find out and it makes you wonder what they are teaching in school and in the education institutions.

I have popped over to Australia (as you do) to attend a conference and arriving on the morning of ANZAC Day I hit the City of Melbourne just as it went into lock-down for the various ceremonies to take place. Apart from leading to one of the most interesting and circuitous taxi rides I have ever taken, it was quite an experience to see the hordes of people that had turned out.

  •  The newspapers and television news programmes were full of the events of the day and here are some impressions, some obtained first hand out on the streets and some second hand through the eye of the media.
  •  There were many young people out there and the media had its annual “glow with pride” about this until one eight year old took the opportunity to tell everyone and anyone who was listening that “My Dad made me come!” with that look on her face that said lots.
  •  I was astonished to see the number of non-Returned Service People who were wearing the medals of others and even marching with the old soldiers. Is this a breach of protocol? Can people wear the medals of others? Leave aside matters of taste and there must surely be some official guidelines on this or will the matter simply be decided by the practice that remains unchallenged.
  • I was even more amazed by the number of young men in suits that were sporting a full chest of a row of medals that were impressive indeed – were they wearing the medals of their older forebears? No, I was told – a very large number of soldiers have seen service with the Australian Forces and that the medals are predominantly service medals. I think quite a few of them wore them to the footy game and on to the celebrations later.
  •  A navy attachment of perhaps 50 men marched in the best traditions of the Senior Service except for one officer in the front rank who confidently marched out of step!

But perhaps the most amazing feature, and this is certainly a change from the last time I was in Australia for ANZAC Day (ten years ago?). New Zealand is virtually absent from the day – “ANZAC” means “Australian” and  the idea that this was a joint military expedition seems now to have been forgotten. Except, that is, for the rugby league between the New Zealand Warriors and the Melbourne Storm. The shared nature of the day was both emphasised and marked with discretion and good taste. On the night the New Zealand Warriors won whereas at Gallipoli no-one could claim the victory.

I have long thought that ANZAC Day deserves a re-think. Eventually and hopefully, if we can avoid adding to the numbers of returned service people by not participating in wars, we might reach a point where the parading of returned soldiers will be replaced by something else. But what? Well perhaps we can start to address the values of ANZAC Day and have a day when we celebrate in our respective countries and in our distinctive ways, those values and their expression in the community.

Foremost among them will be the value of service and what better or higher value could we devote the day to. Just as soldiers gave much in service, many others add to the quality of the lives of others through service that might not be as dangerous but in many cases is as far-reaching in its impact on the community.

Of course this notion will be greeted with a range of reactions from outrage through to a calm consideration of the idea. Better now to think about the future of ANZAC Day and to work hard over the next couple of decades to see it cemented into the fabric of each year than to see it dwindle or lose meaning simply because we had no appetite to think about it.

Three of the above bullet points suggest that the time to start thinking about this might well have arrived. I think that schools well might consider engaging the young ones in thinking about ANZAC Day when they are in command.



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Talk-ED: When academic becomes vocational or is that when vocational is academic?

Stuart Middleton
18 April 2011

We used to live in a world of binary distinctions – right and wrong, protestant and catholic, rich and poor, black and white – and so it went on simplifying the world so that we could know where we stood and what was what and who was who. But while it was comfortable to see the world in these terms it was also misleading and led us to be simplistic in our understanding of the complexities of it all.

So too were we very simplistic in education with the old binary distinction between “academic” and “vocational”. When you reached a certain point in your schooling, the end of primary schooling, you had choices to make. Did you enrol in a secondary course that was academic, or general or vocational and if it was vocational was it technical, commercial or home science? The last choice was easily determined on gender lines. And sometimes the choice meant that school or this school until, that is, they abolished technical high schools.

There was an element of the arbitrary about the point when you made these decisions – it once was when you had gained Proficiency which was the qualification at the end of Standard 6. (Who said standards were a new idea?) But over the years it simply became social progression, you had done your time in primary and now you went to secondary.

But there was logic about making decisions of the kind we were asked to make at about that age. Most systems asked students at about the age of 13 to start to identify a track through secondary education and onto future qualifications and employment.

The distinction between academic and vocational has little status attached to it in the community generally for we had not yet learned to look down on the trades.

The early years of heading towards the trades involved continued learning in the key skill areas of English and Maths and in Social Studies. In fact under the old AAVA system all technical students undertook instruction in “Communications English”. I recall teaching an evening class back I think in the 1970s in Communications English and that the class included a huge range of skills from the raw youngster starting off on an apprenticeship through to a university graduate now undertaking a NZ Certificate in Science and everything in between. They learnt to write a report on the rip snorter saw!

Education systems in the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Germany and many others have never turned away from the offering of options at about age 13 for students to continue. But a difference is that the courses are both academic and vocational. The applied learning in technical areas is alongside the academic learning in language, mathematics and civics, perhaps even languages. That is how those systems maintain a flexibility that allows students to shift from one track to another if they so wish later on.

To characterise one area of study as academic rather than vocational defies the facts. Even the most theoretical discipline is headed towards a vocation, sometimes directly and sometimes after a post-graduate course. And what is more vocational than preparing to be a medical doctor? The process of becoming a lawyer or an engineer is the process of entering a particular vocation.

It is also a great mistake to then think of technical / vocational study as non-academic when it quite clearly involves a considerable degree of academic study. In fact we would do well to value the academic nature of all study and to put far greater emphasis on the development of literacy and numeracy in the primary school so as to give all young people some choice when they enter secondary level work.

What chance do students have at anything when their academic preparation is poor? They have no choice. Academic preparation is necessary for all children and they simply must be brought to an adequate standard by about that critical age of 12 or 13 years. Failure in the secondary school is very significantly the result of this not having been done with too many students.

Seeing technical and vocational subjects as an “easy” or “soft” option is foolhardy if it leads us to believe that students can undertake courses in those areas without academic preparation.

The old world is gone; all students must have those academic foundations so as to ensure sound vocational pathways, albeit at a university, or in a polytechnic, perhaps with a private provider and sometimes it will be on the job. Multiple pathways are required to see that those vocational options are there and can articulate seamlessly with a wide range of students.

I think we will return to seeing the shift from primary to secondary school as a significant shift in the purpose of education – the first academic and the second vocational. But that would be a big shift and a long way from the simple worlds of the past.



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Pathway-ED: Do we need standards for professional discussions?

Stuart Middleton
14 April 2011

There is a lot of talk these days about reporting. Most public is the debate about National Standards. The subtlety of most of it is lost on the public that includes parents and grandparents who simply continue to be confused by public statements which trumpets out that Group A or Association B are “opposed to National Standards”. At one level this is Gilbertian and to argue that schools will not report on a child’s standard of achievement because of issues they claim to have with a government brings a new dimension to the word “professional”.

I have some questions about this:

  • Do parents wish to know or even perhaps have a right to know this information?
  • Has this been done effectively and diligently in the past?
  • If the current system of National Standards is flawed, then who would you expect to be able to design a better approach – dentists, panel beaters or school principals and teachers?
  • Why have Principals not embraced the intention of National Standards and come up with a better approach?

 The intent of the government is clear – parents have a need and a right to know how their children are doing. Schools are good at assessment and evaluation (this is constantly stated by the Minister) but less good at communicating to parents about this information.

The other members of the ESES (English-Speaking Education Systems) Group have decided to go down a testing route and there are serious issues with this that are well-known and are becoming apparent. New Zealand has chosen a reporting route. The spokesperson of the principals who told national radio that “we were adopting this system just as other countries were dropping it” simply didn’t know what those other countries were doing nor did he appreciate the critical differences.

Some years ago I wrote about an analysis I had done of all the school reports that a single child had received over thirteen years from his various schools. I can reveal now that the child was me. My parents received almost no information about my academic growth and progress. The single exception was a Form 4 English teacher who stated that “Stuart writes quite well.”  A plethora of test results, the assignment of As and Bs and Cs all without much explanation, had to do.

As a result I suspect that my parents focussed on the things they understood – behaviour, politeness, enthusiasm, and so on. They beamed with pleasure when those were As or Bs and any discussion of reports that took place simply ended with their conclusion that there was room for improvement. I never received a gift for outstanding achievement or “passing” this that or the other. You went to school for a purpose – to learn things – and the teachers were trusted to do what they had to do to see that done. But that was a simpler time when teachers were trusted and the relationship with a community much less fraught. Parents sent you to schools and teachers did what they were best at doing. Trouble at school meant trouble to the power2 at home.

It’s much more complex these days. For a variety of reasons there is less trust in the system to work its magic with all children as the evidence grows that there is significant failure matched only by marginal and incremental improvements in achievement, there is a discontinuity between education and employment, there is a generation or a fairly large group of parents and caregivers who themselves are dislocated from the process. It is very much harder for everyone wrapped up in this equation.

What we do need is to nail the issue of reporting to parents and caregivers – National Standards or some better system if the principals and the schools they represent can come up with one. Bland refusal at the first fence is not enough.

What we do not need is increased confusion in the community. Eventually we have to have parents centrally involved in the decisions about educational pathways for their children. On what basis are they to make these life-critical decisions, provide guidance to the ones they love most dearly and, in a system committed to equity, be able to do all this with the effectiveness of other members of the community?

This week the legal profession went public in a discussion of legal aid. Compare the style of this discussion with that of national standards from the different professions’ perspectives.


Talk-ED: What are we fighting for?

Stuart Middleton
11  April 2011

There has been a lot of media swill lately in New Zealand about bullying at school. Now, I must immediately reveal that I think I was bullied at school. It happened like this. A lunch time tussle got a little out of hand and Jacob, one of my best mates, and I ended up in a situation that of it was a game of rugby would have been called “willing”.

The next day Jacob informed me that I had “broken his arm”, an allegation that I was too ignorant, simple and scared to challenge. He went on to inform me that “his father would be coming around” (I understood clearly just where he would be coming around to) and that I would subsequently be sent to jail. I accepted this at face value and plunged into deep despair.

I lived in grim anticipation of the visit of Jacob’s father and was now clearly in a situation of psychological bullying. About a week later I arrived home from school and Mum had visitors in the front room. I went in and as expected took part in polite conversation until I saw, out the window, Jacob’s father cycling along our street. I fell to the floor as if being attacked by an Al Qaeda squad only to turn and sheepishly look up at my Mum and her friends. “What are you doing dear?” Mum said. I beat a hasty retreat out of there.

Now that was bullying!

But the events we see in the media these days are not bullying, they are criminal assault, they are doing grievous bodily harm, they are the robbery, humiliation and degradation of others. That they are captured on mobile phones does not diminish the criminality of the actions of these thugs in school uniforms. That they are happening in schools does not make them mere bullying rather than criminal acts.

So it was somewhat astonishing to open a newspaper to read a shock horror story that a relatively small number of primary school students have been suspended or expelled from school because of behaviors’ that cannot be contained within the context of a school. Make no bones about it – these are the new thugs. These intolerable young ones are to our times what the mod, rockers, bodgies and thugs were to the sixties.

If people don’t like it they should do something about it.

And that means a national trans-Tasman effort to produces a less violent environment in our communities. This means new responsibilities for sportspeople, new commitment to zero tolerance for violence in schools, renewed effort to moderate the behavior of people in bars, on the streets and in the homes. In other words, a community that will not accept behavior that simply cannot be tolerated in a school – that must be the standard.

If our schools are supported by the community in this way, then the benefits are there for everyone. Bullying in schools, violent behavior by school-aged students outside the schools and other unacceptable behaviours are a matter for all the community not just schools.

On the other hand, the statement of a New Zealand principal after two girls from his school had allegedly beaten up an old man in a shopping precinct that the worrying aspect of the matter was not only that they were of school age and in uniform but that they were girls was not very helpful.

Was the implication of his statement a suggestion that had they been boys it might have been understandable or perhaps even acceptable?

Sadly, given prevailing attitudes of the community, it might well have been.



To get more information and to register visit:   or contact   [email protected]




An Invitation


Manukau  Institute  of  Technology
Centre for Studies in Multiple Pathways

We invite you to a National Symposium

The interface between secondary school and tertiary has become a focus as New Zealand seeks to extend educational success to a wider group and to higher levels. This has led to the policies and developments which are exploring new ways of working. This symposium will offer an opportunity for educators to get up-to-date information about developments such as trades academies and service academies, other successful programmes such as tertiary high schools and Trades in School, and policies such as Youth Guarantee.

  • What is possible within existing frameworks?
  • How can secondary schools and tertiary providers work together?
  • What will bring more success to increased numbers of young people?

 The symposium will give participants an opportunity to meet and hear from those actually delivering innovative programmes at the interface between secondary and tertiary education, leaders in the fields of engagement and multiple pathways and from those at the leading edge of future development.

“Developing Pathways:  Leading students to success”
18th – 19th July 2011 at Manukau Institute of Technology


To get more information and to register visit:   or contact   [email protected]



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Talk-ED: The Rosy Glow of Shangri La or the Yellow Brick Road?

Stuart Middleton
4 April 2011

 I have just returned from the centennial celebration of my primary school, Frankton Primary School. I was invited to speak as a “past pupil” and that was a great honour as my Uncles had been foundation students, my Mother had started in 1915 and the four Middleton boys had been there throughout the 1940s and 1950s.

 I commented on the simplicity of the focus in earlier times. We went to school to learn to read and write and do our sums (and learn about the British Empire I had added) and we were blissfully unaware of educational failure is it existed in the school. This observation lead to many comments from others over lunch that I had captured something that rang a bell for them. As one former pupil said to me “”It might have been simpler then but we had so many more options about our schooling.”

 I thought about that as we drove home – there was an element of truth in what he had said. Despite an intention to provide young people with more options we had actually narrowed the possibilities through creating a one-pathway-for-all approach premised on the belief that a “highly educated” community required us to lift academic skills and keep students in school longer. What we know now is that it isn’t working and we are moving steadily towards historically high levels of educational failure partly explained by increasing access to education but this is distorted by the numbers of students who should be in education but who are not in employment, education or training.

 So the old-timer’s observation about “so many more opportunities back then” has an ironic touch to it when we consider the growing emphasis placed internationally on “multiple pathways”. Put simply this means a movement back towards “a multiyear comprehensive high school programme of integrated academic and technical study that is organised around a broad theme, interest area, or industry sector.” [1] This sees a focus on increasing the opportunities in Years 7 to 13 for career exploration and placing a huge emphasis on seamless education between career and technical education in high schools and instruction in post-secondary programmes. This requires a new and serious involvement of business and industry in relationships with educational delivery of career and technical education.

 A clear shift between what happened in the old days and the goal of today is the involvement of high schools in the development. Back then students simply left high school at age 15 and went into the opportunities that existed – workplace training both informal and formal, night classes and more recently polytechnic programmes. To this there were widespread opportunities to take up apprenticeships that were significantly work-based.

 Of course we now look down our educated noses at low-skilled and unskilled employment but for many young people this was always a first step into the world of post-school employment and was not always an ultimate destination.

 The irony is that career and technical pathways were removed from our schools largely to direct most students towards “academic” pathways where, it was thought, the knowledge wave would sweep all young people towards high-tech, “academic” futures. In the event it educationally drowned quite a number. Now there is growing evidence that career and technical education pathways can prepare students for post-secondary success in academic pathways at least as effectively.

 It could take universities quite some time to understand this as the old paradigm of “academic” on the one hand and “technical/vocational” on the other will prove to be hard to shift. Mutliple pathways require us to see that academic and vocational or academic and technical are not mutually exclusive terms.

 Some countries (Germany, Scandinavia for instance) provide a range of pathways that allow students to focus their learning on goals that are heading towards a future that is academic (usually a university course) or technical (trades etc) and have little difficulty in allowing students to move between pathways as aspirations change or aptitudes become more apparent. This is made easier by the continuation of a core set of studies in language, mathematics, civics, and digital skills Perhaps the issue in countries that are now in strife (the English-speaking five) is that they combined the dominant restrictive academic pathway with specialisation that was simply too early. And to some extent this was exacerbated by the level of literacy and mathematic skills that students brought with them into the high school.

 So there is much talk about “multiple pathways” and we are starting to focus in New Zealand on the provision of such a set of varied options for young people. The development of trades academies, service academies, programmes that combine school and workplace, or school and tertiary collaborative programmes, new developments such as tertiary high schools and suchlike are all first steps towards a new future for students.

And will it be worth it? It is early days but results from one multiple pathway programme that started last year suggest that it will. National NCEA 2010 pass rates were announced this week and showed that 75% of Year 11 students who sat NCEA, passed Level 1. Comparing these national results to the NCEA results for this multiple pathways programme is salutary. Students were selected for the programme on the basis that they, their caregivers and their school agreed that they were unlikely to get success were they to continue, possibly even disengaging from education completely.

In this multiple pathways programme, 70% of Year 11 students passed (compared with 75% nationally). But this multiple pathways programme achieved a Level 1 pass rate of 80% for Maori students (compared to 61% nationally) and a pass rate of 71% for Pasifika students (compared to 54%).

In addition to these results, the multiple pathways students were not lock-stepped into the equation that locks NCEA levels into school years. Of those gaining NCEA Level 1 in the multiple pathways programme, 66% also gained additional Level 2 credits (range 2-24) and 95% gained additional Level 3 credits (range 4-8).

In addition to these stunning successes, 25% of the students who gained NCEA Level 1 qualified as well to enter an industry-recognised diploma programme in their second year across a range of career and technical disciplines.

 This is what a multiple pathways approach is all about – different routes to student success.

1. Multiple Pathways to Student Success, California Department of Education, Sacramento, 2010

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