Skip to content

Month: June 2011

Talk-ED: Hanging washing out in public

Stuart Middleton
27 June 2011

I have long been interested in School Journals and from time to time idly scroll through what is available on TradeMe with the result that I have some interesting publications.

A School Journal from 1908 gives a glimpse of the times and it would be hard to mount an argument that relevance and a reflection of students’ lives was essential if learning was to occur based on the evidence of the content. But then again schooling hadn’t assumed the critical role of responsibility for the development of the person at that point in time. It was much more focussed on knowing things.

In the 1930’s the Journals had quite a lot of very patriotic material and indeed there is one I have that is a tribute to the dead King. Long live the King!

The Janet and John Series, which was the staple diet of my “reading programme” when I was little is remarkable for the stilted and contrived stories, the lack of awareness as to gender stereotypes, and much more. But we learned to read with them so perhaps that didn’t matter.

But the latest addition to this little collection is exciting. Who would have thought that a School Bulletin could be the subject of national controversy? But in 1964 that was exactly the case. A bulletin, well technically the series was styled as A Bulletin for Schools and served as supplementary reading material, was published, distributed to schools, and then withdrawn under orders from the Minister of Education and all copies destroyed.

Washday at the Pa, was a reflection of life in a rural setting of a Maori family that lived in a house, “near Taihape”, that was rudimentary in its services, unpretentious in its quality and something of a shock to the urban sensitivities of many. The family went about the daily life in such a setting with the kids doing what kids do, Mum coping with the demands of a household and Dad out on the farm looking after the sheep. It was a real house, a real family and the photographs were very real indeed.

In itself the simplicity of the story and the photographs that were a feature of it has a charm. Both were the work of Ans Westra, then a young writer and photographer who was well-known through her work in the publication Te Ao Hou, the publication of the then Maori Affairs Department. She was also the author (and photographer) of an earlier bulletin about village life in Tonga, Viliami of the Friendly Islands.

But the newspapers sensed controversy and this led to the Maori Women’s Welfare League discussing the publication at its conference and collectively objecting to it. One participant was reported at the time to have felt that “the living conditions shown are not typical of Maori life, even in remote areas. There are very few Maori people living in such conditions anywhere in New Zealand.”

Within a week the Minister of Education ordered that all 38,000 copies of the bulletin be withdrawn and destroyed. Well obviously they weren’t all destroyed because I now have a copy of the bulletin. That wasn’t the end of the story. The Caxton Press, the well regarded publishing house in Christchurch, later produced a version of the bulletin for the wider public and this seems to have been motivated by both the public’s right to have access to this controversial publication and an assessment of the inherent quality of it. The author made one or two minor changes which in themselves are interesting – the brand of the soap being used in one picture is no longer obscured and the rather mischievous young lad is now allowed to be seen puffing on a “cigarette” that he had made out of a lolly paper. These images were presumably too corrupting for classroom use.

Perhaps of more interest is one further change. In the original publication there is a photograph of the almost completed new house that the family was going to shift to under the government’s re-housing scheme. The politics of the decision to first include and then exclude this picture in the two versions of the publication we can only wonder about.

The allegation that the bulletin was “not typical” is interesting. Was it because that portrayal of the family showed living conditions that were worse than “typical” or better? The discussions never made that clear. And should reading material put before students be “typical” – the Janet and John Series of readers were certainly not that. Nor were some of the later Ready to Read Series (such as the one in which Mummy and the two children, one boy and one girl, wave goodbye to Daddy as he takes off in the Viscount!).

What seems to have been central to the withdrawal was the role of the Maori Women’s Welfare League and one can only wonder whether there was any process in those days for consultation about material being produced for schools? After the event discussion doesn’t work as well as consultation prior.

So, all in all, it is a good little story, this publication and withdrawal and destruction of a good little story. It is interesting to speculate as to how such a controversy would have played out nowadays or even if there would be a controversy.

Leave a Comment

Talk-ED: On the ball, on the ball, on the ball!

Stuart Middleton
20 June 2011
I guess that anyone who has spent a little time as a teacher knows that the inability of students not to concentrate is a problem for them and for us. For some it seems typical and for others intermittent. Thankfully there are some students who seem simply to have a never-challenged capacity to concentrate. What a joy they are!

Just back from the US and I am wondering whether it is not only students that lose their concentration but entire education systems.

The USA has all the education issues of any English speaking country with many scaled up by quite a degree and with huge numbers of students dropping out and so on. What was the big issue facing the system last week? Well, it was whether or not the athletic programmes in colleges would go broke. The athletic programmes include college football (gridiron that is), basketball, baseball, soccer, and so on. Make no mistake about it, these programmes are huge business.

USA Today was able to collect information on 218 colleges and those tertiary institutions spent $US6.2 billion (let me repeat that – $6.2 billion) on their sports programme. And the shock of last week was that some of the budgets just weren’t going to be large enough. Sports budgets have been subsidised to quite an extent and these subsidies have increased by 20% since 2006. This at a time when state budgets are in extreme difficulty and expenditure on education is being cut generally and seriously.

It’s all a bit crazy – mind you this is happening in a sports system that can pay a college basketball coach over $3 million dollars a year and one college’s football team ran up over $13k in parking tickets that were paid for by the college.

The University of Oregon spend about $78 million on its sports. It is big business but what is more important, the business of sports or the business of education? What matters, getting the indicators heading north instead of south or the ball games? When there is great disparity between communities in terms of educational achievement, should college sport be allowed to capture the concerns of the community or is it acting to obscure real issues?

So I get home and discover that ball games are at the top of public discussion, not for the first time but certainly at a level of seriousness that seems to be escalating. Have we only the tragic consequences of excess among a few to concentrate on? When I hear that schools report with pride that at their school ball, sniffer dogs and breathalysers and security guards will all ensure that something can proceed safely – I know that we have taken our eyes off the ball that matters. A detox room at a school ball? Have we at last gone mad! We rail against the picture of schools in the US with security guards and detection devices at the school gate in order to make education safe while we surely are no better!

If this is what it takes, then let’s abandon the balls without hesitation. And if parents want to put on booze-driven events, let them. No-one is coming out of the current parlous state with either credit or peace of mind, what is meant to create pleasure seems simply to be creating pain.

There was a time when once the school ball had purpose. Dancing lessons would precede the event and young people would be treated to an event that was for most, well in advance of that which they could hope to enjoy in the ordinary course of their daily lives. That is no longer true. School balls as an event are now something of an anachronism – adults don’t even go to balls these days. Charity black tie dinners might be the closest thing and they bear only passing resemblance to a ball.

There are a lot of other things that the community should be invited to be worried about in education – it requires no catalogue from me for readers to know this. Instead by our own actions we invite the community at large to be distracted by these awful events.

On the one hand, we are asked to believe that there is tragic pressure on football and baseball in one system in which the disengagement of many and the failure or more should be the top priority. While in another system the tragic consequences of ghastly social behaviour obscures the fact that most students exhibit sound values and behaviour and perform as required to by their schools to such an extent that we can hold our heads high in international company.

In one system, state and federal governments struggle to direct the money to the things that matter in education. In another system, ours, we struggle to keep the focus of the community on things that matter.

In both instances, the ball season encourages us to inflict damage on ourselves.

Leave a Comment

Pathways-ED: Access isn't a doorway, it's a pathway

Stuart Middleton
16 July 2011

I have just finished attending a conference in San Diego that looked at success and retention in higher education. It was a good collection of folk from a number of countries and the presentations were a mix of the earnest through to the thought provoking. I did a couple of things including taking part in a panel. I got called to account by a fellow by focussing on “access” in one of my comments.

“In our country we have excellent access to higher education. It is just that a number of young people are not sufficiently prepared academically to get into the institutions.” I just had to firmly but nicely point out that this hardly constituted good access. The old problem is still there – access is thought of in terms of getting in the door.

I much prefer, and I commented along the lines (and received support) that “access” is best thought of as an outcome of education. What does your education give you access to? That is the key question and the only measure of access.

To pick up again that little three dot theme from the last couple of weeks – I promise to give it a rest after this – it is worth  thinking of access and early childhood education as a starting point and therefore appropriately useful to retain an “access into” concept. That is why it is so crucial that this access is not allowed to become simply an accident of birth or where your Mum happens to live. That would be a cruel punishment to visit on a child.

But schooling is another matter. Primary and secondary schooling is surely based on an assumption that both will give to a young person access into something else. If a young person cannot progress through the system because they have not been taught in primary school to read or to do sums then their access to secondary education will have been severely curtailed by their primary school experience.

The point to which a young person is taken by their secondary schooling will in fact be their access to whatever is to follow. Access to postsecondary education, a career, a family sustaining income, to the skills of being able to contribute as a positive and productive citizen will in large measure be a direct reflection of access accruing from secondary schooling.

Then success at a postsecondary level and all that follows will again be a matter of access, to a profession, to a career, to being able to earn money and much more money and so on.

Placing “access” into the position of being a measure of education success rather than simply saying that they have had good access if they can walk through the school gates and later into the hallowed halls regardless of the success at each stage is a much more productive way if thinking about it.

Less controversial is thinking of “equity” in much that same way. Equity is an outcome and a measure of how fair and effective has each person’s education been. It is not equity if having given a diverse range of people the same opportunity but with uneven levels of successful outcomes. Equity is when all members of our community, whether they be rich or poor, of whatever ethnicity….Wait a minute, someone else said all this in New Zealand.

They were right.

“Access” and “equity”, still the biggest challenges we face.

Leave a Comment

Talk-ED: Big issues in the world of the little ones

Stuart Middleton
13 June 2011

From San Francisco

I’m over in the USA catching up with colleagues working in the secondary / tertiary interface area. California is experiencing pretty tough times politically and economically with budgets under real pressure and education budgets taking a hit. It’s worse here than it is at home.

It always surprises me when we get chatting how much we share in common with our American colleagues. But it wasn’t in the area of secondary / tertiary interfaces that we found an item of shared interest that dropped out of a conversation. It was with regard to the little ones under five years of age. We concluded that both our systems were under some pressure due to much the same issue – confusion between day care and early childhood education.

Childcare is where a young little one is looked after with care and to a high standard by people qualified to provide such care. They attend to their creature needs and see that they are happy and relaxed and getting along well with their peers and with adults. Of course some learning takes place – no-one has yet discovered how to stop little ones learning thank goodness, but it is not the structured teaching and learning of an early childhood education programme. These childcare centres require people with the requisite skills and they need to be closely regulated and controlled. But that are not early childhood education centres.

Early childhood education is structured teaching in ways that are appropriate to 3 and 4 year olds in areas that are appropriate and methods that reflect the critical concern for non-cognitive behaviours. There is an element of school-readiness in this and it is in addition to the care of little ones who remain very much in need of a safe environment under the watch of highly trained teachers.

Our current 1-5 system is seriously confused about these distinctions and the boundaries are so blurred that “care” and “education” mean much the same thing.

Over the past 10 days in this blog we have dealt with the three dots of a successful start to lifelong learning – two years of quality early childhood education, graduating from high school and gaining a postsecondary qualification. Currently New Zealand is doing quite well with the first of these until the provisions of quality early childhood education (two years of 15 hours per week) is scrutinized in urban areas of high Maori and Pasifika populations. Access is unacceptably low in many of these areas and until we get all three and four year olds into quality early childhood education for 15 hours a week over two years, the resources for pre-school care and education should be directed to that end.

I applaud the scrapping of the twenty hours on non-means tested care/education and applaud the scrutiny that the resources are now going to be put under. Yes, I have sympathy for those who need the twenty free hours to work in order to supplement their incomes but that is another issue. The ECE resource must be used according to principles of access for little ones not the size of their parents mortgages and rationed according to rules around universal ECE access. All three and four year olds must be in an early childhood centre for two days a week for the two years prior to their starting school. When that is achieved and cemented in place a more liberal approach might be able to be taken.

Of course there is nothing to stop centres both private and state offering child care for those younger but this must not be at the expense of 3 and 4 year olds getting their early childhood education and therefore this becomes the priority for state funding. There is probably enough to go around.

I have had final responsibility for early childhood centres as a secondary principal, as a senior manager in a teachers college, at a polytechnic and most recently as Chairman of Directors of a company that ran among its many activities, five early childhood centres. I know how the funding levers work and how they act in a perverse manner to achieve objectives that are not those of offering quality early childhood education to all three and four year olds for the two years before school. I know what the levels of trained staff do to the income streams. It all needs looking at.

The early years have become the last bastion of funding by volume and the results have been no more acceptable than they ever proved to be at other levels.

Leave a Comment

Pathways-ED: Foundations of success

Stuart Middleton
9 June 2011

I failed with some style in my first year at university. My twin brother and I were the first in our family to attend university and we took failure in our stride just as easily as we took success. Oh well, that is what happens we supposed. We bounced back and I have long since described the four year approach to the first three year degree as strategic and based on the view that allowing the concrete to set well in the foundations led to many a good building.

It is a complex business being the first. My subject choices through secondary school were relatively random and the only assistance I got at home was a single comment at the beginning of the third year secondary when my Mum said that “Dad wonders if you should be taking a subject that is related to getting a job.” This was when I determined that I would do music as a subject – at that point the only music I had was what was learned in a brass band having missed out on tuition on the bagpipes for various reasons which would have allowed us to follow in our father’s footsteps or is that fingerprints (with grace notes)?

I can recall no discussion about careers around the dinner table or indeed about subject choice. We selected subjects on the basis of what we thought we could manage and what we thought we might like. So Form 5, the School Certificate year and here I was taking English, mathematics, Latin, Music and French. I passed School Certificate in the days when you needed 200 marks in your best four subjects including English with 32 marks to spare. I wondered if I should perhaps ease back a little to avoid burnout.

Latin got dropped in subsequent years. So when it came to university, subject choice for the first year was based on what? Well that was simple; I wanted to go to the new fledging university in Hamilton (still a branch of Auckland University and only in my second year to become the University of Waikato) and had no appetite for leaving Hamilton at that point. So I chose subjects from the literal handful that they offered – French, English and History, declining to do geography. Yes, that’s it folks when it came to choosing university subjects in Hamilton in 1964!

It was in History where I came unstuck. Our Mother was very interested in history but it was New Zealand history and there I was becoming acquainted with Japanese, German and US history. And having not been taught at school to write a history essay my efforts were what might be described as hesitant. I blame no-one for this because it simply was how things were.

You see, there was never any doubt about both the job I was headed towards and the fact that I would get one. I had applied for and secured what was called in those days a Teaching Studentship – you got paid wages to go to university to be a teacher. Yes someone decided that at the age of 17 I was likely to be satisfactory teacher which was either an act of faith or a sign of desperation for teachers which were in very short supply in the 1960’s. We were bonded year for year to teach at the end of our education and training.

So it was with an incomplete degree that I headed off to teachers college in Auckland. I arrived late to be given a stern talking to by the principal of the day (I had been completing National Service in the army so he was on shaky grounds). I was given a ticking off by a respected principal of a prestigious school when I went there on teaching practice – what do you think of coming here with an incomplete degree? My suggestion that he should think of it as a BA -1 was clearly not a path to pursue. At the teachers college I was advised sternly (for these were pretty stern days) that I must enroll in Education at Auckland University. I could see no sense in this as I was at Teachers College where I had a not unreasonable expectation that they would deal with Education on the way through. I enrolled in Anthropology 1.

Of all the papers I did, these were the best. This was the only time in my first degree that New Zealand was mentioned. Maori Studies had progressed only as far as appointing a lecturer and Anthropology dealt with those topics. Dr Ranganui Walker taught a course that introduced us to dimensions of Maori, both modern and ancient, that my education had studiously declined to do up to that point. Rev. Bob Challis taught a course on Pacific Islanders in New Zealand and opened our eyes to the phenomenon of migration to New Zealand. Dr Les Groube in the physical anthropology course took us up to Orakei Basin for an archaeological dig on the pa site there. And there was a course on Aboriginal society in Australia. This stuff was close to home and excited me more than anything else I had studied. There was also a course on monarchies in African societies that I suppose we did because of a lecturer’s PhD studies.

It was the only paper in my first degree in which I scored an A pass. Finishing on a high note has always been a good philosophy in study as well as sport and most other things!

By the end of my first degree I no longer thought of myself as a first generation student. Twelve of the fourteen members from the next generation of our family completed a university degree. We simply expected them to succeed.

1 Comment

Talk-ED: Episode 3 – The Destiny of Destination

Stuart Middleton
7 June 2011

Folks, today we wrap up the continuing story of the three dots. Those critical markers in education. The milestones along the educational journey to a bright future in which there are jobs and income, and civic participation, and better health and housing and happiness. Not just for some, but for all.


Dot 3: Postsecondary Qualification

The first step achieved, two years of quality early childhood education, and then the second knocked off, NCEA Level 2 in the bag. There remains only one more step to ensure a life of relative success in education and all that flows from that – the gaining of a postsecondary qualification

Of course, in the long run, the level of qualification that is obtained will have a relative benefit in terms of money. Certificate, diploma, degree, postgraduate qualification and doctorate will all brings rewards but the highest has some relationship to the level of the qualification. But the biggest gap is between those who do not have a post secondary qualification and those who do.

And from the countries point of view, any postsecondary qualification will be of benefit to the country. Most importantly, getting one postsecondary qualification could lead to getting a higher qualification. A surprising fact is that if young school leavers have no gap between getting their school leaving qualification and success with a postsecondary qualification at any level they are very likely to go on to a high qualification.

Why is it beyond us to take note of these simple facts and make them our goals. This country has the best teachers in the world, something obscured a bit by the whingers and those frightened of change, but the fact remains – when New Zealand teachers get it right they get it better than anyone else.

So let’s go for it and make sure that each and every young person gets to the postsecondary qualification. Then it is over to the tertiary sector. But don’t underestimate the challenge that this would be. The most robust education statistic over the last sixty years is the fact that in English speaking countries a little under half of those who start a postsecondary qualification actually finish it. That is, remember, only half of those who start a qualification!

So we had better start acting in tertiary education thinking more about the student and more about how a co-ordinated network of provision could provide success for each and every student. This will require a step change in tertiary institutions – it is, folk, all about the students not about the institutions. We need concerted action to see that students are in the right course and flexibility to react professionally when they are not. Parity of esteem should be about not how we see each other but how we see each student.

Until New Zealand catches up, the greatest need will be for low level programmes and institutions that specialise at that level, being allowed to grow to cater for this. Over time – 15 to 20 years? – the growth should shift to those catering for higher levels as failure at school and at low levels of postsecondary programmes slowly disappear from our midst. Is this just a pipe dream?

The three dots connected would provide the basis for a targeted education system that sees a well-qualified community develop a skill-rich economy that puts New Zealand where it belongs. There is agreement that until the long tail of educational failure and disadvantage disappears, New Zealand will only fire on three cylinders. Wealth generated by the qualified and the skilled will, if there continues to be inaction on these matters, simply be soaked up in providing for those who take and do not generate that wealth.

This set of goals can do the job:

1.  Each and every New Zealand pre-school child will have access to two years of quality early childhood education.

2.  Each and every young person in New Zealand will graduate from secondary school with at least NCEA Level 2.

3.  Each and every young adult in New Zealand will complete a postsecondary qualification

Why are these goals appropriate and important?

Evidence supports the view that when a young child has access to quality early childhood education (i.e. 15 hours per week for two years with qualified teachers), he or she will not only be equipped to start the journey through school but also be advantaged throughout their entire education.

Finishing and graduating from secondary school with the recognised school leaving qualification (and this is NCEA Level 2 in New Zealand) makes a school leaver highly likely to proceed to a postsecondary qualification.

Finally, completing a postsecondary qualification is the marker of a potential lifelong learner. When that postsecondary qualification is gained without a break after completing secondary school the student will in all likelihood go on to a qualification at a higher level.

Can we do it?  Yes, we can.  Must we do it?  Yes, we must.  Will we do it? Well …

Just close your eyes and imagine a world in which each young person is unleashed on the future.  Dr Seuss in his wonderful book Oh, the Places you’ll Go!

You have brains in your head
You have feet in your shoes
You can steer yourself
Any direction you choose.

1 Comment

Pathways-ED: Episode 2 – Crossing the Prairie

Stuart Middleton
2 June 2011

Folks this is the continuing story of the three dots. Those critical markers in education. The milestones along the educational journey to a bright future in which there are jobs and income, and civic participation, and better health and housing and happiness. Not just for some, but for all.


Dot 2: Schooling

Having got off to good start in Early Childhood Education (and three cheers to the ECE Taskforce that has recommended the ending of the untargeted 20 free hours) it’s off to school. I do not know any young person who doesn’t want to go to school at the age of five – why does that not last for the 13 years we would like them to be in school? The second dot is the successful completion of at least NCEA Level 2. Students who complete the school leaving qualification are likely to go on to complete a postsecondary qualification.

Schooling is divided into Primary and Post-Primary for a good reason. Primary is what comes first and post-primary builds on that. The use of the term secondary is relatively modern (indeed the NZPPTA preserves this useful reminder of the connection between the two in its name).

What is the role of the primary system? Well. I don’t think that it is very complex. It is to put in place an array of basic skills that lay the foundation for further education and training. Becoming a lifelong learner starts at primary school and those who fail to put into place those skills have no chance of becoming a lifelong learner – it’s that important.

What are the skills? As Dame Edna would say : “Call me old-fashioned Possums, but……” Surely the essential skills of language have to be at the top of the list. Reading, writing, listening, speaking are central skills in anything. If you can read you can do anything, learn anything. If you can write you interface with the world in so many different ways. Listening and speaking are keystone skills in team activity, working with others, being engaged with others, taking an active role as a citizen. Lack of these skills is crippling and limiting.

We wouldn’t even consider all those strange concepts such as financial literacy, computer literacy, food literacy and so on if everyone had high level language skills which these days are wrapped up usefully in the term “literacy”.

Sums, maths, numbers, numeracy, call it whatever you like but students who are good at this are well-equipped to tackle so many other things. The skills are fundamental. If you have to learn the tables to do this then just get on with it. If you have to do 20 mental arithmetic questions each day to increase ease and facility with numbers then do it.

It would be good if students developed some sense and understanding of the country in which they lived but it would have to be authentic – the modern, diverse country they live in not the world of Julius Vogel. Slowly the history of our nation would come into play and then there would develop an understanding of other countries. Primary school is also the place at which an ease with Te Reo Maori could usefully be developed.

Probably there is a need for a much narrower curriculum focus than that currently pursued but that might seem to lose too many valuable things that primary schools do. It will boil down to priorities.

When it comes to post-primary education there is clearly continuation of the development of language and of numeracy with an increasing emphasis on the ways language is used for varying purposes. It was always a disappointment that the notion of language across the curriculum enjoyed such a short life-span in secondary schools. Its intent was good but its execution was never able to overcome the silos of subjects.

As students approach the end of Year 10, the knowledge that they need to have around careers, vocational pathways and suchlike becomes central to their formulating a plan for intelligent subject choice and emphases through their senior schooling. So we are probably looking to start this process as early as Year 8 and perhaps even earlier. The goal of the senior secondary school must be to equip each and every student with the skills, knowledge and competencies required to proceed seamlessly to post-secondary study.

As with primary schools, doing less with increased focus and greater integration is probably a useful catchcry in reforming the secondary school curriculum.

The school system is central to a well-performing education system. Alternative programme and interventions can only operate at the edges – the bulk of students will and indeed must succeed in the school system. Schools cannot do everything. They are not resourced to do everything. It is timely for the school system to decide what it does best (and there is some evidence that it is in international terms a pretty good best) and get on with that.

Tune in next Monday for the last instalment in this story of connecting the dots.

 Episode 3 on Thursday:      The Destiny of Destination

Leave a Comment