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Month: July 2012

Talk-ED: Going for gold in teaching and learning

Stuart Middleton
30 July 2012

Let the games begin!

The Olympics have started again with an opening ceremony awash with the usual clichés about how taking part is more important than winning. If this was on a billboard then just to one side would be an emphatic “Yeah, right!”

Sport has a very close relationship with education and plays a big part in schools. I personally do not think that enough emphasis is placed on the role of sport in education.

We all know that playing sport is a very good way for young people to grow in a healthy way and to learn elements of team work, reliability, personal responsibility and the like. It is also an important part of developing pride in a school.

It is my view that top secondary school sport should be organised on a national basis, played in conferences, televised and lead to national results. Not all sport of course. That is not the real world. While Tiger and Adam battle it out on some prestigious golf course, countless millions of plodders chase the elusive little white ball around courses all over the world. No, I am talking about elite sport. There would continue quite a lot of sport at lower levels just as there is now.

Sport New Zealand might be much better off and have a greater impact and enjoy increased support by investing most of its money in promoting elite sport in secondary schools – athletics, swimming, rugby, football (both men and women), cycling, hockey, rowing and basketball would be a good place to start.

Then after the secondary school level national sports competitions were in place, attention could shift to developing a national “college sports” programme based on the eight universities and the six largest polytechnics. This would be a winner just as it is in the US. Quality sport played in conferences then culminating in the playoffs would be a much better bet than unseen school sport and struggling provincial efforts to attract interest.

Above these levels the national elite ranks would emerge and the top players would proceed into the increasingly franchised scene that is top sport.

The point about college sport was driven home to me one cold night at UC Berkeley. It was half-time in a football game and a parade of the universities top sports teams was taking place. The commentator assured the audience of 80,000 that “no sports person is parading tonight who hasn’t maintained an 8.5 grade point average.” There is a connection between quality in sports and quality in the classroom. There is a connection between pride in the sports and pride in the school. 

Teachers carry a cruel burden of having not only to maintain excellence in terms of teaching programmes but also are expected to maintain the sports programme. Both matter but little investment goes into the sports programme compared with the teaching programme.

If resources for sports were deployed much more evenly across our schools, performance would also be much more even. It is not only the quality of the sports people that allows some schools to reach and maintain elite performance but also the size of the resource that is invested in those schools. A fair share of sports resources for all schools would see that sports talent and performance does not respect decile levels!

This would provide a lift for the entire school system as pride in school increased, as talent in sports crossed over to performance in the classroom.

Because , like the Olympic Games, when it comes to education it is not the taking part that matters as much as the winning. High performance in learning is also a matter of training, good preparation, sound coaching and putting together on the day as they say.

Making sports work for education can only benefit everyone. And getting serious about sports in schools and “colleges” (universities and large polytechnics) would add value to our system of institutionalised education which too often, like our sports, disappoints when it comes to results.


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Pathways-ED: E ngā Akoranga. Akohia te Reo nā te mea he oranga kei reira.


Stuart Middleton
26 July 2012


We often get greatest wisdom about education from people outside of education and the recent statement from Hon Tim Groser was just another instance of this.

“All New Zealand students should be learning te Reo Māori,” he said. No ifs no buts.

His reasoning was that in a global world that is multilingual we need a community that is linguistically able to operate with ease and comfort in a range of language settings. He is of course right in this.

Students who can and do learn French and German are also developing a language facility that has these characteristics but is less useful in terms of the fabric of Aotearoa New Zealand.

Bilingual brains are better brains and only a very small number of countries speak only one language. There is that old quip that if you speak many languages you are multilingual, if you speak two languages you are bilingual and if you speak one language you are English. There is some truth in this as the pattern of monolinguals is more aggressively present in English-speaking countries than in others. Well, that used to be true but it has been challenged by two key features of the world we live in.

There has been a world-wide resurgence of indigenous languages in that set of Anglophone countries. This phenomenon would have been unthinkable in the 1950s and 1960s when it was thought that speaking a language other than English was an educational handicap. We now rejoice in this country in Māori medium television and radio, in availability of te Reo Māori printed media, and in a younger generation which generally has an ease with the notion that New Zealand has two key languages and three official languages.

The young ones are very different in this respect from the older generations who still phone talkback radio to campaign about the signing of “two anthems” or write to the newspaper complaining when it has printed its masthead in te Reo Māori to mark the start of te wiki o te Reo Māori.

The other key change is the pervasive migration of it around the modern world. In New Zealand our language landscape has been greatly enriched by the presence of the languages of the Pacific, by languages from Asia and Europe and India and many other communities. We are the better for this and a student who has learnt a second language is more able (and willing) to tolerate other languages and even a little more disposed to relate to cultural difference. In short, the fabric of our community is improved when students learn a second language.

Migration has both enriched us by the importation of other languages but also challenged us. We must urgently address the issue of teaching mother tongue languages to our New Zealand linguistically different groups. Urgent in this regard is Cook Island Māori and Niuean. But Samoan, Tongan, and soon Chinese will be pressing for urgent attention. Why wait until language facility is lost before reacting?

But let’s deal with the question that the second language to be learnt should be Māori. Well, it makes sense. Many living languages are now used across the spectrum of daily life across New Zealand. That is not to say that each and every home uses it, far from it, but a student learning has to make very little effort to have contact with it. Furthermore, learning a second language is known to have an impact on ability with the first language.

Why is this? Well the act of learning a new language is the process of constantly asking the questions (to oneself): In what ways is this new language the same as or different from the language I know? In what ways does this language work that are different to the ways the language I know works?

If we want high levels of language ability in our community we need to have a goal that each and every student would learn a second language and In New Zealand the argument that this should be Māori is compelling. Now what about the question of how long should this learning continue. I would argue that it should continue for all 13 years of compulsory schooling after having started in pre-school. Language ability continues to develop and grow and the way to best help this is to be consciously studying two languages – for most students this would be English and Māori, for others it is best to be the community language of the home and English (e.g. Samoan and English, Tongan and English).

Back in the 1980s I was on a Form 6 & 7 English Syllabus Committee that proposed a language programme in which English was compared with Māori – the theory was that such a linguistic study would increase a student’s knowledge about language and have the added benefit of it being about two languages that were firmly bedded into New Zealand. There was wide support for it until the politicians got hold of it, aided and abetted by a small group of teachers who resisted change not only in this matter but in most. David Lange, PM and Minister of Education at the time, lost his nerve and sacked the committee. That made that language issue go away – or did it?

E ngā Akoranga.  Akohia te Reo nā te mea he oranga kei reira.


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Talk-ED: When yesterday was tomorrow and what do we do today?

Stuart Middleton
23 July 2012


I wonder if “tomorrow’s Schools” has become “Yesterday’s Schools”?

Back in 1989 when there was that big shake-up in the administration of the education system in the schooling sector, the government of the day was driven by some imperatives that were clear.

Treasury had led the thinking that education (like health) had become dominated by those working within it – “provider capture” was the way it was put – and that the system had become excessively bureaucratic. The report of a review group led by businessman Brian Picot confirmed this.

On to the scene came Caldwell and Spinks with their theories of the “self-managing school” and New Zealand implemented a system for the administration of education that was radical and unique. Well, almost implemented it. Several components never survived for one reason or another not made very clear at the time.

At the heart of this approach lay the Board of Trustees in each and every school that had a direct connection to central government. In effect, each and every school in New Zealand became the equivalent of a school district in the USA. Visitors from the US are still a little awestruck that such a bold step could have been taken and they wonder why!

The two components that never survived were the Community Education Forum and the Education Service Centre. These were intended to give a community a voice about education in that district and to have a little broader view of its administration than simply the single unit of the school.

It is now timely for a review of the organisation of school administration?

At a time when it seems as if District Health Boards are being asked to work closely together if not consider amalgamation, at a time when polytechnics are being directed to work together and amalgamate, at a time when polytechnic councils have been downsized to be slimmer and smaller, can we justify a system that requires over 2,500 boards involving nearly 19,000 trustees to run our school system?

Do they really “run” our schools? Or have we put in place a system that removes real power from schools and their communities?

Certainly the local board of each school can strut their stuff with the trappings of uniforms, web sites and physical facilities. Certainly the local boards can take on the appearance of keeping provider capture at bay. But do they really have an impact on learning? The evidence would suggest that the education system is performing at much the same level as it was in 1988 prior to the reforms. The shake-up in education administration has not led to a system that performs at a higher level.

And can we say that we still have a national system of education that delivers with equality to all students? This was the once proud boast for New Zealand.

The reforms led to more competition between schools and contributed to the real estate agents’ fervour about what constitutes a “good school”. This is not dampened in any way by school boards that are complicit in both arguing against “league tables” and boasting about their position on them (but only if it seems high enough). The guarantee that every primary school in New Zealand is good for young ones and that a parent can send their little one to any school with confidence is seemingly challenged. And that is tragically sad.

The emasculation of the community voice through the reform of education administration needs serious attention because it will be communities that will bring about improvements in school performance not bits of communities or artificial communities based on who can get to and into which school.

Perhaps we need to consider that there is a happy medium position somewhere between the individual school and the centre of government that reflects a district and enables that district to work together to lift educational performance, to ensure equity of provision in the schools and to provide a mechanism for governments to fund education on the basis of equitable outcomes and not by formulaic inputs.

The education districts could be based on the local/community boards of large regional councils (such as Auckland) where they exist, or on geographical cohesive units (in the case of a regional city), or on what seems a sensible arrangement in rural areas (I think of the cluster of schools in the Reporoa Valley for instance).

These districts need not become cumbersome from an administrative point of view but could work to produce solutions for the district rather than have the fragmentation of districts that results from focus of the school boards on one school and the focus of the central government on all schools – the two lens of micro-micro and macro-macro lack a granularity that keeps the greater good both in focus and in perspective.

Back in 1999 I wrote a paper that argued that the advent of Tomorrow’s Schools had not increased inequities in our system but had rather made them more explicit. I am not now sure that I was right.

What harm can come out of a review?


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Talk-ED: Pathways through the Pacific

Stuart Middleton
16 July 2012


Like many others I too have had a bit of a holiday. Well, more of a change of routine.

First I was pleased to host Gary Hoachlander, CE of ConnectEd in San Francisco. He is developing approaches to “linked learning” in which themes are driving programmes. It is similar to the our Vocational Pathways but more sophisticated in that the focus is clearly on professional and industrial sectors with significant sector-related content and work experience. But like our Vocational Pathways such pathways remain flexible. The New Zealanders who heard Gary speak were impressed with this glimpse of secondary education in the future, well now really.

The notion of “multiple pathways” is really catching on. As a concept it is rather simple. That is because the object of education is relatively simple – to take a young person from a state of being someone who does not know and cannot do the many things valued by society to a state of high competence in knowledge (of literature, values, philosophy, science, mathematics, and so on) and skills (of employment, citizenship, parenthood, and personal growth).

Having said that the simplistic view that there is only one way in which this can be achieved is increasingly challenged. The notion that all young people will thrive on a similar diet of education for fifteen or even twenty years defies the evidence that suggests that as education has become increasingly homogenous in the past thirty or so years it has become increasingly obvious that this one-way approach suits only some.

Systems all around the world are worried about the levels of drop out.  A Forum in Wellington two weeks ago on Multiple Pathways was told that 50% of 9th graders (our year ten) in major US cities drop out. Our own New Zealand evidence suggests that perhaps between the ages of 15 and 24 as much as up to 30% of people are dropping out of education and training leaving them without a level of skill and knowledge that will see them secure in their futures.

I was up in the Pacific during the week and each island nation I visited wanted to know more about Multiple Pathways. Across a wide range of settings, secondary schooling is not sustaining the interest and engagement of students. To be fair to secondary schools, this is not a recent phenomenon because it never has, or to put it more accurately , it has never been expected to. Until relatively recently (the mid to late 1970s, students had access to “multiple pathways” – opportunities both inside and outside of the school.

Offering technical and commercial courses in essence did what vocational pathways will seek to do but were a little more aggressive in the connection to employment. Leaving school at age 15 early and officially, to enter employment and generally with it opportunity for work-based training as well as education through night classes and technical institutes.

Technical and commercial and agricultural subjects were available in some schools, students left at age fifteen to continue in apprenticeships and other trade training options such as night school, cadetships, workplace learning and so on.

The Pacific nations are now facing the issues we face – how can they get students to stay in school, to achieve useful qualification to acceptable levels and then make a useful contribution to their island nation.

And the same principles apply there as they do here in New Zealand.

Some students simply need an earlier exposure to trades and applied education in order to both maintain momentum and to develop a purposeful attitude towards learning. Even in those small economies the links between schooling and what is possible after schooling finishes is critical. Some will proceed to further education and training, some will enter employment and others will return to the informal economy. The scale is different but the challengers of all this are as great.

But one thing is clear. Education systems that developed the comprehensive academic high school model as the staple diet of education and training are now faced with change. This includes the big anglophone systems and those that have followed them or have been encouraged to do so.

We live therefore in interesting times but we are not on our own.


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