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Month: August 2012

Pathways-ED: Turning Pro! A Reviewed Teachers Council

Stuart Middleton
24 August 2012


The review of the Teachers Council is timely as another teacher indecency case hits the headlines – about the only time the Teachers Council has a public profile.

I have long argued that teaching in  New Zealand will never achieve true professional status until it had control over entry standards to teaching, a system of maintaining a disciplined system with members observing high standards within the framework of a code of ethics.

The Teachers Council on its establishment looks a little as if it might achieve this but it hasn’t.

I have noted over a long period that bodies brought together that consist of representatives of other organisations seldom achieve effective levels of activity. There is a good reason for this. A group made up of representatives of other organisations is simply a random collection of people. The Teachers Council agenda becomes distorted by the agendas that the members of the Council bring with them.

Members of the teachers Council should be a mix of professional educators of great experience and of considerable standing in the community appointed or perhaps even elected through an electoral college system

The question of entry standards into the profession is a key matter for such a body. Having determined a set of standards for entry they should then apply them at the point of entry. It is an absurdity that the Teachers Council gets involved in initial teacher education programmes. They should be approved by CUAP or by NZQA and the only question with regard to programmes should be whether the candidate for entry into the profession has undertaken such an approved course. There will of course be other critieria I would hope that go beyond mere training.

The registration process is cumbersome. The provisional registration system is simply a bit of nostalgia from the old days of the inspectors who would finally give the stamp of  approval. The process for re-registration should be the confirmation standards and should be rigorous for all teachers.

Re-registration should not be the tick-the-box process that it has become. It should be a point at which we should show the professional development that has been undertaken (the qualtity of which might well be laid down), the refresher training that is required (perhaps every 10 years), the meeting of expectations for improved qualifications, and suchlike. This all seems to me to be part of the professional requirements of being a professional within a profession.

The Teachers Council might also be supported by an Education Commission (along the lines of the Law Commission) that could provide professional advice and commentary on the system and its performance – an ongoing source which would continually nourish the system with ideas and challenges.

The Teachers Council might sponsor a set of Teaching Excellence Awards – perhaps under the aegis of a charitable trust in the way the UK does.

In other words the Teachers Council review must lift the level at which the Council works so that it is able to provide leadership to the profession of teaching.

And that raises a final question. What is the “Teaching Profession”. Well, it is certainly those who teach in the early childhood and schooling sector. But what about the tertiary sector? I think not in general terms but as the boundary between secondary and tertiary education becomes very “jagged”, to use the PPTA term, and students are not so easily identified as “secondary” or “tertiary” there are questions (which is not the same as “issues”) about who should teach.

Finally, where do the costs of a Teachers Council come from? They come from the same place that other professionals pay – our pockets. The difference is the capacity of legal and medical professional to pass the costs on to their businesses. No doubt there would be a discussion about this!

Teaching has an opportunity now to realise professional status through a revised Teachers Council that could itself achieve a level of professionalism that has eluded teacher organisations and principals associations.



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Pathways-ED: Would you like your eggs hard boiled?

Stuart Middleton
16 August 2012


There is currently renewed interest throughout the Anglophone education systems in the quality of careers advice, information, guidance and education. This is largely prompted by the slow dawning of a realisation that what we have been doing in the past might not cut it in the present nor be appropriate to the future.

I am off to be a member of a panel at a “summit” on just this topic. I take with me a little suspicion of events that style themselves as a “summit” when most of the time we find the foothill of ideas and issues quite challenging enough and our track record in scaling the heights only to discover it was the wrong mountain. Meanwhile we simply get better at climbing!

I am a member of a six person panel (plus chairperson) that has been allocated a total of 35 minutes. This seems at first glance a daunting task and it crosses my mind that in itself it might be a microcosm of the issues – too much in too little time, excellent resources (present company excluded) squandered, no immediate interaction with the audience, the urgency of afternoon tea pressing against the end of the time slot. It was, I thought, a little bit like school itself.

But snappy runners these days can scoot around a 1,500 metres race in less than four minutes, Madonna and Justin Timberlake “Only having four minutes to save the world” and many an instant meal is ready to eat in no more time than that.

So what do you say in four minutes that will contribute to the question: How do we improve economic performance through connecting education, business and industry?

I am tempted to adapt an old joke –  When Gandhi was asked what he thought about British civilisation he replied that he thought it would be a good idea! Yes, the connection between business and industry and education would be a good idea. But to achieve it requires some thought and attention by education.

For a start the connection can only be based on education success, real and appropriate qualifications, work ready graduates from all levels and pathways through the education system that lead to real destinations in real jobs in the reality that is employment, business and industry.

So, the corollary of this is that an educational failure, a disengaged student, a poorly educated or trained student is worse than no help to the mission of improved economic performance but instead is actively counter to it. Wealth generated by business and industry is diminished while it continues to be squandered through the unnecessary costs of educational failures and disengaged NEET youth.

What we have to understand is that getting educational success that is consistent with the economic performance mission is not about what secure, middle class adults do however well intentioned. It is about what happens in the heads of young people. It is about how education programmes impact on young people, and when!

If we look at education systems that are more successful than ours there stands out three key issues in this connection between education and career, education and economic performance.

First, awareness of the linkages between education/school, pathways and employment is well-developed by around age 12 or to put it another way the end of primary schooling.

Secondly, Senior secondary schooling is characterised not by sameness but by difference. Senior secondary schooling is differentiated by having a clear focus of one kind or another. The development of the general academic comprehensive high school has proven to be a failed experiment.

So, thirdly, there is earlier access to career and vocational education programmes leading to real qualifications recognised by business and industry.

These emphases lead to an educational output that sees young people gaining qualifications across a range of levels that match the needs of business and industry. Instead, in the Anglophone systems we produce relatively large numbers of degree qualified students and large numbers of students who are unemployable and who go on to prove this by being unemployed. In between there is a dearth of young people with middle level qualified technical skills.

In short, New Zealand moved away from what used to work – ability of youth to secure employment, on-the-job training, access to earn and learn opportunities, values placed on qualifications at all levels, an apprenticeship systems that other countries envied.

“Back to the future” is little more than one of those fatuous hopes, the world changes and there is no “back” to go forward to. But some of the solutions to getting our education system firing on all cylinders might well lie in the practices of the past. With the relative increase in resources available to us now, we can surely get it right again.

I think I could say all that in 3minutes 54.4 seconds – Peter Snell’s world record mile time set in 1962.



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Pathways-ED: Change is in the Australian Air

Stuart Middleton
9 August 2012


From Australia – the lucky country where even the sunset last night was silver – the new gold!

On the same day that a national seminar on inter-sector relationships was cancelled the press reported considerable activity in relationships between sectors to address the issue that is arising from the cuts being made, especially in Victoria, to TAFE activity.

The University of Ballarat is extending an agreement with regional TAFE institutions that secures some pathways from the vocational providers into the university. The new agreement will extend this notion to create certain pathways between the university and the six TAFE providers. This initiative is cutely dubbed the “Menzies Affiliation” after Sir Robert Menzies, the former Australian PM who apparently came from this area.

The cut to funding for vocational education and training in Victoria was almost $300m and the federal government is now coming in with a grant to the state of $435m by way of compensation. This is an example of the the sort of byplay that occurs in a bicameral government set-up and the “cuts” made in Victoria might in fact be aimed at securing such an intervention will, to me seems, that additional funding will be available to the VET sector.

Another interesting report details the introduction of the “vertical” double degree that allows students undertaking what we know as conjoint degrees to make a head start on a masters degree and in the process save six months.

I have long thought that a lot of our programmes could be shorter whether by extending the year to something more like “normal” working years or by arrangements such as this. If the outcomes of degree study include the general development of intellectual capability then this can be achieved with much more flexibility between programmes rather than the walled cities that are characteristic of so many programmes.

Interestingly, a further report raises the issue of whether a university course should focus on breadth or depth. Apparently opinion among students is divided between those who value the opportunity to study outside their field and those who do not.

The writer argues that simply having breadth and depth won’t be sufficient and students hoping the move through to higher level postgraduate study will also need height. And so the two ideas come together – the notion of breadth / depth / height and the “vertical double degree combing undergraduate and postgraduate study.

So what seems to be emerging is a challenging of the traditional transition points and a softening of some of the boundaries. First, the VET / University boundaries are becoming more porous and the vertical pathways up through the university seem willing to become more adaptable.

If these can happen one way they can happen in the other direction – clearer pathways for university graduates to proceed on to the more utilitarian qualification of the ITP sector with RPAA (Recognition of Prior Academic Activity) allowing for a telescoped programme. – the  New Zealand equivalent of the vertical double degree.

With evidence from both New Zealand and Australia that the benefits of a university degree vis a vis a polytechnic degree have been somewhat exaggerated, the outcome of such a collaborative pathways could well benefit students and, if they are achievable  through shortened study programmes, others as well.

I sense that the world of postsecondary study is starting those seismic rumblings that could lead to bigger things – well at least in Australia. But then again they have usually always been a little ahead.

As I finish this a filler on the Aussie TV is playing a song called “You can’t always get what you want…”  accompanied by a picture of Valerie Adams in the moments after her final throw. The lucky country notion seems significantly to be premised on the view that all others are by definition unlucky!

A Note:


I am grateful to David Guerin for helping me out with thew number of LATs in New Zealand. He calculated that the Teachers Council report of income from LATs ($56K) came from 1,050 persons with such a designation. But he also tells me that the Teachers Council has 98,000 registered teachers. There is something in the order of 56,000 teachers in schools so I wonder about this. When I get back I shall make further enquiries – suffice to say that the number of LATs in schools is somewhere been 1% and 2%. I also wonder about this. But thanks, David.


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Talk-ED: Charters for flexibility and about time!


Stuart Middleton
6 August 2012

So now they are to known as “Partnership Schools / Kura Hourua”. Jolly good because that is what a school, any school, is meant to be.

But the further detail about Partnership Schools / Kura Hourua (aka Charter Schools) released emphasises flexibility and freedom and details the areas in which these freedoms will exist as curriculum, qualifications, employment (code for who gets to teach), hours of operation and school leadership.

It is something of a sad commentary that it is thought that such a development is necessary to give expression to freedom and flexibility when any school in the country could operate with these freedoms and flexibilities had they a mind to.

The curriculum in New Zealand is permissive and expressed in broad terms open to local interpretation. But experimentation and innovation in curriculum design is still the exception and not the rule that it should be. The secondary schools can develop pathways and emphases that both better meet the needs of students and give character and identity to the school. Some of this is now happening through the academies and none more so than the health academies that are giving a shape to science and mathematics for many students.

That secondary schools have chosen to reinvent the old examination system using NCEA is entirely a matter of choice on their part. The compression of NCEA into a three year annual cycle is neither necessary nor in the best interests of students. The flexibility is there waiting for schools to exercise it. New programmes, multilevel study and new qualifications are all made possible by the National Qualifications Framework and the National Certificate of Educational Achievement – Charter Schools will not introduce flexibility other than by starting with a clean sheet and being freed from the old ways of working and having perhaps personnel who bring different thinking to the task of designing a programme.

As for hours of operation has always been a little piece of silliness where two hours before lunch and two hours after lunch constituted half-days and terms were twelve or so weeks long and there were three of them and then for no reason that was obvious there were four of them. It is high time that students in schools were treated in an age-appropriate manner with regard to attendance and this suggests that the daily fixed-hours regardless of activity might not be as appropriate to senior secondary school students as it is to new infants.

Corralling students into schools for fixed hours only creates the pressure on schools of occupying them regardless of the usefulness of what they are doing. Students in secondary schools should be there when they need to be – I already hear the swelling tones of protest that they would vote with their feet and not be there. Let’s set out to have them vote with their minds and be there so as to continue along pathways that brings them success and the prospect of a future that is both within their grasp and that they want.

That leaves two areas – employment and school leadership.

The suggestion that people other than a registered teacher might teach in a school brought out some protest pretty quickly. I rejected as amusing the suggestion from the leader of a national organisation that such a move would threaten New Zealand’s reputation  as having a world class education system. Could a “small number” of schools threaten the reputation of 2,548 schools which the same leader would claim are excellent?

And we easily forget in these discussions the not insignificant role played by people with a limited authority to teach in our schools. Schools rely on them to varying degrees. Interestingly, I could not find on the web the exact number of such teachers – would it be 10%? Schools need a variety of people as teachers and as the curriculum expands, as it must, a greater variety of skills and knowledge will be needed. If there are to be meaningful relationships between secondary and tertiary providers there will also have to be greater variety in who get to teach the students.

School leadership. I would imagine that the key leaders in these Partnership Schools will be educators with the support of people with other complementary skills required to run effective operations. This reflects what already is happening in many schools especially large schools. The real impact on leadership will be at the governance level which has proved to be problematic over the past 23 years. Providing the kind of informed governance leadership for such large organisations is a huge opportunity to strengthen the leadership at a Board level of these important public “companies”.

That leaves one area of opportunity where flexibility will certainly not only be required but also essential – student achievement.

The only clear reason that we should contemplate a “Partnership School” in New Zealand would be if it could clearly raise student achievement among those who currently do not succeed. It will require firm leadership from the government to see that this becomes the key criterion by which a “partnership school” proposal is judged. If it will simply provide a different opportunity for students who already are successful then the whole development will turn out to be without purpose or honour.

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Pathways-ED: Relationships up against a wall

Stuart Middleton
1 August 2012


It was not done lightly when they named the parts of Berlin after the Second World War that had come to be considered as exclusive property of this super power or that super power, “sectors”. The Americans had the American Sector and the Russians theirs. Movement between the two was restricted by that ghastly wall and Checkpoint Charlie became synonymous with freedom of access.

They had, after all, the lessons to be learnt from education where sectors had similarly become territory won and territory to be defended. The No-man’s Land was territory to dispute and little consideration was given to what is best for the citizen / students.

I was astounded that recently a one-day seminar on relationships between sectors with top presenters was offered by a reputable Australian organisation, ATEM, but was able to attract only 7 registrations from throughout Australia – well, it might have been six because I had registered.

Issues related to educational sectors and to relationships between them in Australia seemed to me to be an issue that demands attention. Especially in the tertiary area where chickens hatched in the late 1980s have all the appearance of coming home to roost. In New Zealand they also demand attention.

Relationships between higher education, further education, vocational education, academic education are simply beyond resolution by considering them each to belong to a “tertiary sector”. And just as the spoils of war are commemorated and held to be holy long after the fighting stops, much of the sector debate in education is based on the spoils of past wars and the now somewhat jingoist slogans of the factions – We are academic, protect the standard!  We are vocational , they need us to dig for victory! We are primary, we teach people! We are secondary, we teach subjects to people!

It is all nostalgia for a past age when education systems had the appearance of working. Let’s face the realities of peacetime.

The transitions between sectors has become dysfunctional with too many students successfully navigating through the checkpoints which have become chokepoints. The old academic / vocation distinction no longer applies. Education systems in Anglophone countries are characterised by unprecedented rates of failure and dropouts – casualties of this war. These countries all share the dilemma of skill shortages and increasing youth unemployment.

Lets calmly look at these sectors. Early childhood education is critical to later success in education and while we boast of pretty good national levels of access, the disparity of access between certain groups in the community is a less happy picture. A solution would be to subsume the ECE sector into the primary sector thus increasing the ease of access without increasing the need to escalate governance and capital works costs. Australia in ahead of New Zealand in halving the K Level entry group but this seems to be more of a Level 0 for primary than a dedicated pre-school effort. And one year is too short.

All systems know the importance of the primary, elementary part of the education system. The issue with this sector is that it is not encouraged other than through mechanisms of name and shame to have a successful but more narrow focus on the teaching of basic skills. I am not suggesting that we return to the old inspection when an Inspector of Schools would arrive at a school to hear the students read to ascertain whether Standard 4 or 5 or 6 had been achieved. But clear statements about exit levels would help with the critical platform that is primary education.

Where the primary sector has identity issues is at the upper end when it seems to grapple with the dilemma of being like a primary school but wanting to be like a secondary school. The solution is clear, create a new sector, Years 7-10, and let them get on with the job of making a successful transition from primary into the discipline-based secondary style programme. Introductory work on real pathways would replace the current work that is reduced to dabbling by the lack of clear pathways with continuity into post-primary education and training.

This would mean taking the senior secondary school out of the “school” sector and placing it in the “tertiary” sector. Having reached Year 11 students would have multiple pathways for further education and training which would be both, and simultaneously, academic and vocational. The different institutions of the senior secondary school, the university, the ITPs, Wanānga, PTEs ITOs and so on would then have a distinctive contribution to make to providing appropriate pathways, rich in their diversity, rewarding in their outcomes and  connected to the real world of family sustaining incomes, of employment and of continued learning.

A brief flypast over the battlefield cannot do justice to a complex issue but the general point is clear. Our current sectors have developed by accident not design, they have resulted in the development of distinctive features (unions, qualifications, sites etc) that are more intended to distinguish territory than they are based on what we know about learning and young people.

I would love to have got together with those six people who shared my enthusiasm for starting the conversation about sectors and the relationships between them. Who knows, it might have led to change somewhere ahead of us. One day the public will want to push the walls over. How much better it would be if we could do it before contempt for institutionalised education reaches that level?