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Month: November 2012

Pathways-ED: A State of the Nation address in a Rotary kind of way


I had been invited to address a group of Paul Harris Fellows at a Rotary function in Tauranga. Paul Harris Fellows are men and women who have made a great contribution to the community one way or another – the invitation to speak about education had been deliciously vague with regard to subject matter.

I started by expressing my great respect for Paul Harris Fellows and reflected with some pride that I had once been a Rotarian (but not a P. H. Fellow) and noted that once in a “Rotary Quiz” I had been able to successfully name the three fellows who met with Paul Harris back in the 1920s to establish the Rotary Movement.  It surprises us the stuff that once learnt sticks in the mind.

I had the previous Monday been at a dinner which I was delighted to have heard a speech from Golpalkrishna Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi.  It brought to mind the old anecdote that when asked what he thought about British Civilisation, Mahatma Gandhi said that he thought it would be a good idea.  I confess that I thought the same way about education.

Education has not been getting a good press lately – student / teacher ratios, school closures and restructuring in Christchurch, the teachers payroll and the scumbags who prey on young people. You would think that all of us in education were going to hell in a hand-basket.

But a lot is going well. The PISA results tell us that there are students doing very well, in New Zealand and we can hang the tag “world class” on that section of the community (however more later, on the tarnish on the reputation which denies us the right to label the education system “world class”.)  

Many students are going to university successfully and undertaking education and training in other settings such as polytechnics, PTEs and Wananga. More importantly many students are loving school and doing well, relishing the opportunities for learning and other activity such as music, cultural activity, sports and suchlike. And toddlers who get to early childhood education are generally responding positively

Some years ago there were some features of the system that have since been in decline. Esteem for education and those who work in it has diminished and the community no longer gives the unconditional support for schools that once they did. There is less willingness to provide health and welfare intervention, provide dental care, provide food (well, except milk anyway) – the attitude has been one that sees such efforts now “silo-ed” into the budgets of different government sectors. Above all there were many options in terms of student pathways. The clear signals the system gave young people about the route to employment and opportunities were there – apprenticeships, work, earning and learning opportunities.

I then turned my attention to the aspects that were going to have to work more effectively.


  • Connecting the dots – the old ECE / NCEA Level 2 / Postsecondary qualification connection.
  • Achieving equity in outcomes – this is what strips us of our “world class” aspirations and it is not possible to get the medal when you come first and last in the same race.
  • Addressing disengagement – I didn’t focus on the old litany of miserable statistics (21% gone by 16 years, 30,000 truants every day, etc oh dear!)
  • Developing pathways – one track general academic secondary schools have done their dash internationally in terms of meeting the needs of all the community – we need many different options and ways of getting through successfully into employment and continued education and training. Differentiated secondary schooling is the marker of successful education systems overseas.
  • Earlier access to vocational education is also such a marker. It makes no sense to delay exposure to and options in vocational and technical education when the result for so many young ones in our unitarian schools is simply to fail.
  • So there is a need to fix the senior secondary school (one size has never fitted all the needs that young people in the community have).


In short, I concluded that we had to re-discover success for all and get back to the commitments of the past to try to do just that rather than continue to be in denial as some sections of the of the community (both generally and in education) on these matters. I suggested that a good place to start might be the Peter Fraser statement:

The governments objective, broadly expressed, is that all persons, whatever their level of ability, whether they live in town or country, have a right as citizens to a free education of the kind for which they are best fitted and to the fullest extent of their powers.

I then quoted the next but seldom quoted next paragraph in the statement.

Schools that are to cater for the whole population must offer courses that are as rich and varied as are the needs and abilities of the children who enter them.

They were kind enough to say that they had enjoyed it and the questions flowed and showed a commitment to education that we are not harnessing and which we ignore to our own detriment.

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Pathways-ED: The Tangled Web we Weave!


There is less than meets the eye with the series the NZ Herald has published this week on NCEA Schools under a claim that it tells us how well our schools are performing.

The results cannot be taken at face value for a number of reasons.

First, the figures presented are simply percentages of those who participated in NCEA at the level deemed appropriate for that year. They do not include those who drop out of school, those who are not entered by the schools, those who do not finish the year and so on.

The only true measure of success for education organisations is the percentage of the cohort who succeed. So the figures that we need for school success in 2011 are the percentages of the respective cohorts (2007, 2008, 2009) who succeeded. But even these figures are distorted by those who do accumulate enough credit to claim success at a level over two or three years. And further distorted by the transience that is a feature of schools. The cohort Year 13 will have quite a proportion of students who were not in the 2007 cohort.

So a national measure might be the way to get a true picture of our schools performance as a system. These are the figures:

These are the 2010 figures that are the actual performance of the cohort (i.e. for the group that started secondary school in 2006) in NCEA.

At the end of Year 13 NZ students with NCEA Level 2:

  •        NZ European                             68%             
  •        Asian                                          74% 
  •        Maori                                          43%
  •        Pacific                                        58%

 At the end of Year 13 NZ students with NCEA Level 3: 

  •        NZ European                             42%             
  •        Asian                                          54% 
  •        Maori                                          17%
  •        Pacific                                        24%

And these statistics raise the second issue. The success and/ failure in NCEA is no reflection of equity in our community. Our schools are not bringing students through to meet levels where they have a basis for going forward with education and training. The Herald tables don’t tell us this.

Nor do the league tables tell us about the gaps that exist. For instance, in one area of Auckland the school figures look pretty good with a wide range of results mostly above 65% and liberally sprinkled with 70+ and even 80+ percentages. Well done, I say. But as was always the case with the old School Certificate system, success masked failure.

But a measure of the same area shows that at age 15 there are, in round figures, 1,500 learners in the area. At Age 17 this group is reduced to around 700 and at Age 19 there are only 400 left. This level of disengagement from education and training will always be hidden in the league tables as they have been presented.

The third fallacy that the tables perpetrate is the view that NCEA in itself represents an achievement. NCEA is simply on the way to something else and it is that something else, the post-secondary qualification, that becomes the basis of success in employment and in most respects, life and how are we going in this.

I did a little exercise in 2010 that took 100 babies born in 2010 and applied all the success profiles that we have for the different ethnic groups in the baby cohort and asked “How many will have a post-secondary qualification in 2033 – a generous timeframe. I concluded that 29% was the answer. Now this was not an elegant statistical exercise but some who knew much better concluded that the result “looked about right”.

And so to the fourth fallacy. There are quite a few students, just how many is not fully understood but it could be quite a large group, who get the equivalent of NCEA Level 2 through other pathways – foundation and bridging programmes in tertiary education, courses and qualifications from private providers and so on. Getting a more accurate picture of performance is going to be critical.

Because the Better Public Service Goal of the Government is a brave target – 85% of all 18 year olds having NCEA Level 2 (or its equivalent) by 2017. And this is a target to be interpreted in a way that does not allow for the poor performance of some groups of learners to be obscured by the excellent performance of others.

But the NZ Herald and I imagine quite a few in the community and I also imagine some schools will have either been tickled pink or turned green with envy at the whole rather meaningless exercise.

Alexander Pope had the measure of all this:

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave 
 When first we practice to deceive!”



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Talk-ED: It's about more than rebuilding one city


The last week ended with the news that unemployment in New Zealand was continuing to increase and was now at 7.3%.  Maori unemployment is at 15.1% while Pacific Island levels are at 15.6%.  Furthermore 113,000 workers want more hours but the work just isn’t there.

Remember that these figures are based on those “actively looking for work”. They do not include those who are not looking for work and this would include quite a lot of young people. The unemployment rate for youth world-wide and especially in developed economies is showing a worrying rise – New Zealand stands at around 25% nationally with both Maori and Pacific Islands over 30%.

Add to this the NEETS and you have a lot of New Zealand’s population not working. You do not have to be a wizard to see a crisis in the making here which will take a a very long time to pull around.  Action is called for.

But New Zealand has unprecedented demand for workers. The Christchurch rebuild, the leaky homes response and the general planned growth in the Auckland region will all require huge numbers of workers.  With a little bit of imagination and some funding, the answer is there.

But what do we see?

There appears to be a recruiting campaign in the UK to recruit people to come to New Zealand to “help re-build Christchurch”.  MP Nicky Wagner appears there and reports that interest was high.  In fact the various spokespersons for this effort report interest running into the hundreds.

It is interesting to note that these kinds of efforts seem often to coincide with a rugby tour or major event such as the Olympic games!

So we are actively seeking overseas labour and skills instead of growing our own and remember that this should not just be at entry level but also up-skilling those already in industry to the levels needed to lead the enlarged workforce.

So what is happening? Well, the most notable recent contribution to all this in New Zealand has been the stripping of hundreds of training places out of the polytechnic system what would have provided those critical first steps that lead to the sorts of skills needed. There is no urgency at all being applied to solutions and the kind of emergency response needed to address the crisis.

The recently announced South Island initiative with 900 people being offered jobs after 6-14 months training is a start.  But it is a small effort – even if the places can be filled from the South Island (and this will be interesting to see) it is not aimed at giving robust qualifications to people but seems instead to be an effort to produce hammer-hands, and shovel bearers. The inspiration for the programme is from the depression of the 1930s.

It would be better to seek inspiration in the 1940s.  Between 1944 and 1953 New Zealand trained 7,000 ex-servicemen to help them find work after the Second World War.  This was under the aegis of the Rehabilitation Board and the training was predominantly in building trades.  What were they building in those days?  Well, there was substantial Government involvement in building state houses for a start and the Government was still the major source of work-based training (80% of apprenticeships were with government organisations).

It was also out of this time that the special efforts in trades training such as the Maori Trades Training Scheme emerged.  The Technical Correspondence Schools was started (later to morph into the Technical raining Institute and finally into the Open Polytechnic).  The initial focus was on offering national training in trades subjects.

The current dangerous mix of unemployment and youth requires just this sort of response – a special effort to get young people into skilled work and at the same time seek solutions to other issues – Christchurch, Auckland, leaky homes and schools and refreshing and expanding the the national housing stock and suchlike. These are normal times and abnormal responses are appropriate.

But they can only probably come from the Government.  Private industry seems no longer to have the appetite to see its role in training young people and receives little encouragement from a lack of incentives to do so and a schooling system that seems to want to hang onto young people regardless of outcomes.  The default position for industry currently seems to often to be to seek skills in overseas markets.

The various crises we face have within them unprecedented opportunity to re-position New Zealand’s skilled workforce in a way that will serve the country well over a very long period. It requires a national effort – young people the length of the country could benefit from the demand for skilled people flowing from Christchurch and Auckland.



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Pathways-ED: Is "most" good enough?


Auckland as a city has an ambition to be the world’s most liveable city, it’s something of an organising principle for aligning the efforts, goals and direction of this newly created entity.

One of the outward signs of this is the publication of a “Scorecard” that rates progress on a number of measures. In education the measure is the number of students in schools that attain NCEA Level 1 Literacy and Numeracy.

There are a number of issues with this.

First, it takes no account of those who are not in the NCEA net. We know that 21% of 16 year olds have already left school and are most likely not to have even attempted NCEA. The failure to take account of cohort measures continues to mislead us in our assessment of progress. That is why I presume the Government settled on “all 18 year olds” as the group that would be measured for the Better Public Service Goals.

Secondly, the performance is very unevenly reflected in the various ways that results can be diced. Along ethnic lines there are still worrying differences between Pakeha students and those who are from Maori and Pacific Island communities. Auckland carries a responsibility for a very significant number of young Maori and Pacific students, a greater proportion than other cities and global measures do not reflect progress when it occurs when they are reported as one measure. That is why I presume the Government settled on the principle with its Better Public Service Goal –  85% of all 18 years old having NCEA Level 2 (or its equivalent) – and stating clearly that the target would apply to each and every group, Maori, Pacific, Special Needs, Migrant, Pakeha, Rural, City and so on.

Thirdly, the Scorecard is not bound by target or time; it simply reflects what is called progress. But progress to where and in what timeframe? How will we know when the education system is performing well and contributing what is expected of it to the world’s most liveable city goal? Knowing simply that we are “getting better” by small increments” has a feel good factor but in reality might be lagging behind the pace of improvement needed. That is why I presume the Government settled on establishing 2017 as the point at which the Better Public Service Goal should be met.

Now the explanation given in the Scorecard is that NCEA Level 1 Literacy and Numeracy is “the equivalent of School Certificate”. Well, it is certainly not. Whether you use the old SC (200/400 in your best four subjects including English) or the later version (single subject passes), NCEA Level 1 Literacy or Numeracy nowhere near equates to neither. No one is going to burst onto the world of work or into a career with that as their qualification.

The irony of all this is that the Auckland Council somewhat led the way in settling on NCEA Level 2 as a sensible goal. That is because it reflects what can be considered as a satisfactory measure of a level of success at school. But even NCEA Level 2 is meaningful only to the extent that it is used as a foundation on which a post-secondary school qualification is gained. Auckland Council “joined the dots” in its Auckland Plan and in its Economic Development Policy ahead of the Government settling on its Better Public Service Goals. And both were right to do so.

I have long promoted the notion of “joining the dots” – access to early childhood education, NCEA Level 2 and a postsecondary qualification. All here are essential markers on the pathway to a secure future. Hon Nick Smith, then Minister of Local Government, in the last days of his tenure of this position, criticised the Auckland Plan for having such goals. Soon after we were to see the Government similarly “join the dots” in the Better Public Service Goals.

A seamless progression along the pathways of education at the pace that sees all students hitting the NCEA Level 2 (or its equivalent) marker by about the age of 18 years will lead to an educated and knowledgeable city. And a city that is educated and knowledgeable is likely to become a very liveable city because it will have opportunities for employment, quality democratic processes, vibrant art and culture features with participation, leisure and sport opportunities. Above all it will have a performing economy with growth that will sustain now over a third of the population of New Zealand.

Where you place the target tends to be about where the arrow goes. Let’s stick to worthy targets.



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Talk-ED: Expressing ourselves in public


It is an interesting discussion that has arisen on the use of haka in general and Ka mate! Ka mate! In particular.

Valerie Adams was first to throw in the debate expressing in her recent book consternation at the actions of the Olympic Team Leader Dave Currie in unleashing a haka at 2am in the night after her victory causing some disturbance to other athletes. Her view was that it was over the top, well past a reasonable hour of the night and something of a habit that Currie had developed – the planned spontaneous haka.

That led to some interesting comment from a sports writer wondering why the All Blacks persisted with the Te Rauparaha haka rather than using the one specially written for them – Kapa o pango. This then led to a general discussion of the propensity for the haka Ka mate! Ka mate! to be done to death at the drop of a hat in versions that ranged from the moving to the grotesque, in settings that ranged from the appropriate to the absurdly inappropriate, and in styles that ranged from the respectful to the total disgusting sham.

The point was made that many schools grace sporting occasions with a haka that belongs to the school (especially the boy’s school) and that many rugby teams in the regions start and / or finish the big game with one of their haka.

The Ka mate! Ka mate! haka has become de rigueur to the current generation and one wonders why the keenness to “perform” it increases with the hour of the night and the extent of the carousing that has preceded it.  Men in black tie gear have been seen to strip off at a formal event and give all that they have got (and often all that they know). I have seen grown men in formal places and in other countries feel that such a display was something of an obligation. It is not pretty and they should all return home and wonder about the respect they are showing to a cultural event and artefact that defines New Zealand Aotearoa.

It is hard to imagine a comparable insult that could be visited upon the Pakeha.

The challenge to do something about this will only be met by what we do in schools with the oncoming generation. They learn lots of things in school and can certainly learn a haka or three. But the real difficulty is that when we are asked to behave as if we come from one country, a group of people drawn from different places has to have a default position – and the haka emerges.

What can we do to provide to young New Zealanders the means of cultural and country expression that can unite us in a public show of unity in performance?

The Australians have “Waltzing Matilda”, the English a whole sack of old numbers – “Land of Hope and Glory”, “Jerusalem” – the Scots have many a ditty and even more when the uisge (40%) flows. But what do we have?

Perhaps we should agree on ten waiata that all New Zealanders will know and be able to sing with beauty and skill. Then late at night in some foreign place, a group of New Zealanders could come together and appropriately, gracefully and correctly express wonderful sentiments and emotions in song.

Perhaps more attention could be paid to the context in which haka are appropriate, the grace and skill of the haka when performed well (c.f. Sir Apirana Ngata leading the haka in front of the wharenui at Waitangi in 1940), or go to any cultural festival such as the schools’ Polyfest, or Te Matatini.

There has to be more to us as a people than the denigration of culture and “Ten Guitars”!



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