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Month: July 2013

Talk-ED: Latest News: Praise be that it is not Prince Pluto!


Someone better than me has asked the question, “What’s in a name?”, and it seems that there is quite a lot.  The recent obsession with the name of the Royal Baby underlines that and this causes us to reflect at this time on the importance of the moniker (rather than of the monarchy).

The name splashed onto a baby is there for life and could be both an asset and a burden.  I have often wondered at the stupidity of the celebrities (well actually that is self-evident rather than something to be wondered about) who name their off-spring in weird and amazing ways.  The most recent was the effort of Kim Kardashian and Kayne West whose baby was called “North”.  Get it? “North West”.  I wouldn’t have been surprised if they had given it a middle name of “South”.  I say “it” because I have no idea of the gender of this unfortunate little person and the name gives me no clue.

Some celebrities indulge with great modesty in handing down a legacy.  Poor Michael Jackson did just this with his three children naming them Paris-Michael Jackson, Prince Michael Jackson II and Michael Joseph Jackson II.   The Beckhams just went for the unimaginative – Harper (Valley PTA I imagine), Brooklyn (a bridge too far?), Cruz ( Tom et al?) and Romeo (this lad will face some teasing I imagine).

Other parents have landed such names on their babies as: Cricket, Breeze, Blue Ivy, Seven (after Beckham’s jersey number), Audio Science, Cash (parents were of course Mr and Mrs Rich), twins Nelson and Eddy ( a musical joke from Mum Céline Dion) and the names of pretty well any tree –  Willow, Cherry, Peach (and Blossom) – and Marco ( father’s name was Paolo although I would not be surprised if the audio joke was unintentional).

Does it matter? Well, apparently yes it does. A couple of Canadians with the sensible first names of David and Daniel have published a paper entitled First names and Crime: Does Unpopularity Spell Trouble?  The paper shows “that unpopular names are positively correlated with juvenile delinquency for both blacks and whites. Furthermore, unpopular names are correlated with factors that increase the tendency towards delinquency and are aligned with such characteristics as disadvantaged home environment and residence in a county with low socio-economic status.”

I remember the late Sir Paul Holmes in one of those monologues he often indulged in wondering why young people who get into strife often had weird names. Well there apparently is some evidence that this is true.  Giving a child a strange name can only be an indulgence that grown up people want to play out of the young who are shackled to it without any form of informed consent until they are old enough to slough off the snake skin.

There is also the issue of the extent to which people’s perceptions of people are moulded by the name. A commentator name of Figlio suggested that teachers’ perceptions of students were dependent upon the student’s name and this in turn might have impacted on the student’s test scores.  Could be but I think the danger in school is that certain family names develop a pattern that precedes the second, third and fourth member of the family – ah, another Middleton eh? I hope you are better than Stuart was!

Which takes us back to the Royal baby – “we are watching the future King of New Zealand” a media person whispered in awe as the bundle in the blanket was put into the car – “oh how in touch with the people to use a baby safety seat!”  What did they expect – the State Coach drawn by eight white horses?  I digress.  We did not expect the child to get an unusual name such as Kensington, or Coronation or even Tiara.  The Royal Roll Call is pretty standard – Alfred, Charles, Edward, Francis, George, James and William and you have the Kings covered. Add Elizabeth, Mary, Anne and Victoria which are there as well but unlikely to be given to a boy.

I had my money on James.  On the other hand that would be shortened to Jim or even Jimmy.   They could, if that happened, be in something of a fix!  But as I was writing this the announcement was made – the child is to called George Alexander Louis Windsor-Mountbatten.  The newspaper that carried this news also carried some interesting further informtion about names – a list of ten top names.  That list was:

  1.       Bella
  2.       Molly
  3.       Charlie
  4.       Max
  5.       Oscar
  6.       Poppy
  7.       Ruby
  8.       Coco
  9.       Toby
  10.      Jack


Is this a list of children’s names or names for dogs? And can you tell? (Answer on Thursday next).


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Pathways-ED: Reflective Teaching Teams and The Right Tracks

written by Marilyn Gwilliam, Principal Papatoetoe Central School


In our schools as we work towards our student achievement goals, it is emerging that an important way ahead is for teachers to work much more closely together.

Like the students they teach, they themselves need to be 21st century learners, building their knowledge of teaching and learning in their daily work.  Teachers are important knowledge creators and more than ever, they need to be sharing their insights about their professional practice. 

In pretty much every successful organisation, it is generally teams working well together that create and achieve the overall success. Effective teaching teams in our schools can provide a rich environment in which teachers can share what has worked for them in relation to student achievement, and the reasons for the successful outcomes. 

Such teams can also provide the forum for the sharing of complexities and concerns. The resulting discourse that arises when issues are debated and theories are challenged helps the team to develop as an authentic learning community in itself.

Effective teams also work together in a mutually supportive way.  They don’t name and blame their colleagues for what should have been done, but rather they develop a positive mindset in a spirit of appreciative inquiry.  A truly professional team learns with, from and on behalf of each other, to achieve the optimum levels of achievement for their students and to support their own ongoing professional learning.

Donald Schon (1930-1997) was a philosopher, but is remembered for his work in the development of reflective practice and learning systems within organisations.  Significantly, he was also a talented jazz pianist.  This interest in improvisation and structure was reflected in his academic writing, especially in his research related to a professional’s ability to “think on their feet”.

His legacy of the importance of reflective practice in the daily lives of teachers continues to inform the way many of them do their work, both individually as they teach, and collaboratively as they work in their teams.

Schon suggests that “our knowing is in our action”. This involves making decisions about what actions to take based on the “soup of knowledge” in our heads. This sometimes goes hand in hand with a more conscious approach to what we do, which Schon calls reflection-in-action.

It is inspiring to observe our teachers consciously reflecting and evaluating their own professional decisions and actions and to hear them discussing and critiquing these with their colleagues.  The reasons for teams of teachers to work cohesively are very compelling.  Time taken to ask for advice from each other, to trial strategies, to use data to inform next steps and to share in the outcomes is time well spent.

As the move to data driven improvement processes takes deep hold in our schools, it is more important than ever to create and sustain reflective teaching and learning teams. 

All educators agree that schools should do everything they possibly can to ensure success for all students.  The debate about what this success looks like continues to be an interesting debate.  Many believe that not everything needs to be measured, graded or assessed.

Most teachers have a deep understanding of their role in supporting the social and emotional development of the students they teach as well as their academic learning.  These go hand in hand as we know that learning is highly emotional, that it takes time and it is different for everyone.  The context for learning has to be right, it has to be respectful and teachers have to know their students really well.  

The Right Tracks

When students feel that they are valued, that their teacher cares and is interested in them, they are on the right track.  This involves teaching and learning programmes that are carefully planned, challenging and structured at the right level.  When students attend school regularly and achieve incremental success, teachers can build on this engagement and feel rewarded when they see their students flourishing.

When teachers work collaboratively, positively and productively, with a clear vision and passion, they are on the right track.  When teachers within a reflective teaching team know, understand and share in the learning of all students in the team, not just their own, everyone benefits.

When schools are doing absolutely everything they possibly can, utilising all available resources for the achievement of each and every student, they are on the right track.   

Finally, when senior leadership teams, led by effective principals develop and maintain a culture of support and challenge for both staff and students, they are definitely on the right track.



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Talk-ED: Being better at Rugby just won't cut it!


The headline read “Maori in Oz: Living the Good life”.  The article[1] detailed a Maori family who had shifted to Australia for the “good life” – well, at least a better life.  And that is what a University of Waikato study found and is reported in this article.

There are about 130,000 Maori living in Australia with about a third of them having been born there.  In 2011 there were more Maori in Queensland than in Northland apparently.  Not only that, the study claims that they are also likely to be better educated than those who stay in New Zealand.  Now, of course, there are many issues in comparing a sample of 130k in another country with the larger group who remain in New Zealand and in illustrating it with the story of one family, the study with just a little more evidence should be questioning what we are doing in Aotearoa New Zealand.

This blog has often dwelt on the issues of equity in New Zealand education and as with equity in the US and the UK and Australia (let’s not forget that!) the issue seems to stubbornly resist efforts to do something about it.

I would be reluctant to think that there is in New Zealand still a solid block of disbelievers who construct a view of New Zealand as the land of equal opportunity and a blessed country where we are all New Zealanders first and the accident of our heritage simply that.  But perhaps there is.  There certainly are those who while not staunchly believing the rosy glow of Shangri La view are something that approaches being apologists for the situation.  Explanations are offered, excuses are made, when-you-take-into-account- following-factors arguments constructed but still the indicators remain unchanged.

There is a process involved in addressing such issues.  First comes acceptance that there is an issue and then comes an understanding of it.  This is followed by an honest attempt to consider responses and solutions and the application of these to that little part of the education world that is within our orbit and influence.  Now comes the crunch – we have to really want changes to occur and accept that it is not necessary that in a country of a large number of “winners” there need not be “losers”.

Worse is the inactivity and failure to respond to the challenges in light of the fact that we know what to do.  There are in New Zealand many examples of programmes and approaches that are successful in providing more equitable opportunities.  We know a lot about the positive impact of bilingualism, the benefits of culturally inclusive teaching, the development of programmes that produce equitable academic results and so on.  Perhaps there is required a Royal Commission to bring all this together and to give it a status as the basis for action.

It galls me when Australia is described as “The Lucky Country” which implies that New Zealand is not.  We have so much going for us not the least of which is that of scale.  We could pretty well draw up a list of the names of the students who need that bit of extra help, the additional resource and the concerted help of the appropriate agencies.  And acting on this is the key to making New Zealand great and “the luckier country”.

Andreas Schleicher (Deputy Director OECD) who featured prominently in this blog recently has now returned to his home in Paris.  He has reflected on his experiences in New Zealand and especially on visiting three schools where the kind of education that brings equity was being practiced in schools that reflected best practice internationally.  He concludes…

For as long as I have been working with New Zealand there has been talk about equity.  But the results from PISA show that the school system is still far from delivering equity, in terms of moderating the impact of social background on learning outcomes.  Disparities are, if anything, on the rise.  The challenge for New Zealand lies in moving towards a culture of improvement, framed around not where schools are today but how they are advancing.  This is about attracting the most talented teachers to the most challenging classrooms and getting the best principals into the toughest schools, it is about developing diverse and differentiated careers for teachers and principals that recognize and reward improved pedagogical practice and the kind of professional autonomy in a collaborative culture that makes school systems cohesive.  It is about making sure that every child benefits from excellent teaching.[2]

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Pathways-ED: Developing the student Rego

It was heartening to read in the paper this week that early childhood students are to be given a number that will assist in the gathering of more knowledge about access to early childhood education and their subsequent progress.


Immediately the conspiracy theorists kicked in with all tired old arguments about privacy and protection of young people which while important in themselves are constantly used to frustrate and even stop efforts to introduce systems that will allow a better picture of what is happening in education.


Internationally the use of identification numbers and student identifiers is practised widely. And this includes in countries that we would consider to be civilised and certainly in many countries that are not governed by fascist, authoritarian, civil-rights-destroying maniacs –  we find such systems in countries such as Denmark, Germany, the United Kingdom, (NHS number) the United States (social security number), Norway, Sweden and so on.

It was realised that in the US the lack of a national system (42 states do have data of one kind or another on student progress through the system) was a major impediment in reporting progress (and more importantly lack of progress) generated by the No Child Left Behind policy. Without measurement and data and metrics and reporting you are simply flying an aircraft with a blanket draped over the control panel.


Not only that, the absence of data doesn’t stop the creation of Disneyland Data – hey, we are having a great time here! This is usually achieved by adopting a method learned from the imported second hand car dealers of the 1980s and 1990s – winding back the clock.


At the start of primary schooling, secondary schooling and postsecondary education and training, the clock of student data is wound back to 100% and data is calculated for that section of the system. This is like driving a car with a dashboard you can’t trust.


This is not to say that there is no good data available, there is and Education Counts ( leads the way. But what we lack is that crucial piece that tells us what happens to a birth cohort as it progresses through the education system. It is not only that we are unable to speak accurately about current performance in terms of cohort performance but also that we are as a result unable to spot trends.


Sweden gives everyone a PIN – a Personal Identification Number unique to that person. In Sweden they have no NEETs. I wonder if the two are related.


So back to New Zealand. The assigning of a Unique Person Identifier to each and every child at birth seems to me to be an excellent idea. It would allow for the monitoring of important things – the access to quality care services through the first three years – probably more important than anything education can do for a young person – access to early childhood education services, effective transitions into, through and out of early childhood education, primary schooling and secondary schools. At a postsecondary level the tracking of students thought the education and training and into employment would be accurately possible.


At this point data sharing becomes necessary if the economic impact of and long term benefit from different educational tracks and programmes and qualifications is to be better understood. But many countries are mature enough to put into place tracking and monitoring systems in a context that is carefully managed within principles and enforceable guidelines that protect the individual’s privacy, dignity and safety. Surely we can achieve the same thing.


But I fear the worst with the immediate default position of opposition to any such tracking and monitoring because of feared breaches of privacy. It is always someone else who would do this, or the bogeyman government, or the state agencies colluding to smash vulnerable people. It is all a little bit silly and extreme.


We need such a system in order to progress. The extravagant success rates reported by a wide range of education providers at pretty well all levels simply needs to be tested by a rigorous system of cohort tracking.


I set out to develop a cohort success rate once. I admit my total lack of qualifications to do this. But I took 100 babies born in Auckland in 2010 and grouped them by ethnicity – and through applying the different success rates for these groups at points where we have some information, constructed a cohort success rate. I had to allow that 100 babies entered primary school because information or even what constitutes successful progress in early childhood education is very qualitative and not robust.


To cut 23 years down into two sentences, I took age 23 years as a point at which the completion of a postsecondary qualification is likely to have happened and reached the conclusion that 29% of those babies will have a postsecondary qualification.


A couple of statisticians after quite properly criticising the method I had used asked me what I had concluded. “Twenty-nine percent,” I replied. “Sounds about right,” they said. The exercise was to statistics what No.8 wire is to building a high performance vehicle.


But that’s how we do things in New Zealand.


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Talk-ED: Being fluent about equity is not the same as actually wanting it


Equity” and “access” are difficult concepts in educational discussions and I think that it is “access” that causes most of the problems.

There is a feeling that access is there then equity can be assumed. Everyone gets the chance to go to school (let’s put ECE to one side for a moment). If the chance is there then the system is equitable.  But that is a very limited view of access.  The point of an education is in the first instance and in the immediate future for most people something else.  Being in education is necessary but is not in itself sufficient to make claims about equity.

It is what education gives you access to that is the marker of an equitable education system. It could be that for many it can provide a set of successive opportunities to continue in education and training at the next level and to be successful at each level. For others it might more quickly provide that opportunity to enter the workforce. That is of course not the end of education and training because a well-positioned education system has opportunities for re-entry and new opportunities.  And good employers want to be part of this process.

But an education system that gives you access to little or nothing because it has failed to provide you with skills and knowledge to a level where the journey can continue is not an education system that can be said to have acceptable levels of equity.

So in measuring the equity of the different levels, access becomes an important tool. Early childhood education, primary education and secondary education all have the task of preparing the student for higher levels of learning and training or to put it another way, providing students with the tools, knowledge and skills to have access to further education and learning. From about Year 10 the kinds of access that will emerge place more complexity on the role of the educator. It could be that access to a range of further education and training sits alongside the skills and knowledge required for employment – being both college ready and career ready as the Americans would put it.

In short, an education system that has high levels of equity is one that will have continue to provide high levels of access to people as they journey through it.

So that requires citizens who aspire to have a highly educated community that values equitable access in its widest sense. This is in itself means that education has responsibilities to attend to the ethical and civic dimensions of development. If education in a systemic way and over time is successful, the community as a whole would aspire to have the highest levels of access and equity for all its people. “Equity” is a direct outcome of educational quality and therefore, as former US Secretary of Education Richard Riley asserts, a quality education for all is the “new civil right”.

So it is not enough to simply work towards an education system that can lift achievement. Such a goal can only have meaning in the wider social context where equitable outcomes across the whole community are sine qua non. The reason for listing performance and achievement is so that we can have that equitable society.

That then raises the question – do we want an equitable society in New Zealand? If the results we are getting (pretty good for many) continue to produce the levels of access and equity that it does (very low for some), and we know this and continue not to act to improve our performance for all students, you would have to say that we do not.

That seems a little harsh. But two things do encourage us to discourage us to continue as we do – the segregation between schools and community’s in terms of access and equity outcomes and our focus only on what happens within the school gates.

The focus on a wider challenge might encourage us to do better and to do it differently. G K Chesterton put it like this: “The main fact about education is that there is no such thing. Education is a word like “transmission” or “inheritance”; it is not an object but a method.”  Education is not a self-serving end in itself.

It seems appropriate on Bastille Day to remind you that many in the past have fought for access and equity. Is it time for us to storm the barricades of educational failure and disengagement once and for all?

Marchons professeurs, formez vos batailonsMon Dieu! Quelle rime abominable!

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Talk-ED: Sailing in a new direction or being all at sea


It might have been appropriate that in the week that the Americas Cup is all tied up in international juries, data and rules that New Zealand has hosted the visit of Andreas Schleicher, Deputy Director at the OECD and a specialist in evidence and data about student performance and system improvement in education.

Yesterday NZ Herald journalist Nicholas Jones had a full is page spread on his visit and it was a great pleasure to have this rare contribution to knowledge about education to consume with my breakfast.

Jones starts his piece……

“New Zealand’s education system has been treading water and its students will lose out in the global race for the best jobs unless change is embraced, a visiting expert warns.”

The appropriate nautical imagery in the context of a race has appeal in a  coastline hugging nation. And as we are asked to be interested in the Americas Cup even more so. That spring event is governed by some rules, that’s what the arguments seem to be about. Education is also governed by rules and that is what the argument is about!

Schleicher is reported as being in favour of National Standards and that is simply a rule. The arguments are not about evidence or even the light accountability that National Standards imply, it is about the rules. But change is imperative. Jones again….

“His [Schleicher,] reasoning for change  is that while New Zealand has a by good education system, if compared internationally its performance over the past 10 years has plateaued.”

We aren’t going to win the Americas Cup is that is also the case with any element of the effort to produce and sail a world class boat. In a country where we defend pretty well all that we do on the grounds that “we have a world class system” it all starts to look increasing hypocritical in the face of the evidence. If the boat won’t go any faster and the educational system can’t perform any better we will end up in the doldrums.

Spend more money on education! That is the clarion call from many. But Jones / Schleicher assure us that this is not necessary……

“Analysis shows poor kids in Finland, Canada and Shanghai do far better relative to their more privileged peers than poor kids in New Zealand and other countries.”

It is not the syndicate with the most money that necessarily wins the Cup! And yet we hear social class and parenting and markers of social class such as nutrition are unfurled as defences of a system in ways working that toss too many students overboard.

The article nicely lists actions that different groups can take. Parents can daily show interest in “what happened at school today”. This we are told has greater impact than “hours of homework”.

Teachers must deploy its best teachers to the most challenging classrooms.”  This is offered as a way of “prioritising and targeting the quality of teaching.” This it appears is better than to uncritically spray professional development over all the crew. Making the teaching profession a “high status profession”. Note that in Finland the profession was designed to be a high status profession – it doesn’t happen by chance. A ten foot tinny won’t become a high speed hatch simply by tying it up at the wharf and taking the odd fishing trip. Making the career for a teacher “more diverse and challenging for teachers.”

When it comes to schools the warning that has rung out throughout the week was repeated….

75% of students who are reflected in our low equity results are in schools where  there are not apparent issues with manifestly low achievement. This is not solely a low decile school issue but one for all schools. If New Zealand is to lift its achievement it can only do this through lifting its equity outcomes. Equity and equitable outcomes are a responsibility for everyone in the system.

The kinds of commentary inevitably produces a level of unease and even discomfort. But data is data and is of no account if it is ignored. The OECD data is based on over 70 countries  and  28 million students.

Nicholas Jones concludes his excellent article with a wonderful quote from Schleicher: 

I can see the challenges……But in the dark all schools look the same, and all students look the same. Unless you have some light to illuminate the difference, there is very little you can do about it.”

It is as if the Americas Cup is sailed at night – that would be very scary. But it is also scary to carry on in the darkness that the lack of data can impede the progress of students and the improvement of both equity and quality in the education system.


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Pathways-ED: To see ourselves as others see us


A research report had just been released and after the presentation I turned to a colleague and asked:

“Do you mean to say that education cannot do much about social class and socio-economic factors?”

“Almost nothing,” he said in a resigned kind of way.

I walked back to the hotel with heavy feet. This was in contrast to the spring I felt in my step the next morning as I left the breakfast presentation from Andreas Schleicher, Deputy Director for Education and Skills and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the OECD Secretary General. The theme of his speech was predominantly that it is possible to improve the quality and equity of education in a very short space of time.

In fact, if New Zealand raised the performance of its low equity schools, it would be No.1 in the world. But the challenge is not only in schools identified in this way. The majority of low performing students are in schools not identified in themselves as low performing – the task and the challenge was there for all teachers in all schools.

This was not new to us but having it said with the authority of such a figure gave it added meaning and force. Schleicher identified six key areas on which to focus. And at the top was the necessary belief that all students can achieve.  How often in New Zealand do we hear the apologists for failure blame the home and other factors in depicting a scenario without hope?  The message all children need is “you can succeed”.

He went on to emphasise the importance of a well-developed delivery chain.  This has notions of linkage and of strength.  It also echoes the notions of pathways and managed transitions and seamlessness that are mentioned so often in EDTalkNZ.  New Zealand is well placed with its attention to meta-cognitive skills but how strong are we in providing the democratic learning environment that was also part of this package?

Schleicher underlined the importance of having the capacity at the point of delivery – a profession that attracts the best teachers and leaders, retains them and sees them committed to system-wide development.  This also requires effective PD that goes beyond mere participation, not just doing a course, but involves reflective activity, collaborative action with colleagues and suchlike.  It seemed to me that a good bit of this PD activity is in fact about teachers working in new ways with each other.

The importance of balancing autonomy with accountability was another strong point made by Scheilcher. It was pointless to seek the one without accepting the other he made clear, the collaborative environment would ensure this achieved in a manner that added value to the system.  I have thought often that New Zealand has an obsession with autonomy but a loathing for accountability.  That is why the question – “Who’s accountable for educational failure in New Zealand?” – has long been able to be answered simply with “No-one!”  But that might be about to change with the new responsibilities for Boards of trustees in the most recent amendment to the Education Act.  But ascribed accountability is only part of it, real accountability is a deeply seated part of professionalism.

Then came a deeply challenging idea from Schleicher – put resources where they have the most impact.  I didn’t think it appropriate to ask whether in light of this, the failure of decile ratings to achieve this is one of our dark and dirty secrets.

Finally coherence and who can argue with this. We can choose, he concluded, to have an education system that moderates inequality or reinforces it.

Question time.  I got to ask a question.  It was the question that nags at me every day, it drives my argument for new and different ways of working.  But I gave it a go…..”Does anyone have to fail?” I asked.  He spoke of the complexities, the issues, the combination of factors.  Then Schleicher said “It is hard to change income inequality but changing levels of education inequality will bring change.”  I think I had answer to the question I had asked the day before – education can do something to minimise the impact of socio-economic factors.

It used to be a joke that we asked visitors as they stepped off the plane “What do you think of New Zealand?”  This time we got the answer from someone who knew us well.



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Talk-ED: Success should be compulsory


The 2013 OECD Yearbook is a good read and it was interesting to note the piece by Andreas Schleicher, Deputy Director for Education and Special Advisor to the Secretary General. In it he makes a simple point:

Countries that are unable to mitigate the impact of socio-economic background on student performance during compulsory education are unlikely to solve that problem in Higher Education.

Schleicher is visiting New Zealand this week and it would be good to see if he expands on this comment because it is an issue that has high relevance in New Zealand. The OECD is high in its praise for the top of the New Zealand education system and generous in attributing this to the quality of the work done by teachers. But it is equally clear in its picture of New Zealand’s long tail of low achievement. It is clear also in its analysis of the ethnicities of that tail.

There are some good points to come out of this. His comment supports the structure of the Better Public Service Goals with its focus on Early Childhood Education, on the achievement of the “School Leaving Diploma” (NCEA Level 2) and finally engagement with Level 4+ qualifications. Each goal is necessary but not in itself sufficient for students to be successful.

And without success in compulsory education little will happen. (Why can’t we wrap ECE into the compulsory sector and be done with it!)

The significant number who disengage from learning before completion of compulsory education are destined to join the tail. We need therefore to stem that flow, to turn performance of the lower ends of the school student group around. Every other way of approaching the issues is harder and more expensive.

There is a view that everyone we know about second chance education tells us that the first chance would have been better. Dropping out of compulsory schooling, joining the NEETs and then trying to make a come- back as a student is the hardest route in education. Second chance is hard to start, difficult to maintain and a very big ask to complete.

If we can stem the flow (and it will take more than STEM) we can then turn our attention to re-engagement of the NEETs. How many are out there? It is hard to get an accurate picture of this – the categories of “NEET” and “Beneficiary” and “Unemployed” and so on overlap and make opaque the picture of what is really happening but if we accept that, with the exception of some beneficiaries, most of those included in these categories would benefit from a process that re-engages them into education and training, the numbers could be startlingly high.

And I think that we would be surprised at the proportion that would want to be re-engaged.  It is little more than bourgeois to make the claim that most of them don’t want to work – there is no hard evidence that this is so. The feedback I receive from those working in the field is that there is interest when the options are put to people who have been sidelined but that access to programmes is not immediately possible, is not relevant, is not at the appropriate level, is not presented as a clear pathway to an understandable future and is not clearly a pathway where they can start immediately on crafting a new future.

That is a challenge for providers. Yes, we will argue that “first they have to ……” and that “they do not have the skills to enter this programme…” and “we can’t just start programmes when it suits them” and……

Having not succeeded with this group once does really put the onus on us to succeed the second time around. But like everything else in education, different results will require different ways of working. Time, course organisation, assessment and other structures will have to be re-thought as we meet these challenges.

Unlike love, education and training might not automatically be lovelier the second time around. Most strategic planning days start with the big picture. We have got some of the elements right – the BPS Goals, a workable qualifications framework, a curriculum that is flexible and a growing awareness that the situation demands our attention.

This last point is crucial. Denial is not a good basis for positive action.


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Pathways-ED: Bridging the Divides with Pathways



Over the past two days 260 educators have been meeting in Auckland at the third National Conference on Pathways and Transitions – Bridging the Divides : Secondary-Tertiary-Employment Transitions for Learner Success.

The conference was organised by the Manukau Institute of Technology Centre for Studies in Multiple Pathways in association with Ako Aotearoa, the University of Auckland, the Ministry of Education, Cognition Education and Cyclone Computers. This “family of six” reflects the importance given to the topic and the extent to which it has moved more and more towards centre stage in the awareness of those who care about improving students outcomes.

There are two key concepts – the notion of “transitions” and that of “pathways”. We know that the transitions between and within the different parts of the education system are choke points in the journey students face as they pursue an education. The shift from ECE to primary, primary to intermediate and subsequently for all, into secondary, then on into some postsecondary education which finally move into employment is a reflection of a system that is built for the adults that survived rather than the learner/student.

Dr Joel Vargas from the Jobs for the Future Foundation in Boston U.S. showed that the loss of students at transition points was an issue that went well beyond our shores. We know that we “lose” over 4,000 students between primary and secondary, that 20% of students drop out, that half of those starting a postsecondary qualification do not complete. Much of this waste of talent and potential is the result of the issues surrounding transitions. And there is that transition form the stages of education into employment.

Associate Professor Leesa Wheelahan (University of Melbourne) reminded the conference of the weak link between education and employment, a point reinforced by business leaders who addressed the conference.

Transitions need to have “pathways” if they are to lead to the levels of seamlessness that will address the issues of the dysfunctional transitions which might more correctly be thought of as fractures.

Pathways are seamless, start somewhere and arrive somewhere else. In themselves they are an organising principle that calls for connection and quirks each of those who work on each side of the crevasse to work together. It is interesting that some of the systems we admire have solved this issue through looking to sector reform to shape a system based around the needs of young people rather than around the sensitivities of adults.

260 educators working to address these issues simply have to make a difference. There is developing a community of practice that is seeking to construct new pathways and transitions with a more seamless approach to create increased likelihood of more positive educational outcomes for more students.

This was a clear message of the Minister of Education Hon Hekia Parata who in addressing the conference emphasised the Better Public Service goals as clear markers for outcomes which the system must work towards.

This will require us to work differently but this will not always require us to embrace startling and new or radical ideas. As has been a theme of recent EDTalkNZ pieces, some of the ideas have moved across the education stage before. The notion of a “jagged edge”, even “seamlessness” and the reforms of Post Compulsory Education and Training in the 1980s had canvased many of the changes now being seriously considered – a point made elegantly by Professor Gary Hawke who led the reforms back then. Professor Hawke made an interesting point in his reminder that we need to focus on post compulsory rather than postsecondary.

So it was an exciting gathering where ideas surfaced and were considered, where for two days there was a coming together of people working towards shared goals. The things that divide us in education were parked at the door and students were considered. Many were impressed by the eloquence and directed energy of the students, especially one who had gone through the MIT Tertiary High School.  He had made the transition from risk to reward, from being given no hope in school to seeing a pathway that would take him into a job he loves and which opens up a big wide world.

It is early days but directions are emerging that hold the promise of an education system that will deliver pathways to students that see them college (postsecondary) ready and career ready. If we can achieve this we will perhaps avoid the demographic time bomb that ticks away and was so clearly described by Sir Mark Solomon.


It could be that in time is not on our side in these issues.


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Talk-ED: Trading Names


The use of both “academic” and “vocational” as terms that describe classes of education and training activity is one of those old hoary binary distinctions that might well be despatched to the rubbish bin.

We have for over a century loved to think that it was a matter of logic and orderliness that needed categories that were separate and neat and not blurred by subtlety. So “academic” and “vocational” served us well.

If you were “academic” you had refinement and intelligence and an innate ability to be a lawyer or a doctor or a philosopher, perhaps even a teacher (although I recall being told early in my time as a teacher that “gentlemen [sic] had MAs and teachers had MA DipEds!”). Not many people were considered to be “academic” – perhaps 10% of each cohort and that was about the number that therefore stayed in secondary school for five years and proceeded to enter the university.

I had the troubling experience as an imminent adolescent to have my identity as a learner called into question. At the end of primary school I was enrolled in a course to be a carpenter at the local technical college. The school principal intervened and insisted to my bewildered parents that I should not do this because I was “academic”. This cast a huge pall over the household. We had coped with many things but being called “academic” was beyond our experience. It was not just that we knew our place but also that we had bought into the view of those who pursued an academic track as being “brighter”. Further we did not feel that becoming a skilled tradesperson was in any way a second class choice.

But that was not a commonly held view. If you were more “vocational”, rather than “academic”, you were perhaps not so bright, you were better with your hands that with your brain, you like practical things rather than theoretical things, you used secondary school to pass through quickly and get out into the world of work.

Now, it must be abundantly clear by now, dear reader, that all of this was just nonsense. And yet I suspect the beliefs that kept these distinctions are still more alive than we would want to admit.

The Universities are clear about their right to inhabit the “world of academia” despite the fact that their publicity emphasises progression to employment and earning power – both strong indicators of a vocational orientation. In fact the developments within the university sector have seen the introduction of many more quite demonstrably vocational qualifications over the last 20 years.

So that leaves the “vocational” sectors looking as if they are left with only doing practical things. I don’t think that this true. “Vocational” is the new “academic” in as much as learning in such settings is both academic and vocational. It would be a brave assertion to try to say that this is not the case. Just because a sector has open access and is skilled in taking among the huge range of its students those who the education system has served poorly to that point points it seems to me to greater pedagogical skill than providers who skim the cream.

But I recently heard a university leader assert that “We do not train people!”  This has made me very nervous – the person that tested my eyes and prescribed the right glasses, the person that checked my hearing, my doctor, lawyer are all people with degrees from this very same institution. Of course they were trained!

It matters what names we attach to activity. CTE, VET, TVET are each an acronym that is used to describe trades training and preparation for many careers and professions.

CTE – Career and Technical Education – is a the term gaining ground in the US but I have a similar problem with that as I do with the academic / vocational split. Most learning could be described as having a career and a technical flavour.

VET – Vocational Education and Training – has been long favoured in Australia and other places as an accurate description and it does add “training” into the mix. This might please that University leader who assured a meeting I was at the other day that “we don’t train people.” But does it capture the broad range of areas that are covered in the VET sector? And as the university system has become increasingly vocational and about training, does it differentiate the sectors sufficiently?

Then there is TVET that is used in different places – Technical Vocational Education and Training. Now, this has a ring about it. “Technical” does accurately capture what much of the VET / CTE / TVET sector does. It is concerned in large measure with the middle level qualification the technicians that keep organisations, industries and operations ticking over sweetly and productively. It also takes note of the close vocational orientation of the activity – it produces job-ready graduates who have industry-current qualifications. And it does both education and training.

I think that TVET gets my vote.

Perhaps there are other ways of differentiating the sectors – a colleague of mine likes to refer to the universities as doing the work that you do sitting down while the VET sectors attends to the jobs you do standing up. Sounds good but too many exceptions. “Pracademic” was suggested to me – nah!

The key understanding is that all learning in this modern era is both academic and vocational and that this requires us to practice higher levels of parity of esteem than has been achieved to this point. To continue to have the great divide between what is thought to be “academic” and  that considered to be “vocational” is just another of those silly little habits of the past. And to ascribe status to it is even sillier – have you had to pay a plumber lately!