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Month: April 2014

A right royal time of it

Sixty-one years ago the nation was gripped in a similar wave of enthusiasm as that which we seem to be experiencing at the moment with the arrival in New Zealand of a rather pleasant young couple and their child. A young Queen Elizabeth and her consort arrived in New Zealand in December 1953 for a royal tour that seemed to go on forever.

Well, it had started many months prior to the visit with the work done in the schools. Projects about just what she was Queen of, and it was then quite a lot of red on the map of the world. But there was also quite a lot about the paraphernalia of the Royal Family – castles, crowns and ceremonies.

Each school child in New Zealand received a fold out of the State Coach, the gold one and its six white horses and their jockeys in the stockings and elaborate jackets. Just quite why we received this was not really made clear as when they later arrived the Queen and her Duke travelled in black cars, on the backs of open Land Rovers and even in the Royal Train. They bought their own boat for convenience.

But the high point of the preparations for the visit was the presentation to each school child of a Royal Visit Medal – a rather important looking gong with its blue ribbon. Back in 1953 this seemed like the pinnacle of achievement.

Of course the cynics and perhaps the republicans would have a field day about all this and how bad it was and how the minds of young people should not be distorted with all this rubbish. But you have to remember that back then the shadow of World War II was still slowly lifting, countries like New Zealand were still experiencing the austerities that came from that and there was no television. So an event of a national scale and involving a huge number of places was a chance to be happy.

And so most towns in New Zealand and especially the ones visited decorated themselves up and this in itself brought pleasure and happiness.

When the Queen and her Duke were in Hamilton, Mum took us to stand for quite some time at a spot that gave us a glimpse and no more of the flash cars as they went past and spotting the white-gloved hand giving us a wave was mission accomplished.

And so it seems the pattern repeats in a modernised manner today with the young couple and the royal kid.  Although a very significant difference is the extent to which they mix and mingle, bend over to chat with little people, laugh and have fun doing things that would have seemed outrageous back in the fifties. The mock sailing race, the jet boat ride, taking George to Plunket, the ants running around ostensibly playing rugby, the cycling stadium and such activities all seemed harmless enough.

Greatly different this time is the contingent of “the media” that swarm around the whole business.  We are constantly told that New Zealand is receiving publicity that “money can’t buy”.  I don’t believe this largely because when I travel I find plenty of people who do not know where New Zealand is, cannot distinguish between it and Australia, have no understanding of our politics and/or people and none of that bothers them.

Perhaps it is not necessary for us to seek a purpose in such events as a royal tour any more than we might in the visit of an opera singer or author or an orchestra or a sports team that arrives. In different ways we are simply better for having enjoyed the experiences. And so it is with this past week.  It is not necessary to seek to understand the crowds that line up to see the royals now any more than we needed to in the fifties or in London outside Buckingham Palace.

Should we believe that such a visit could persuade us which way to vote at the general election as has been suggested? Probably not. Those seeking to be the government will need something stronger than “no royal tours in election year” as a policy. And there seems to be little in a visit such as this of the negativity that the media feeds on and indeed promotes.

However next week we will be able to get back to life as normal – murder and mayhem, cyclists and cars, surplus and deficit, missing aircraft, whales, oil and farms, water and Canterbury and……. schools will be able to get back to the projects on Eskimos.


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What the naughty people did


(A Tale in the style of Listen with Mother)

“Good morning girls and boys.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.

Once upon a time in Auckland there was a group of lovely Mummys and Daddys who came from a little tiny beautiful island called Niue. They were beautiful people who wanted their beautiful girls and boys to grow up ready for school, and having fun, and being able to speak two languages. Yes, weren’t those girls and boys lucky?

But the Mummys and Daddys from Niue needed a house for their Kindergarten. Do you know what a kindergarten is? It is a lovely little school where girls and boys just like you go to play and to learn and to do things that will help them when they get to school.

Well, the Mummys and Daddys from Niue were lucky and found an old schoolhouse that was no longer being used. It wasn’t very nice but it was better than being outside when it rained! Have you been outside when it rains? It isn’t very nice, is it?  All the girls and boys and their Mummys and Daddys used this old schoolhouse for many years because they weren’t able to get the men and ladies from the big office building in town to agree to help them get a new kindergarten. The old schoolhouse became quite a tumbledown affair but still the girls and boys came to the kindergarten.

But, one day, the postman brought some good news. Do you remember what a postman is? Yes? The nice postman brought the Mummys and Daddys a letter that said that the men and ladies from the big office building in town were going to help them get a new kindergarten. Everyone was very very happy.

Along came the builder, his name was Bob. Along came the truck with the cement. And another truck with some timber. Bang, bang, bang went the hammers. Squeal, squeal, squeal went the electric saws. And soon a new kindergarten was built. Shiny and new, after all those years of waiting, the Mummys, Daddys, girls and boys from Niue were going to have their brand new kindergarten. They were all very happy.

But there was one more job to do. They had to build a sandpit. Do you like playing in a sandpit? Along came a little digger to make a little hole for the little sandpit. Then guess what happened? The little digger dug up some very nasty yucky stuff called asbestos. “Oh!” cried the digger man, “Oh!” cried the officials. Asbestos is very dangerous when it is dug up by a digger. And so they chained the gate, locked the doors and went away to find out what to do. And they never came back.

The Mummys and Daddys told the men and ladies in the big building in town about it but they must have been very busy people because nothing happened. The men and ladies in the big building in town were trying to find out who had to get all the nasty asbestos out of the hole. And still everyone waited.

Six months later – do you know how long six months is? Yes it is one whole spring and one whole summer. That’s a long time isn’t it? Well, six months later the new kindergarten, all shiny and bright was still waiting for the digger man and the other workers to come back and finish the sandpit.

“Why are we waiting?” asked the Mummys and Daddys.

“Why can’t we play in our new kindergarten?” asked the girls and the boys.

Then one weekend, when everyone had gone home, some naughty people broke a window and climbed into the new kindergarten. They did some naughty things like throw paint around. They broke windows. They “trashed” the place.

So the girls and boys from Niue still go to kindergarten in their old tumbledown schoolhouse. The new schoolhouse is still empty but now it is also badly damaged. The sand pit is still unfinished and the boys and girls and Mummys and Daddys are sad. They have waited for ten years for their new kindergarten. One day Bob the builder and the digger man might come back and clean up the new building. Then everyone will be happy.

Did you like that story? Tomorrow we will have a happy story.

Goodbye children.”

Studio Announcer:

“That was listen with Mother with Daphne Oxenford. The BBC wishes to advise that today’s story is based on true events that are unfolding in Auckland, New Zealand. Next we have a repeat of The Archers.”

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We are not the only ones

A response to my blog last week about the gap in the middle has made me aware of some interesting developments in the UK. The respondent was a senior member of the staff of Edge Foundation whose tag line is “Champion of technical, practical and vocational learning”.

The Edge Foundation has six key planks in its belief[1]. They want politicians, practitioners and the public to:

  1.        recognise that there are many talents and paths to success;
  2.        ensure the “learning by doing” is valued equally with academic learning;
  3.        provide technical, practical and vocational learning as an integral and valued part of every young person’s education and as a recognized route to success;
  4.        from the age of 14, give young people a choice of learning experiences and pathways based on their motivation, talents, and career aspirations;
  5.        ensure that the technical, practical and vocational education and qualifications offered in schools, FE and HE are high quality and recognized by employers;
  6.        ensure all young people, whatever their different abilities and interests, leave the system with confidence, ambition and the skills to succeed and the skills the economy needs.

Britain, just like the other Anglo-Saxon systems, are appreciating that they got it wrong after the Second World War when they started to systematically remove vocational and technical education from their schooling systems. I recently read an argument that this was partly for reasons of snobbery and a desire to not be like Germany. The irony is that now such countries look at Germany and wonder whether they were right all along that it is we who  might have got it wrong as Germany continues to bring large numbers of young people through its schooling system well qualified and ready for work.

The Chairman of Edge Foundation is Lord Baker of Dorking, better remembered as Kenneth Baker, Sir Keith Joseph’s successor as Secretary for Education in the Thatcher government. This sprightly 80 year old has developed a passion for doing something about the young people being spat out by a schooling system that suits fewer young people while at the same time the country suffers from extreme skill shortages. A familiar story.

The vehicle he has pushed for leading this charge is a new kind of institution – the University Technical College. There are now 17 of these colleges in the UK and all share four key qualities[2].

1.       They aim to provide a high quality technical education involving 40% practical application and a balanced study of subjects that include maths, science, English and a modern language.

 2.       The practical and academic components of the UTC curriculum are developed through active cooperation with local employers and universities.

 3.       They serve children aged from 14 – 19 on the basis that “11 is too young and 16 is too old to specialize”.

 4.       They stretch students by making them work a longer day than the average high school or college from 8.30am to 5.00pm – and through five eight week terms – meaning children study for a 40 hour week rather than a 38 hour week year.

A recent article[3] comments that if the development succeeds “…. it will eliminate the problem of “neets”, youngsters who are not in education, employment or training. Baker says “Every student who leaves a UTC will go into a job, an apprenticeship, a higher apprenticeship, or to university.” The writer muses that all this seems better than “…. the pent-up energy, frustration and rage of those who should have been equipped for good jobs [rather than being] dragooned into classes they hated” that he had witnessed in his own schooling.

We grapple with the same issues in New Zealand and slowly programmes are emerging that are turning the tables of failure over and showing students who otherwise would have failed in the system, that success is within their grasp. The success of what is happening under the Youth Guarantee banner, the MIT Tertiary High School and the preparedness of communities to seek improved outcomes are all signs that we are seeking similar goals to those that Lord Baker of Dorking and Edge Foundation are seeking on the other side of the world. Our focus is greatly on those whose struggle is evident. When we have addressed that we will be able to focus on those who are doing well but would love to be educated in a different way. But, first things first.

Nevertheless, the worm turning as we discover that we are not the only ones.

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