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Month: February 2018

Paying the Price for Daring to be Different


Stuart Middleton


13 February 2018


The Government’s 100 day gallop is over and education got the trifecta.

First, tertiary free fees for the first year of tertiary study introduced at speed and free of any targeting.

Secondly, National Standards go out the door replaced by nothing at all, leaving parents to wonder if their children are on track.

Thirdly, and this was no surprise, Partnership Schools will go or perhaps remain in some other form, or perhaps…… Whatever they will be wrapped back into the very system to which they offered an alternative.

These changes were each signaled in the election campaign, an event that inevitably sees a scramble of ideas is tossed into the fray by all and sundry, underpinned by little policy and even less consultation other, perhaps than with a chosen few people and organisations.

The Government’s reported reasons for dealing to the Partnership Schools are somewhat puzzling; while claiming that they were abolishing them because they were introduced for ideological reasons, they now appear to be taking these steps for their own purely ideological reasons. Let’s see a robust argument that will counter the considerable evidence internationally that would support the view that they are well worth supporting – the best of them are superb. In fact, just as there are excellent, struggling and indifferent public schools, there are excellent, struggling and indifferent charter schools. To characterize them all as unworthy is misleading and unfair.

Right across the English-speaking world, Partnership Schools were seen as a different way of working which could bring success to students who were not catered for in the mainstream system. In New Zealand this included significantly, Māori and Pasifika students. New Zealand has a variety of school types; State, State Integrated, Independent, Special Character, Kura Kaupapa, Special Needs, Alternative Schools, each cater for different sets of students in different kinds of communities.

Partnership Schools with their capability of working differently, offering a changed curriculum, using different organizational approaches, offering students different ranges of teachers, and so on. The different business model that Partnership Schools were able to use might have informed the mainstream system had it been allowed to flourish but it now seems likely to be dampened by the conventional and outdated resourcing structures that hold schools back.

And what is so frightening about this tiny number of schools prepared to be different?

The mainstream schooling system in New Zealand might no longer be fit for purpose into the 21st Century. It does the conventional well for the 33% who go on to university or into degree programmes at Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics. But it serves the rest in a very patchy manner. It has taken the development of Secondary / Tertiary Programmes to show that with motivation, different programmes, using NCEA to its full capability all based on sound working relationships between secondary schools and tertiary institutions which results in a very significant number of students succeeding where once they had mixed results.

The conventional secondary schools of the English-speaking education systems will always face difficulties in trying to achieve equitable results simply because they have for the past 60 years never had to. Current secondary schools are simply not equipped to do so. The scale of disengagement from the school system escalated when schools saw the industrial arts go into postsecondary settings blocking off the valuable pathways to employment that schools had once provided for so many.


A Totara Falls, Many Mourn and a New Day Dawns


Stuart Middleton


9 February 2018


Kua hinga te totara o te wao nui o Tane

The death of a chief is described by Maori as the falling of the totara tree in the great forest of Tane. The totara tree at Manukau Institute of Technology has fallen in this little part of the great forest. MIT has been mourning the death of Kukupa Tirakatene, our long serving Kaumatua, Kaiako o te Reo Maori, Kaiākau, Rangatira, Matua, Papa and friend to so many both at MIT and across Aotearoa.

Such a period of time is cause for reflection and as the tangi held at MIT ran its course, I thought often of my twin brother, Ewen, who passed away two years ago and who had worked with Kū at Rosehill College over a decade or so when Kū introduced Te Reo Māori into that school and was the only Maori teacher on the staff. As was the case in those times when this was common, the teacher of Te Reo was the go-to person for all matters Maori and all issues facing Maori students.

Such a role was demanding and my brother often mentioned the remarkable work being done by Kū in that setting, the assistance given to teachers and the huge contribution made to the school.

It was not to be the only time that Kū was to take an education institution and hold its hand as it took first steps and then increasingly bolder steps along the path towards a place where equity, parity, tino rangatiratanga, Te Tiriti, and manaakitanga started to impact on the minds, awareness and eventually the practices of those who work in it. It is quite a journey as this tapestry is woven.

Kū’s trademark kaikōrero at powhiri was “E kore e taea e te whenu kotahi ki te raranga I te whariki kia mohio ai tatou ki a tatou mā te mahi tahi o ngā whenu” – “The tapestry of understanding cannot be woven by one strand alone”.  The extended metaphor of weavers working together to achieve the fabric was how he exhorted people to behave, to work with others to achieve results but to also take note of the mistakes made (the “dropped stitches”) because there are learnings in them.

At MIT Kū lived these principles over a long time, working with some remarkable people – Tupae Pepe, Hapimana Rikihana, Dr Ranginui Walker, Sonny Rauwhero, Blackie Pohatu, and Maurice Wilson are names that spring to mind – to achieve things that were then new to MIT; teaching te Reo Māori, courses on Treaty Awareness, processes for ensuring that programmes took up opportunities they presented to reflect ako Maori and in the late 1990s the establishment of the Nga Kete Wananga Marae. All of these developments ebbed and flowed over time but increasingly such concerns were coming on to centre stage locally, regionally and nationally throughout Aotearoa.

In the early 2000s MIT instituted a project called Target 2010. Its goals were appropriate for then and focused on professional knowledge of staff and increased participation of Maori and Pacific communities in polytechnic education at MIT. A key element of this work was that the focus was on both Maori and Pacific and Kū’s contribution to bringing Pacific communities and students into a closer focus should not be underestimated. He celebrated both strands of the project and supported initiatives that established the key principles which saw the Pacific focus flourish but alongside a context where the kawa and tikanga of tangata whenua was respected and perhaps even strengthened.

MIT is embarking on a new wave of activity to achieve parity between priority learner groups and the overall performance of the institute. And as it pushes it boats out on this one, it will be without Kū Tirikātene, we will not have our Kaiākau, Papa Kū, to steer the canoe but we do have the learnings we have taken from his whakatauki, his karakia and and his example.

After a great tree has fallen in the forest there is a time of silence – the forest is grieving. Then over time the birdsong returns, other trees start to fill the gap and the forest seems to return to normal. But it is never the same.

Kua hinga te totara o te wao nui o Tane

Haere ra e te rangatira, haere, haere, haere atu ra.