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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.

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  1. Tony Kane Tony Kane

    Thanks for the article, Stuart. However, I am not completely convinced by your argument this time.

    The “partnership” schools were a sop to the last government’s partner, ACT, and had at the very least a subtext of undermining the public education system. They came from the American Charter School model which has had its successes and some serious failures and was put on top of a Kiwi model where all schools are answerable to their communities through their charters. Teachers were not required to be trained and qualified. Schools could be set up on a business model. I was at school in days when a severe shortage meant that barely trained people came into the classroom and it took another generation to get rid of them. While you lament “partnership schools”, you list a range of other alternatives. It would appear we were not a one size fits all system after all.

    National Standards? They gave parents the illusion that their child was “on track”, but if you asked any secondary school you would be told that none of us put any trust in them and I don’t know of any who collect the data. Why would we? They are not standard and PATs, STAR, AsTTle and others give far better data. Of course the system as a whole, schools, teachers, parents and students themselves need an idea of how they are progressing but National Standards does not do that. I am interested in whether there will be a push for the Learning Progressions Framework which is actually aimed at discovering what progress each child is making over the course of a year.

    Finally, you make a valid point about secondary schools being resistant to change, but to suggest that they have remained static over 60 years would suggest that you have not been looking inside them deeply enough. STAR courses are excellent and have been around (in 2 forms) for over 20 of those 60 years. There are plenty of “industrial arts” still going on. A small minority ditched their lathes. We still have them, along with welding, 3D printing, laser cutter and so on. Sheds are built, a boat is being restored, students learn catering in an industrial kitchen and a patternmaker takes them through the process of garment production. Gateway students are out in workplaces through the community. I was in charge of a predecessor programme in the early 90s.

    There are plenty of things the sector can be criticised for, but suggesting that things are still as they were in 1958 is simply fantasy.

    Come and see for yourself.

    • Stuart Middleton Stuart Middleton

      Hi Tony
      Much of what you is fair criticism. Remember that this is a blog that contributes to discussion which you response clearly is and I value it and am pleased to post alongside my piece. The key point in the blog, and I accept that this might not be sufficiently apparent, is that our new government has produced three major changes on the basis of very little policy and less evidence. I had previously written about national standards and fees free.

      I would happily visit your school and would be pleased to see what you are doing. 1958 is not a key year, but schools have for sixty 60 years significantly retreated from subjects that we might call vocational to the great disadvantage of students. Of course this is a generalisation and I feel happy that some schools have not chased the popular and instead focused on the worthy.

      Thanks for your response. Contact me oat [email protected] and we will see if a visit can be arranged.



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