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Month: November 2018

Size is not the issue. Impact is.

Stuart Middleton


26 November 2018

The nations of the Pacific are getting more and different attention at the moment. Phrases such as “spheres of interest” and the “battles of the trade wars” and “military activity” are associated with the Pacific more often than they used to be.

Part of this might simply be a transfer of the old rhetoric into a new region. Part of it is the impact of an interest from a huge economy that has new interest in waters closer to us. Part of it is the belief that New Zealand should be playing a big hitting game. But it is usually about the role of those heavy hitters and we are not part of that group, nor perhaps should we aspire to be.

Many who have not had contact in a meaningful way with the Pacific (i.e. outside the resorts) are a little off the mark in their concern. New Zealand has worked very closely over a long period of time to address issues such as solar energy, the contribution of agriculture and primary industries to the economy, the role of women in the domestic economy, and more recently, education at the sharp end.

Since 2013 Manukau Institute of Technology has worked with the education systems of the Kingdom of Tonga to strengthen options and pathways for students in the secondary system at Years 11 and 12.

The key vehicle for this is a Certificate in Vocational and Technical Skills. This two-year programme introduces Tongan students into four trades areas from a set of seven options. The results have been astounding.

First some background. Being an “early school leaver”, the Pacific term for disengagement and absence, is as serious an issue in Tonga as it is in New Zealand. This initiative is aimed at retaining students in education and training; putting them on pathways to further education and training; and should they return to the village at a younger age, they would return with a set of useful basic skills.

This programme has been delivered under the NZMFAT Partnership Programme through two projects which in international terms involved relatively small amounts of money. It did require large amounts of human skill and willingness both available in abundance here at MIT and in Tonga among the educators, the politicians, and increasingly industry, business and commerce. This latter group is a key focus for the second phase of the project.

This is not a case of New Zealand imposing a New Zealand qualification in a New Zealand way. The qualification has been accredited by the Tonga National Qualifications and Assessment Board and registered on the local Tongan Qualifications Framework at Level 2 and has equivalence with a New Zealand Level 2.

The uptake has been fast and impressive. In 2018 there were approximately 700 total students in 11 schools on three islands and of the students completing the second year 320 graduated. In 2019 there will be 13 schools on four islands. The programme is monitored rigorously to high standards by technical educators of the highest professional standards that would be welcomed into any education system. The qualification is “owned” by the Tonga Institute of Science and Technology, the tertiary trades and skills provider in Tonga which has doubled their student intake since the introduction of the programme.

The retention rate in the programme is 94.6% – a level that New Zealand and Australian institutions would envy.

After Cyclone Gita hit in February there were many badly damaged houses. One such house was the home of a 16 year old girl and her grandparents. They had no way of getting their house restored, skilled people were in much demand. But the granddaughter, a 16 year old graduate of the Certificate in Vocational and Technical Skills, gathered a group of her friends together and they rebuilt the roof again, restored the walls and fixed up the plumbing and electricity.

We do not need to be Australian, American or Chinese to make a difference. New Zealand’s impact will continue to be our people helping people to achieve things that make a difference, in ways that increase the capabilities of the citizens of the small nations of the South Pacific and leaves them with genuine ownership of whatever is developed, rather than increased liabilities.

New Zealand’s effort is strongly supported by MFAT here in New Zealand and by strong representatives in our High Commissions.

There is an old saying across the Pacific:  “Aid, aids who?” “Aids Large Donours!.”

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A Great Story: Sokopeti Akauola’s Story

It was a grim day, that day in February 2018 when Cyclone Gita struck the island of Tongatapu in the Kingdom of Tonga. Sokopeti Akauola and her grandparents were huddled in their house with the rain lashing the island with torrential rain and fierce winds.Then first the roof and then some walls were ripped off the house.

Sokopeti, 16 years of age, has been raised by her grandparents and she was deeply attached to them.

“My grandfather raised me ever since I was a little baby and being the youngest of the family, I followed my grandfather everywhere he goes and do everything he does. That is how I first developed my love for Carpentry, Engineering and Arts. Knowing that Liahona offered these classes, I always look forward to enter Liahona High School so I can learn more about it.”

In February 2018 after Cyclone Gita, part of our house had been destroyed, especially the roof. During that time, only my grandparents and I were at home, the rest of the siblings are overseas. The very next day after the cyclone, my grandparents were having a hard time trying to figure out who could come and fix our house before it rained again. I tried to be strong for my family and decided to do all I could.” 

“Taking TVET is one of the best decisions I have made in my life and I have no regrets up to this day. The skills that I have developed the last two years have helped in so many ways. As we all know today that labor is very expensive to pay someone to come and fix anything that is needed to be fixed. My poor family saves a lot of money, stress and hardship only because I was able to do all these so they don’t have to pay someone to do it.”

At Liahono High School, Sokopeti had undertaken the Certificate in Vocational and Technical Skills (CITVS that Manukau Institute of Technology had introduced into Tonga in 2013).

“I was able to fix the roof and the interior all by myself with some of my friends from school. It was hard for some of my family to believe that I was the one that fixed our roof with the little skills I have learned inside the classroom.”

 Gathering together a group of her friends Sokopeti had replaced the roof and mended the walls. The Certificate, now taken each year by 700 students, has three objectives. First students would be kept in school and training (they have been), second they might work towards a trades career (the enrolment at the Tonga Institute of Science and Technology (TIST) has doubled in the five years of the programme to date) and finally, the third objective was that should a student leave school early, they would return to their village with skills.

Do we need better proof of this programme than that provided by Sokopeti?

She has the last word.

“The TVET classes have helped me in many ways at home. I built my grandfather’s own pig fence for his pigs. I fixed our own vehicle when it’s wasn’t working. I can fix anything in the house when it is broken.”

“Keep in mind that I am the only child at home most of the time so my grandparents rely on me for almost everything.”

Sokopeti is a remarkable student who continues her study at TIST. One day she hopes to study at MIT.

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Setbacks and Success

It might seem somewhat melodramatic to headline a newspaper story with “students who are expelled die earlier!” But Simon Collins (NZ Herald, 12 -14 November) in his excellent series in which he details the consequences for students who not receive the kind of attention they they need in conventional schools backs this claim up with much sound evidence. It’s real and it’s serious. The consequences of exclusion should be seriously troubling for a community that would like to think that it has a schooling system based on equity and an even-handed approach to meeting student needs.

The act of expelling of a student from a school is seldom a clear-cut issue and generally the school thinks long and hard about both the school and the student in making such a decision. The BOT knows in their hearts that expulsion can be the start of a journey that ends on the cold couch of the NEETs.

But there are pathways for students who incur the wrath of a Board of Trustees. Since 2010 the Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) has been offering students facing the wall of failure in school a chance to head down a different pathway. It is the MIT Tertiary High School.

Students in Year 10 who are struggling or are unhappy in a school environment and quite oftenthose facing exclusion from their school are offerered a chance to enter a unique and special programme.. They are not being taken out of school, they will be in school but not at school because the entire programme is taught at the tertiary provider.

The students attend to strengthening their basic skills, the essential social, literacy, numeracy and digital skills. They are taught with a purpose and within an environment that is starting to be called “mandated engagement”. The requirements placed on the students are not simply optional extras – they are the essential sine qua non of being in the programme. Being involved, meeting requirements, and demonstrating the soft skills of punctuality, attendance, courtesy, and suchlike are expectatoins that are the foundations for future success.

Finding the pathway that will take them to higher qualifications is helped as they undertake four substantial short courses in different trades areas before they decide the trade or area that they will following. This develops a clear understanding that learning skills and developing knowledge in a specific area is purposeful and has a sense of direction. It also unleashes some of the power to learn that has been dampened by their experiences to date.

The MIT Tertiary High School set out to address issues of disengagement and with its focus on pathways and managed ransitions it creates a seamless progression NCEA and through professional and technical qualifications and into employment. The creation of a pathways that enables learners to have early asccess to applied vocational and technical learning provides hope to learners who once might have thought that they had reached the end of the road.


Lord Baker of Dorking is Dead


Stuart Middleton


8 November 2018

 In 1982-1983 I had the joy of working at the University of London Institute of Education and met a lot of the influential folk who were trying to save the education system from its myopic view of what a country with a rapidly changing demographic needed if it was to have a well-educated, skillful and thoughtful community.

Margaret Thatcher was in charge of the country and the Secretary for Education was Kenneth Baker after Sir Keith Joseph had occupied that role. Kenneth Baker had a distinguished political career and this was rewarded by his becoming Lord Baker of Dorking. He did not drift quietly into the background but maintained a fervent interest in education and in changing a system in which too many young people were failing.

Lord Baker of Dorking died recently and English education is more than a little the worse for that. Because Lord Baker used his considerable presence and reputation in arguing for a revised structure for education and, having argued, he set about implementing a response.

He had a clear view that education had three phases: 5–9 (primary), 9–14(middle) and 14–18 (secondary). It was his view that primary should focus on the essentials while the middle schools were the place for introducing students to specialist teaching and subject disciplines. What came next was spelt out without doubt or hesitancy.

The solution is surely clear; a single phase of 14 – 18 education in which young people study a variety of subjects to a greater or lesser degree of depth, over a span of four years, and adapted to their individual talents and preferred learning styles.[1]

He didn’t just make speeches about, but developed a plan for what he called University Technical Schools that would provide pathways for students aged 14 – 18 years. He defended the 14 year age starting point:

“I am convinced that most young people are ready to choose between styles and types of learning by the time 14.”[2]

He set out to establish four pathways in the University Technical Schools (which it must be said had a focus on the high achievers) which were a technical pathway, a liberal arts pathway, a sports and creative arts pathway, and a career pathway.

He had a clear view on why vocational education had become a less valuable pathway in the eyes of many but vigorously dismissed arguments such as:

  • that there is no evidence that vocational education prior to age 16 led to improvements in general attainment – there is much evidence and sound research which he could detail from multiple sources;
  • that lengthening compulsory education [3] does extend childhood and dependency – this does not mean that we should assume that young people do not know what they are good at, what they like and what they want to do after 9 years of required school attendance then the quality of that education has to be questioned!”


He quipped once when asked why 14 – 18 had become his interest, he replied that “15 would be too late and 17 would be to early”. Reflection on this statement suggests that he brought considerable knowledge and wisdom about education to his thinking. We have come to understand why many students have dropped out of school by age 15 years and it takes until about 18 years of age for education institutions to make an impact in preparing a student for the workforce in a substantial manner which would include work experience.

Lord Barker backed his 14–18 years sub-sector advocacy on three clear areas where he felt that education was not adding value to the lives of young people by failing to enhance their general lives, by not promoting effective connections with employment opportunities and by giving a coherence and integrity to the shape of an “inchoate” education system.

I had an email exchange with him 18 months ago which was concluded by his senior staff member who relayed a message: “I would very much like to visit New Zealand before I die.”

It never happened and I am a little saddened by that.

[1] Baker, Kenneth (2013) 14 – 18 A New Vision for Secondary Education, Bloomsbury, London. p.19

[2] Baker, Kenneth (2013) op.cit. p.20


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A Modest Proposal to Solve the Teacher Shortage

Stuart Middleton


1 November 2018

There is a shortage of teachers in New Zealand – no argument with its existence, some disagreement with its scale.

I propose that we tackle the teacher shortage not by solely relying on producing more teachers either by migration or increasing the capacity of programmes that train teachers but by clearing the decks of all the stuff that teachers do which require various degrees of skill but not the skills of a teacher. I used to think it was a shame that the best teachers could get up the ladder mostly by increasingly leaving the activities requiring the skills of a great teacher and picking up on the skills of the manager / administrator. But I now believe that there is much that can be done in a school by people other than a skilled and excellent teacher.

Here is a list of just such activities (in no order of importance):

  • Checking attendance;
  • Supervision of children in the playground during breaks;
  • Organisation and coaching of sports activities;
  • Helping students to develop their music skills;
  • General administrative activity;
  • Managing the availability of teaching equipment (i.e. see that they were available when teachers requied them.);
  • Acting as teacher aides in schools;
  • Working in the school gardens with teams of students;
  • Supervising and genberally helping with supplementary instruction;
  • Looking after the predestrian crossing in the morning and afternoon (a) la Aussie);
  • Preparing and supervising school meals (see last post);
  • Helping with communications to parents and caregivers;
  • Helping planning of school trips

There is a host of tasks that allied staff thus employed (perhaps on a casual / part-time basis) would be able to do if only there was funding. There would need to be some training available and those checks that that are made on people working with young children. Most of the list above is made up of a mix of the large and time-consuming and the small but very important.

I am not suggesting that teachers be replaced by such community help. I am suggesting that the school would  benefit from the infusion of community people who would be grateful for the work and the remuneration that went with it. Schools would need additional different management capacity and capability to have such a programme.

Teachers would be more able then to focus on their “real job” which is to lead learning in their classrooms, to add value to the lives of young people, keep them on track, and along the way develop the requisite sets of literacy, numeracy, digital and social skills. I hear teachers complain frequently that it is the duties such as those above that tear them away from teaching.

A couple of other points. As the community ages there is developing a group of older people who are fit, of sound mind, and have abilities and skills which are much more use to school students than simply being the grandparents that pick the children up. New Zealand might be first to develop the set of educational, second “micro-careers” that could underpin these suggestions.

There is so much more we could be doing other than complaining about the non-teaching demands placed on teachers, an issue which cannot be solved simply by providing more teachers. Innovative ideas that tackle the kernel of the complaints that teachers have must be allowed to surface in the discussion.