Skip to content

Month: December 2018

Painting out the graffitti – TS Review and NZQA

Stuart Middleton


17 December 2018

The report dwells on the fact that teachers/kaiako and educators have expressed concern that NCEA achievement standards have effectively become the curriculum for most senior students in Aotearoa New Zealand. Teachers in New Zealand secondary schools have largely never moved away from longstanding predilection for teaching to the examinations and these same habits continued with the introduction of NCEA which simply altered the target for their teaching.

NCEA has never been, nor will ever be, a curriculum for teaching (for that pick up the MOE publication The NZ Curriculum).

The practice of teaching to the assessments was always the blight of the examination system that was replaced by NCEA (and I say this as a former Examiner for NZ School Certificate English, Chief Examiner for NZ Bursary English, and a moderator for several senior secondary school examinations in the South Pacific.) The senior secondary school system never fully adopted the changed pedagogical practices demanded by NCEA in which an enriching and progressive curriculum leads to programmes that engagestudents and in turn takes them to productive pathways. Those programmes arethen assessed by a set of standards that describe the skills, knowledge andattributes demonstrated by the work completed. Credit is then generated bythose standards. It was and remains an excellent, flexible, fair and equitableassessment procedure.

One of the more worrying suggestions in the report of the group reviewing Tomorrow’s Schools is the suggestion that NZQA should be abolished. There are somebproblems with this. For a start, NZQA was not an outcome of the creation of Tomorrow’s Schools, it was one of the key recommendations of the Learning for Life  reports that resulted from the work so ably and scholarly led by Professor Gary Hawke in the early 1980’s. Secondly, it seems not to flow smoothly out of the submissions. Thirdly it is not the answer to the issue that the Tomorrow’s Schools Review group think can be solved by this retrograde step.

The scale of the misunderstanding about NCEA is illustrated by the current call for a “project” worth forty credits at Level 1 that runs the risk of seeming attractive to that review group. There is absolutely no impediment to this happening immediately without a single change to NCEA. It would be, in fact, an example of innovative teaching, probably by a team, probably across a number of curriculum subjects (it would be too much to also want to see teaching across NCEA levels!) and I know of some instances of this approach. Those teachers are the enlightened ones – others remain trapped in their misconceptions.

Just as the failure to teach to thecurriculum was the blight of the examination system it has become a seriously disabling condition that leads to less than optimal conditions for NCEA to show its potential and to bring to students a true reflection of their learning, of what they know and can do and understand.

You don’t spray an ailing crop with Round-Up to hasten its improvement. You don’t adjust the carburettor to improve a vehicle’s suspension. You have to think carefully about causes and apply appropriate remedies. Abolishing NZQA will in no way address the so-called negative effect of the assessment system on what is taught in classrooms and how it is subsequently assessed. And this is urgent, as the Report also suggests that the blight has spread to junior secondary school students as they are“prepared for NCEA” (sic) what ever that means.

The report rightly notes that the Ministry of Education is responsible for both the New Zealand Curriculum and NCEA Standards. A simple question might be to ask why and how (if this is the case)the Ministry escapes responsibility for this situation developing? One issue might be that ERO, which assesses the extent to which school programmes meet the requirement that the NZ Curriculum is taught, is failing in its duty for,if the report is accurate in its descriptions of teacher behaviour, it seems that schools continue to not be teaching the NZ Curriculum? Or it could be that the review report is simply wrong and has exaggerated the extent to which this is happening? While this is convenient for supporting the conclusion that NZQA should be abolished, it is hardly fair on teachers.

That different organisations have different responsibilities for parts of the sytem is not the problem. It is important that those organisations exist to bring specialist knowledge to the evaluation of education in this very small country which is about the size of a school district in the USA. The MOE has the curriculm and the standards that are used – that is logical. And all that operates within a framework that is the responsibility of NZQA. Affirmation that NZ schools are teaching the NZ Curriculum is ultimately a role for ERO.

But the report troubles me for another reason. Quality Assurance is at different levels the responsibility of everybody involved in education. But the critical overall assurance is the rigour applied to the development and delivery of qualifications. Programmes that are low in quality lead to low outcomes – it is as simple as that. But qualifications are a generalisation of competence in a field of knowledge and skill and they are themselves assured by the existence of the New Zealand Qualifications Framework, supervised and maintained by an organisation that can act with independence and authority to maintain quality by managing the assessments, approving programmes and rigorously examining the quality of the wide range of different organisations that deliver qualifications that exist on that framework. The same body is the arbiter both vertically, i.e.what level a programme and its assessments can be said to be at and horizontally, i.e. what quantum of time should be spent in the pursuit of that qualification, what are the graduate profiles,  is consistency being achieved through moderation, overall does the EER scrutiny of institutions reflect a picture of their credibility and quality? This is a robust system of QA that is applied at the tertiary level.

I have on a number of occasions in Australia, Canada and the USA heard the NZ qualifications framework provision and procedures praised and in some places copied. A comprehensive qualifications framework is what creates a national system of education – something that has been put at risk by Tomorrow’s Schools and the culture of division it encouraged in our schooling system.


Tomorrow and tomorrow and Tomorrow creeps in this petty pace

Stuart Middleton


10 December 2018

I have long cherished that little yellow book, the size of an old School Journal, that was called Tomorrow’s Schools: The Reform of Education Administration in New Zealand. Forty-Five A5 pages spelt out the changes that were designed to lead to a more equitable system.

Now in 148 A4 pages the review group that has directed its gaze towards Tomorrow’s Schools has concluded that the system “is not working well enough for our disadvantafed and young people.” This is to state the obvious but it needs to be stated often and loudly . They continue to drive home the unpalatable message that educators have ignored for too long: “There is no evidence to suggest that the current self-governing schools model has been successful in raising student achievement or improving equity…” At last a few of NZ’s dirty little education secrets are out.

So what is to be put in place to take us forwardto an equitable system?

Education Hubs – not entirely dissimilar to Tomorrow’s Schools suggested role for Education Service Centres way back in 1988. These were never put into place. Instead Boards of Trustee asummed control – they had a hunger to rule the schools matched only by the greater hunger of most principals to put on a corporate facade, indulge their hunger for competition between schools and their lustfor such concepts as “my school”, “my budget” and “my staff”

The controls Education Hubs will have (and they are significant) will clear the way for the true purposes of education to come to the fore and enable schools to behave in ways that address the needs of their local areas in a more equitable manner reducing the social inequities that characterise schools presently.

The review addresses the provision of schooling and rather coyly, in the spirit of understatement that is a mark of such reviews, states that transitions between schools can be difficult for students. Face it, transitions between schools, between levels, between teachers all have the potential to be disastrous for children. The only blessing is that at least the big transitions noted in the report, primary to secondary, secondary to tertiary, come along with a Christmas holiday! The review drives itself to rather timid proposals. Doing away with intermediate schools is not the answer. Repositioning the stages of schooling will require much more than this if are to be develop a renewed sense of purpose and focus..


The Review takes little note of the continuing alarming scale of disengagement from schooling. The ruling rate of 20% of 16 year olds who are not in education continues, the steady incremental growth of the NEETs group seems unable to be slowed let alone stopped, the 76,000 who are absent from school any day – these all beggar belief. And we should ask ourselves “Are these the markers of a crisis or are the simple cries of “we could do better” an adequate response?

New Zealand could solve much of this issue by simplifying the schooling system There could be one sector for Year 0 to Year 10 – this could be split at some point to make use of existing plant, but those pairs of split-site schools must operate as one school. Then you have a post-schooling sector from Year 11 on. This Post-Schooling sector should be merged with the tertiary sector, be funded as is the tertiary sector and have clear pathways to employment thrust.

The review season is with us for quite a while. But the big question! Will it knock the Auckland Schools Rugby scandal off the front pages?