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Category: Education

Students vote with their feet

The Attendance of students in New Zealand has reached  beyond the element of farce, and the message to the government is:  Don’t say you weren’t told! 

For many months the blatantly obvious truth has been the regular fact that students were going to stay away from school and defy the regulations that kept up a hope that something would persuade students to change their tune and to surprise the authorities, the government and teachers.

The truth is that there is in all likelihood no way that students will turn up unless some key changes are made. I would suggest the following:

A        Students will reject the programmes based on current curriculum because they don’t have confidence that they will benefit in terms of employment. I have had reports that tell me that the trades academies do not have huse absenteeism – go think

B        They are sick and tired of the time school wastes for the trappings of students time which they see as valuable they think and they are uneasy when they perceive that it is being wasted. (Yes there is an irony in this!)

C        Students have realised the power they have.

D        Every students who truants has parents who are compliant with this situation. It is no good teachers blamed when parents either don’t or have lost control.

E        I have warned of the damage being done to the schooling system. It will take a decade and perhaps more for the orderly conduct of schooling to recommence.

F        Is anybody in the Ministry working on a plan to get students back to the desks?   

Perhaps asking the students would be a good thing?



There seemed to be no complaints this year as the recent holiday and passes us by and even the business sector didn’t have a complaint about the millions that were squandered on frivolities and especially holidays.

I have always felt that a holiday that supports a good cause is time well spent. There could be some grizzles about these untidy times what with the urgencies of the epidemics. However one cannot begrudge the populations for the Holiday that was a kind of thank you from the royals and Kign Charles IIIand his Mum, the late Queen Elizabeth. Goodness me – most of us have been born and brought up and entered a more elderly phase under her shadow.

What really gets me is the damned behaviour of the 50% of students continue to who break the law and seem to do this in the knowledge of their parents or whoever looks after them.My observation is that this lifestyle ins continuing spread well evenly across the social  spectra.

Attendance at school is, dear people, compulsory  for people under the age of 16 years.and  those who blatantly break the law are breaking the law of the land in a very very damaging way. Will those who are young law-breakers thank their parents in their middle ages when they discover that they are good for little. Having flippantly passed their

In one of these postings I repeatedly asked some questions about this ugly phenomenon the most one being important being   WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS SCALE OF TRUANCY TO GET OUT OF HAND?   Supplementary questions might ask   WHAT IS THE ECONOMIC FISCAL DAMAGE TO THE ECONOMY? or is this simply an out-of-hand shambles?

It is bad enough for jus to have allowed the growth of NEETs. Are we going to allow TaLTTnaTC. become the sum that officials care!!

TALTNATC  Truants at Large Thumbing Their Noses at Communities (and the Government and its agencies)

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Te Pukenga

Last Friday saw a significant event in the history of technical and skill education – possibly the most significant in the history of New Zealand education. 

In the beginning technical education had found in the secondary technical high schools which provided smooth transitions into employment. Then followed the period of the sector comprised of the polytechnic and technical institutions which was something of a sector that in its early days thought it had grown up with the right to offer degree programmes but but this was blunted by a commitment to growth. That period was relatively devoid of ideas both for increasing numbers and seeing the critical need to understand the need to create sound links between the top of the secondary system and the subtle issues faced. Students were clustered around the point where students were disengaging from Year 11 and 12 where the programmes were no longer able to excite students sufficiently – they simply left, ill-prepared to meet the needs of what was once the inevitable next step – work and employment. Instead, NEETs flourished.

So, the three waves of technical education have been replaced in a bold move – Te Pukenga. The outpouring of confidence and excitement early Friday morning last filled me with an enthusiasm for amalgamation – an amalgamation of the polytechnics and technical institutes working under one banner with skills organisations who seemed not to have dropped the plot. I suggest that with strong leadership, and it is now getting this, it could be a winner’

What will be needed will be capturing the best ideas and engaging the best of the most successful people from those already in the sector. Progress up until now has been cautious, speed will be required.

What needs to be done?  Here are three which ideas that can happen quickly.

  • This amalgamation is not about continuation – it is about new ways of working such as continuing the recently learnt skills of delivering on-line.
  • The Tertiary Technical Curriculum needs renewing – fewer programmes, points of difference between the University and the Pukenga, programmes taught in multiples sites (easing access for students).
  • And, no apology for saying this! GET TO GRIPS WITH SECONDARY / TERTIARY PROGRAMMES:
  1. There exists a finished regulatory system to deliver all Trades Academy and Tertiary High School Programmes.
  2. Funding is in place.
  3. Other issues have been solved (Under Sixteen-year-old-Students enrolled in two institutions, schools accept students being away in the academies, etc, etc.
  4. Trades Academy/ Tertiary High School programmes belong in the Pukenga basket! Quick wins!
  5. Curriculum in place – just waiting to be Pukenga People!!
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Heaving a Great Big Sigh

Education must surely be exercising the patience of the government with the current list of issues and puzzles.

Students who are compelled by the law to attend school simply thumbing their noses at the Ministry of Education.

I have written about this before. Let us clear up that New Zealand had an absentee / truancy problem long before Covid came on the scene. The 1990’s started to feel uneasy when students started to have uneven attendance pattern, but Scotland was pioneering a new phenomenon – NEETs with its trendy acronym which spelt out the grim but gentle fact that those who were NEETs (Not in Education, Employment or Training) were beyond the touch of any of the ways of getting onto a pathway. Instead of pushing back this new group of people needed to have special programmes and responses to cater for them. These programmes were expensive and difficult to manage.

The solution should have been found in the schools – BUT….. Not in the schools if they were with to remain unchanged. NEETs folk needed different programmes. They were the disengagers and so the programmes for NEETs largely failed because the solutions were based on the same old same old processes of conventional schools and the trappings of many decades of failing to change. The disengagers had and have little or no patience for the conventional schools with their uniforms and the approach which continued to insure that the school day was of a certain length regardless of the need for students to be at school when they needed to be at school for the time they needed to be. When the reforms that gave NZEA were being introduced the promise was that ”time served would be dead.”  What happened to that one!

Again I quote “so much reform – so little change.” (Charles Payne).

So here are some key questions.

Does anyone in Wellington actually have profiles of categories of students who don’t attend school?

Is the Ministry of Education prepared to move on parents whose children are not attending school?

Will the Ministry of Education conduct a study on the role Secondary Tertiary Programmes might play a part.

Finally, will the Ministry of Education and TEC instruct Te Pukenga urgently instruct Te Pukenga to first understand Secondary Tertiary Programmes and prepare a plan to make use of these excellent programmes that have brought success into the lives of so many?

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Romantic reflections

Dipping recently into a 2019 copy of a N.Z. Listener I was interested in what events allegedly “shaped the nation” in terms of development, important people, events, and commentary. It was a light once over of a very wide range of topics – War, Health, Sport, Economy, Literature, Tragedy, Food, History, Crime, Icons, and Technology. I looked for Education which was absent from the cover but was thankful of the three snippets which made it into the later pages – three paragraphs which marked, in the writer’s view, the important developments and people who built our system.


“While war raged in Europe and Asia, Prime Minister Peter Fraser still found time to oversea a radical reform of the country’s manifestly inequitable of the country’s education system during the 1940s. the schools leaving age was raised to 15 and a “generous and well-balanced” common curriculum introduced for the first three years of high school. He couldn’t have done it without visionary Education Department head Clarence Beeby who wrote that was “revolutionary, the first time any government in New Zealand had ever committed itself absolutely to the idea of full and free education for all.”

There is no doubt that Clarence Beeby (and George Hogben) were the educational leaders, the stars of thinking about education who contributed most in the pre-wars days.

February 1992.   HIGHER EDUCATION

“The early 90s saw a run-on gowns and mortar boards. Universities bulged and polytechnics offered degrees as more New Zealanders than ever participated in tertiary education. With high unemployment in low-skill areas encouraging upskilling, and the loans scheme enabling borrowing to cover costs, student participation increased by a third to 200,000 between 1991 and 1993. Non-Pakeha students made inroads, comprising 30% of the student body by 1998, up from only 15% in 1990. Although the loans scheme enabled wider participation, borrowing reached $26.1 billion in 2018.”

The great increase in numbers that is described in this paragraph fails to mention that the increase was essentially a relatively low calibre increase in numbers that failed to significantly increase the quality of the outputs despite “Glory Days” of funding by volume!

2000 -2019.   NCEA

In its 17 years, the secondary schools’ assessment system has generated strong criticism in the Listener that it dumbed down aspects of our children’s education while needlessly stressing students and teachers with constant assessment. Both Labour and National governments were mulishly defensive in the face of evidence that the system was too easily “gamed” with the inclusion of credits for such things as picking up rubbish. The chorus for change has finally led to announcements of reform with higher-quality teaching of core skills such as numeracy and literacy and more robust assessments. There is still room to add non-core subjects and activities tailored to students’ vocational aspirations, but New Zealand is upgrading the quality of learning with the recognition that young Kiwis’ life opportunities are dependent on their abilities in key areas.”

It must be said that NCEA is the major development in the post-Beeby age – it is the standout development in assessment and has been the key to provide opportunities for young people. But still the grumbling goes on!!

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Writing Between the Lines

Last week’s posting about getting students back to school attracted quite a lot of comment for which I am grateful. There are some other issues that should be brought to wider notice and so I shall embark on a visit to The Things That Matter.

A well-meaning commentator popped up on the Television Three Project Programme about the Teaching of Writing which claimed that most students were being taught to learn to write in a flowing hand. I must say that my excursions into the realm of schools leave me with a burning understanding that some but only some youngsters receive tuition in the fine art of handwriting.

I can describe grotesque attempts of young children to actually hold a ball point pen which is both very difficult and does not engender the growth of a ease with hand-writing.

Only occasionally do I take recourse to describe how I was taught in the olden days to hand-write, (this was 1951-ish). We were each assign a smallish blackboard and we learnt to write stand at these said black boards. Emphasis was placed on our achieving rows of upper case “O’s” until we could produce a succession of fields of kiwifruit all ready, at the same size, etc to fuel our writing. This was followed by the addition of a flick of the chalk which would be required to start joining the letters together. The proscribed shape of the alphabet followed and so on.  Chalk led to pencil. And pencils were replaced by fountain pens at the start of Standard 5. And the handling of ink produced a few rather messy moments.

This journey was not entirely about scratching messages and so on, but it was about linking the process of thinking with the with the process of expression and of developing a cache of words that would increasingly develop to be available -the ammunition of the written word.

The business of literacy suffers from the students not receiving an adequate writing programme. Writing and Reading are the soulmates of literacy. You learn to read by writing, and to write by reading. Writing and Reading will not and should not replace each other for young readers. Using the facility with electronic keyboards should have as a precursor, basic facility with reading and writing language. 

And it is not soppy to want students to read and write.

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Who runs the show?

We are watching the continuing decay of our education system in these worst of all possible times – what’s wrong with the leadership? I see and hear the leadership in schools asking for guidance and support at a time when there is ambivalence in the nation. Where is the back-up for teachers?

But who runs the show? 

I see and hear school leaders asking for masks to be worn inside school and the science community which backs this up, people who know what will make a difference, the expert academic science leaders say the same thing, and even go further in saying that it should have happened long ago. 

But who runs the show?

I expect that a great majority of parents would think it a good thing both for the students to be back at school and wearing masks. Especially when parents and caregivers have been asked to do so much over the past couple of years.

So who runs the show? 

Who has responsibility for enforcing the fact that New Zealand has a compulsory education system?   New Zealand has had issues with attendance in the best of all possible times – is this critically import feature of the New Zealand schooling system going to be allowed to be a mockery. 

Somewhere in the schooling system of New Zealand there must be a person who is responsible to see that children go to school each day. If there is not and no-one is required, then let’s scrap it.

It is inconceivable that the disruptions caused by the various varieties of a very virulent epidemic will not have had a negative impact on learning which teachers have worked to minimise. But has the government done all they can? Have programmes been made available throughout this difficult time? Have parents and caregivers received support though this period with materials? No one could say that all this is easy, but one does hear of wide variability between schools. Have the government media agencies been effectively utilised? One gets the impression that the foot has come off the pedal a little. And has the government-owned correspondence / distance learning capability been employed effectively?

But one thing stands out above all other responses. Learners who are not unwell must get back to school, no if’s, no but’s no maybe’s. Otherwise, it could take years to restore the presence of a central tenet of New Zealand education.

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Jobs Jobs

What with the disruption of employment at the moment when shortages rule the roost it is time to rethink a few things related to “work”, that word tasks a back seat to “employment” these days!

About 20 years ago if my memory is right, an Australian psephologist, Salt by name, was developing the view that in about twenty years from then the developed world would be in a tussle with each other to provide workers in hospitality, food, infrastructure, and the like. Perhaps Covid is getting the blame for the shortages that are hitting economies over much of the world. 

Of course, quite a number of people have for some time been predicting the demise of many of the jobs. We now cry out for workers to fill the shortages in those very same sectors. Their predicted demise never came, and we are now in something of a predicament. Jobs will change but the basic fundamentals will stay – it’s the wood gives way to plastic syndrome rather than the wood will disappear. That “many of the jobs that exist now will disappear” is simply a myth. The basic skills of building a house will still be there. Yes, perhaps kitset construction will take over, more metal will appear on the sites but at the hands of carpenters and other traditional “Woodie” types.

Here is a list of jobs that will not disappear:

 Chefs, Hospitality Workers, Dieticians / Nutritionists / Health Sciences / Education / Artists /Cyber Security Experts / Conservation Scientists / Dentists / Data Scientists / Marketing Design /Advertising / Professional of many kinds / Social Workers / and all the people needed to support these jobs. Those who predict the demise of jobs could perhaps have a competition to see who can name jobs that have not been listed. Of course, employment will continue, and the basic skills are so critical. And we haven’t mentioned the jobs in the cracks, Biotechnicians, medical workers and so on. This is where the “new jobs” will emerge.

And those who killed the youth labour market have something to answer for. When I taught at Papatoetoe High School which was close to the Otahuhu Railway Workshop there was cause to pause to remember this great entrée to work. It was an annual request of up to 50 or 60 people to take up an apprenticeship. The great onslaught to privatise the Post Office, the Public Works, and many more wonderful opportunities, for those at the bottom of entry to the workforce those who would learn by “sitting next to Harry and Nellie” saved many people who went on to serve the community through work. The youth labour market was destroyed. Hon Bob Tizard once told me that we lost 80% of our apprenticeships during that time!

Perhaps there needs to be a bob-a-job programme such as we used to have in our youth if you were a Boy Scout. Do the job, do the mahi as we currently say, and the reward is doing the job. 

Above all, getting back to stressing that what young ones are doing in school has something to do with employment and that means JOBS.

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You think you’re hard done by?

There is quite a lot of unrest around the traps – there is a strong point of view that says that schools are not providing adequate information on the performance of students. Parents of course rightly want to know just what the progress is of their young ones in terms of basic skills, special aptitudes and social behaviour. Their misgivings about lack of information enflames the views that the teachers are not doing enough in this regard.

I have written before about the an attempt to persuade students at one school by producing a sheet of paper that asked the parents to accept this as good intelligence about children. But the parents saw through this when they noted that the whole class was at the 64th percentile. Too many teachers go for the soft measures – children are described as “really nice to have in the class” and if a concern is expressed by a parent, “oh he’s coming  along nicely!

 Mind you, I came across report sent home on 23rd August 1935 the other day. It was a report that purported to place before the parents an assessment of the child. The reports were said to have been the picture of the “Marks obtained in Examination at the end of Term. 

Image shows anonymised school report from 1935.
Composition: 62/100
English: 23/50
Reading: 54/100
Spelling: 7/25
Writing: 14/25
Arithmetic: 73/100
History: 42/50
Geography: 35/50
Nature Study or Science: 34/50
Drawing: 13/25
Handwork: Good
Conduct: Good
Total: 358/575
Place in class: 1
Remarks: Has made good progress this term.

There are some points to pick up here such as the number of subjects. The parents would have some basis to make comparisons about strengths and weaknesses. The absence of some of the social skills is missing but I wonder which style of report parents would enjoy. Would they prefer to be a little befuddled with the complexity of the figure-based report? Or would they prefer to be massaged by nice adjectives? Both reports have their weaknesses.


Place in class was also reported on in 1935.  The lad who took home the report above came. First in Class!

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Graduating Pleasures

‘Tis the season for graduations to gradually appear across the tertiary landscape a little like the burst of flowers in early spring. Graduands appear dressed in their splendour, family groups arrive seriously intent to support Mums, Dads, Siblings, Children of all sizes, Grandparents and so on. It is a seriously significant occasion Sunday-Best occasion.

These events and those people should never be taken lightly for they are changing the futures of communities as each batch of first-generation tertiary students flood into communities to leave a determination that the young ones, spectators on these occasions, can have opportunities to see higher education as an attainable goal – one day they will cross the stage. If Brother Sione, Sister Susan, Mums and Dads and other family members can do it – so can we.

I love graduations. The huge efforts made to get to the finish line of qualifications – a promise of a future that perhaps were thought of as a feint and distant rosy glow of Shangri La, are within the grasp of not just students, but also of their families. It is not simply to get a job but the start of many careers.

In my career I have been responsible for managing graduations leading teams that work hard in the background to get these shows on the road! Over this time, I have been at over a hundred graduations, perhaps more. The largest number of these have been in South Auckland and I have always thought that they work, not just to anoint, as graduates, those who walk across the stage in the time-fashioned manner to receive their accolade, but they are changing communities. I have been at graduations at many New Zealand institutions, at some Australian graduations and had the pleasure to attend graduations in Pacific Island countries.

No matter where or what the awards were, there is always one outstanding feature and that is the pride with which graduands present themselves to become graduates, and the huge pride with which families greet their freshly Graduated family members back into the family – the same but different.

Some time ago I graduated at Massey University and on that occasion received the highest award bestowed that day. That led to my leading the student procession down through the main street of Palmerston North. Did I feel proud – yes, it took me back many years earlier when I graduated with my twin brother, new first-in-family members of the family and the brand-new university that was Waikato University. Going to university was never in our plans – but that is another story.

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