Archive for Education

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!!

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

I Love it for the Music

Strewth! Only Australia would appoint a cabinet minister to promote and administer progress towards are publican form of government in this week of all weeks.  Presumably this will be a change from the Monarchy. It could be that the Honourable Anthony Albanese had got behind in his reading and failed to notice that the Queen of Australia was this very week celebrating being Queen of Australia for 70 years.

Couldn’t they have waited for the Platinum Jubilee Weekend to pass and then set the poor fellow out to argue the case for a change which will inevitably split the ranks? 

I have come across quite a few occasions when royalty has edged into my life, and it all started at school. Primer 2 saw us in 1953 drawing rather poor sketches of crowns, flags and other stuff like that which we would surely need when Queen Elisabeth II visited New Zealand. We were pumped up with excitement to see the Queen in 1954. Well, we waited for ages in Dad’s office on the second floor of the NZ Dairy Company Building on the corner of Victoria and London Streets where his office was. We waited for ages until the royal cars passed. We actually saw the Queen’s hat and a white glove from the second floor but that prepared us for the next sighting when we were assured that the Royals were just over there, on the other side of the adult crowds.

But we were happy to go home and play with the concertina picture of the Golden Coach which all students had been given at school before we broke up for the year along with and this was  a real highlight, a real metal medal complete with a purple ribbon.

The next visit was a rather grand occasion. It was 1963 when hordes of school children were gathered together in rows on the grass at Seddon Park on a terribly hot day. Actually we sat on seats because we were in the Fairfield College Brass Band and I imagine that we played as the royals waltzed past the corner of the field on the back of a Land Rover. This was unlike the Trooping of the Colour and there was little precision to our playing.

That didn’t stop a citizen of Hamilton from writing to the Waikato Times to compliment the band etc. etc. This pleased us enormously and it was only some years later that our Mother revealed that the citizen was indeed herself.

Visits of the Queen to New Zealand followed in 1970, 1974, 1977, 1981, 1986, 1990, 1995 and 1992 but came and went without involving us.

I wonder if bumping into a visit of the Queen Mother at the University of London in 1983 counts? Probably not! But I do love military music and played for some years in the Regimental Band of Queen Alexanders Own. But I have neither time or space to spare to regale you with stories of National  Service. I should tell you that I did savour times when medals have been pinned!

It’s time to give secondary students something to induce a return to school!

Nancy Hoffman, long-time CEO of the Boston based Jobs for the Future Foundation and a central figure in the development of Early College High Schools. These schools now stretch across the USA. Several years ago, she stated that Career and Technical Education (CTE) had become the “next best thing in high school reform.” She is clear about what a CTE landscape should look like.
So should we be clear about the interface of secondary schools and the imminent and significant impact of the new responsibility of Te Pūkenga in the creation on 1 July 2022 that Te Pūkenga will have for all Career and Technical Education that up until now has been spread across 16 tertiary providers – the Institutes and Polytechnics and some other providers that have come out of the ROVE restructure of the post-secondary career and technical.
I heard some one comment the other that “nothing will change.” I replied that it had better change or New Zealand will have lost a golden opportunity to reshape the senior secondary school which needs new direction. The Early College High Schools of the USA working with high school graduates has highlighted the opportunity for there to a “be an improvement in the match between what high school graduates know and the skills employers need.”
The next biggest reform that has to happen in New Zealand is to expand the operation of New Zealand’s only Tertiary High School. If students drop out of secondary schools in New Zealand the process has started before Year 11 and will have finished at the end of Year 12. At the MIT Tertiary High School over more that 9000 students have found success by getting into an environment that is both secondary and tertiary – Te Pūkenga need not cast around for a model – it is there ready to be replicated – the legal framework I has been in place since 2010, secondary schools , especially in the Southern Auckland region, have demonstrated a need to complement their programmes with these options that are so successful with those who are left behind. Early runs on the board for Te Pūkenga .
Another area where developments could move quickly exists. When I succeeded in having the in 2009 to get the Education Act changed in order to legitimate the Tertiary High School for the students who would be both secondary and tertiary in age, curriculum studied and legal school leaving age (this one might not matter anymore!) I also had in mind the development of trades academies which we were also proposing. And so this proved to be. The legislation that enabled the Tertiary High School to come into existence became generalised into the Secondary Tertiary Programmes and were an easy fit.
In essence, the trades academies are Tertiary/ Secondary – Lite programmes. Students are at the Trades Academies for two days each week and at their Secondary School for the remaining three days. Students like the mix of activities. Schools like the opportunity to have trades NCEA courses credited to them. Since the introduction of Trades Academies in 2003 over 50.000 students have undertaken a Trades Academy programme. Easy pickings for Te Pūkenga. These are all great stories all of which have been polytechnic built and driven with support from the Ministry of Education.
But as the saying goes – Wait!! There’s more! On the 25th May this year, the South Auckland Career and Technical community gathers to announce the start of a set of PTech Secondary school – students in the those schools will programmes. These programmes have grown out of a mix of Secondary Schools involvement, the engaging of business, industry, and commerce, and the opening up of postsecondary courses at an age earlier than the conventional age. In fact the clue to this is in the last three letters of the acronym: “PTech:” Early College High School!
South Auckland schools and those who join them are at the forefront of quality appropriate education. The challenge for Te Pūkenga is to take advantage of these proven models of education. What’s more – the increased opportunities for more and more students who are given these Career and Technical education do what they do best – provide conventional courses to students seeking traditional academic pathways.


New Zealand education has a cute capacity for explaining some ugly features. The latest is to blame COVID/OMICRON for the failure of students to return to school after the lockdowns and disruption of the past several years. It sounds convincing but face facts – declining school attendance has been a feature for quite some time. It’s not new! We have known this but declined to accept it.

In the first decade of this millennium, I used to make speeches that included warning that students were dropping out of secondary school at rates approaching 20% of each cohort and over time this had become a stubborn statistic. It was a growing feature of secondary schools but was not unknown in primary levels – it appears now to hav seeped well across the whole system and 20% has increased to 40% – the compulsory sector has become optional!

By the 2020’s, levels of absenteeism were increasing at all levels with schools and the government were challenged to find ways of arresting this. Recent reports showed that regular student attendance declined to 58%, down 6 percentage points following a brief period of stability in 2018 (64%). This means that around 40% of all students did not attend more than 90% of their available class time.

A lack of attention to managing transitions across levels was resulting in gaps in academic preparation and training. It was becoming more and more problematic as increasing numbers of students were presenting themselves ill-prepared and well behind in their academic development, They were ill-prepared for successive transitions. This was a recurring issue for students starting at both secondary school and when starting a post-secondary qualification.

The number of NEETs (Not in Education, Employment or Training) continued to creep up on educators. A new realisation was dawning that the growth of NEETs was an outcome of the performance of the schooling systems and their increasing inability to teach the full range of students. To be fair, some of this was exacerbated by social factors added to the load for schools.

Secondary students were staying longer at school. The old Turn-16-and-Celebrate-by-Getting-a-Job was no longer the custom. This was despite the evidence that extending the length of compulsory schooling and encouraging students to stay longer in conventional schools, repeatedly failed to have impact on outcomes.

The culmination of these factors – absenteeism, failure to manage transitions, the growth of NEETs, staying at school longer regardless of outcomes – has created a significant problem triggered to an inescapable level by a pandemic. But this mix of factors has seen a pattern of an increase in the number of dropouts which might have become hard-wired into the educational and skill landscape.

Analysis of school leavers’ destinations in Auckland, just before the pandemic, showed that “going nowhere” constituted the largest group of secondary school leavers. It could be that schools will have somewhat radically altered the way they work as it might not be that case that returning to school is unpalatable. Rather, what galls students faced with going back to school might be the programmes that they had faced, the ways learning was structured, and the general culture of NZ high schools. The gap and its enforced time out of school might just have been enough to encourage the reported trend among some students to not return but to seek employment.

This might not be only the encouragement of parent but a signal that they feel ready prepared to make this move. The system might be wise to consider this and their response to it. It could be that significant numbers of learners are sending the message that they are having to stay at school past the point where school seems useful and perhaps even bearable.

Now, the issues of primary school absenteeism is a different kettle of fish entirely.

Finally the penny has dropped – lit’racy has gong to the drogs

It is a simple truth that you learn to read by reading. It is also a truth that you learn to write by reading. For decades both have been ignored in school to the extent that this most useful subject, most important skill, and most important mark of a good education has been unable to exert itself into the school curriculum in an adequate manner
In the 1970’s and into the 1980’s adults who should have known better preferred to waste tine that rightly belonged to learners with the Phonics v. Ready-to-Read Debates. We have always known that both were essential. Students who simply bark at the print are denied the fact that learners get meaning from print by bringing meaning to print etc. Rich experiences in the home and the school are the fuel that feeds these fires. Stand back and think about that and you will also catch a glimpse of why some learners learn more easily than others.
And the material which is put in front of learners need not always be flash and ghee whiz! I have a modest collection of School Journals, going well back, and believe me – some of the material put in front of students in all decades was very ordinary. But there was also fiction and non-fiction of high quality, written by New Zealand’s most respected writers that provided a diet that was requiring all kinds of genre, all levels of difficulty and so readers were able to built a set of gears that they could harness and bring into use for reading a healthy range of reading using the different gear that have been developed.
Like everyone else, I was fed a series of readers at school (dutifully carried home in our little reading folders) which in our house were read numerous times. Some of those readers were an English version called Janet and John, it was a copy from an American series called Alice and Jerry.
School Readers were sometimes the cause for debate and hot demands for action from the officials. One such was the Washday at the Pa controversy. A special edition reader was a photographic booklet by Ans Westra, one of our best photographers, that focused on life among the communities of the East Cape. The book was launched on the morning of a conference in Wellington and immediately drew fierce complaints from the conference delegates. Children should not see such stuff. Stuff which honestly was a sensitive portrayal of the realities of real life in those communities. All copies were burnt overnight. The reaction was more measured on another occasion when a Ready-to-Read journal had a story about a Pakeha family who had trooped out to the airport to wave Daddy goodbye as he headed to Wellington in the Viscount Aircraft to attend a meeting – oh so middle class! New Zealand had a tendency to ban material as Alister Taylor discovered when the The Little Red Schoolbook appeared in schools!!
My mother took the view that “The stuff the boys read. Well, what we understood would do us no hard and the stuff we didn’t understand would also do us no harm.” This was a pretty safe bet in a Presbyterian home!
Thank goodness reading and writing (and mathematics) is at long last to be centre stage. Many learners will have withstood the absence for too long through the drought of instruction in those critical skill areas.