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Haydn’s “Farewell” Symphony, does it engage the audience?

In the 18th Century Joseph Haydn composed as symphony that ended in an usual manner. Towards the end of the last movement the each of the players in the orchestra stops playing. Snuffs out the candle on their music stand, and leaves in turn, so that at the end there are just two persons letft, Haydn (the conductor) and his concertmaster playing a muted viiolin. I always think of this rather unusual ending when I am dealing with student completion and disengagement. Just as audiences were puzzled at the time by the departure of the musicians. most of the analyses since are pretty arcane.

It is a truth that despite the huge literature in student disengagement there is a similar level of mystery about the disengagement of students – many untested assumptions but a smallish set of known plausible reasons. And many of the analyses are just as arcane as those disentangling Haydn’s “Farewell” Symphony. It remains something of a mystery. Just why do students get up and leave?

A few years ago a study was published and amongst the statistics gathered on students undertaking diploma courses and their progression over time, was something of a surprise. “Over 40% of those leaving without a diploma had passed every course they enrolled in, some 21% of those who started [a diploma].” The report suggests that some students possibly enrol without any intention of getting the qualification but rather are seeking opportunities to undertake parts of the programme they particularly want or need. It further speculates that many might have already gained a qualification and that their study at diploma level is in the nature of filling a gap or seeking a particular area of knowledge and skill or perhaps to update their knowledge and skill in a clearly targetted area within the field.

These are untested assumptions somewhat and there might well be a different set of motivations. It could be:

• that they make the decision that they are in the wrong course;

• that they are not being engaged in the course and in the direction that it is taking them;

• that something has changed in their lives and the end of a semester or a year seems like an appropriate time to make a change;

• that the award of the qualification is not a matter of importance;

• that they simply didn’t have the requisites for the programme;

• that they are displeased with something or other – the content, the teacher, the fellow students, who knows?

• and so on….

I always find it hard to accept the argument that students are happy with a partial qualification – “they have got what they came for!” “they don’t need the qualification, just parts of it,” – that kind of thing. And if there is a smattering of truth in this, what efforts are put into perhaps suggesting that qualifications are important and better if they are complete. Yes, the students who are early leavers from the programme will be qualified by a set of skills and a body of knowledge that they have accrued from their partial completion – that is not to be ignored. But when it comes to shifting employment the piece of paper becomes important. And if we are satisfied that not all of the qualification is necessary for the student to claim expertise and skills then questions are raised about the qualification.

Georgia State found that they increased successful completion of qualifications through the use of Academic Maps. This is a simple process in which the students receives a schematic outline of the totaa programme, its courses, the requisites and the order in which the programme parts might be undertaken. Discussion with an academic advisor sees the student complete a potential track they will undertake not just for the semester but for the whole qualification. It’s the old story – the end is where you start from. Knowing how to navigate the journey is a prerequisite for understanding the logic and progression of the ways in which the courses are put together to constitute a qualification. Without understanding the relationships between courses that constitute the programme the student could simply be blundering through ticking off papers/courses but not really understanding the whole picture. If this is so, student could well end up with an incomplete but full kete.

The reasons for passing all the papers but not completing the qualification could be as much a mystery as the departing musicians even though the outcome is not as dramtic as there being only one violin (muted at that) and the conductor. Whjy do students get up and leave the stage?

The Sad and Sorry Stubborn Stat. – Education’s Dirty Secret

It is hard to believe it but it is true. In the United States of America, 7,000 high school students drop out of high school EVERY day that the schools are open. Every hour 1,400 drop out, each minute 12 drop out, each 5 seconds somewhere in the US a young student drops out. As this avalanche of drop-outs continues unabated, the cumulative totals are horrifying – 35,000 a week building and building like a rolling snowball to reach  around 1.4 million dropouts each year.

How would New Zealand look if the same proportion of students were to drop out of school? There are around 15.1m high school students in the US and about 285,000 students in New Zealand – that’s 53 students in the US for every one of New Zealand’s secondary school students. So if New Zealand students dropped out at the same rate as their counterparts in the US we could expect to see about  5,400 drop-outs (or “disengagers” as we prefer to say) per year in New Zealand.

Now that seems to be about right if the long-held assertion is to be believed that 20% of New Zealand school students are not at school at the age of 16 years.

So why is it that both the US and NZ seemingly have about the same rates of dropping out of  or disengaging from school? It is one of those stubborn educational statistics.

The terms “drop out” and “disengage” are used interchangeably in much of the literature but I suggest that there is a distinction between them. “Drop out” is an event while “disengage” is a process . There is a subtlety to “disengage” but a brutality in “drop out”. In my view, disengaging is a process that exists in three different manifestations.

“Physical Disengagement” occurs when the student leaves the programme to not return. The signs might have been there but they have either not been noticed or they have been ignored. Some of these signs of this could be erratic attendance starting with a pattern of lateness. Following both of these up to ascertain reasons and mitigations if done early enough, could effect chmanges in behavioiurs that will see the student survive in the programme.

“Virtual Disengagement” is when a student exhibits a semblance of interest, understanding and enjoyment. Seemingly all is going well. But in reality nothing much is happening in terms of learning and the growth of understanding and skills. You can be certain that this is aone of the reasons for low results, assignments that miss the mark, work not completed and so on. The signs are there and often early. It beggars belief that students can spend months of their lives in an ever-increasing density of fog around the course and the content in it. But these students smile, they do not cause issues for those who teach and they might and probably will not ask questions. But they become disengagers, at some point and sadly on too many occasions this is at the end of the course.

Good teaching and quality interactions equitably distributed throughout the group will alleviate some of this.

Finally there are the “Unintended Disengagers” who are often the younger students and especially those attempting to manage the school-to-tertiary transition on their own. They believe that they know what they would like to do but have not developed strength in the subjects (for that is the curriculum currency) that are essential. If tertiary providers knew with certainty what the requirements for entry were, and these included soft skills and dispositions, and if these were communicated to secondary students during the early part of senior secondary, unintended disengagement could be minimised.

Georgia State places high value on students enrolling in the right course which achieves the same result but in a way retro-fits the student to the course rather than the other way around. Could NZ reduce the 5,400 total of disengagers? By some measures it is a large total (equal to 6 secondary schools) but when spread over 374+ secondary schools with 25,000+ teachers a little effort by all could well do the trick. But we would then have to address the issues of the 400,000+ in tertiary institutions!

Or do we just push on ignoring the stubborn stat. and feed more students into the NEETS / Unemployed / Under-employed?

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace of change in Education

Discussions coming out of the Tomorrow’s Schools reviews have certainly become more about yesterday’s issues than any future shape for our education system.

It is unhelpful to be too tied up in the current state of education administration that has for thirty years been loosely based around a set of “reforms” expounded upon at length (in the Administering for Excellence Report), rather scrappily and incompletely transformed into a policy (Tomorrow’s Schools) and then only partially implemented. Successive governments have certainly indulged their appetite for leaving their mark on the nine-year slices of power they have had to play around with the educatuon of our children since then.

The current proposals championed by Bali Haque but, to be fair, hatched up by a larger group he led have created a new round of swirl based largely on the old issues.

The one that is getting a lot of attention is the proposal to have a set of regional hubs. We already have these in the form of the education ministry’s Regional Offices. But these are probably responsible for too large an area in terms of numbers of school students in some cases and and the tyranny of distances in others.

Tomorrow’s Schools had in it a proposal for Education Service Centres which would have achieved the increased assistance to Boards without distorting the roles the Boards have as a voice for communities. It has never been impossible for one board to have responsibility for two or more schools, it just hasn’t happened. Clusters are not new. And this idea is not a new one!

I recall a sound approach in South Auckland with the Southern Secondary Schools Service Centre providing great services to a number of primary and secondary schools clustered around the Papatoetoe district. This came out of the 1960s, flourished through the 1970s and 1980s and went on well into the 1990s under the Tomorrow’s Schools school service centre model. It provided a service and the Principals, staff and boards of the schools concentrated on doing their best for educational standards and engagement. It worked well.

Scandanavian schools are better than our schools largely, it seems, because thay have moderated the negative impact of having extreme social differences in the characteristics of their schools. One outcome of this is that here is none of the bragging about and flaunting of privilege that marrs the current discussions. There is a pride in the education system generally rather than the obsessive elbowing by individual schools that is going on in the New Zealand discussion.

There has been a leit motif through the discussions that have followed the release of the report that suggests an intention to tackle the social differences reflected in the current structures for administration which are possibly exacerbating them. This will require us all to work towards a more balanced involment of communities that will not only be good for “us” but will also be good for “them” and make us better as a country, stronger as an economy and prouder of our efforts to get NZ back to a point where all citizens have a chance.

With the softening of students numbers and the many reviews that are under way in education, it would be a lost opportunity if we were to ignore sensible change simply because old habits die hard. They way we are going it is likely that the principal actors will do little more than strut and fret their hour upon the stage and then be heard no more.

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?

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!.”

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.

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


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.