Archive for Uncategorized

There’s Nothing as Practical as a Good Theory

Stuart Middleton

EdTalkNZ

15 October 2018

Conferences often have great appeal especially when they are characterised as a “world congress.’ And while the programme basks in the glory of X plenary sessions, Y presenters and Z delegates, the highlights generally originate from the casual conversations with some of the folk who are there, the ideas you scoop up and note in notebooks or on scraps of papers and the  general enthusiasm generated by the conference/congress theme.

The World Congress of Colleges and Polytechnics held just an such event in Melbourne last week. The title of this post was in fact a sub-heading in a pamphlet published by the Victorian  Curriculum and Assessment Authority on “Applied Learning”. It outlined four key underpinning principles which were:

  1. applied learning is an approach that emphasises the relevance to the “real world outside the classroom;
  2. applied learning will involve students and teachers with partnerships and connections with organisations and individuals outside the school;
  3. applied learning is concerned wirth nurturing the student in a holistic manner to take account of personal strengths, interests, goals and previous experiences;
  4. applied learning plays a part in the transition from school to work.

 

Inevitable in these kinds of summary advice lead to some simple (simplistic?) pieces of advice.

  1. Start where students are at.
  2. Negotiate the curriculum. Engage in a dialogue with students about their curriculum.
  3. Share knowledge. Recognise the knowledge students bring to the learning environment.
  4. Connect with communities and real-life experiences.
  5. Build resilience, confidence and self-worth – consider the whole person.
  6. Integrate learning – the whole task and the whole person. In life we use a range of skills and knowledge. Learning should reflect the integration that occurs in real-life tasks.
  7. Promote diversity of learning styles and methods. Everyone learns differently. Accept that different learning styles require different learning or teaching methods, but value experiential, practical and ‘hands on’ ways of learning.
  8. Assess appropriately. Use the assessment method that best ‘fits’ the learning content and context.

Furthermore the pamphlet points to advantages of applied learning:

  • improved student motivation and commitment
  • providing a context for learning the generic skills that are valued in the workplace, e.g. problem solving, working effectively with others and in teams, leadership and personal responsibility
  • learning engages students
  • improved self-esteem and confidence for those involved
  • improved transition for students from school to work and/or further education
  • a way of catering effectively for students with different preferred learning styles
  • providing a meaningful context for learning both theoretical concepts and practical skills.

The point of regaling all this to you is to emphasise that there is developing some level of international agreement which was clear at the Congress about the value of applied learning, about its importance in moving education systems closer to the key purpose and role of education in supporting economic development through expanding the size and competence of the skill base on which the future of economies rely.

I used to think that the failure to do this was quintessentially a feature of English-speaking education systems but it was heartening to see the progress being made in this regard in many countries. Of course the principles outlined above seem a little commonplace – they are but they are crucial.

The Sad Case of NCEA and Nostalgia

The Sad Case of NCEA and Nostalgia

Stuart Middleton

EdTalkNZ

4 October 2018

There are people who think strategically with their gaze fixed firmly on the rear view mirror.

Others base their views of the future on nostalgia. This is, of course, served up with huge dollops of sentiments around “keeping that which we cannot afford to lose.” These thoughts are usually recollected through a haze by people who believe that they are the privileged ones (they usually are in fact) ordained to protect those who don’t know what’s good for them (they usually do but no-one asks them).

NCEA was comprised during its difficult birth by the introduction of features that have their origins in a hankering for elements in the assessment systems of the past that were being replaced. I remember the delight of the NZQA staffer who announced to the assembled Ministers Principals Lead Group in the early 1990s that he had an answer to the charge that NZEA does not reward those who are, for one reason or another, simply better than others.

“Let’s have different levels of ‘Achievement’ rather than the then proposed ‘Achieved /Not Achieved’ that students were to receive depending on whether they had or had not demonstrated that they had met the standard”. And so the triplets ‘Achieved’, ‘Merit’ and ‘Excellence’ were born to the delight of some and the unease of others. It was to be a staged bell curve that preserved the elements of the old examination system – “scholarship” later added weight to the impact of this.

Never mind that it was an abrogation of the notion of standards based assessment. Forget that there were other more profitable ways to take account of the levels at which students could achieve – tackling higher levels and moving more quickly are two that spring to mind.

That reminds me that another genuflection to received practice is the packaging of NCEA into organisational bits separated by Christmas. Schools were used to marshalling students and delivering curriculum in age-related batches called “Forms” and more latterly “Years” and it seemed necessary to deliver NCEA as if it was a programme rather than a set of assessment standards to be applied to a programme. Immediately we had the slavish pattern of Year 11 = Level 1, Year 12 = Year 12 and Year 13 = Level 3. Students who could move more quickly were denied an opportunity to do so. While there has been some loosening up this rigidity remains. The gear was geared to retaining students for 13 years despite evidence that this is not bringing benefit to perhaps 60% of students.

That is not the case everywhere. At the MIT Tertiary High School students, from the time they arrive, are able to get credit at all levels with an outcome that sees them “getting level x, y and z” as something that happens when they get there rather than at the end of a year. The stages emerge as they accrue the assessments within the programmes they study.

Again, nostalgia seems to rule NCEA.  In fairness this might also have been encouraged by the manner of its introduction. The current Hon Speaker of the House, Min of Ed at the time, determined that the three year set of qualifications would be introduced incrementally avoiding some significant disruption to the schools.

But disruptive change is not a bad thing. There is evidence that effective change requires some degree of disruption and without it the status quo often wins. That is reflected in the persistent theme in the USA of “so much reform, so little change” (c.f. Charles Payne).  It’s is also why the statistics are stubbornly refusing to budge despite the successive wave of reform. As one commentator lamented: “it’s not what reforms do to education  – it’s what education does to reforms!”

The relatively low number of students gaining a Vocational Pathway designation highlights the extent to which it is not being used as a curriculum organizer. Students are not getting on to pathways that take them beyond secondary school and into employment.

Imagine if that longstanding example of standards-based assessment, the New Zealand Drivers Licence, was to be conducted in the tradition of the norm-referenced examination system that NCEA replaced.

  • All of the prospective drivers would turn up at the testing station at  the same time on the same day.
  • As the group was too large to cope with a test involving driving a car they would settle down to answer a written test about the practical elements of driving.
  • They would complete a multi-choice test on the rules.
  • They would of course have been told not what specific knowledge and skills were to be tested on but rather given a huge amount information some of which was important for the test.

More importantly half of the students would fail regardless of the level of their knowledge. Before you rush to say that would be a good thing remember that half would also pass regardless of the level of their knowledge. All we would not have any clear evidence for any of the students of what they can do or perhaps cannot do when they sit behind the steering wheel and start the engine.

NCEA is a mechanism whereby students and their parents and caregivers can steer their way onto productive pathways. It is time that students and their parents/caregivers were put into the drivers seat.

 

The NCEA Season

First, I welcome you back after something of a long period during which the EdTalkNZ voice has been quiet. Troubles with the site led to a somewhat lengthy delay but the site has been rebuilt and EdTalkNZ is back in business!

Now, as I was saying……

When ideology comes through the door, ideas fly out the window.

I have often said that the danger in the current review of NCEA is that the enthusiasm of these kinds of moments could lead to a conclusion that rather than seeing the baby being thrown out with the bathwater we see the bath being thrown out.

It was therefore heartening to see the Principal of Diocesan School for Girls in Auckland, Heather McRae, making a strong plea and case for the retention of NCEA substantially in the form that it is.

“As a private school some of these issues [i.e. a wide range of other concerns expressed by Auckland Principals related to issues other than NCEA] are less impactful….. We do, however, want to see NCEA continue to be an outstanding qualification and one that has international credibility. WE believe that small adjustments may well make improvements, but wholesale restructuring of a number of systems simultaneously over a short time is perilous and uninformed.[1]

This is strong support for a calmer response to the NCEA Review which seems to have in it an assumption that it must change. What happened to Voltaire’s wise caution that “When it’s not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change.” The case for change has simply not yet been put and the carefully managed consultation processes are unlikely to emerge with it.

The full-page paid advertisement in the national press from a subset of school principals in Auckland included the group pf principals who have tried to kill NCEA from as along ago as the consultation processes pre-dating its introduction in the early 1990s. They simply didn’t want it for their schools so they set about introducing an overseas examination and as appropriate engaged more with the International Baccalaureate programme. Good on them. They have a right to manage their schools as they see fit. But that does not confer a right for them to suggest nor even to know what is best for other schools.

Take one simple example. Few of the signatories would have foreseen that the introduction in 2010 of secondary / tertiary programmes into the options for schools to consider would become a resounding success. These opportunities to study subjects more typically thought of as tertiary study has been taken up by hundreds of students not at the expense of the secondary school programme but as an embellishment to it that often re-engages with education, creates lines of sight to possible career options and, above all, through applied learning admits them to ways of learning that are more accessible than those the conventional academic track has been able to open up to them. This could not have been possible without the NCEA credit approach and structure. And over 70,000 students have benefitted from the introduction of secondary / tertiary programmes since 2009.

Yes, there are areas where some attention would produce change – the record of learning could be both enlarged in scope to include soft skills, reduced in bulk in its reporting of achievements and reordered to highlight areas of strength rather than the chronological accrual of credit that currently is overwhelming to many in the community including employers.

But! NCEA is a critical tool in restoring the capability of the NZ education system to fulfil the promise of opportunity and pathways for young New Zealanders.

This is the first of a series of blogs related to NCEA. Others in this series will include:

  • The distortion of the standards based approach.
  • How slavishly following the school calendar has distorted NCEA
  • What happened to Vocational Pathways?
  • What are pathways and how are they achieved?
  • Managed transitions or fall through the gaps?
  • Seamlessness and Dr Smith

….. and perhaps more, after all the NCEA conversation is really only starting!

[1] McRae, Heather (2018) DIO Today 2018 Diocesan School for Girls, Auckland, p.7

Lost Information – the battle with data

 

Stuart Middleton

EdTalkNZ

3 April 2018

 

T S Eliot, writing a long time ago, posed some questions. This was long before we were swamped with knowledge and I could ask Alexa, my little Amazon helper who sits on my study desk, almost anything I wished to know. He asked:

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?[1]

I suggest that were he developing this line of thinking now, he might well have written a third question:

Where is the information we have lost in data?

I have long believed and many times written that there are probably three metrics that you need to understand most of the educational issues we face.

I have promoted three metrics that inform our success in a tertiary education institution: Get then in! Keep them on track! Get the through! Or, participation, retention and success. Of course this is very simple and risks being a little simplistic. But when the myriad studies, theses, publications, conferences and theories about just those three words is considered, you have to conclude that education systems have been remarkably unsuccessful in understanding what those three words actually mean, developing responses that lead to actions that are required to give purposeful effect to each of them let alone understand outcomes such as access and equity.

I once started to learn to play bridge which quickly turned into a weekly encounter with frustration. I asked the tutor to stop overloading us with information (thanks be to Alvin Toffler) and simply tell us the three things that we needed to know. This was greeted with much laughter but at the end of the session there came an admission that there just might be three, perhaps four, such critical understandings and that these would be delivered in due course. They never were! I was awash with data – rules, moves, protocols, customs, behaviours remained uninformed of the very things that I needed to nail if I was to make progress.

So what a joy it was to start reading a book that has emerged from the growing interest in the use of data in community colleges in the USA.[2] This book starts by setting out what the current data environment is and, in a nutshell, describes it as too much detail and too little action. They see educators “awash in data but not informed,” with “mindsets that seem to confirm views that “more data, more tables, more charts, more reports, more sophisticated analysis will do the trick”. They do not see a reflection in the material available that recognizes that “different users and audiences… which equire different types of reports and displays.”

In opening their discussion about a new model they challenge six assumptions:

  1. Community college faculty and staff are eager to engage in discussions about student performance.
  2. Just knowing there is a problem is enough to make a change.
  3. We know how to fix a certain type of problem.
  4. Administrators, faculty and staff are willing and eager to make improvements in student success.
  5. Organisations can change practices and policies when necessary.
  6. Studying everything leads to better decisions.

Their conclusions about these assumptions might not be an accurate reflection of the NZ setting but they see data as not yet serving well the needs of educators who have yet to embrace willingly the thrust to improve outcomes but there are encouraging developments, and they caution about the use of ‘big data’ and the huge number of tools being made available for manipulation. Theirs is a message of simplicity, accuracy and focus.

They also provide a useful template for that focus:

  • Is the information accurate?
  • What jumps out and why?
  • What are the themes?
  • Is comparison data available?
  • Does this information challenge current assumptions about this population?
  • What might be contributing to their success?
  • What might be detracting from their success?
  • Is this the data we need to make a decision?
  • What is the most important information?
  • What is missing?

A lot of this reflects the developments in Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, and California, all states which have pursued the pathways on which data leads to a crystallisation of the key pressure points and some relatively simple responses.

Must move on to Chapter 2 now – I face the rest of the book with enthusiasm.

 

[1] T S Eliot “Choruses from ‘The Rock’ – 1934, 1.The Eagle soars in the summit of Heaven

[2] Phillips, Brad C. and Horowitz, Jordan E. (2017) Creating a Data-Informed Culture in Community Colleges: A New Model for Educations, Harvard Education Press, Cambridge, MA.

Ask Peter Snell! It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish!

Stuart Middleton

EdTalkNZ

22 April 2018

It is true that Education at all levels is a complex business. But that is not a reason for us to head towards complexity when we try to explain what we do or, more importantly, when we measure what we do?

There are significant attempts being made in the US to development and implement programmes aimed at attending to the continuing depressed levels of outcomes for what is sometimes called “subgroups of interest” but more likely to be known as “priority learners in New Zealand. These are the groups of students who are first-in-family / first generation students, younger students (NZ Under-25s), racial / ethnic subgroups (NZ Māori and Pasifika) and, in the US largely, because of the structure of the student financial assistance programmes, students of low income.

Quite rightly all these programmes require measures of effectiveness. Emerging strongly from all this discussion is a view that qualification completion is the the best measure. This does not mean completion eventually but completion in a timely period. In turn, this means that a three year programme is completed by a full-time student in three years. Of course the length of time for part-time students to complete is proportionate to the extend of the time commitment to study – a student studying for 50% of the time would be expected to complete in double the time.

This requires a little more sophistication in measuring completion than is currently the case. The process of reporting completion based on “completing within X years” in not an adequate measure because it ignores that students could meet the softer measure (i.e. completion of a three year programme within six years could conceal a student’s journey characterised by failure, repetition of courses, difficulties faced but conquered in time, disruptive breaks in study, slow starts to the programme, a lack of targetted, timely responses in the provision of support, and so on.

Whereas a student measured by a simple “completion in a timely mannerz’ (i.e. a 1 year programme completed in one year, a 2 year programme in two, a 3 year ….. etc) provides a proxy assurance that all or most of the programme has been delivered appropriately, that support requested has been provided, that support needed has been identified and responsed to and that the student has manged to attend diligently, made good use of alternate learning experiences (e.g. on-line support and instruction, has felt that they have been in a community of learners and family support has been forthcoming when required.

Now, to head towards this simple and clear measure of success, free of abivalence and ambiguity, understood by both student and teachers, is no simple matter. There has to be a raft of support services, onboarding procedures, targetted interventions at both an individual and group level, involvement of support professionals and teaching professionals working in tandem to support students and the areas such a health care, counselling services, IT help and support, transport advice and support.

And if the measure is to focus on “timely” completion, the importance of Academic Mapping and Career Planning which plans the student journey from start to finish is an imperative. Much better than the prevailing approach of “let’s start and we will see what happens…”. Such initial plans of course are open to amendment but New Zealand, particularly the ITP Sector, has many fewer opportunities for optional courses so this would not be as big an issue or task.

In the US students starting a programme need to factor in required supplemental courses, a general education programme and a number of prerequisites for their eventual major. We have the same issues but expressed differently. Are students prepared academically for the studies ahead? Are there opportunities for them to access means opportunities to attend to perceived and real academic issues before they start?

A commitment to the goal – Timely Completion – would position institutions to much greater levels of focus than is typically the case now.

Students who complete are students who continue. Students who succeed commend the experience to others. Students with qualifications get a chance at entering employment that is denied to those who don’t. Who wouldn’t want to see institutions getting the benefit of this?

Peter Blake had a question that he used to test any suggestion of something the programme should do: Will it make the boat go faster? Those who sail in the education waka might ask of ourselves when considering what we would like to do and how we would like to spend the revenue: “Will it help the students succeed?”

NCEA and the Performing Seal of Approval

EdTalkNZ

Stuart Middleton

14 March 2018

 

Teachers are reported (NZ Herald, 13 March 2018) to be “gobsmacked” by revelations that in NCEA some subjects have higher levels of performance than others. This utterly astonishing information shows that 69% of students in Home and Life Studies pass while in Languages 93% pass. The story gets worse! In Languages 43% achieve “excellence” but only 9% in Home and Life Sciences get “excellence”.

It should not be news at all to teachers that students who study some subjects are better at their school work than students in some other subjects. Teachers know only too well that some students bring into the secondary school a higher level of academic preparation and perhaps aptitude and disposition than others. And the process of moving through the school system sees this reflected in subject choice and perhaps even the advice given to students. While schools would advance the view that the old approach of streaming / tracking students has well and truly gone, it could be that it is as clearly defined now informally in the practices in school as it has ever been.

But other things puzzle me. I thought that some of the issues teachers had with NCEA was that it failed to discriminate between different levels of ability in students and ignored the differences between “hard” subjects and “soft options” as they are frequently described. Well here is evidence that it does discriminate.

The suggestion advanced in the recent The NZ Initiative report “Spoiled by Choice”[1] that we introduce a “weighted relative performance index” which would even out the differences or, at least, reorganise them into a more acceptable pattern.

This would take us back into one of the worst features of the old School Certificate approach with its “hierarchy of means”. It worked like this. Student’s performance in a set of “gold standard” subjects (English, Maths, Science and Biology if my memory is right) would establish their true ability. The performance of a set of students in another subject, let’s call it Medieval War Machines, would be referenced back to the performance of that group of students in the gold standard set. This would establish with “scientific accuracy” the mean for Medieval War Machines and would be the basis on which the students were scaled.

One of the factors that blew the whistle on this was the scaling down, to low levels, of Māori students with high levels of fluency in Maori but less impressive performance in the gold standard set of subjects – it was all highly open to challenge and quite hidden – the boffins in the back rook controlled the future lives of so many people.

Actually the replacing of “not achieved / achieved” with “not achieved / achieved / merit and excellence” was the most significant compromise made to NCEA and The NZ Initiative Report rightly notes this in the excellent section on compromises. However my recollection is that it was not as tied to the introduction of Achievement Standards as the report records. I remember the day when the notion of some passes being formally recognised as being better than other passes.

Dr Lockwood Smith, Minister of Education, at the time, established a Principals Lead Group to assist with the final development and introduction and I was fortunate to be able to serve on it. It was a group of two caucuses – the more liberal and the more conservative. One day, at a meeting in Wellington, an NZQA official came into the meeting and proposed the “achieved, merit and excellence” categories for recording success. I and several others saw this as a fundamental abrogation of the principles of standards-based assessment. The conservative wing were joyous, at last their students would receive the recognition they so deserved and it would be clear that they were better students than those in the schools represented by those of us who had reservations.

A grand irony of this is that very soon, those who had supported the differentiation of recognition of performance by and large turned their backs on NCEA and imported an examination into their schools that would allow them to carry on without change. That is their right and I have always respected it. But a key issue in the development of NCEA is that it was a development that would benefit markedly the students who were not in the university-headed group which current stands at 28% of the school cohort but great weight was placed on the views of those who led schools full of students for whom NCEA did not have the relevance it had for other students.

NCEA has a capacity to allow the other 72% to proceed along pathways that will help them become well-qualified and employed. It is not an accident that the recent figures released show that the institution that leads the tertiary sector in terms of earning power of students measured five years after completion, is a polytechnics strongly committed to standards-based learning and to seeing NCEA as a most powerful pathway across the divide between secondary school and tertiary providers. It works!

 

[1] Lipson, B (2018) Spoiled by Choice, The New Zealand Initiative, Wellington

The Balloon goes up for the NCEA Discussion

Stuart Middleton

EdTalkNZ

5 March 2018

 

The hasty and ideological call for a review of NCEA was certain to achieve one thing – all the tired old arguments carefully assembled to stop NCEA being introduced 15 years ago and trotted out for an airing each December when the media feasts on stories related to the NCEA examinations and again in January when students receive results, would be certain to be dusted off.

The first shot at this is the report coming from the NZ Initiative which on its release was given wide coverage by the weekend newspapers. One story begins with the assertion that “We have been deluded ourselves into thinking that we are doing well, the NZ Initiative report argues.” No-one would refute this, New Zealand has for some decades and long-before NCEA came on the scene dined out on the belief that we had the best education system in the world.

But some educators knew otherwise as the system continued to fail to deliver equitable results for all students – the university-bound were doing well and this was in fact the only group that was. The other 70% were either simply not succeeding in the conventional school curriculum to an acceptable standard or were receiving a diet of teaching and learning that was disconnected from their life and devoid of any clear connection to the world of work.

It took a government official who was leading a major education agency, in an Emperor’s New Clothes moment, to declare that just as the new clothes were invisible so too was the notion that the education system was meeting the needs of all students.

Indeed the coverage of the NZ Initiative notes the improvements for NCEA completion among Maori and Pasifika and the increase in the proportion of those groups getting University Entrance. Something’s working. But the reported aspersion cast on that performance by the dark suggestion that the improvement might have been based on “learning that is of dubious value” reveals another set of beliefs about the curriculum. The value of learning is invested with value by the purposes for which it is both intended and applied. Clearly the learning required of those intent on becoming doctors of medicine is different from those wanting to work in building and construction and the anatomy of a motor vehicle is very different from that of a human being.

The remains a belief that the curriculum required for entry into university sets the standard to which should aspire.

“Harder” is not a very valuable description of learning – and even a cursory reading of the descriptors of learning on the NZ Qualifications Framework would reveal a carefully crafted set of outcome statements that progressively require a high level of performance by students as they travel through Levels 1-3 in the secondary school, then through certificates, diplomas and first degrees (levels 4-7) and, if their pathway requires it, postgraduate work up to Level 10. Now 5 is higher than 2 and 10 higher than both of them. It is the level that describes the extent to which learning is “harder” to use the vernacular and as students progress through the levels they are being prepared for the level of work required of them at each step.

 

The call for a core curriculum is puzzling. A look at the NZ Curriculum document would ease people’s minds. New Zealand has always had a core curriculum and continues to have a core curriculum. It is hard not to think that what people are seeking is to ask for that core curriculum to be extended well into the senior secondary school. That is an entirely different discussion. Prolonging a student’s exposure to a set of curriculum areas that they have engaged with for 10, 11, or 12 years is unlikely to achieve much. Raising the school leaving age has a poor reputation internationally as a means of raising performance and, indeed, the notion of a school leaving age is in tatters as 20% of students have disappeared from the school system by the age of 16 years.

What is greatly to be desired is a curriculum in the senior secondary school that will engage students and take then on to pathways that excite them, offer them a sight of the future and start the process of equipping them for employment. In short, the differentiated senior school curriculum rather than a diet of the stuff you need for university study will be the way forward.

Indeed, many secondary schools are doing this and the growth of secondary / tertiary programmes (which is another story) has been made possible by a system of credit that is flexible in terms of both subjects to be studied and the site where that is done. NCEA has been a central instrument in allow this to happen.

I look now to read at leisure the NZ Initiative Report rather than the press treatments of it. With the impending review of NCEA starting, there will be much to engage our minds in the near future.

 

 

We are all in this Bird Cage Together

 

Stuart Middleton

EdTalkNZ

1 March 2018

It seems appropriate given its location on the West Coast of New Zealand with its many coal mines, that the Tai Poutini Polytechnic should be something of a canary caged in the labyrinth of funding and operational constraints that is the ITP and Polytechnic world.

Yes, the institution has pretty serious issues that cannot be ignored or denied and these have been well publicised – the lowest rating possible from NZQA in terms of quality a declining student enrolment, the tyranny of distance (the West Coast is the equivalent of Auckland to Wellington in length) and a horrific financial position. The Government will “inject” a further $8.5m to sit alongside the almost $25m previously written off because the institution could not afford to pay back the debt owed to the Crown resulting from the under-delivery of its programmes.

But while the canary might be close to croaking rather than singing, none of this a justification for lumping all polytechnics into the same basket. The sector does face issues but they are not the issues of management, or of governance, or of the difficulties of location. The major element the sector shares with Tai Poutini is that of declining numbers which in large measure this must be managed through manipulating its portfolio and staffing – it is not easy.

The TEC got it wrong when it characterised the issues as being “outside the metropolitan centres” with the assertion that the impact of “increase in costs, and little or no money to invest in capital works or operational improvements” left those institutions with little or no money to act as a “buffer against a downturn in revenue”, (this in the TEC briefing to the incoming Minister). For different reasons this could equally be said of the metropolitan ITPs.

The warning signs are right across the sector but the way in which issues impact on different institutions is in itself different. Tai Poutini is not typical. To attempt to address the issues of the sector in a single way is about as useful as a doctor going into the crowded waiting room and announcing that “Today I am going to treat everyone for urinary infection!”

For instance, the issues faced in Auckland are different and are caused somewhat by the sector itself. There is decline in enrolments but this is exacerbated by competition from ITPs whose home regions are outside of the Auckland region. By my reckoning, nine of the 14 ITPs who are not domiciled in Auckland are operating campuses in Auckland targeting international students and offering a small number of other popular programmes. The TEC is complicit in this situation in as much as it has at some time and one way or another, approved this. The two ITPs that are of Auckland, rather than simply being in Auckland, are in essence competing with the sector. The net result is that the performance of both groups is distorted.

I welcome the Minister’s promised review especially if it addresses the measures required to return ITPs to their regional mission and to enact the intention of the TEAC reforms (early 1990s?) in spelling out the “distinctive contributions “of the tertiary sector.

An early view of the polytechnic sector resulted in the establishment of the “Hawkes Bay Community College” in 1974 which would provide technical and vocational programmes alongside a mixture of ACE-style programming aimed at the social and intellectual needs of the community. It became a one-off and morphed into EIT- the Eastern Institute of Technology. Returning ITPs to the commitment to community would allow Investment Plans and special funding to reflect the particular and demonstrated needs of communities.

TEAC was quite an influential set of reforms (indeed it established TEC). One of its themes was “distinctive contributions” – the idea that Universities, ITPs, Wānanga, ITOs and PTEs would each contribute to the needs of the community is ways that were different, a sound and worthy goal. But just as once the road to hell was paved with good intentions, in the future at some point the road to hell will be packed with sign-written SUVs of education providers, windows down, all playing ABBA’s “Money, Money Money!”. The Minister would be well advised to read those TEAC Reports (I think there were four of them).

In a recent release (22/02/2018) the Minister started that what was needed for a “better and fairer tertiary sector” was one in which differences between public, private and community providers are clearer and more consistent.” So what is the response to this wish? “To set up CTEP (Community Tertiary Education Providers that are not-for-profit community groups providing tertiary education for the public good. This change will allow the public to distinguish them from for-profit providers.”

Responses such as this do not bode well for a review that addresses the real issues and arrives at serious and appropriate responses to them!

Paying the Price for Daring to be Different

 

Stuart Middleton

EdTalkNZ

13 February 2018

 

The Government’s 100 day gallop is over and education got the trifecta.

First, tertiary free fees for the first year of tertiary study introduced at speed and free of any targeting.

Secondly, National Standards go out the door replaced by nothing at all, leaving parents to wonder if their children are on track.

Thirdly, and this was no surprise, Partnership Schools will go or perhaps remain in some other form, or perhaps…… Whatever they will be wrapped back into the very system to which they offered an alternative.

These changes were each signaled in the election campaign, an event that inevitably sees a scramble of ideas is tossed into the fray by all and sundry, underpinned by little policy and even less consultation other, perhaps than with a chosen few people and organisations.

The Government’s reported reasons for dealing to the Partnership Schools are somewhat puzzling; while claiming that they were abolishing them because they were introduced for ideological reasons, they now appear to be taking these steps for their own purely ideological reasons. Let’s see a robust argument that will counter the considerable evidence internationally that would support the view that they are well worth supporting – the best of them are superb. In fact, just as there are excellent, struggling and indifferent public schools, there are excellent, struggling and indifferent charter schools. To characterize them all as unworthy is misleading and unfair.

Right across the English-speaking world, Partnership Schools were seen as a different way of working which could bring success to students who were not catered for in the mainstream system. In New Zealand this included significantly, Māori and Pasifika students. New Zealand has a variety of school types; State, State Integrated, Independent, Special Character, Kura Kaupapa, Special Needs, Alternative Schools, each cater for different sets of students in different kinds of communities.

Partnership Schools with their capability of working differently, offering a changed curriculum, using different organizational approaches, offering students different ranges of teachers, and so on. The different business model that Partnership Schools were able to use might have informed the mainstream system had it been allowed to flourish but it now seems likely to be dampened by the conventional and outdated resourcing structures that hold schools back.

And what is so frightening about this tiny number of schools prepared to be different?

The mainstream schooling system in New Zealand might no longer be fit for purpose into the 21st Century. It does the conventional well for the 33% who go on to university or into degree programmes at Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics. But it serves the rest in a very patchy manner. It has taken the development of Secondary / Tertiary Programmes to show that with motivation, different programmes, using NCEA to its full capability all based on sound working relationships between secondary schools and tertiary institutions which results in a very significant number of students succeeding where once they had mixed results.

The conventional secondary schools of the English-speaking education systems will always face difficulties in trying to achieve equitable results simply because they have for the past 60 years never had to. Current secondary schools are simply not equipped to do so. The scale of disengagement from the school system escalated when schools saw the industrial arts go into postsecondary settings blocking off the valuable pathways to employment that schools had once provided for so many.

A Totara Falls, Many Mourn and a New Day Dawns

 

Stuart Middleton

EdTalkNZ

9 February 2018

 

Kua hinga te totara o te wao nui o Tane

The death of a chief is described by Maori as the falling of the totara tree in the great forest of Tane. The totara tree at Manukau Institute of Technology has fallen in this little part of the great forest. MIT has been mourning the death of Kukupa Tirakatene, our long serving Kaumatua, Kaiako o te Reo Maori, Kaiākau, Rangatira, Matua, Papa and friend to so many both at MIT and across Aotearoa.

Such a period of time is cause for reflection and as the tangi held at MIT ran its course, I thought often of my twin brother, Ewen, who passed away two years ago and who had worked with Kū at Rosehill College over a decade or so when Kū introduced Te Reo Māori into that school and was the only Maori teacher on the staff. As was the case in those times when this was common, the teacher of Te Reo was the go-to person for all matters Maori and all issues facing Maori students.

Such a role was demanding and my brother often mentioned the remarkable work being done by Kū in that setting, the assistance given to teachers and the huge contribution made to the school.

It was not to be the only time that Kū was to take an education institution and hold its hand as it took first steps and then increasingly bolder steps along the path towards a place where equity, parity, tino rangatiratanga, Te Tiriti, and manaakitanga started to impact on the minds, awareness and eventually the practices of those who work in it. It is quite a journey as this tapestry is woven.

Kū’s trademark kaikōrero at powhiri was “E kore e taea e te whenu kotahi ki te raranga I te whariki kia mohio ai tatou ki a tatou mā te mahi tahi o ngā whenu” – “The tapestry of understanding cannot be woven by one strand alone”.  The extended metaphor of weavers working together to achieve the fabric was how he exhorted people to behave, to work with others to achieve results but to also take note of the mistakes made (the “dropped stitches”) because there are learnings in them.

At MIT Kū lived these principles over a long time, working with some remarkable people – Tupae Pepe, Hapimana Rikihana, Dr Ranginui Walker, Sonny Rauwhero, Blackie Pohatu, and Maurice Wilson are names that spring to mind – to achieve things that were then new to MIT; teaching te Reo Māori, courses on Treaty Awareness, processes for ensuring that programmes took up opportunities they presented to reflect ako Maori and in the late 1990s the establishment of the Nga Kete Wananga Marae. All of these developments ebbed and flowed over time but increasingly such concerns were coming on to centre stage locally, regionally and nationally throughout Aotearoa.

In the early 2000s MIT instituted a project called Target 2010. Its goals were appropriate for then and focused on professional knowledge of staff and increased participation of Maori and Pacific communities in polytechnic education at MIT. A key element of this work was that the focus was on both Maori and Pacific and Kū’s contribution to bringing Pacific communities and students into a closer focus should not be underestimated. He celebrated both strands of the project and supported initiatives that established the key principles which saw the Pacific focus flourish but alongside a context where the kawa and tikanga of tangata whenua was respected and perhaps even strengthened.

MIT is embarking on a new wave of activity to achieve parity between priority learner groups and the overall performance of the institute. And as it pushes it boats out on this one, it will be without Kū Tirikātene, we will not have our Kaiākau, Papa Kū, to steer the canoe but we do have the learnings we have taken from his whakatauki, his karakia and and his example.

After a great tree has fallen in the forest there is a time of silence – the forest is grieving. Then over time the birdsong returns, other trees start to fill the gap and the forest seems to return to normal. But it is never the same.

Kua hinga te totara o te wao nui o Tane

Haere ra e te rangatira, haere, haere, haere atu ra.