Whimpers and limp papers

If Eliot’s world ended in a whimper then the NCEA changes resulting from the recent review are something of a limp omelette made from the Curate’s egg.

The “change package” is something less than a package with its smattering of adjustments and changes, several good but many more not so. In its efforts to make NCEA more accessible the most significant and sensible change is proposed – NCEA fees and those for NZ Scholrship are to be abolished. This is beyond a doubt the most sensible  item in whole package. It has always been an inequitous feature of the qualification procedures and, when schools failed to record credits because students hadn’t paid, was  simply shameful.

Māori pressed for changes and by and large received some that will strengthen NCEA for many students as the wider potential of ākonga Māori is recognised along with the development of new assessment materials. This confirmation of appropriate pedagogy will result in increased      success, finally captured as credit on the NZQF – diversity at the point of the education system that once was characterised by an arrogant and racist set of practices.

It is sad that the literacy and numeracy standards have been given a role on their own – a classic case which could lead to the teaching and learning of literacy for no obvious reason. To suggest that Literacy and Numeracy are co-requisites for the learning of skills and knowledge misses the point. Without something to be literate and numerate about, literacy and numeracy cease to have existence. Meaning and the ability to share it is literacy, and to be able to do so is to be literate.

“Bigger is better” is the cry for fewer standards. Those reviewing NCEA either lost the plot at this point or were determined to change the script into a dark and nasty tale. This section to large measure destroys the flexibility the characterises NCEA. A 50:50 split between internal and external assessment, integrating achievement standards, unit standards and associated materials (whatever they are), narrows the scope for different approaches. But I must say it was good to see the Reform of Vocational Education (RoVE) recognised. Secondary Tertiary Programmes were excluded from that Vocational Education review for a reason. (A forthcoming blog will discuss the role of NCEA in Vocational Education and Training.)

The great victory for those who work across a wide range of students is the retention of NCEA Level 1 despite the call for it to be removed. The 10% of students for whom this will be the highest level reached are only part of a wider group for whom Level 1 is valuable. It is the first step to success, it is the foundation for Level 2 which leads to Level 3 and the wide posibilities offered by Level 3 programmes in schools, in secondary / tertiary programmes and in tertiary institutions. Without Levels 1 and 2 there is no Level 3 and success.

There is an odd suggestion that Level 1 could be done at age 7. A suggestion such as this surely can only mean that the review had run out of steam.



Arriving back at the beginning not knowing where we have been!

Stuart Middleton

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started 
And know the place for the first time.”

                               (T S Eliot  “Little Gidding”)

The direction in which the discussion about NCEA has drifted is most disappointing. Instead of engaging in key issues of Educational Achievement it has got bogged down in a nostalgic dragging up of all the old features of the examination system that was replaced by NCEA, the issues that finally brought the examinations system down and an attempt to re-engineer them fit into a new reconstruction of the assessment of student achievement.

We see this in a quest for large blocks of credits (something already able to be done), in the need to squeeze credits into recognisable conventional subjects, in the innocently raise questions about statistical modification. (Do people not recall the “dirty little secrets” of scaling, of group mean referencing, of the mindless application of the Bell Curve to mark distribution, which finally led to enough calls for change, that change came?)

With the increased proportion of the youth population staying at secondary school longer we needed a system that could reflect a much greater range of achievements than a stack of conventional examinations of conventional subjects.  Do you remember the rites of passage around celebrating reaching 15years of age by leaving school – and often on the actual birthday? We badly needed a system that could reflect achievement across a far wider range of achievement than ever the examinations could manage? The enlarged cohorts of students being retained in secondary schools demanded and enlarged set of curriculum pathways.

Furthermore, the shift to a standards-based assessment regime meant that a student had to demonstrate the learning of specific skills and knowledge, and would actually receive the credit as they achieved it, rather than simple get the blessing of an exam mark generated by a distribution and shifted around through group means referencing.

It should not be forgotten that change to the secondary school external assessment system gained momentum after the ruling of the Human Rights Commission that students had a right to have their marked exam scripts returned to them. The cover was blown.

Perhaps expectations were too extensive, perhaps people were looking to a new assessment system to solve the issues of NEETs – it helps but is no solution. Perhaps they thought the growing youth unemployment would slow down – it hasn’t. We still search for new ways of working – there is irony in the fact that we ignore new way that emerge!

NCEA is only what it sets out to be – a system for assessing demonstrated learning and achieved outcomes. And in that respect it works. But it is a qualification only in as much it is based on a record of learning, a record of outcomes at the lowest levels of the journey to become a qualified in a career which will help lead towards employment and the benefit that it brings.

No-one is going to base a career only on NCEA but they will need NCEA as their record of achievement at a general levels in those starting early stages, and those foundations for careers will increasingly be based within a set of career skills in applied, practical fields of learning.

The process of starting those journeys requires (‘demands’ is not too strong a word) the availability of learning that can attempted in small chunks with rapid rewards. So much of the latest discussion underlines the sad truth that NCEA is either misunderstood or wilfully misrepresented. After all these years too many simply arrive at the point of understanding from where we started out on the journey seeming to not understand it even for the first time let alone bring to it improvements that one could expect from a review. The discussions have been a muddle.

NCEA must not be distorted!

So NCEA is to undergo a major review and guess what, the end point of all this fuss will look more like the past than the future! For instance, there is to be a renewed focus on subjects.

I was not aware that there had not been any diminished focus on subjects. That is the main issue in relating school programmes to anything other than preparation for university where study is largely subject based but not exclusively so, and certainly, they have introduced subjects that are multidisciplinary in their focus. Something that schools have found to be difficult because of the tyranny of subjects in their pigeon holes. The close collaboration between schools and tertiary education providers is well-advanced. An estimated 100,000 school students have in the past decade studied in secondary/tertiary programmes at tertiary providers.

This was made possible by the introduction of NCEA and will be threatened by the intended changes. The important connection between a standards-based secondary school qualification and the standards-based qualification of the tertiary sector should be understood, valued and supported. The insistence of the review on a 50:50 split between external and internal assessment is simply nonsense. It will be the final dose of glue that cements the NCEA Levels into the senior school years.

It was never intended that NCEA Level 1 should be the curriculum for Year 11, that NCEA Level 2 should be the diet for Year 12 and that NCEA Level 3 should be the final Year 13 at school. People have short memories and the reasons underpinning the development of a modern standards-based qualification for schooling was in large measure a reaction to the iniquitous practices of scaling and the elegant but questionable statistical manipulations that increasingly controlled the outcomes. The cry for 50% external assessment will see over time the same thing happening again.

First freeze programmes into conventional and tradition subjects and then see that the perceived “hard” subjects are rewarded at the expense of the “easy subjects”. This is a classical instance of what happens to education reform – it is not what reform does to schools but rather what schools do to reform as they work to socialise reform changes into patterns, structures and processes that reflect the way they have always worked. And the time-served year/level pattern should have been challenged by the review.

There are programmes that do challenge this. The Tertiary High School at Manukau Institute of Technology has students working in programmes that generate multiple levels of credit, where achieving a level is not an end-of-year ritual and there is wide progression from NCEA into well-regarded qualifications at each higher level up to Level 7 for some (a first degree). It can be done!

It is necessary to do this when the programmes require a skill set that involves a range of educational areas rather than just one subject. Technical areas often require literacy, numeracy, mathematics, science, knowledge of materials and of machinery and so on. These skills need to be demonstrated not one at a time but when being used in an integrated manner to progress a process. Also, some students require their initial learning to be measured out in smaller pieces initially.

Learning is an incremental process and to provide a gentle slope at the beginning  level of education brings with it the aggregation of success. The awarding of differentiated levels – the University Entrance Award and the Vocational Entrance Award – is well-meaning but misleading. Both pathways suggested by the awards are in fact vocational – one achieved through university study and the other through a different applied educational pathway.

The lack of parity of esteem between these pathways is a matter that the professionals and the general community need to come to terms with. The one is not better than the other. A recent study of first degree graduates five years after graduation showed that the vocational awards were outstripping the so-call academic awards. The struggle for NCEA to first gain acceptance, then to be understood by teachers, employers and caregivers, has been an effort.

The Review seems to suggest that much of this work be discarded for a return to ways that are the discredited ways of the past.

The essence of change is speed

There was always a problem in thinking that tertiary institutions could behave like oil companies and in the endless pursuit of selling their wares take each other on in the market place. On one side of the road there will a Shell service station, opposite that a Caltex and a little further down the road a BPO one. Market share is all.

The huge number of tertiary providers in Auckland – all the big players from throughout New Zealand seem to have a building in Queen St – seems to be evidence that something has gone well awry. The dollars spent marketing tertiary education as if it were a commodity raises doubts about the common sense of the directio in which things have gone. Perhaps the educations review had got rid of what the Treasury papers for the incoming Labour government in 1987 called “the slack in tertiary education” and simply replaced it with wastage of another kind. So it was inevitable that at some point someone had to take a look at tertiatry education and raise questions about much that was happening.

I should perhaps have said at the start of this post that I wrote the above in 2001 (NZ Education Review, “Last Page” Column). It was at that time that the Tertiary Education Advisory Group (TEAC) was busily reshaping the tertiary sector and were writing visionary reports – never mind the detail, sense the excitement. The reports, as I wrote at the time “were to tertiary education what Basil Spence’s table napkin was to public architecture!”

We were going to have “steering mechanisms,” and “improved policy instruments.” Institutions were to have “profiles” – an interesting word used in construction to mean the boundaries of a structure and to ensure all was fair and square. In general use it was akin perhaps to a “side-on view with not much detail” and “dark silhouettes, see the shape but not the detail. TEAC’s fourth report held for me the most important message.

Entitled “The Distictive Contributions of Tertiary Education Organisations” it spelt out out a range of options for Universities, Institutions of Technology and Polytechnics, Colleges of Education, Wananga, Private Tertiary Entities, Industry Training Organisations and Other Tertiary Proividers. Each was to have its place, contributing in a unique and complementary way to a rich and strong tertiary sector.

There need not be any surprise in the fact we in 2019 we are still trying to complete the design of the tertiary sector with the cutrent VET Sector review which grapples with the respective roles of the ITOs and ITPs made clear in 2004. Back then the role of ITOs was detailed as in the following way “ITOs set standards for, and fund, workplace-oriented industry training and development. They must not provide training themselves or through subsidiaries and joint ventures, but rather manage and fund the delivery for their industries by others and have responsibility for the monitoring of trainees.” TEC (2004), The Distinctive Contributions of Tertiary Organisations. Wellington, TEC.)

It is the underlined statement that seems to be the target of the proposals. This is another example of how difficult education when, faced with implementation of a reform, fails to complete the job. Tomorrow’s Schools was a flawed implementation with key elements. Service Centres and Community Education Forums were two of the clear examples of elements of reform simply ignored. The Tertiary Education Advisory Committee reforms of 200-2004 ended up being flawed in terms of both the distinctive contributions of different types of Tertiary Institutions and the funding system that failed quickly but limped along for another fifteen years or so.

Why does this happen? Over the years various theories have been put forward that have included the vast power of educational institutions to resist change. Charles Payne was led to lament in a book title – “So much reform, so little change.” Another commentator conluded that “it is not what reform does to educational institutions but rather what educational institutions do to reform.” And slow implementation is the enemy of change. The capacity of educators to socialise new ways of working into previous and comfortable old ways of doing things is robust and proven to have worked for them innumerable times.

If you are in a reforming mood, why stop short? Making space for Secondary / Tertiary Programmes.

The latest in a succession of reviews in NZ education, the Review of Vocational Education and Training, was released recently and one of the surprises was the realignment of the relationship between Institutes of Technology and Industry Training Organisations. In brief the report proposed that Industry Training Organisations cease to be training providers to focus on supporting a leadership role with industry. Their current roles of supporting workplace learning and assessment would transfer to the proposed New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology (the working title!). These changes being debated and discussed through the current consultation period.

Such a proposal could enhance the pathways for those school students who benefit from an early exposure to vocational education and training. Currently this is possible through Trades Academies (at Levels 2 and 3), Youth Guarantee places at Level 3+, the MIT Tertiary High School model from level 1 through to Level 7. The Review might see that their proposala could lead to another destination for this group of secondary students more accessible from a single point of departure which would enrich the possibilities.

Since the introduction of Secondary / Tertiary Programmes (which is the heading under which they are clustered) almost 100,000 students have taken advantage of these pathways. Most of it is in collaboration with senior secondary school programmes. What is more, the results are very good and the quality of outcomes for students and for the participating schools are enhanced.

This raises two challenges to current reviews.

For the Review of NCEA the message is “Don’t tinker with NCEA.” It is working well for students at Level 1 and Level 2 and Level 3 in secondary / tertiary programmes because the credit-based achievement approach has an easly articulation with post-secondary vocational education and training. These are the students who are often left behind by conventional school approaches. NCEA crosses boundaries and transitions which so often are hurdles and handicaps for students who do not manage the transitions successfully.

A serious period of reform would find that the time is right for consideration to be given to replicating the Tertiary High School Programme (or at least using its principles for other instantiations), and spreading the success that it has had in Manukau to other parts of Auckland and New Zealand.

There are a number of factors that support this: the MIT Tertiary High School is proven in terms of bringing success to at-risk secondary students and Trades Academies are achieving very promising levels of progression into further education and training. Furthermore, there are no impediments to such developments – the policy settings are there, a funding model is available and schools have proven to themselves and the others that scheduling and managing delivery of programmes through collaboration between the school and a tertiary provider is possible.

The current Review of Vocational Education and Training should be including scrutiny of Secondary Tertiary Programmes as a successful creation of pathways from schooling into post-schooling education and training – it is a classic example of a managed pathway.

Also the Government might develop an appetite to introduce into the review mix a Review of Alternative Education. It should do so because New Zealand does struggle to find a successful model for Alternative Education which currently seems often to be little other than a holding pattern until the student’s entitlement (and/or patience) expires.

Think of the richness that would be introduced into our education at seondary and tertiary levels if the Secondary / Tertiary Pathway was built in as a normal pathway based on a set of worthy principles:  targetting students at risk of disengagement for one reason or another (Retention);  placing a clear focus on the creation of meaningful pathways and the management of transitions (Multiple Pathways and Managed Transitions);  built around a seamless progression from NCEA through to employment (Seamlessness); a new and exciting approach through the use of acceleration for students facing issues in a conventional school settings ( Early Access to CTE programmes and Acceleration rather than retardation and the withdrawal of opportunity).

These are educational initiatives which are as effective as they are simple, interventions which support the view that “every great advance replaces traditional complexities by a new simplicity.” That’s the trouble with reform proposals – they don’t go far enough and often miss the connections. Where is the whole of system approach in the current flurry?

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?