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Tag: Auckland

Housing, transport and schooling


All last week the NZ Herald produced another of its blockbuster page-after-page coverage of a key topic. This time the target was Primary Education.

This made a welcome relief for those of us suffering from AHSFS (Auckland House Shortage Fatigue Syndrome) which is a regular both for full-blast coverage and for other – it seems daily – shots fired through single articles. The full rotation is completed by the ongoing saga of that complaint called Auckland Traffic Congestion, a nasty complaint that strikes citizens usually twice a day and for which no cure has been found and an epidemic seems inevitable.

I wonder if it has occurred to the NZ Herald and to others that these three stories – schooling, housing and traffic are perhaps one and the same issue?

Take schooling for instance. When you see Auckland smiling for no obvious reason it is because it is school holidays and the transport system runs quite smoothly without congestion at the level it is during term time. Why does schooling create this increase in traffic?

I suggest that there are three reasons. First, following the disappearance of a young girl walking to school back in the 1980s it became quickly and seriously thought that it was now unsafe for children to walk to school. So driving the children to school has become something of a norm. Valiant volunteer parents manage a number of “Walking School Buses” but the majority descend on the schools in SUVs of military proportion.

Being outside many schools at the start and end of the day is not a pretty experience.

The second reason is that in desperation parents seek out the “best schools” regardless of where they live. Of course this requires a logic that ignores the fact that if they went to the local school, that school would be better! It also requires that our roads become clogged right when everyone is getting to work. This quest for Nirvana Primary is something created by real estate agents and to quite some degree the schools themselves.

Thirdly, despite the heavy emphasis on cycle lanes and the need to get out of cars, young people cycle less than at any time in the past one hundred years. Up until the 1970s nearly everyone cycled to school in the towns, the rest walked.  I saw a report yesterday that claimed that only 4% now cycled to school and that is certainly not where I live!

The housing shortage is in part the result of the quest to be housed in an area where there is a “good” school” (see above) and the premium of $1,000,000 and up from there to get into a Decile 10 area is a key driver in the scramble.

It is ironic that a house in Otara is attracting no buyers even though there is an excellent Decile 10 school nearby – the MIT Tertiary High School which produces NCEA results indistinguishable from Decile 10 schools. That aside, there are also clear indications that schooling is not the only factor – nostalgia is fairly prominent, nostalgia for the times when the quarter acre section was the God-given right of all. Related to this is the fact that antagonism towards the notion of intensive housing and high rise apartments despite the fact that every large city I have ever visited anywhere has found it necessary to head in these directions. Sprawl and fight to get back into the city centre on choked roads wins the day.

Of course our shape as a city is unhelpful for planning transport systems. The narrow waist line as the Tamaki river heads towards the Manukau Harbour provides challenges and it is a certainty that one day we shall simply have to build bridges over it and bore tunnels under it.

Intensive housing areas built on the fringes are hopeless unless they are accompanied by responses in schooling and transport. We need only look to Christchurch to see what happens when significant housing is supplied without an increase in arterial routes, both the number and the size.

So perhaps the NZ Herald could start to promote thinking about the spaces between the big issues of housing, schooling and transport that have been well and truly thrashed in a somewhat mistaken belief that each has a life of its own.



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Talk-ED: A Smart Chart or Bawl and Sprawl


On the day that the Minister of Education assured Auckland Primary School Principals that Christchurch was not the start of a wholesale review of schools in other areas, the need for just such a review in Auckland was made apparent in a NZ Herald article.

I am not into conspiracy theories so the assurance from the Minister should be taken at face value – it is what it seems.  In Christchurch the cataclysmic events of the earthquakes put the city into a situation where response was required and urgently.  Children have to be educated, schools have to be provided.  So looking at the provision of education was urgent, changing the way schools worked and worked together and looking at the options for young people was a self-evident and sensible way to proceed.

But there is one critical difference between Christchurch and Auckland.  The school rolls in Christchurch have shrunk while in Auckland school rolls have increased and are predicted to increase dramatically over the next forty years.  The report in the paper tells us that the MOE has to find space for 150,000 more student s in Auckland by 2050.  Much of this growth, 70% probably, will be within the existing city urban limits.  In other words, 70% of the growth has to be absorbed in areas where there are already schools.

Building new schools is an option but land will be at a premium in these built-up areas where intensification of housing will be the modus operandi of the planners as they seek to achieve this bigger city in numbers but not in sprawl.

One thing is abundantly clear – education in Auckland will have to change the way it works and this could have an inevitable flow-on effect across other areas of the country.  But as soon as this is signalled the trenches are dug and the old education default position trotted out.  We don’t want to change.  What we are doing works well.  That could be true, but what the journalist calls a “population tidal wave” is headed our way and change we will.

The problem is that territory won is territory to be defended. Of course those in a school now, those with children in a school now, feel good about the school – they have to, it is a natural response.  But those children will grow up and leave the school.  Similarly Principals and teachers working in a school will feel good about the school – they have to otherwise getting up in the morning is too hard.  But they will move on one day.

“Now” and “us” is not a very good place to start planning for the future which will be “then” and “others”.  Stephen Covey tells an anecdote in which a group is hacking their way through the jingle with great energy and high levels of efficiency.  One of them climbs a tree and takes a look around.  “Hey!” they call to those on the ground, “we’re going in the wrong direction.” But this repeated anew information is ignored until those on the ground, irritated by the person up the tree call back “Be quiet!  We are having fun down here!”

To say that things must change is not to say that what is happening is of itself poor quality or wrong or not enjoyable.  But it might not be what will be needed for another time and in the future.  Someone has to “go up the tree” and see with a little more clarity than those on the ground just what the direction needs to be.

The MOE did just this in Christchurch with some appropriate urgency.  Auckland has the luxury of time.  Of course if Rangitoto was to blow up and enter a prolonged period of eruption (scientists tell us it is theoretically capable of this) then our protestations about change will seem about as pompous as Pompeii.  The Unitary Plan – the great chart of the unexplored future for New Zealand’s biggest city and a key reason for the amalgamation of the territorial local authorities – has the purpose of painting a picture of the future of Auckland.

Instead of resistance, educators would be well advised to welcome such an opportunity for change that can be planned for.  Some quick fixes might be needed which impinge on the current ways of working – increased numbers of students on school sites, expanding the age ranges in schools and so on.

But the future needs to be planned and orderly.  The nature and place of what we call sectors could be examined.  The way governance is achieved could be looked at.  The very notion of a school zone could be challenged and perhaps a place seen for differences between the curriculum and programmes in different schools.  This and other ways of increasing choice for parents could be examined.

We should embrace this opportunity for change in Auckland schooling.

One of the key issues according to some in Christchurch, well it seems so at a distance, is the fact that there has been a feeling that change has been foist on people, that they have not been consulted or consulted in the right way or at the right time, that communities have been ignored. Others assure me that this is not an entirely shared view.  There are those who welcome much of what is happening.

In Auckland we can make sure that there is consultation by taking ownership and control over the changes that we will face, work in a measured manner towards options and directions. Perhaps an Auckland Education Commission set up to take the Auckland Unitary Plan and produce a blueprint for change in schooling in Auckland would be a good thing to consider. This need not be rushed; the MOE can look after the few issues that need urgent attention.

The future demands a calm and thoughtful, widely discussed approach.  It will never be too early to start this.  But it is often too late when people are willing to get involved in such discussions.  If being the world’s most liveable city is an aspiration, we need to get thinking soon.


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Pathways-ED: Is "most" good enough?


Auckland as a city has an ambition to be the world’s most liveable city, it’s something of an organising principle for aligning the efforts, goals and direction of this newly created entity.

One of the outward signs of this is the publication of a “Scorecard” that rates progress on a number of measures. In education the measure is the number of students in schools that attain NCEA Level 1 Literacy and Numeracy.

There are a number of issues with this.

First, it takes no account of those who are not in the NCEA net. We know that 21% of 16 year olds have already left school and are most likely not to have even attempted NCEA. The failure to take account of cohort measures continues to mislead us in our assessment of progress. That is why I presume the Government settled on “all 18 year olds” as the group that would be measured for the Better Public Service Goals.

Secondly, the performance is very unevenly reflected in the various ways that results can be diced. Along ethnic lines there are still worrying differences between Pakeha students and those who are from Maori and Pacific Island communities. Auckland carries a responsibility for a very significant number of young Maori and Pacific students, a greater proportion than other cities and global measures do not reflect progress when it occurs when they are reported as one measure. That is why I presume the Government settled on the principle with its Better Public Service Goal –  85% of all 18 years old having NCEA Level 2 (or its equivalent) – and stating clearly that the target would apply to each and every group, Maori, Pacific, Special Needs, Migrant, Pakeha, Rural, City and so on.

Thirdly, the Scorecard is not bound by target or time; it simply reflects what is called progress. But progress to where and in what timeframe? How will we know when the education system is performing well and contributing what is expected of it to the world’s most liveable city goal? Knowing simply that we are “getting better” by small increments” has a feel good factor but in reality might be lagging behind the pace of improvement needed. That is why I presume the Government settled on establishing 2017 as the point at which the Better Public Service Goal should be met.

Now the explanation given in the Scorecard is that NCEA Level 1 Literacy and Numeracy is “the equivalent of School Certificate”. Well, it is certainly not. Whether you use the old SC (200/400 in your best four subjects including English) or the later version (single subject passes), NCEA Level 1 Literacy or Numeracy nowhere near equates to neither. No one is going to burst onto the world of work or into a career with that as their qualification.

The irony of all this is that the Auckland Council somewhat led the way in settling on NCEA Level 2 as a sensible goal. That is because it reflects what can be considered as a satisfactory measure of a level of success at school. But even NCEA Level 2 is meaningful only to the extent that it is used as a foundation on which a post-secondary school qualification is gained. Auckland Council “joined the dots” in its Auckland Plan and in its Economic Development Policy ahead of the Government settling on its Better Public Service Goals. And both were right to do so.

I have long promoted the notion of “joining the dots” – access to early childhood education, NCEA Level 2 and a postsecondary qualification. All here are essential markers on the pathway to a secure future. Hon Nick Smith, then Minister of Local Government, in the last days of his tenure of this position, criticised the Auckland Plan for having such goals. Soon after we were to see the Government similarly “join the dots” in the Better Public Service Goals.

A seamless progression along the pathways of education at the pace that sees all students hitting the NCEA Level 2 (or its equivalent) marker by about the age of 18 years will lead to an educated and knowledgeable city. And a city that is educated and knowledgeable is likely to become a very liveable city because it will have opportunities for employment, quality democratic processes, vibrant art and culture features with participation, leisure and sport opportunities. Above all it will have a performing economy with growth that will sustain now over a third of the population of New Zealand.

Where you place the target tends to be about where the arrow goes. Let’s stick to worthy targets.



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Talk-ED: Change in Auckland without the shake


There was a good response from the piece last week about the population changes facing New Zealand as the growth focuses on the Auckland Region. The fact that 38% of New Zealand’s population would be contained in the Auckland region quite clearly has implications for all other regions. I suggested that the changes proposed for Christchurch should be the start of a national discussion on the forms of education and training that are appropriate for the future.

One correspondent thoughtfully asked “And what are the implications for Auckland? Do you think that no changes are called for?” And so, on to Chapter 2…

Quite clearly Auckland will change quite dramatically and the large amount of green field development will see large areas requiring new schools, better transport and increased education provision right through the system. So here are some suggestions.

New early childhood education centres and schools will be required as new communities are developed particularly in the north and the south of the region. It is wishful thinking to believe that this can happen without changes to existing provision. Some schools will close; others will need to get larger; some will merge; and so on. It will be Christchurch come to Auckland albeit a much gentler shake-up.

As increased interest in the schooling sector starts to promote the notions of different ways of working, of a multiple pathways approach to senior secondary schooling, of increased growth of secondary / tertiary interface programmes and other new ways of working, the face of the secondary school system will inevitably alter. Auckland has recently seen the building of Junior and Senior High Schools without any overall view as to the role of such institutions and the impact of this development on the wider system.

So how will Auckland change in its education provision?

For a start, it is expensive to provide great increases in university places. I suggest that the Epsom and Tamaki campuses of the University of Auckland be converted into “community colleges” taking students from Year 13 and combining it with the first one or two years of an undergraduate degree. This would create space in secondary schools and at the university where the impact of such a move on undergraduate / postgraduate ratios would be advantageous. Equitable provision would probably demand that such a community college be established in the north of the city as well.

Polytechnic provision. Given the fact that Auckland already has less polytechnic provision than the population demands and the fact that participation in polytechnic education and training is at half the level of the national rates, this sector is one in which large growth can be expected. This should be planned growth rather than reactive provision which always runs after demand and never quite gets there. There is probably a good case for another large polytechnic to be created in Auckland or it could be a major new campus within a federal relationship with either or both of the two existing polytechnics.

A clear emphasis on growth of provision in Auckland must be on trades and technical areas (Disclosure: I work in a polytechnic) but this is essential for the skills levels of in both Auckland and the rest of New Zealand. The skill base needed to maintain industries and infrastructure and to cope with extraordinary demands such as is currently evident in the Christchurch Rebuild, the Leaky Building Response and the sheer size of the demand for new housing in Auckland. A significant portion of these new skills will have to come from Auckland. Therefore, look to see an increase in programmes such as those currently under the banner of the Youth Guarantee policy, look to see an increase in early access to vocational education and training, look to see young people get traction from Vocational Pathways and so on.

In short, we are facing a major repositioning of education especially in the senior secondary school and that will inevitably be the basis on which new secondary schools and other kinds of education and training provision that will be developed in response to the new demands.

You can be sure that Auckland will face changes that are dramatically more significant than those elsewhere which will be typified by a need to cope with declining demand across the education system.

Sensible management of the education system will seek to maintain universities at a viable and productive size throughout New Zealand so that will be one area where Auckland students might just have to travel to access university education if they fail to secure a place in an Auckland institution. And that is not such a bad thing.

We are talking about these major changes being required within 30 years. The discussion must start now.



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Talk-ED: A world class University in New Zealand

Stuart Middleton
7 May 2012

Something of a discussion almost started last week when University of Auckland Vice-Chancellor Stuart McCutcheon published an opinion piece in the NZ Herald arguing that if New Zealand wished to have world class universities it had better spend more on them.

He pointed out that the ranking of New Zealand universities in “Top World Class University” lists was steadily falling. Of course there are a number of these lists so no doubt we like to refer to lists on which NZ does well but currently they all make for challenging reading. In the highly regarded Shanghai Jiao Tong 2011 Academic ranking of World Universities, New Zealand had no universities in the top 100, indeed the top 200. Australia had four in the top 100.

The top ten universities in the world were: Harvard (No.1 for many years), MIT (Massachusetts not Otara!), UC Berkeley, University of Cambridge, Caltech, Princeton, Columbia (NY), Chicago and Oxford.

In wondering about solutions, VC McCutcheon noted that having fewer students at university would be one way provided the same amount of money was available. But I have another solution.

In the late 1990s Lord Dearing posited that there was a quantum of population required to generate a world class university – I think it was about 4 million people. On that basis New Zealand could perhaps have reasonable aspirations to have one world class university, Australia five, the UK fifteen and so on. That seems about right.

So if New Zealand is to have one world class university it can only be the University of Auckland on current ratings. So a decision should be made that the funding models and emphases of that university will be driven towards achieving Top 100 status.

Wait a minute, there is another factor to be taken into account here – the size of the university. If you look at a selection of the world’s best universities the size is surprisingly small: Stanford University – 15,500; Harvard University – 21,000; MIT (US) – 10,894; Oxford University – 21,000 and University of Cambridge – 18,000.

University of Auckland has 40,000 students. Can it hope to compete?

Another factor. If you look at the small set of top world-class universities,  the ratio of undergraduate students to postgraduate students is as follows:

Stanford University – undergraduate students 44%: postgraduate students 56%; Harvard University – 31%:69%; MIT (US) – 40%:60%; Oxford University – 55%:44%; University of Cambridge- 66%:33%. So the USA universities are markedly weighted towards postgraduate students.

The University of Auckland has 75% undergraduate and 25% postgraduate students. Can it hope to compete?

Interestingly, the other New Zealand ratios in this regard are: Massey 76%:24%; Canterbury 86%:14%; Waikato 84%:16%; Victoria 76%:24% and Otago 78%:22%. So three New Zealand universities have very similar ratios. [1]

Here is my plan for New Zealand to get into the Top 100 university list and stay there.

  1.  The University of Auckland should be designated our university for which this is a goal – New Zealand’s World Class University

The justification for this is its current superior world ranking when compared to the rest and its situation. It is in New Zealand’s largest city which has a wide range of tertiary provision therefore freeing up the University of Auckland to have a special goal – Massey, AUT, the two Polytechnics (Unitec and MIT(NZ)) and Te Wananga o Aotearoa can provide excellent tertiary education for Auckland to complement the narrower and targeted approach the University of Auckland would be taking.

In light of the above information about Top 100 universities, the University of Auckland must also consider two further actions:

  1. reducing its size by 50%:
  1. shifting the balance of undergraduate to postgraduate students to something closer to that of the top USA universities.

Were this solution accepted, there would be no need for reduced student numbers in tertiary programmes, simply a redistribution of numbers across Auckland providers. A smaller University of Auckland focussed on research and predominantly concerned with postgraduate university education would quickly return to the Top 100 list at no additional cost to the government. To achieve this the University of Auckland might have to be funded on a different basis to the rest, so be it.

Yes, this is elitist, so is Valerie Adams winning the shot putt and our rowers winning races and the high regard in which so many aspects of New Zealanders achievements are held. Well, I think we just have to accept that, get over it and move on. To think that we can have more than one world class university is sheer stupidity and it is even quite insane to hold back our best chance on some spurious egalitarian argument. 

[1]Figures for the undergraduate / postgraduate split at AUT were presented a little differently with 84% of students working at Bachelor level or above.