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Tag: Australia

“Perhaps we don’t fully understand our degree of advantage” – Monty Python


I’m in Australia at a conference – that of the Australia Vocational Education and Training Research Association. I am a member of the executive and it is good to catch up with colleagues and friends.

There is a feeling of celebration in the air – it isn’t because of Queen Elizabeth II’s birthday, or the celebration of 400 years since Shakespeare’s death or even ANZAC Day (although they do make more of that over here than we do). Nor is it the prospect of a double dissolution election that Australia now faces on 2 July.

No it is about the growing realisation that the future growth and health of the economy is not only in the hands of the universities. It has dawned on the politicians that addressing the flow of skilled persons into the workforce has reached a level of importance that it has now moved into centre stage.

In opening the conference, the Hon Barilaro, Minister for Skills in the NSW Parliament reflected on his own experience – failing at university, shifting into his dad’s joinery workshop and becoming a chippie. He left a clear impression that he had done quite well and has clear aspirations that others should follow. It was a buoyant theme on which to start the conference.

But perhaps even more heartening is the interest in what we are up to in New Zealand. There is agreement that we have the tertiary sector (I am not sure who “we” is actually) in a much more organised space than they have in Australia. Of special interest is the secondary / tertiary interface and I have spent a lot of time detailing this in conversations.

I am pleased to report that the impact of the attack on disengagement which is the premise on which our comprehensive approach at MIT (I am careful to emphasise that this is the Manukau Institute of Technology) is based is starting to manifest itself in what one Principal calls a significant increase in the senior rolls that he attributes to the partnership opportunities at MIT taken advantage of by his school.

We sometimes look at Australia and are inclined to think of it in terms of their own description as “the lucky country”. Believe me the gloss of this is starting to dim. It is time for us to start seeing ourselves as a lucky country. Not in any Pollyanna sense but in cool reflection on some of the advantages we have.

Scale is on our side – the size of any issue with regard to education is not beyond our capability to respond.

We have made greater progress with responding to both our “first people” as they call them here (how lucky we are to have access to Māori language to help us arrive at descriptions that are better) and the “Welcome to Country” seems simply to be endured rather than entered into with a degree of participative enthusiasm. There is much interest in the Māori and Pasifika Trades Training initiatives.

Jobs are there and accessible for the well-prepared and well-presented. I strolled around the much talked about Barangaroo that looks more like a medieval walled city than a welcoming work site. I didn’t crack that code! I found out later that I could have brought a ticket to a tour – oh well, next time.

Let’s just get on with it.



Te Ara Whakamana is New Zealand’s largest forum dedicated to education and employment pathways and transitions.  Now in its sixth year, this event brings together educators from both secondary and tertiary sectors, industry representatives, policymakers, and researchers to share good ideas and practices, and to be challenged by different perspectives.

Earlybird registrations are open now.

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Talk-ED: Being better at Rugby just won't cut it!


The headline read “Maori in Oz: Living the Good life”.  The article[1] detailed a Maori family who had shifted to Australia for the “good life” – well, at least a better life.  And that is what a University of Waikato study found and is reported in this article.

There are about 130,000 Maori living in Australia with about a third of them having been born there.  In 2011 there were more Maori in Queensland than in Northland apparently.  Not only that, the study claims that they are also likely to be better educated than those who stay in New Zealand.  Now, of course, there are many issues in comparing a sample of 130k in another country with the larger group who remain in New Zealand and in illustrating it with the story of one family, the study with just a little more evidence should be questioning what we are doing in Aotearoa New Zealand.

This blog has often dwelt on the issues of equity in New Zealand education and as with equity in the US and the UK and Australia (let’s not forget that!) the issue seems to stubbornly resist efforts to do something about it.

I would be reluctant to think that there is in New Zealand still a solid block of disbelievers who construct a view of New Zealand as the land of equal opportunity and a blessed country where we are all New Zealanders first and the accident of our heritage simply that.  But perhaps there is.  There certainly are those who while not staunchly believing the rosy glow of Shangri La view are something that approaches being apologists for the situation.  Explanations are offered, excuses are made, when-you-take-into-account- following-factors arguments constructed but still the indicators remain unchanged.

There is a process involved in addressing such issues.  First comes acceptance that there is an issue and then comes an understanding of it.  This is followed by an honest attempt to consider responses and solutions and the application of these to that little part of the education world that is within our orbit and influence.  Now comes the crunch – we have to really want changes to occur and accept that it is not necessary that in a country of a large number of “winners” there need not be “losers”.

Worse is the inactivity and failure to respond to the challenges in light of the fact that we know what to do.  There are in New Zealand many examples of programmes and approaches that are successful in providing more equitable opportunities.  We know a lot about the positive impact of bilingualism, the benefits of culturally inclusive teaching, the development of programmes that produce equitable academic results and so on.  Perhaps there is required a Royal Commission to bring all this together and to give it a status as the basis for action.

It galls me when Australia is described as “The Lucky Country” which implies that New Zealand is not.  We have so much going for us not the least of which is that of scale.  We could pretty well draw up a list of the names of the students who need that bit of extra help, the additional resource and the concerted help of the appropriate agencies.  And acting on this is the key to making New Zealand great and “the luckier country”.

Andreas Schleicher (Deputy Director OECD) who featured prominently in this blog recently has now returned to his home in Paris.  He has reflected on his experiences in New Zealand and especially on visiting three schools where the kind of education that brings equity was being practiced in schools that reflected best practice internationally.  He concludes…

For as long as I have been working with New Zealand there has been talk about equity.  But the results from PISA show that the school system is still far from delivering equity, in terms of moderating the impact of social background on learning outcomes.  Disparities are, if anything, on the rise.  The challenge for New Zealand lies in moving towards a culture of improvement, framed around not where schools are today but how they are advancing.  This is about attracting the most talented teachers to the most challenging classrooms and getting the best principals into the toughest schools, it is about developing diverse and differentiated careers for teachers and principals that recognize and reward improved pedagogical practice and the kind of professional autonomy in a collaborative culture that makes school systems cohesive.  It is about making sure that every child benefits from excellent teaching.[2]

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Pathways-ED: Hey mate, it's NAPLAN time


Just enjoyed the luxury of a weekend in Sydney – a chance to take a break and enjoy for a few days the Aussie ambience.

Of course if you work in education you never entirely switch off for the issues are universal and the concerns of a community for the education of its young especially but also the wider community generally is something all countries share.

But I was quite surprised by the extent of the coverage of education in the newspapers. Some of the discussion was timeless – are our children safe? There are it was reported two incidents each week where intruders enter schools and lock-down procedures apply. The more popular press showed concerned parents (and who wouldn’t be in such circumstances) calling for all schools to be fenced so as to deter these intrusions. Fencing has been something of a trend here in New Zealand over past years and it is surprising that Australian schools are still hanging on to a physical openness that once used to be typical here.

But a lot of the discussion hinged around the release of the NAPLAN results.

The NAPLAN is becoming a very big item in the Australian school calendar. It is a set of national tests in in language and numeracy (hence NAPLAN – National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy) which students sit in Years 3,5,7,9) but the data is released by the body responsible for administering and reporting on the tests (the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority) only through the MySchool website (

Of course the newspapers can’t resist the temptation to try to turn all this into league tables and The Australian newspaper goes as far as to produce “Top 100” lists in a special lift-out supplement. But interestingly the stories that make the front page of that newspaper have headlines such as “Cane-country schools teach a lesson in how to defy disadvantage”. This all seems very jolly and “good-on-you” stuff. The article then reveals a stark truth – among the 1000-odd most disadvantaged primary schools in Australia, only 46 score above the national average in reading, writing and numeracy.

The stand-outs among disadvantaged schools where the results are markedly high do not claim miracles but rather an unrelenting focus on what is required to get students to learn – attendance, respect for teaching staff,  and community engagement which seems to be central to their success. Underpinning this is a clear and undented belief among those principals in the ability of all students to learn, a level of positivity that seems to me to be typical in the Australian educational discourse.

I have on other occasions been impressed by the ability of Australian media generally to handle education matters in a level-headed kind of way with contributions from professional bodies being ones that add to that quality. There is not the default opposition of pretty well all education topics that characterises the Kiwi way. This is not to say the education discussions are devoid of heat.  Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the Queensland Premier Cameron Newman were at loggerheads. Newman proposes to pay teacher bonuses for performance and surrounds all this with all the words that go with “quality of education”, “concern for young people” and “rewarding our best teachers”. Gillard sees this as a betrayal of the federal reforms led by her, popularly known as the Gorski reforms, which would have seen money directed to schoo­ls rather than to teachers deemed to be high performing. The teacher associations are comfortable with one of these and not so much with the other.

But the coverage of this difference of opinion stood out on the rather flat and measured plain of education discussion.

“Flat” wasn’t the word for it when I had a look at the Australian House of Representatives (as one does when in relaxed more). They were giving the Australian Education (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2013 a second reading. This bill is all about reform funding for “participating schools” and suchlike. An earnest speech was being delivered by an earnest member of the Government. He was the only MP from the government in the House at that time. It was being listened to by an equally earnest and respectful member of the Labor Opposition who was at that time the only opposition member in the house. 

And this on the same day that the NAPLAN results coverage revealed that only 5 of the 10% of most disadvantaged schools in Australia were in the upper 1,000 schools. This is what reforms must address – and on both sides of the Tasman.



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Pathways-ED: Change is in the Australian Air

Stuart Middleton
9 August 2012


From Australia – the lucky country where even the sunset last night was silver – the new gold!

On the same day that a national seminar on inter-sector relationships was cancelled the press reported considerable activity in relationships between sectors to address the issue that is arising from the cuts being made, especially in Victoria, to TAFE activity.

The University of Ballarat is extending an agreement with regional TAFE institutions that secures some pathways from the vocational providers into the university. The new agreement will extend this notion to create certain pathways between the university and the six TAFE providers. This initiative is cutely dubbed the “Menzies Affiliation” after Sir Robert Menzies, the former Australian PM who apparently came from this area.

The cut to funding for vocational education and training in Victoria was almost $300m and the federal government is now coming in with a grant to the state of $435m by way of compensation. This is an example of the the sort of byplay that occurs in a bicameral government set-up and the “cuts” made in Victoria might in fact be aimed at securing such an intervention will, to me seems, that additional funding will be available to the VET sector.

Another interesting report details the introduction of the “vertical” double degree that allows students undertaking what we know as conjoint degrees to make a head start on a masters degree and in the process save six months.

I have long thought that a lot of our programmes could be shorter whether by extending the year to something more like “normal” working years or by arrangements such as this. If the outcomes of degree study include the general development of intellectual capability then this can be achieved with much more flexibility between programmes rather than the walled cities that are characteristic of so many programmes.

Interestingly, a further report raises the issue of whether a university course should focus on breadth or depth. Apparently opinion among students is divided between those who value the opportunity to study outside their field and those who do not.

The writer argues that simply having breadth and depth won’t be sufficient and students hoping the move through to higher level postgraduate study will also need height. And so the two ideas come together – the notion of breadth / depth / height and the “vertical double degree combing undergraduate and postgraduate study.

So what seems to be emerging is a challenging of the traditional transition points and a softening of some of the boundaries. First, the VET / University boundaries are becoming more porous and the vertical pathways up through the university seem willing to become more adaptable.

If these can happen one way they can happen in the other direction – clearer pathways for university graduates to proceed on to the more utilitarian qualification of the ITP sector with RPAA (Recognition of Prior Academic Activity) allowing for a telescoped programme. – the  New Zealand equivalent of the vertical double degree.

With evidence from both New Zealand and Australia that the benefits of a university degree vis a vis a polytechnic degree have been somewhat exaggerated, the outcome of such a collaborative pathways could well benefit students and, if they are achievable  through shortened study programmes, others as well.

I sense that the world of postsecondary study is starting those seismic rumblings that could lead to bigger things – well at least in Australia. But then again they have usually always been a little ahead.

As I finish this a filler on the Aussie TV is playing a song called “You can’t always get what you want…”  accompanied by a picture of Valerie Adams in the moments after her final throw. The lucky country notion seems significantly to be premised on the view that all others are by definition unlucky!

A Note:


I am grateful to David Guerin for helping me out with thew number of LATs in New Zealand. He calculated that the Teachers Council report of income from LATs ($56K) came from 1,050 persons with such a designation. But he also tells me that the Teachers Council has 98,000 registered teachers. There is something in the order of 56,000 teachers in schools so I wonder about this. When I get back I shall make further enquiries – suffice to say that the number of LATs in schools is somewhere been 1% and 2%. I also wonder about this. But thanks, David.


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Talk-ED: It's time to meddle with ANZAC Day

Stuart Middleton
30 April 2012


ANZAC Day has come and gone for another year. The media greeted with the old tired stories – Who is making the poppies? Record numbers attend celebrations (assertion rather than evidence). Young people attracted increasingly (assertion rather than evidence). The stories they miss might well have headlines such as “Migrant citizens support ANZAC Day in swelling numbers” for that seems very much to be the case in Auckland, “More people are wearing medals they didn’t earn than those who did”.

It is this last potential headline that worries me because it will be true one year soon. The numbers of service men and women who saw active service is dwindling. Wheelchairs and a slow amble replace the brisk march in time and with precision that former service men and women could muster back in the 1970s.

Back then I played in a military band and it was our task to provide the musical lead for those returned from the South African War (The Boer War). The numbers dwindled as time caught up with them. Now the same is true of the Second World War returned soldiers. One day hopefully there will be no new returned servicemen to swell their ranks as those from the Korean and Vietnam conflicts become fewer in number.

A corollary of this is the increasing practice of descendants wearing the medals of their forebears who gained them through service, distinction and bravery. Now this is allowed for on 25 April and 11 November (but I do wish that people could honour the requirement that they be worn on the right hand side) but when this becomes the norm rather than the exception, ANZAC Day would become something else.

It would be a good thing if we addressed the question of what ANZAC Day might look like in 20 years time. The celebration of wars (and that has always been selective) and those who served cannot sustain such a day forever.

I have argued before that ANZAC Day should become a celebration of the nation as a nation – a true National Day. Waitangi Day is about one element of those defining characteristics that make New Zealand what it is, but there might well be a cluster of values that become an ANZAC Code or Charter that receives special attention on and around ANZAC Day.

The third leg of the celebration trifecta would be Remembrance Day (11 November) which would retain a single focus on military service and bravery, it’s another day that deserves to be looked at and elevated in prominence.

The ANZAC Charter (working title only) might include:

  •         our special relationship with Australia and directions in which it might develop.

New Zealand will inevitably relate to Australia in a changed way over time. Political alliance will reflect the developing family, social, sporting and business alliances that bring us closer together all the time. We should stop from time to time to reflect on this critical relationship and in so doing seek ways of putting the spirit of ANZAC back into 25 April. Education could well pay attention to developing an education “common market” across the two countries – I believe that the benefits will largely accrue to NZ in such a development.

  •         a focus on the diverse cultures of the community which would complement our focus on the founding bicultural relationship with Maori that characterises Waitangi Day.

There currently are festivals but to celebrations of difference and distinction together emphasises the qualities of diversity. The individual celebrations would of course continue at times that relate to the appropriate times in countries of origin.

  •         the special connection between people in New Zealand and the environment.

 This area is one of high and critical social and economic value – do we stop to reflect on it other than in the context of issues, scraps and disputes. What happened to Arbour Day?

  •         the value we place of sport and outdoor activity.

Sport is already operating effectively across ANZAC boundaries. Now the focus could be on getting families out onto the grass – shut the shops for the day and let the people play!

  •         the role of the arts in the community.

This might have a special emphasis on reaching new audiences and highlighting opportunity.

  •         the role of courage, honesty and integrity in New Zealand.

Somewhere the ANZAC Charter will need to address values which around ANZAC Day school children might reflect on. This country was established many hundreds oif years ago and developed ever since because of people with courage. It was also defended in conflicts by people of great courage. Now that we are the third generation bought up in peace, courage needs to be explicitly developed and discussed.

An old argument about ANZAC Day was that the ceremonies and suchlike would prevent countries going to war – perhaps the emphasis in a reinvented ANZAC Day would serve to get us back to strong adherence to the values of honesty and integrity.

This is not anything other than a starting list of ideas. Many more will occur to you. ANZAC Day will need, somewhere ahead of us, to gain a new purpose and place in our country. There would be a robust debate over perhaps a number of years about this. The world has changed and will change more.

Back when I was in secondary school, we used to parade in our school cadet uniform on ANZAC Day, marching through the town to the cenotaph. One year I was sick and couldn’t do this and in fact missed a Latin exam on the next day as well. The Latin Teacher, a Major from the war was highly critical of my missing the exam and suggested that my sickness was a sham. But he saved his biggest dressing down for my having missed the ANZAC Day parade. If he could have sent me to a court martial, he would have. Instead he was content to estimate a low aegrotat mark in Latin.


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Pathway-ED: Once a jolly good idea

Stuart Middleton
14 July 2011

Since the early 1980s New Zealand and Australia have had an agreement to work closely together in trade and financial matters. The “Closer Economic Relations” agreement, as it is commonly called, was thought to be a progressive recognition of the need for two countries with clear differences but many more similarities to work together to their mutual benefit.

The time has come for a Closer Education Relations Agreement between our two countries.

Why would you do this? Well perhaps the key reasons would be the advantages of a synchronised curriculum which would ease the flow of students between the two systems. Resourcing the development of curriculum, supporting its implementation and refreshing it through professional development and activity is expensive. The scale of economy in setting out to work co-operatively in this would be not only have potential fiscal advantages but also professional ones.

New Zealand teachers would benefit from having a larger canvas with which to work and Australian teachers from contact with those areas in which they could learn. These areas come and go a little but at different times New Zealand had an advantage in its approach to reading instruction, at another Australia was clearly ahead in the use of technology. As a generalization, New Zealand is string in the generation of ideas while Australia has strengths in implementation

At the tertiary / postsecondary level there would be gains in synchronising the approach to student loans and allowances and to an Australasian approach to collecting those loans from students after they graduate.

International Education might well have a much stronger brand were it to be an Australasian brand rather than two separate brands both of which had their own issues.

Initial reactions to this brief sketch will probably be driven by nationalism and a belief that our separate national identities were so different that the outcome would be an inevitable loss of something precious, something we had each “fought for” and which was inviolate. But that is from a former age and the modern world is now a global world, a world made flat (to use Thomas Friedman’s term), a world in which communication across oceans is as easy as those across the street, where collaborative work (especially in education) is simple, a world in which our graduates see job opportunities and careers wherever they occur and not necessarily in the old home town.

There are other areas where co-operation if not amalgamation could be considered.

Qualifications frameworks could be synchronised (now there’s an idea that has languished) with fewer qualifications taught across our two countries. School leaving qualifications could be the same (that would be a hard one) and reporting regimes brought together (in a saga perhaps called National Standards meets Naplan.

Both our education systems share indicators that are similar when it comes to disengagement, success rates in schooling systems, access to early childhood education, completion rates in postsecondary education. We also both share similar levels of skill shortages(but in different areas), struggle to find a modern expression of apprenticeships that works, are heading towards producing too many degree graduates and too few middle level technicians.

If we share the problems and issues might not there be sense in working together towards solutions? But it would require a different kind of thinking.

Solutions could only emerge if the thinking could get beyond such searching questions as “Who invented the pavlova?” and “Was Crowded House an Australian band?” It would have to move beyond referring to or perhaps even caring about the under-arm bowling fiasco of 1981. It would have to forget the us and them mentality that goes both ways.

In short we would have to rediscover the ANZAC spirit but this time in the battle against ignorance and educational failure. WE would have to take a lesson from those sporting codes (soccer, basketball, rugby league and netball) which have found few issues in operating across national borders.

Of course our history would continue to be taught but would not we each benefit from understanding the history of our neighbour? Of course our literature would still be read but how much richer the choice if there was a developed knowledge of each other’s literature? Mathematics, science, large amounts of the business subjects, international languages, engineering and many technical areas all operate with ease in an international environment and indeed rely on an international context to exist.

It is worth thinking about but later – I have to dash off to renew my passport so that I can get into Australia!

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