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Talk-ED: No excuse for delaying changes

Stuart Middleton
1 August 2011

It has been the mid-year, between semester break for education institutions – even EdTalkNZ had a wee rest!. But it is not that educators get a break really and the conference season has been in full swing.

I get a sense that a mood for change is developing.

New Zealand has moved ahead of other English speaking countries in putting together the pieces of the educational jigsaw that will allow for new approaches to be made in tackling the issues of disengagement and the development of more effective pathways between secondary school and further and higher education.

Those jigsaw pieces are the development of a policy setting that allows for flexibility, the existence of a legislative framework, the solution of cross-sector funding arrangements and the development of new and innovative programmes.

Two conferences held in the break have driven home the points that the educational environment in New Zealand needs to change and that there is no longer any excuse not to change.

New Zealand and Australia share a pretty grim set of statistics of failure, of disengagement, and of poor performance by priority learner groups (i.e. indigenous groups, migrant groups, students with special needs). It is clear that continued tinkering with the current education system cannot lead to the changes which improve results nor can it result in changes that are achieved quickly enough to beat the speed of the demographic changes.

The first conference brought together a wide group of educators involved in working across the interface of secondary and tertiary – secondary/tertiary programmes, trades academies, service academies and mentoring schemes. It was exciting to learn of changes happening in small ways, to hear of results being that thrilled and offered new hope for many students.

It was even more exciting to see the energy that was being brought to the challenges of providing new and multiple pathways that reach out to students and led them into higher level programmes and qualifications. It was the view of one international speaker that something very special was happening.

The conference was put together by the Centre for Studies in Multiple Pathways at Manukau Institute of Technology, the site of New Zealand’s first Tertiary High School – a radical new programme that integrates the school qualifications (NCEA) with postsecondary career and technical qualifications. It has reported some encouraging results after its first year of operation especially in the performance of Maori and Pasifika students.

This was of particular interest to the second conference that brought together a wide range of educators engaged in different endeavours in the field of Maori education. Again the focus was on pathways and pipelines and the need to promote pro-active interventions in both if we are to lift the performance of Maori and Pasifika students – something we simply cannot afford not to do.

A project reported to the conference has seen the development of a web-based tool for Maori students to design and to identify pathways into programmers that already exist. We know that the provision of accurate and detailed information is central to intelligent career advice and guidance and this is a great start.

What has been exciting is that both conferences were evidence of action that encourages us to believe that there is a hope developing that by working differently we really can get different results. As the title of a major report released by the NZ Institute in the past fortnight said – we need “more ladders” and “fewer snakes”.

What educators are realising is that action is possible and no longer, well at least in New Zealand, is there any excuse for inaction. It is no longer a case of “us” and “them”. You know the scenario – “We want to change but they won’t let us!”  “The regulations are so restrictive!” “It’s the curriculum that isn’t appropriate!” “Secondary should be …..!” “Tertiary should be …..” “If only others would do this, that and the other thing!” Same old, same old, boring , boring!

I pointed out to the conferences that while the education pipeline may be badly leaking, quite a number of students are getting through it with great success. Long may that continue. But now is the time for us to once and for all fix those leaks.

Bill Gates summed it up: “We used to say that we needed to do something about all those young people who were failing because it is hurting them. Now we say we need to do something about all those young people who are failing because it is hurting us!”


For those interested the material presented at the two conferences mentioned above is available at and at

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