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Tag: Education

NZ Yesterday, USA Today


San Francisco

Arrived in the US in time for the autumnal snows by the look of it.

But the very first newspaper I pick up devotes half of its front page with an articled headlined with “More high schools turn out hire-ready skilled workers”.

Noting that over the last three decades schools had dropped vocational education programmes with the result that only a very few schools had retained a capability to teach vocational skills leaving increasing numbers of students in a situation where the pathways to employment had been, if not obliterated then at very best been made obscure.

Project Lead the Way was established to create high school engineering and technology curricula. It is reported that one programme it established for manufacturing is now taught in 800 high schools. (This sounds like a lot of schools but remember that the US is a big place!)

These new courses are not a re-run of the old but rather ones that reflect the modern environment. A spokesperson for the manufacturing industry’s training organization says that “manufacturing is dogged by an outdated image that it is very physical, labour-intensive, you’re working with your hands, you’re getting dirty and there’s no career path….. Actually you are working with computers and robots that are doing what you used to do by hand. That requires a skill set in maths and science above what was required a generation ago.”

I wonder how much of our progress in New Zealand is hampered by such outdated views of the world of work?

And it seems that industry is keen to be involved. Siemens needed 1,500 employees for a new turbine and generator plant in Kentucky. It worked with the local community college to design the programme and then when graduates (with at least diploma level qualifications) finished their course they were hired at a starting wage of $US55k per annum.

Volkswagen did a similar thing in Tennessee with a programme to prepare students to repair and maintain the robots that are so important to Volkswagen manufacturing process. It built its own academy next to the factory and then had the local community college deliver the training. This is a high stakes programme that costs the company $US1m per student over three years. They describe it as a bargain since they then have workers with high-level skills. Typically the graduates of these programmes have at least an Associate degree.

Another programme that is gaining momentum is the community-college-apprenticeship model promoted by President Obama. This is gaining ground across the states and invariably involves industry and many high-profile companies.

There seems little doubt that vocational education and training (VET) is making a comeback in the USA just as it seems to be in New Zealand.

What are points to note in this? Well at this point they seems to be:

·         that the initiatives seems to be closely associated with employers and industry partners;

·         that they involve high schools / community colleges and those industries working in partnership;

·         that there is no shyness about preparing students to work in the kinds of jobs that are available locally;

·         that the picture is one of students performing well, getting qualifications and entering the workforce into well-paid jobs.

There are lessons in this for New Zealand. While we tenaciously hang on to the notion of the value of a generalized education for all, many students will continue to have low educational outcomes. While regional New Zealand fails to specifically prepare students to work in local industries, youth unemployment will continue to be a factor in the regions.

One of the industry leaders involved in these developments is enthusiastic. As the programmes spread and increase he sees emerging “a path to America’s new middle class.”

And all this on Day 1!


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After the Festive Season – A Festival!


I mentioned a couple of weeks back that a Festival of Education was planned for Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch for March next year.

This is a great idea. For too long we have placed the image of the profession, and of schools and those who work in them, at the mercy of a media rapacious for the shock, horror story and given the naysayers and doom merchants within the profession an open hand.  As a result, education as a profession has an image and a reputation that needs attention simply because the view of the sector is one that is not performing, is focused on looking after the adults rather than the children and is usually opposed to change is simply not accurate.

A festival that is positive and showcases all that is excellent in our schools and other educational institutions is an ideal opportunity to get the balance right.  For one thing is certain – those students who do well in the school system are doing as well as any in the world.  In that sense there is some justification for the claim that we have a world class education system.

But in a truly world class education system that is also a high level of self-scrutiny, of reflection and of a preparedness to that the system identifies and responds to those students who are not doing well. Access and equity remain the key challenges. When students have their access to further and higher education and training limited by a failure to develop robust basic skills then a world class system would respond. When students are shunted into Alternative Education for which the entitlement ceases at age 16 years, a world class system would respond simply because it is a human rights issue. When teen Mums  are in programmes that do wonders for them but for which the entitlement ceases at age 18 years, a world class system would respond.

And so a Festival that highlights all that is good and wonderful need not inevitably be one that is in the style of Pollyanna an event that isn’t also thoughtful and challenging. I know that the programme planned is intended to be just this. And the presence in New Zealand of many from other countries which represent a wide range of excellence at the same time is an opportunity for us to place celebration alongside deliberation.

It is clear to me that there is no reason why we cannot crack the tough nut of getting the equity of our education system to match the best of our achievement results.  But it will require us to work differently. The Festival and the OECD visitors in the country for this period of time present us with just such an opportunity.  We have to have the courage to ask our visitors for advice, for explanations of how equity is achieved in their countries and, most importantly, we have to be prepared to listen to that advice and act on it.

This will inevitably mean that we will have to do some things differently.  And that will be the challenge instead of the old default position emerging once more – “we have a world class system and if only …..” and link our excitement about what we do well and excitement about what we can do better, we will look back to the summer of 2014 and fondly recall that it was something of a turning point.


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Striving for the top in the old classrooms


A friend enthusiastically told me about finding, on a visit back to what was once his home town in England, the British Schools Museum. It was housed in a set of old school buildings, not just any old set but one that had housed the first “Monitorial School”[1]

The idea of the school started in 1808 following a discussion on the education of the children of the working poor between Joseph Lancaster and a landowner William Wilshere, a local lawyer and land-owner. At that time it was considered unnecessary for them to learn – it was likely to give them ideas above their station! And furthermore there was no government funding, and very few private schools of any worth.

A group of like-minded people clustered around Wilshere and an old malt-house was converted in the town of Hitchin into what came to be known as a Monitorial, or Lancasterian, school.

Children were taught by the methods developed by Lancaster. One teacher taught a number of the older and more able children; they then passed onto other children what they had learned. The school taught both boys and girls (another revolutionary idea) but they were taught separately. It became very popular and in 1837 the Lancasterian Schoolroom was built to accommodate the numbers of boys who flocked there to learn. Over time additional classrooms have been added to the site including the Infants’ and Girls’ school.

The site is now extremely important to the history of elementary education that it portrays. We have yet to find another schoolroom built to Lancaster’s specification, with the supporting pillars marking the teaching aisles still in place, surviving anywhere else in the world.

The Museum describes the classroom thus:

The room was built in 1837 to enable one master to teach 300 boys with the aid of 30 monitors by the Lancasterian method. It is the only known complete example to survive in the world. The pupils sat facing the master on benches at narrow desks and were taught by the monitors at semi-circular ‘teaching stations’ around the walls.

That captures the model. Older children taught the younger children. The “monitors” (hence the “monitorial” school) would receive instruction which was then passed on to groups of students. One bright spark, an inspector who visited the school had an idea, why not have the floor rising on tiers that reflected the standards reached. He was Matthew Arnold the poet.

I am sure that I have seen a photo of a classroom in New Zealand that was tiered to reflect the standards and we certainly made use of pupil-teachers. In order to supplement the numbers of teachers in a school, the older children, while still pursuing their own learning, taught the younger ones under the supervision of a teacher. In New Zealand they received a small wage for doing this.

I am not sure that we attempted to teach 300 students in one classroom as happened under the Lancastrian Model! Of course New Zealand was small and we might have been struggling in the middle of the 19th century to find 300 young people in one place! But multi-level teaching is common in small rural schools still. There are examples of single sex classes within co-ed schools in New Zealand.

What we have inherited is the fixed views surrounding educational progress and while our classrooms seem flat we still make pupils climb the tiers from one standard to the next. The word “standard” used to describe the levels in New Zealand primary education only disappeared relatively recently. And I speculate that the use of the word “form” for a class level or year level in secondary schools is a hangover from the fact that the students were seated on forms according to progress.

Much that we have and do in schools is the result of previous practice and often is a reflection of thinking at the time. It is not entirely arbitrary that the word “grade” is used in systems that rely heavily on testing or that “year level” is used in systems that uncritically fire people onwards and upwards as year-end ticks by. And the tiered classroom lives on in so many ways.

What anaylsis would we make of some of the new schools being built if we expect their physical characteristics to reflect a way of working as, once, the schools of John Lancaster did?


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Pathways-ED: The greatest little country in the world



Well the storm over whether New Zealand had a “world class education system or not” got eclipsed by the real thing in the US as the week went on. The NZ Herald waded in this morning and told “education commentators” what amounted to grow up and get over it.  I was a little saddened about their taking to all education commentators because I have diligently pointed out over many years that our enthusiasm for what we are doing in education needed to be tempered a little by the reality of achievement, especially when diced along certain lines.

Of course we do good work, that has never been the issue but to want to hide behind the world class claim is more than a little immature.

But chatting with a group yesterday we concluded that New Zealand rather liked to be able to make claims which engender enthusiasm for our view of ourselves but which become a little ragged when scrutinsed. The following were mentioned.

We have the best race relations in the world!

Certainly we work at them a little more than others and usually much more constructively. But to want to make the claim that we have the best race relations in the world is to enter a very dark place. What does it mean? What are the measures? Equity of educational outcomes? Demographic profiles of our corretional institutions and the clients of our justice system? Perhaps it can be measured in health, employment and housing statistics?

If it simply means that we do not often stand in the streets hurling abuse at each other then …. What about the incidents in the Jewish cemetry in Auckland recently?

Clean Green New Zealand / 100% Pure!

There are increasing calls for us to challenge this. Surveys show that our rivers are pretty dodgy, so are some of our swimming beaches. There is constant worry about mining, deep sea drilling, fracking and other such activity which suggests that for a variety of reasons there may be imperatives that are stronger than any commitment to Clean Green NZ or to 100% Pure.

This is a pity because primary schools often do good work in the areas of environment responsibility.

New Zealand is  great place to bring up children!

Well it ought to be, there is so much going for it. There is nowhere far from the sea, the grass grows green, the cities have open spaces, we commit to universal access to education and work hard to achieve universal equity in outcomes (but see above) and so on. But when I look back to when I was a child (cue in the violins and the soft focus cameras – black and white please) I note that we had a more comprehensive system for looking after babies – ante-natal and post-birth, that schools provided health checks and the free milk symbolised the commitment to feeding our young ones. Health camps were there for those who might benefit from a break from circumstances that were perhaps not helping and they varied widely – people bought postage stamps to help pay for them.

Family life was stronger as parents were free generally from work at weekends and could spend time with young ones.

And….. while there probably was hidden abuse of children, the scale seems to have gone well past the level that open-reporting could have produced. We never heard of youth suicide as a phenomenon, alcohol abuse by young teens. And there was no such thing as boy racers – it is hard to loose traction on a Raleigh bike!

So it is worth asking – is New Zealand still a great place to bring up children?

We are a great sporting nation!

I think we do possibly “punch above our weight” whatever that means. And recently the All Blacks were challenging for a record number of test wins, a record held by that famous rugby nation, Lithuania. But what if we measured our greatness as a sporting nation by sheer participation – how do we stack up then. Well, probably still pretty well. What if we measured it by the physical health of the nation? What if we measured it in terms of the big sports in world terms – football, basketball, golf and tennis? Still quite a good effort here. Olympic Games – OK?

We all need our cuddly blankets and New Zealand needs more than most perhaps given its isolation and its still difficult new orientation to Asia and the Pacific rather than the Old Country and Europe.

But as a friend of mine in London says – “You should be OK in New Zealand. After all, if you have an issue you can all get together at the weekend and sort it out!” That might turn out to be our real strength when we reach the point of recognising it. So I propose a new generalisation.

Small is beautiful!

Is that a trick or a treat?



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Talk-ED: Keeping the register: who should be let in to teaching?

Stuart Middleton
10 September 2012


The continued debate about the use of unregistered teachers, this time in the Partnership Schools, seems to me miss the point of the real issue.

On one level it is clear that people who work in schools should be subject to a set of criteria that ensure so far as is possible, the safety of young people. The importance of this is constant at all levels but has increased intensity with the younger students. Police checks, established identity and perhaps other tests of character are important and a “registration” process is one way of maintaining a standard across the education sector.

But when the demand that teachers in schools be “registered” is code for a view that teachers in schools should have qualifications from the current set that typifies teachers then the argument breaks down. If the educational outcomes of schools is to change, and I hear no arguments being pursued that this is not the case, then we do need to think through the question of “who should teach in schools?” This is not the same as saying that all teachers in schools be registered.

With younger students there are many schools in the country that would benefit from having a wider set of language skills reflected in their teaching staff. Te Reo Maori, Pacific community languages, the languages of migrant groups are all very special in their contribution to the language development of young members of different communities and to the richness of an education in New Zealand for all young students.

Teachers trained in the Pacific who have fluency in both English and a Pacific community language are available and would add greatly to the effectiveness of education in linguistically diverse settings. But the current registration process seems to get bogged down because of its pre-occupation with course approval. (Health has the same issues.)

At the secondary level, much of the work currently being done indicates that many students when offered the opportunity to engage in what many still persist in calling “vocational education” (so as to mark it out from “academic education”) will make better progress and reach higher levels of attainment across the board. But this requires teachers who have a different career trajectory from the traditional school to university and back to school track that the conventional qualifications imply.

Such people do not sometimes meet the criteria for “registration” because of the courses they have undertaken. But they are needed as teachers and given a “clean” background ought to be able to work in schools without financial penalty

At all levels there are roles for people to work in different ways to contribute to effective education outcomes. Short bursts of input in specialist areas, the instruction in specialised settings that broaden the education experience, and specialised contributions from people whose lives are spent predominantly outside of the school and such other people all have contributions to make. They are, if their backgrounds are appropriate, “fit to teach”.

This all adds up to saying that teaching requires a set of people with wide skills to bring out the best in a set a young people with wide needs, interests, aptitudes and capacity to make progress.

I promised some more snippets from my recent reading about Finland.

There are in Finland five kinds of teachers who work with students in the K-12 part of the education system:


  1.     kindergarten teachers working in the one year kindergarten programme (age 6) prior to starting school (age 7);
  2.     primary school teachers responsible for years 1-6 (age 7-13) in the 9 year comprehensive schools (they usually teach at one grade level and only teach several subjects);
  3.     subject teachers working in the upper levels of the basic school (ages 14 – 16) in the subject disciplines such as maths, physics, chemistry etc;
  4.     special education teachers working with individuals and groups  throughout the comprehensive schools;
  5.     vocational education teachers working in the upper secondary vocational schools.


So perhaps Finland has built into its system greater diversity. But there are some tough requirements too. All Finnish teachers must hold a Masters degree, introduced in the belief that teaching was a scholarly activity that should be based on research. Interestingly, there is only one teachers’ organisation in Finland to which 95% of all teachers at all levels from kindergarten through to university teaching belong. This implies a parity of esteem that we have yet to achieve.

Believing that we need a wider group of people in teaching does not lead to an inevitable loss of standards but rather could lead to a general increase in both standards and quality both in terms of input through teaching and outcomes through learning. With what we know about the importance of teacher quality, this bears thinking about.



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Talk-ED: Early days and IT

Stuart Middleton
4 September 2012


I was chatting with some people the other day about IT and the various contacts we had made back in the 1980s as a result of what was happening then. I had spent a year in England in 1982-83 and had been astounded to see the extent to which English teachers were using computers. The BBC has put a lot of resource into developing a machine for use in schools. I returned home with the BBC Serial B and, for the kids a Sinclair Spectrum.

At the same time an appointment had been made to the Secondary Teachers College of a “Computing” specialist – radical stuff. The use made of the machines was pretty ordinary. Because you have a plethora of fonts each page in a publication had a plethora of fonts on it. I amazed others by using a computer to print out letters to the marking panels of examinations that I ran and so on. Back in 1993 there had been murmurings of all this IT stuff and what schools were doing.

But it was in 1993 that excitement mounted when the Ministry of Education decided to take a great leap forward. As the financial year was coming to a close there was still $2 million in some “furniture fund” in Wellington.  It was decided to have a competition – these days it would be called a “contestable funding round”. Secondary schools were invited to submit proposals for how they would advance IT in the school if they were successful and secured one of four grants of $500,000.

Aorere College, Decile 2, South Auckland, where I was principal at the time, was one of those four lucky schools.

To cut a lot of few long stories short – the first thing the MOE did was to deduct GST from the money when it was paid across – some things are traditions that cannot be broken! The teachers then worked with energy to advance the ideas they had earlier promoted in a more sketchy fashion in the application. The total now required was about $2.8 million.

Clearly there was not enough money so a breakthrough was needed. It came when the staff realised that we would only get there if we based our plans on the needs of the students and if we worked together, across department boundaries, across classrooms, across each of  those boundaries that in institutions mark territory won and therefore territory to be defended.

A lot of very good things happened. Some of the issues that are still with us emerged early on. Which platform should we go with? The answer was all three PC, Apple and that wonderful platform the BBC or “Acorn” as it had become known by then. It was a great pity that this platform disappeared because it was very sound in its appreciation of learning. It had been a wonderful presence in England and I twice visited their headquarters in Cambridge UK, on one occasion to see how they had developed a network across an entire school community. It was a pity that their risc chip was so good that they turned to servicing the global mobile phone industry and moved out of computers!

One big difference between what we tackled back then and what seems to be happening now is that there was a clearer attempt to advance the curriculum through the use of IT rather than have IT become the curriculum. And there was a heavy emphasis placed on the uses of IT in industry and commerce. For instance the engineering department installed CNC technology, Geography used devices for measuring atmospherics and undertook real studies for the local authority, Social Studies had access to the urban planning data of the City Council, Commerce ran the Business Centre at the International Airport – all real world use of learning that still evades so many young peoples’ school experience.

And we had fun, teachers undertook PD in critical IT skills and worked towards getting the “IT Warrant of Fitness” – the mood was buoyant. Has it all got a little too serious? Well, cheer up and just imagine if Dr Seuss had written the computer manual!


                        If a packet hits a pocket on a socket on a port,
                        and the bus is interrupted as a very last resort
                        and the address of the memory makes your floppy disk abort,
                        then the socket packet pocket has an error to report

                        If your cursor finds a menu item followed by a dash,
                        and the double clicking icon puts your window in the trash,
                        and your data is corrupted cause the index doesnt hash,
                        then your situations hopeless and your systems gonna crash!

                        If the label on the cable on the table at your house
                        says the network is connected to the button on your mouse,
                        but your packets want to tunnel on another protocol
                        thats repeatedly rejected by the printer down the hall,
                        and your screen is all distorted by the side effects of gauss,
                        so your icons in the window are as wavy as a souse,
                        then you may as well reboot and go out with a bang,
                        cause as sure as Im a poet, the suckers gonna hang!

                        When the copy of your floppys getting sloppy on the disk
                        and the microcode instructions cause unnecessary risk,
                        then you have to flash your memory and youll want to
                        RAM your ROM,
                        quickly turn off the computer and be sure to tell your mom!


(Author unknown – but I am pretty sure that it was not Dr Seuss!)



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Pathways-ED: Turning Pro! A Reviewed Teachers Council

Stuart Middleton
24 August 2012


The review of the Teachers Council is timely as another teacher indecency case hits the headlines – about the only time the Teachers Council has a public profile.

I have long argued that teaching in  New Zealand will never achieve true professional status until it had control over entry standards to teaching, a system of maintaining a disciplined system with members observing high standards within the framework of a code of ethics.

The Teachers Council on its establishment looks a little as if it might achieve this but it hasn’t.

I have noted over a long period that bodies brought together that consist of representatives of other organisations seldom achieve effective levels of activity. There is a good reason for this. A group made up of representatives of other organisations is simply a random collection of people. The Teachers Council agenda becomes distorted by the agendas that the members of the Council bring with them.

Members of the teachers Council should be a mix of professional educators of great experience and of considerable standing in the community appointed or perhaps even elected through an electoral college system

The question of entry standards into the profession is a key matter for such a body. Having determined a set of standards for entry they should then apply them at the point of entry. It is an absurdity that the Teachers Council gets involved in initial teacher education programmes. They should be approved by CUAP or by NZQA and the only question with regard to programmes should be whether the candidate for entry into the profession has undertaken such an approved course. There will of course be other critieria I would hope that go beyond mere training.

The registration process is cumbersome. The provisional registration system is simply a bit of nostalgia from the old days of the inspectors who would finally give the stamp of  approval. The process for re-registration should be the confirmation standards and should be rigorous for all teachers.

Re-registration should not be the tick-the-box process that it has become. It should be a point at which we should show the professional development that has been undertaken (the qualtity of which might well be laid down), the refresher training that is required (perhaps every 10 years), the meeting of expectations for improved qualifications, and suchlike. This all seems to me to be part of the professional requirements of being a professional within a profession.

The Teachers Council might also be supported by an Education Commission (along the lines of the Law Commission) that could provide professional advice and commentary on the system and its performance – an ongoing source which would continually nourish the system with ideas and challenges.

The Teachers Council might sponsor a set of Teaching Excellence Awards – perhaps under the aegis of a charitable trust in the way the UK does.

In other words the Teachers Council review must lift the level at which the Council works so that it is able to provide leadership to the profession of teaching.

And that raises a final question. What is the “Teaching Profession”. Well, it is certainly those who teach in the early childhood and schooling sector. But what about the tertiary sector? I think not in general terms but as the boundary between secondary and tertiary education becomes very “jagged”, to use the PPTA term, and students are not so easily identified as “secondary” or “tertiary” there are questions (which is not the same as “issues”) about who should teach.

Finally, where do the costs of a Teachers Council come from? They come from the same place that other professionals pay – our pockets. The difference is the capacity of legal and medical professional to pass the costs on to their businesses. No doubt there would be a discussion about this!

Teaching has an opportunity now to realise professional status through a revised Teachers Council that could itself achieve a level of professionalism that has eluded teacher organisations and principals associations.



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Talk-ED: Charters for flexibility and about time!


Stuart Middleton
6 August 2012

So now they are to known as “Partnership Schools / Kura Hourua”. Jolly good because that is what a school, any school, is meant to be.

But the further detail about Partnership Schools / Kura Hourua (aka Charter Schools) released emphasises flexibility and freedom and details the areas in which these freedoms will exist as curriculum, qualifications, employment (code for who gets to teach), hours of operation and school leadership.

It is something of a sad commentary that it is thought that such a development is necessary to give expression to freedom and flexibility when any school in the country could operate with these freedoms and flexibilities had they a mind to.

The curriculum in New Zealand is permissive and expressed in broad terms open to local interpretation. But experimentation and innovation in curriculum design is still the exception and not the rule that it should be. The secondary schools can develop pathways and emphases that both better meet the needs of students and give character and identity to the school. Some of this is now happening through the academies and none more so than the health academies that are giving a shape to science and mathematics for many students.

That secondary schools have chosen to reinvent the old examination system using NCEA is entirely a matter of choice on their part. The compression of NCEA into a three year annual cycle is neither necessary nor in the best interests of students. The flexibility is there waiting for schools to exercise it. New programmes, multilevel study and new qualifications are all made possible by the National Qualifications Framework and the National Certificate of Educational Achievement – Charter Schools will not introduce flexibility other than by starting with a clean sheet and being freed from the old ways of working and having perhaps personnel who bring different thinking to the task of designing a programme.

As for hours of operation has always been a little piece of silliness where two hours before lunch and two hours after lunch constituted half-days and terms were twelve or so weeks long and there were three of them and then for no reason that was obvious there were four of them. It is high time that students in schools were treated in an age-appropriate manner with regard to attendance and this suggests that the daily fixed-hours regardless of activity might not be as appropriate to senior secondary school students as it is to new infants.

Corralling students into schools for fixed hours only creates the pressure on schools of occupying them regardless of the usefulness of what they are doing. Students in secondary schools should be there when they need to be – I already hear the swelling tones of protest that they would vote with their feet and not be there. Let’s set out to have them vote with their minds and be there so as to continue along pathways that brings them success and the prospect of a future that is both within their grasp and that they want.

That leaves two areas – employment and school leadership.

The suggestion that people other than a registered teacher might teach in a school brought out some protest pretty quickly. I rejected as amusing the suggestion from the leader of a national organisation that such a move would threaten New Zealand’s reputation  as having a world class education system. Could a “small number” of schools threaten the reputation of 2,548 schools which the same leader would claim are excellent?

And we easily forget in these discussions the not insignificant role played by people with a limited authority to teach in our schools. Schools rely on them to varying degrees. Interestingly, I could not find on the web the exact number of such teachers – would it be 10%? Schools need a variety of people as teachers and as the curriculum expands, as it must, a greater variety of skills and knowledge will be needed. If there are to be meaningful relationships between secondary and tertiary providers there will also have to be greater variety in who get to teach the students.

School leadership. I would imagine that the key leaders in these Partnership Schools will be educators with the support of people with other complementary skills required to run effective operations. This reflects what already is happening in many schools especially large schools. The real impact on leadership will be at the governance level which has proved to be problematic over the past 23 years. Providing the kind of informed governance leadership for such large organisations is a huge opportunity to strengthen the leadership at a Board level of these important public “companies”.

That leaves one area of opportunity where flexibility will certainly not only be required but also essential – student achievement.

The only clear reason that we should contemplate a “Partnership School” in New Zealand would be if it could clearly raise student achievement among those who currently do not succeed. It will require firm leadership from the government to see that this becomes the key criterion by which a “partnership school” proposal is judged. If it will simply provide a different opportunity for students who already are successful then the whole development will turn out to be without purpose or honour.

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Pathways-ED: Relationships up against a wall

Stuart Middleton
1 August 2012


It was not done lightly when they named the parts of Berlin after the Second World War that had come to be considered as exclusive property of this super power or that super power, “sectors”. The Americans had the American Sector and the Russians theirs. Movement between the two was restricted by that ghastly wall and Checkpoint Charlie became synonymous with freedom of access.

They had, after all, the lessons to be learnt from education where sectors had similarly become territory won and territory to be defended. The No-man’s Land was territory to dispute and little consideration was given to what is best for the citizen / students.

I was astounded that recently a one-day seminar on relationships between sectors with top presenters was offered by a reputable Australian organisation, ATEM, but was able to attract only 7 registrations from throughout Australia – well, it might have been six because I had registered.

Issues related to educational sectors and to relationships between them in Australia seemed to me to be an issue that demands attention. Especially in the tertiary area where chickens hatched in the late 1980s have all the appearance of coming home to roost. In New Zealand they also demand attention.

Relationships between higher education, further education, vocational education, academic education are simply beyond resolution by considering them each to belong to a “tertiary sector”. And just as the spoils of war are commemorated and held to be holy long after the fighting stops, much of the sector debate in education is based on the spoils of past wars and the now somewhat jingoist slogans of the factions – We are academic, protect the standard!  We are vocational , they need us to dig for victory! We are primary, we teach people! We are secondary, we teach subjects to people!

It is all nostalgia for a past age when education systems had the appearance of working. Let’s face the realities of peacetime.

The transitions between sectors has become dysfunctional with too many students successfully navigating through the checkpoints which have become chokepoints. The old academic / vocation distinction no longer applies. Education systems in Anglophone countries are characterised by unprecedented rates of failure and dropouts – casualties of this war. These countries all share the dilemma of skill shortages and increasing youth unemployment.

Lets calmly look at these sectors. Early childhood education is critical to later success in education and while we boast of pretty good national levels of access, the disparity of access between certain groups in the community is a less happy picture. A solution would be to subsume the ECE sector into the primary sector thus increasing the ease of access without increasing the need to escalate governance and capital works costs. Australia in ahead of New Zealand in halving the K Level entry group but this seems to be more of a Level 0 for primary than a dedicated pre-school effort. And one year is too short.

All systems know the importance of the primary, elementary part of the education system. The issue with this sector is that it is not encouraged other than through mechanisms of name and shame to have a successful but more narrow focus on the teaching of basic skills. I am not suggesting that we return to the old inspection when an Inspector of Schools would arrive at a school to hear the students read to ascertain whether Standard 4 or 5 or 6 had been achieved. But clear statements about exit levels would help with the critical platform that is primary education.

Where the primary sector has identity issues is at the upper end when it seems to grapple with the dilemma of being like a primary school but wanting to be like a secondary school. The solution is clear, create a new sector, Years 7-10, and let them get on with the job of making a successful transition from primary into the discipline-based secondary style programme. Introductory work on real pathways would replace the current work that is reduced to dabbling by the lack of clear pathways with continuity into post-primary education and training.

This would mean taking the senior secondary school out of the “school” sector and placing it in the “tertiary” sector. Having reached Year 11 students would have multiple pathways for further education and training which would be both, and simultaneously, academic and vocational. The different institutions of the senior secondary school, the university, the ITPs, Wanānga, PTEs ITOs and so on would then have a distinctive contribution to make to providing appropriate pathways, rich in their diversity, rewarding in their outcomes and  connected to the real world of family sustaining incomes, of employment and of continued learning.

A brief flypast over the battlefield cannot do justice to a complex issue but the general point is clear. Our current sectors have developed by accident not design, they have resulted in the development of distinctive features (unions, qualifications, sites etc) that are more intended to distinguish territory than they are based on what we know about learning and young people.

I would love to have got together with those six people who shared my enthusiasm for starting the conversation about sectors and the relationships between them. Who knows, it might have led to change somewhere ahead of us. One day the public will want to push the walls over. How much better it would be if we could do it before contempt for institutionalised education reaches that level?



Talk-ED: Going for gold in teaching and learning

Stuart Middleton
30 July 2012

Let the games begin!

The Olympics have started again with an opening ceremony awash with the usual clichés about how taking part is more important than winning. If this was on a billboard then just to one side would be an emphatic “Yeah, right!”

Sport has a very close relationship with education and plays a big part in schools. I personally do not think that enough emphasis is placed on the role of sport in education.

We all know that playing sport is a very good way for young people to grow in a healthy way and to learn elements of team work, reliability, personal responsibility and the like. It is also an important part of developing pride in a school.

It is my view that top secondary school sport should be organised on a national basis, played in conferences, televised and lead to national results. Not all sport of course. That is not the real world. While Tiger and Adam battle it out on some prestigious golf course, countless millions of plodders chase the elusive little white ball around courses all over the world. No, I am talking about elite sport. There would continue quite a lot of sport at lower levels just as there is now.

Sport New Zealand might be much better off and have a greater impact and enjoy increased support by investing most of its money in promoting elite sport in secondary schools – athletics, swimming, rugby, football (both men and women), cycling, hockey, rowing and basketball would be a good place to start.

Then after the secondary school level national sports competitions were in place, attention could shift to developing a national “college sports” programme based on the eight universities and the six largest polytechnics. This would be a winner just as it is in the US. Quality sport played in conferences then culminating in the playoffs would be a much better bet than unseen school sport and struggling provincial efforts to attract interest.

Above these levels the national elite ranks would emerge and the top players would proceed into the increasingly franchised scene that is top sport.

The point about college sport was driven home to me one cold night at UC Berkeley. It was half-time in a football game and a parade of the universities top sports teams was taking place. The commentator assured the audience of 80,000 that “no sports person is parading tonight who hasn’t maintained an 8.5 grade point average.” There is a connection between quality in sports and quality in the classroom. There is a connection between pride in the sports and pride in the school. 

Teachers carry a cruel burden of having not only to maintain excellence in terms of teaching programmes but also are expected to maintain the sports programme. Both matter but little investment goes into the sports programme compared with the teaching programme.

If resources for sports were deployed much more evenly across our schools, performance would also be much more even. It is not only the quality of the sports people that allows some schools to reach and maintain elite performance but also the size of the resource that is invested in those schools. A fair share of sports resources for all schools would see that sports talent and performance does not respect decile levels!

This would provide a lift for the entire school system as pride in school increased, as talent in sports crossed over to performance in the classroom.

Because , like the Olympic Games, when it comes to education it is not the taking part that matters as much as the winning. High performance in learning is also a matter of training, good preparation, sound coaching and putting together on the day as they say.

Making sports work for education can only benefit everyone. And getting serious about sports in schools and “colleges” (universities and large polytechnics) would add value to our system of institutionalised education which too often, like our sports, disappoints when it comes to results.


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