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Tag: employment

Standing by the till or a hand on the tiller!

There was a bit of a flutter last week when the Victoria University of Wellington students’ association publicly spoke out about “internships” and the exploitation of students.

One of the issues with internships is that the term has been captured up till now in New Zealand by only perhaps two employment areas – medicine and law. It has been a long established practice for hospitals and law firms to troll the top of the graduate pile in an effort to lure excellent students into their pool of employees.

But overseas the situation is very different and the work “intern” is applied not only to that sort of experience but also much more generally to describe a student working as an intern in order to get experience or sometimes undertaking work as part of a course requirement.

Internships therefore are not by definition paid positions necessarily. It is over to the employer to decide on these matters. The experience is the reward and will come to sit well in a CV. So why the grizzle that the interns were doing work which was important and mattered?

It is critical that the work be important and crucial that it matters. “Work experience” by and large has a bad name simply because it is neither of these two things. I note each time I am in Australia and see in the retail sector scared and timid school students, lapel-badged as a “work experience student” or a “trainee” standing by the till looking nervous while someone else does the work.  This is not “work experience” but simply a form of employment tourism.

In the 1990s I was Principal at a school close to Auckland Airport. Commercial students (for there was still then such a group) ran the Business Centre at the International Terminal dealing with the demands of international travellers. If they did this during school hours they were not paid, after-hours and weekends they were.  The Food Technology group working under the guidance of their teachers and a professional chef employed by the school operated a canteen that served up to 500 meals a day. The Special Needs Units were in charge of some gardens at the airport.

Now all of this was real world, real work for real people. The students immediately grasped the fact that if they didn’t do the work it would be undone. They appreciated that a satisfied customer was satisfied with them- conversely a grumpy customer …..!

Internships are no frivolous field trip. They offer to university graduates an opportunity to place some practical experience alongside the theory, to demonstrate personal skills suited to the workplace rather than simply to the classroom and lecture theatre. In the polytechnic setting they are appropriate to many levels from say diploma through to degrees and are best integrated into the programme. This requires institutions to see ways of allowing students to be “at work” in another real world from the reality of being in a programme in an institution.

It is clear that “intern” and “internships” will become more commonly seen as a valuable bridge between education and training that makes demands not only on the education and training institutions but also on employers and those who work with them. That is the challenge – are we all up to it?


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Working in the future now

Each time I hear someone claiming that we are preparing students for futures yet unknown to us, I wonder whether or not we have a basis for making this claim and whether it is in the interests of the students. “Waiting for the Future” seems to have the same level of hopelessness as “Waiting for Godot.”

But we can make some assessments of a likely future. Diane Ravitch, speaking at the conference I attended a couple of weeks ago noted that the future would in all likelihood have an increased emphasis on low wage jobs in healthcare, retail and restaurant services. Only 20% of jobs will require a bachelors degree or above. Despite this we continue to prepare students for middle class jobs – “We have,” she said, “lost our way”.

She mounted a huge case against the “pursuit of scores” which various policies – Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” and Obama’s “Racing to the Top” particular targets – and argued that gaining high test scores was only gained by drilling students and raising economic viability of schools.

“There is,” she thundered, “no skills shortage, only a jobs shortage.” The audience dutifully clapped and, it being in the south of the US there was much hootin’ and hollerin’. She continued her catalogue of grizzles, niggles and well-worn at the tired old targets. This was not the Diane Ravitch of old and she is honest about having changed her position on a lot of things. Good on her for this honesty.

Her address turns out to be essentially the first chapter of her latest book – “The Reign of Error”. This awaits me for a Christmas Holiday read.

But I did wonder about her claim that never have drop-out rates been lower in the US. I subsequently met no-one who could or was prepared to agree.

An interesting construction she placed on what was happening in the US was that people were “struggling to remain in the middle classes.” This was something that was repeated quite often not only in the conference but also in later meetings and discussions I had. The gap between low socio-economic groups and the middle classes was closing it seems not by raising those lower groups to a more comfortable position but by the middle classes losing their advantage. It would be interesting to see an analysis of NZ from this perspective.

But, back to the future. We prepare students for it not by waiting for it but by preparing them for the immediate future in a manner that sees the skills needed for life-long learning, for contributing to society as a worker, as a citizen, as a family member and as a well-rounded and able individual. In other words, there are jobs out there and young students should be able to go into them.

The challenge to education is that too many young people leaving schools have yet to acquire the skills, attributes, and disposition of an employment-ready prospect for an employer.

In the past it didn’t matter so much. Employers had lower expectations of entry-level workers who were often going into an apprenticeship where there was an expectation on both sides that they would be prepared to participate in the industry or profession.

And, I think this is important, there were many opportunities for young people with a modicum of get-up-and-go to work and demonstrate the attributes of a worker.

I had my first “job” at about the age of 8 as an “assistant” in my uncle’s grocery store – a benign and gentle start I will admit but I had to do the right thing and received 5 florins each Friday. Next came an opportunity when I was at intermediate school to work in a Hardware store during school holidays – packaging nails, and plaster of Paris, sweeping the floor and fetching and carrying and occasionally serving a customer (£1/10s per week).  At secondary working in school holidays in a sheep farm was the next step. More responsibility, expected to achieve certain critical tasks etc. The holiday employment when at University was, first, in the parks department in Hamilton at the cemetery working as a general factotum and asst. sector but I moved after that to five years of working with a drain layer.

There is nothing special about this. It was how things were. But the preparation for “real” employment happened long before I had a “real” job.

None of that is there now. All this work is done by adults. So it is over to educational institutions to build that preparation into the way they work so that young people are on the road to employment earlier than they realise and ready to go when the employer pulls the trigger on the starting gun.


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Getting education and training to work

San Francisco

Just returned to San Francisco from the ACTE Conference in Nashville. I will come clean and admit that I found time to catch up with country music and, believe me, it is wall-to-wall. I am still humming “Kiss an angel good morning!”  after having heard Charley Pride at the Grand ‘Ole Opry last night.

But what are the key messages I take from the very professional conference attended by 3,000 career and technical education teachers from both secondary and postsecondary providers? Well, it is one overwhelmingly clear message. We are talking in New Zealand a lot about progression to employment but are spending a much less focused energy on making it happen when compared to the US or perhaps I should say, best practice in the US – it is a huge country and the best is as good as it gets and the worst doesn’t bear thinking about.

I was astonished by the extent to which the high schools of the USA are developing relationships with employers and the quality of the articulation of this to the actual progression to employment at the point of qualification completion and employment entry from postsecondary programmes at community colleges and colleges (i.e. ITPs and other tertiary providers in NZ terms).

Simply knowing employers, being able to call on their support and regarding them as a friends of the institution just doesn’t cut it! What is called for is a deep and enduring relationship that requires both an effort at development, a bigger effort in maintaining, and a genuine partnership in the contributions of both the provider and the employer in the successful induction of the novice into the career.

This requires a number of features that characterise successful relationships between providers and employers: 

  •          serious engagement of the employers in course development and implementation; 
  •          involvement of employers and their enterprises in the delivery of the programme in a manner that enhances the relationship and simply doesn’t place pressure on the employer from a resource point of view (people, equipment and time); 
  •          a willingness of employers to engage in internships / work experiences of different  kinds and capstone projects because it is good for them rather than it being only good for the provider – in other words it is a relationship that adds value to the activity of both partners; 
  •          a privileged  position that sees the partner-employers having first cut at getting the best graduates; 
  •          a shared commitment to developing in Career and Technical Education (when are we going to grow up and use this international description in NZ?) a clear pathway from training to employment, from learning to jobs and between those who prepare workers and those who employ them.

All of this requires a different way of working. It will require providers to become smart and nimble, to be professional and current in the provision not just in terms of the educational institution but in terms of the industry itself. Above all it calls for real partnership between the trainers and the employers.

Sometime I get the impression that in tertiary education we think it is about us. Bugtit never is. It is about the students, their families, the employers, their shareholders and employees. The providers simply engage the parties in assisting a student along the pathways from the point where they have reached prior to enrolment to the final and fulfilling position of being employed in a great job, a job they want to do alongside people who respect them and value their contribution.

It is a special responsibility that educators have. Are we up to it because we have the policy settings in New Zealand but the US is stealing a march on us in their work with employers and in a much harsher environment.


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There’s more than one way to reach the stars!

Rather than let off a few sky rockets on yet another silly day we remember, hard on the heels of that even sillier day called Halloween, I thought I would throw a few ideas up in the air as we head towards the end of the year. These are called game-changers. They would lift educational performance in New Zealand. We have known most of these for a long time but other things get in the way. On Thursday I will give a complementary list of show-stoppers.

Principals of secondary schools are welcome to use these lists as they put the final touches to their prize-giving addresses.

The “Game Changers” List

1. Access to early childhood education

It astounds me that in this rich country we still have uneven distribution of opportunity for early childhood education. I do not need to repeat the evidence, it is over whelming. And the lack of equity in the area is hidden by two factors – quirky gatherings of information about actual participation (likely to be lower than reported) and the evening out of statistics into regional and national figures.

A stark statistic: In the Tamaki suburb in Auckland there are 7,000 youngsters under the age of five and there are 2,000early childhood education places.

A quick but excellent fix: In areas of low participation, add an early childhood facility to each primary school – same Board, same management, shared outdoor facilities, great savings. Best of all, it would be goodbye to the entangling bureaucracy that surrounds the development of conventional centres.

2 Greater attention to basic skills in primary schools

I might be naïve but it is bizarre that in the country that led the world not only in reading performance but also in the teaching of reading that so many children fail to reach a safe standard in the eight years of primary schooling. The same can be said of mathematics (sometimes called numeracy). Add to the list the development of knowledge, social skills, preparedness for further education, and exposure to arts and practical skills all in a context of new technologies and you would have not only an interesting programme but one which didn’t place so many students on a trajectory of failure.

A stark fact: Students show a decline in learning in key areas between Year 4 and Year 8.

A quick but excellent fix: Demand that primary schools do less but that they do it to higher standards. The foundation skills are taught in primary schools. Isn’t it ironic that the term “foundation skills” has been transferred to the first several years of post-secondary education and training for those who have failed to accrue such skills and this is clearly too late.

3. See a clear distinction between junior and senior secondary schools.

Education systems that we admire and would wish to emulate invariably have a clear distinction between what is in New Zealand Year 10 and Year 11. The first two years of high school are years of finishing off the processes started in primary school and the preparation for discipline focussed study that is in a context of future employment. Years 11 and 13 in these overseas systems are clearly differentiated with the availability of clear vocational technical opportunities emerging to complement the university track (which is working well in New Zealand). In other words, young students have choices about their futures.

Another shared feature is that at that age students are credited with much greater maturity but also supported to a much greater degree. The style and organisation of schooling is more akin to a tertiary institution than to the primary schools from which the secondary schools evolved.

A stark statistic: By age 16 years 21% of 16 year olds have dropped out of New Zealand schooling system.

A quick but excellent fix:  Sorry folks, but there isn’t one. This area is where the most comprehensive reforms are needed. Put simply, apart from the track to university, the New Zealand senior secondary school is broken. That style of education no longer suits too many of our young people. Don’t despair – we share this with our sibling systems in Australia, the United States, the UK and most of Canada. WE need to look elsewhere for evidence of what works and then craft our own responses for our particular circumstances.

4 Cement the output of graduates from tertiary education to employment.

There needs to be a clear line of sight between tertiary programmes and employment. I know that the universities resist any such notion – I have been told by those who know that such a connection is not helpful – “We do not train people, we educate them.” Just think of it, all those untrained doctors, ophthalmologists, engineers, lawyers – what rubbish such a claim is.  And in light of the unrelenting marketing of universities as the place to secure a future, to get high earning powered positions it is simply not sense.

Tertiary education is expensive both for the taxpayer and for the students who are the sons and daughters of taxpayers. They have a right to know that their investment in education at a tertiary level be it at a university, an ITP, a PTE a Wananga or wherever will lead to a job. If a degree in business has prepared you to look after the valet parking desk at the airport (as was a case I came across recently) then it can only be concluded that the programme offered little in the way of access.

A stark statistic:  About one half of those who start a post-secondary qualification actually complete it.

A quick but excellent fix:  it seems as if we are drifting towards a situation where tertiary providers are to be held accountable for the progress into employment of their graduates. If this were applied to all levels and types of tertiary education it might well be a good thing. Of course it would have to be first accepted that a key purpose of post-secondary education and training is to get the appropriate job. This might also require a better connection between demand and supply in the labour market. Consideration of these a matters need to be sped up.

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Pathways-ED: Bridging the Divides with Pathways



Over the past two days 260 educators have been meeting in Auckland at the third National Conference on Pathways and Transitions – Bridging the Divides : Secondary-Tertiary-Employment Transitions for Learner Success.

The conference was organised by the Manukau Institute of Technology Centre for Studies in Multiple Pathways in association with Ako Aotearoa, the University of Auckland, the Ministry of Education, Cognition Education and Cyclone Computers. This “family of six” reflects the importance given to the topic and the extent to which it has moved more and more towards centre stage in the awareness of those who care about improving students outcomes.

There are two key concepts – the notion of “transitions” and that of “pathways”. We know that the transitions between and within the different parts of the education system are choke points in the journey students face as they pursue an education. The shift from ECE to primary, primary to intermediate and subsequently for all, into secondary, then on into some postsecondary education which finally move into employment is a reflection of a system that is built for the adults that survived rather than the learner/student.

Dr Joel Vargas from the Jobs for the Future Foundation in Boston U.S. showed that the loss of students at transition points was an issue that went well beyond our shores. We know that we “lose” over 4,000 students between primary and secondary, that 20% of students drop out, that half of those starting a postsecondary qualification do not complete. Much of this waste of talent and potential is the result of the issues surrounding transitions. And there is that transition form the stages of education into employment.

Associate Professor Leesa Wheelahan (University of Melbourne) reminded the conference of the weak link between education and employment, a point reinforced by business leaders who addressed the conference.

Transitions need to have “pathways” if they are to lead to the levels of seamlessness that will address the issues of the dysfunctional transitions which might more correctly be thought of as fractures.

Pathways are seamless, start somewhere and arrive somewhere else. In themselves they are an organising principle that calls for connection and quirks each of those who work on each side of the crevasse to work together. It is interesting that some of the systems we admire have solved this issue through looking to sector reform to shape a system based around the needs of young people rather than around the sensitivities of adults.

260 educators working to address these issues simply have to make a difference. There is developing a community of practice that is seeking to construct new pathways and transitions with a more seamless approach to create increased likelihood of more positive educational outcomes for more students.

This was a clear message of the Minister of Education Hon Hekia Parata who in addressing the conference emphasised the Better Public Service goals as clear markers for outcomes which the system must work towards.

This will require us to work differently but this will not always require us to embrace startling and new or radical ideas. As has been a theme of recent EDTalkNZ pieces, some of the ideas have moved across the education stage before. The notion of a “jagged edge”, even “seamlessness” and the reforms of Post Compulsory Education and Training in the 1980s had canvased many of the changes now being seriously considered – a point made elegantly by Professor Gary Hawke who led the reforms back then. Professor Hawke made an interesting point in his reminder that we need to focus on post compulsory rather than postsecondary.

So it was an exciting gathering where ideas surfaced and were considered, where for two days there was a coming together of people working towards shared goals. The things that divide us in education were parked at the door and students were considered. Many were impressed by the eloquence and directed energy of the students, especially one who had gone through the MIT Tertiary High School.  He had made the transition from risk to reward, from being given no hope in school to seeing a pathway that would take him into a job he loves and which opens up a big wide world.

It is early days but directions are emerging that hold the promise of an education system that will deliver pathways to students that see them college (postsecondary) ready and career ready. If we can achieve this we will perhaps avoid the demographic time bomb that ticks away and was so clearly described by Sir Mark Solomon.


It could be that in time is not on our side in these issues.


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Talk-ED: The Aspirations of a Three-year Old


Chatting to a friend over the weekend she was telling us about her grandson.  I will call him Taylor for that is his name; he is three years old, lively and normal.  In response to a question about what he was going to do in the future he told his Nana that when he was five he would go to school and after that he would go to university.  “Why will you do that?” his Nana asked. Quick as a shot the answer cane back – “To get a job!”

And that is the middle class advantage, growing up with a possibility that develops into an expectation and becomes an aspiration.  I would be certain that Taylor doesn’t really understand at this point just what it means.  He will know about school because they walk past the local school often enough.  He will know about jobs because Mum and Dad both have them.  But already the connections between schooling, postsecondary education and training and jobs are starting to grow in his mind.

Middle class children get all this with their cornflakes. It’s part of the chatter that goes on in those homes and it becomes a powerful factor in sustaining young people such as Taylor through the 16 or so years that come between his simple plan and the future.

So starting the talk about jobs as an outcome of education is very important.  But it often is hidden behind a number of myths.

Myth 1.                                                                                                                                         

Most of the young people we are teaching will end up in jobs that have not yet been invented.

This is patently untrue.  Most young people in education now will go into jobs that exist now and many will work in jobs that have been around for a long time.  Those who do go into the cutting edge of employment, into the jobs that are really new are not these novice workers starting out but the experienced, highly skilled and workers.  The jobs the children in classrooms now will need to be skilled and prepared for are the jobs that are out there now.

Myth 2.

We have to prepare young people for a future in which they will have seven careers.

“Career” is a very funny word. Can you set out to have a “career” or does one simply emerge from the set of activities and experiences that are accumulated over time? Is a “career” something you look back on, a useful term that means all the bits and pieces I have done?  Is there a difference between changing your job quite a bit and a career that is usually applied to substantial experience in the same vocational area?  And that’s the point – we have changes in our jobs bit not necessarily a change of jobs.  I have had one job all my working life but I have had six positions.  I am an educator – I guess that is my career – but I have added skills as different positions have demanded them.

Preparing young people to get into the workforce – to make a start in a career by getting a job – is a key outcome for schooling and tertiary education and training.

Myth 3.

There aren’t any jobs out there.

Try telling that to employers desperate for skilled workers.  There are jobs for those adequately prepared.  The sad truth about youth unemployment is not that young people are unemployed, although that in itself is not to be desired, but that so many young people are unemployable.  You hear quite a lot of talk about university graduates who are clearly under-employed,  that is to say that they are working in jobs that require skills and knowledge at a much lower level than their qualification demands.  That is not a good thing at all.  But with young people who are perhaps early school leavers, the skills of employment are a balance of practical skills as well as what is called the “soft skills” demanded by employers.

These so-called soft skills are attributes such as a strong work ethic, a positive attitude good communication skills, time management abilities, problem-solving skills, acting as a team player, self-confidence, ability to accept and learn from criticism, flexibility/adaptability, and working well under pressure.  How would our students score if those were the heading on their report card?  And could we point with confidence to our programmes and show that each of these is explicit in them?

Add to this that employment also requires knowing other things as well – language, mathematics, science of one kind or another and so on.

Yes, Taylor has got quite a lot to do before he gets that job!


Announcing the Bridging the Divides Conference

For more information, please contact the Manukau Insitute of Technology Centre for Studies in Multiple Pathways, Colleen Young:

E:  [email protected]  or P:  09 968 7631.


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Pathways-ED: Youth and work, youth in work

Stuart Middleton
31 May 2012


I got my first job when I was about eight years old when my brother and I, during the school holidays, worked for our Uncle in his grocery shop. We got ten shillings a week, had our own aprons and generally did useful things such as sweep the floor, make up bags of flour, help get the orders together and subsequently take turns in going with Uncle Les in his quaint little van to do the deliveries.

I am pretty sure that this, being a family arrangement, did not involve the IRD.

But such an opportunity was important because later, aged about 12 or 13 years I continued with an after-school job – i.e. each day from about 3.30pm to 5.00pm and during the school holidays, I had a similar set of responsibilities working for Mr Frame in his hardware store.

None of this was remarkable in those days. Young people delivered the newspapers, worked in shops, mowed lawns and so on. I thought that somehow this had all gone by the wayside as adults, seeking work, had replaced young ones doing such activities.

My daily newspaper is delivered by an adult couple driving a car – she doing the driving and he putting the papers into the letter boxes. Franchises galore have captured the lawn market and you never see young people appearing in shops to do the after-school shift.

But apparently it is not quite so. The discussion of one of the tax changes in the recent budget, brought to light the fact that 68,000 “children” were working in paid employment. A recent report shows considerable employment among secondary school age people with some working considerable hours. I recall that the recent discussion of the “truancy” statistics for NZ schools mentioned that part-time employment was a factor.

It therefore continues to puzzle me that the default position for so many young people is to head towards degree study and a place in occupational classes that are seen to be prestigious often in defiances of the evidence of progress being made as a student. One might have thought that all this “employment experience” might have encouraged more to head towards the skill areas in which there are continuing shortages.

Yesterday’s Dominion Post newspaper reported a survey that showed that nearly half of Kiwi employers are struggling to find staff with the right skills. Apparently the global average for this is 34% and for the the Asia-Pacific region, 45%. So we are a bit on the high side.

The skill areas that were listed in the top 10 for NZ were: engineers, sales reps, trades-people, IT staff, technicians, accounting, management, food and beverage, marketing / PR / comms and drivers. Some of these categories require degrees but not exclusively. The IPENZ President, Graham Darlow, is quoted as saying that “the biggest shortage is in technicians and not professional engineers.”

Time and time again the message is the same – New Zealand needs young people coming into the workforce with middle level skills in areas such as those listed above but also with the skills of employment.

Central to this is the accruing of experience in real employment on the way through – informal experience as a young person, more formal as the point of full-time employment approaches. Getting ready to work is a gradual process that requires growth – qualified on Friday and into the workforce on Monday with no previous experience is not palatable to many employers.

I am told time and time again by employers that they respect the qualifications young people have but, and it usually runs along these lines – “they aren’t ready to work”.

I reflect on my own experience as a worker – a little grocer’s lad, a hardware store assistant, a drain-layer, an assistant sexton in a cemetery and a musician – all woven around the journey towards a qualification and a subsequent job which in my case would be to teach. I am sure that the wages I got as a little worker were not an excessive drain on the businesses I worked for. I also guess that later when in university my holidays spent as a drain-layer were more productive.

But I do know that I learnt a lot from those experiences which these days would be called the skills of employment – working hard, following instructions, being able to work in a self-directed manner, getting there every day on time regardless of weather, saving money and learning to mix with a very wide range of people.

Looking back the experiences were invaluable. Perhaps the time is right for a national campaign to offer young people such informal and formal opportunities in the interests of getting the nation cracking – getting people into work that is there by having young people growing up with an expectation that working is what you do. But it is going to take an effort from everyone.



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Talk-ED: Quality matters!

Stuart Middleton
22 March 2012


It looks as if the stars are coming into alignment in education. First there was the Prime Minister with clear statements about education and training and some inarguable goals followed by a minor distraction from what has turned out to be a falling star, Nick Smith.

Now we have the Secretary to the Treasury, Gabriel Makhlouf, in a speech on the kind of economic leadership needed in these somewhat unusual times, providing an evidence-based commentary on the importance of education and the role of schools in lifting the levels of New Zealand’s skills.

The importance of education as is made clear.  “A skilled workforce is crucial to raising growth and productivity… better skills make us more adaptable… and education is like a factory for opportunity and ideas.”  Acknowledging that improvement in education is a necessity right across all forms and levels, like so many other commentators he focuses on the school system.

The response to the Treasury Briefing to the Incoming Minister noted that class size was a mechanism for freeing resources that might be used for improvement and Mahlouf rightly brings some perspective into this – the issue is not the number of students in a classroom, it is the achievement that comes out of 13 years, 38-40 weeks each year, 25 hours each week, of schooling that is the real issue.

This is not the first time that Treasury briefing papers to an incoming Minister have been the starting point for education reform. In 1987 a very substantial briefing led to the reforms of educational administration and wide-reaching tertiary reforms. Is this the trigger for another period of reform?

He does pick his targets carefully. Despite the use of a rather flattering and kind measure for achievement of NCEA Level 2 (a global figure of 70% rather than the much more challenging Maori and Pasifika outcomes) he questions whether three out of ten students are “simply too hard to teach or are incapable of learning basic skills” and concludes that “the system is failing some students.”

I recall a Treasury official walking into my office some years ago and getting straight to the point by asking me to tell him who in the country is accountable for educational failure.  I replied, without hesitation, “no-one!”. And this has remained the case.

The speech develops a theme around two points. First, the critical factor in student performance is the quality of teaching and, secondly, education like all of us will have to seek improvement within the existing resources that it has.

Jacques Barzun many years ago asserted that it was not the competence of teachers that was the problem; rather it was the fact that too many good teachers were doing the wrong thing. That probably still applies and the remedy is clear – find out what is happening in classrooms, establish what curriculum and practices would affect improvements in student outcomes and put into place professional development that addresses it. This raises issues that we shy away from in education.

We find it hard to accept that there are differences between teachers that result in variable student outcomes. We find it hard to accept assessment of teacher performance that would guide us towards helping those teachers who are off the mark in leading students to positive outcomes. We find it hard to believe that the curriculum needs scrutiny and continue to treat it as if it were a holy document when clearly it is playing a part in driving us towards those variable outcomes.

And we love discussions that distract rather than enlighten. The reactions to Treasury’s earlier suggestion that class size might be a mechanism for generating the resources to achieve the remediation of the performance of the schooling system unleashed the tired old responses. Every Mum in the country knows that to make ends meet she must either find extra money or shift what money she has around when a new household expense comes around. When one option is not open, the other is the only way. Mum has to decide priorities.

Makhlouf tidily sums up just such a priority: “Class size matters but the quality of teaching matters more.”  

I hope that this speech and the material accompanying it is a starting point on an urgent and serious discussion of the central issue in economic recovery, growth and development, the level of education outcomes for young New Zealanders.


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Talk-ED: It's not working!

Stuart Middleton
12 March 2012

I got into a discussion about youth unemployment recently with an interesting group of people. There was strong agreement that there was an issue, if not a crisis.

I suggested that we not only had the issue of youth unemployment but also an issue of unemployable youth. We are creating the confluence of two weather systems that will create a storm of Wahine proportions as the deep depression of youth unemployment meets the deep depression of unemployable youth to create dangerous waters and cyclonic winds that will in all probability rip the social fabric.

The issue of youth unemployment in New Zealand is exacerbated by a number of factors.

First, New Zealand has one of the highest proportions of youth workers aged 15-24 years in the labour force. Consequently when things turn tough we see a higher proportion of youth affected negatively. Nearly half of New Zealand’s unemployed is made up of this younger age group. Furthermore this youthful group splits into two clearly distinct groups – one is skilled and qualified while the other is disengaged from education and training and subsequently has little prospect of work.  No amount of improvement in the economy will address the issue of this latter group.

These two groups split along ethnic lines and hence the connection between this first exacerbating factor and the second. With the second group having such large representation of Maori and Pasifika youth the performance of these groups in the education system is critical.

NZQA has recently published the results of the 2008 Year 11 cohort in the NCEA as this group went through the senior school what was their level of achievement. This is a much more honest reporting than any that is based on the percentage of Year levels achieving since the cumulative percentages based on percentages inflates the result considerably. Now remember that this is the Year 11.

Remember too that this cohort is the group that actually made it to Year 11. So the cohort will be around 80% of the group that set out in education. And where numbers of Maori and Pacific students are higher the cohort will reflect an even smaller percentage of the actual cohort.

So with that in mind, this is the picture of real achievement:

In Year 11 students achieve in NCEA as follows:

NCEA L1 achieved…          … in Year 11          …In Year 12           ….in Year 13                         

NZ European                         72%                       81%                        81%                

Asian                                       70%                       80%                        81%                

Maori                                        44%                       57%                        59%                

Pacific                                      44%                       68%                        71%                

NCEA Level 2 has emerged as the level which all students should achieve prior to leaving school so as to have a good basis for further education and training. So what are the actual figures for the achievement of Level 2 by the end of Year 13?

NZ European                           68%                                                                                

Asian                                       74%               

Maori                                         43%

Pacific                                       58%

So even this basic measure of completing secondary school with the requisite achievement for further success is a cause for concern and those figures has in it a very clear message about youth unemployment.

Urgency must be brought to relating more closely the curriculum of the senior secondary school to the requirements of employment and to pathways that lead seamlessly from school into jobs and into further education and training. Each sector has a contribution to make to this. We will never solve all of the issues of youth unemployment if we cannot plug the flow of unemployable into the 15-24 year old group.

“Unemployment” should be a category for those who can work and want to work but who cannot get a job. Using it as a bucket category which in addition includes those who are unemployable and those who are in some form of social welfare trap, or both, leads to fuzzy responses that miss their mark.

What we do know is that the ethnicity of the demographics tells us that addressing this is urgent. A storm is brewing and like El Nino and La Nina they will not go away.


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Pathways-ED: Their brilliant career – all I want is a job!

Stuart Middleton
9 February 2011

A number of times lately in discussion with different kinds of people, the question of which word we should choose to describe the post-formal education destination of a students has arisen.

I favour using the simple word “job”. But this I am told is limiting and “career” would be a better choice. Even “employment” seems to be favoured ahead of “job”. But the words we use matter and the words that have impact on students matter. Our thinking is not just formulated by the words we used but actually formed by them. They are very important.

This is not a trivial issue. Currently questions are being raised about the effectiveness of “careers” advice and much thought is being directed at the nature of it, the way it works and when it should be delivered.

Let me nail my piece to the door. I believe that “career” is a concept that comes largely after the event. It is a qualitative judgment about a person’s continuous work over a long period of time. It is often used by people other than the person it is being applied to. “She has had a stellar career” might well be said of a person who could be reluctant to think of herself in these terms.

Children in middle class homes, the homes of the professionals, grow up with a sense of what a “career” is because there are people in the home who have had one, or know of people who have.

A “career” is something of a collective noun for a series of jobs that are connected and cumulatively add up to something.

I don’t want to here discuss careers education other than to say that it seems to me to be a lot like sex education – too little, too late and when it happens, overly obsessed with the mechanics of connection.

We might get much more traction and reach new levels of effectiveness in the advice we give to young people by using the word “job”. Is the point of education the development of a sets of skills, knowledge, dispositions and aspirations that will carry people into a job with enthusiasm and certain in their knowledge that their education will continue even though their schooling might stop?

That is why multiple exit points and pathways are needed. Some students need to make the school / job transition more quickly than others, some need to get onto a pathway along which they clearly see a job waiting for them at an earlier point. Others can sustain a more distant view of a job, perhaps even wrapped up in the concept of a career but not many.

So, let’s start being comfortable with the practice of making clear the link between “schooling” and “jobs” with a view to getting increased numbers into work. Such a commitment will not dent in any way the numbers who are heading for university or who have a view of where they are going. However it will be absolutely central to making inroads into the ranks of the disengaging and those who leave school to drift into the NEET group.

Making explicit the purpose of schooling is an important change we could make if we are to tackle the issues of dropping out and disengagement. We need to agree on and then work to a clear equation:   Schooling + Job = Purpose.  There is plenty of evidence that purpose is the very thing that many successful students have and many unsuccessful students do not. It might also be the difference between an effective teacher and an ineffective one (and this is not a comment on competence).

Perhaps the confusion about schooling that a group of students has is shared by their teachers. This is sad if it is true for such teachers will find it hard to aspire to a “career” in teaching and will instead become increasingly unhappy about the “job”.

The old battle cry of the teaching world in the 1960’s was “Give us the tools and we will do the job!” By and large any increase in resources was used to continue to do the same thing and not surprisingly the results were the same. Now demographic pressures and the realities of the sort of economy we have, demand different results which can only result from working differently.

A good start would be an affirmation that education should lead to a job and that this could happen at a number of points none of which need threaten the pathways that see students reach high levels of qualifications. But we must attack that group who end their encounter with education after eight or ten or 13 years and are either unemployable or ill-prepared to continue in education. It is not a mystery.

An orientation on “jobs” might be the solution.


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