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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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Party at Hekia’s Place – BYOE Bring Your Own Excellence along

It looks as if 2014 is shaping up to be somewhat unusual for education in New Zealand – three key developments are happening.

In March a set of Education Festivals will be held in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Developed by Cognition Education and with the four key themes of COLLABORATION, INNOVATION, COHESION and CELEBRATION.   The festivals are co-ordinated by Cognition Education with the support of the Ministry of Education and will coincide with the 4th International Summit on the Teaching Profession, jointly hosted by the OECD, Education International and New Zealand through the MOE.

The festivals focused on two key dimensions, the performance of students, teachers, schools and institutions in our community and the proud record New Zealand has inspired improved educational achievement in other countries by sharing our expertise and systems.

The press education receives is generally at best miserable and at times plain negative. I have frequently pointed out that the profession too often contributes to this. Here is a golden opportunity for education to put on its best clothes and strut its stuff in public and rather then spout clichés  about a “world class education system” , to allow the outcomes of the work of schools and other education providers be seen and enjoyed by a wider community. Let the work and skills of our students be the push for the excellent brew that comes out in most schools.

An added opportunity is to be able to do this while an international community of educators is here as our guest – a chance not only to show and teach but also to listen and to learn. The participating countries at the 4th International Summit are the top 20 education systems as measured by the PISA  results and the five fastest improvers.

This is a unique opportunity for New Zealand to learn and to gain insights into how we can match achievement data with greatly improved equity measures.  Both the festival and the summit will allow us to share insights with others and to learn from the insights of others. This is not a bragging contest but potentially could be a fine week for education n New Zealand.

The Minister of Education Hon Hekia Parata is behind both of these initiatives and her leadership deserves strong support from the sector and from all levels within the sector.

The third element that could lift the image of education in New Zealand is the announcement, also from Minister Parata, of the inaugural Prime Minister’s Education Excellence Awards to be introduced for 2014. The tertiary education sector has had just such a set of awards for about 10 years and they have been markedly successful under the astute leadership of Ako Aotearoa.

This new set of awards will focus on early childhood education, primary and secondary schooling and collaboration between secondary schools, tertiary providers and employers. This last award – collaboration – is particularly pleasing coming at a time when it is emerging that pathways between sectors will be a critical feature of the new environment that will allow us to address equity.

Ands that brings us back to the festival and the summit. We need to see these three developments as a set of tools that the education system can use to create a better education sector, one characterised by collaboration, by clear evidence of excellence and by a commitment to improved equity of outcomes. We will do this in part by seeing collaboration (bringing the fragmented sector together for the festival) and celebrating (excellence in teaching through the awards) as necessary to lifting our game. Necessary but not in themselves sufficient – long term change will require us to make a habit of collaboration and celebration.

In summary:

  •          Festivals of Education  – Auckland (21-23 March 2014), Wellington (29 March 2014) and Christchurch (23 March 2014)
  •          The 4th International Summit on the Teaching Profession – March 2014 
  •          Prime Minister’s Education Excellence Awards – entries close 31 March 2014

Roll on March I say.



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