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Tag: government policy

Talk-ED: Ratio rationale

Stuart Middleton
28 May 2012


I need help. Being a bear with a small brain, I have been struggling to understand some of the statements on television from school leaders about the impact of the changes to the student teacher ratio announced recently.

Last Friday evening for example we were told of a school, a primary school that would lose 5-6 teachers. Surely not I thought – this would be outrageous.

So what I did was a simple exercise in mathematics – I listed on a sheet of paper the 1 July roll return figures for 2011 for years 1- 15. Then I applied the old ratios and calculated the number of FTEs (full time equivalent positions) those figures would generate. For comparison I also calculated what the new ratios would generate.

On the basis simply of the number of FTE teaching positions generated, the change in ratios is neutral – in fact there is a gain of 11 FTEs across the entire school sector. But this is negligible given that the number of FTEs 33,170. A small shift in balance sees the secondary sector gain by about 240 FTEs at the expense of primary which loses about the same amount.

So the impacts that are being described to us must be in the calculations of all the additional positions generated by allowances – management, resource teachers, guidance, therapists and so on. These appear to account for a further 13,000 FTEs and I would imagine that the complexity of those calculations creates a somewhat tangled web of different approaches to allocating specific resources.

Has the change in ratios somehow produced a call for a leaner cadre of management in schools?

A reduction in the number of resource teachers feature strongly in the complaints from Principals and there are (or were) nearly 1,000 of these?

I was told the other day that intermediate schools were particularly hit by the changes in a negative way? On the surface the changes in ratios look favourable to them.

I do not doubt for one minute that the perceived impact of the changes on schools is real. School leaders would not go on television and say the things they have been saying if they were not. But if the actual changes to the ratios is neutral in terms of FTE teaching positions, then what is generating that impact?

Is there a discrepancy between the roll figures used to calculate staffing allowances and actual rolls? There shouldn’t be as school rolls have been very stable nationally for the past five years and have actually increased by a little over 4% in the past 10 years. Although national figures inevitably mask a decline in numbers in some areas and growth in others.

Is it that additional staffing outside the FTE calculations has been accumulating in schools where there has been a shift downwards in student numbers? A similar thing happened in the 1980s leading up to the changes in 1989 called Tomorrow’s Schools which saw some spectacular losses in staffing to some schools as new formulae bit in. Schools that had, over a period of time, “done well” in attracting additional staffing paid a heavy price.

Could it be that having staffing delivered in FTEs is limiting? Given the age profile of the teaching service it might, at the moment, be to the advantage of schools to have the salary funding delivered to it in some form of cashed up model?

Education does not have a good track record in embracing change and it would be a shame if the reactions to this change which does appear to simplify the whole business a little, is being challenged simply on the basis that it is change – we don’t like change.

So it is important for the real issues to be brought out in ways that people can understand. The dramatic and breathless condemnation of the changes as the end of learning in our lifetimes won’t cut it. Nor will spurious attempts to alarm parents that there will be extraordinary numbers of students in classrooms, there should not be. Nor will the community be impressed by silly calculations of the time available to teachers for interaction with each student as if that has ever been reflected in how excellent teachers work – “two minutes of talking with the teacher starting now”.

Teaching is predominantly a group activity and that is highlighted by the weight of evidence that the quality of the teacher rather than the precise size of the group is the key factor in the quality of learning.

Communities seek to support their schools and I think that they deserve better than the reactions to the changes in ratios that they have got. What are the real issues?

That’s why I need help. Explanations for the reactions do not seem to come out of a clinical examination of the numbers behind the changes.

I read this morning’s NZ Herald and a little more light is shed on the issue of Years 7 and 8 – it does seem that the additional staffing rather than the ratio is the issue – or does the ratio drive the additional staffing?  Check out the article at:


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Talk-ED: A double helping!

Stuart Middleton
20 March 2012


The Entree:    What’s not local about education and training?

Local Government Minister Nick Smith is wide of the mark when he calls for local government to get “out of education” and uses the example of “a council that sets a target of Level 2 NCEA”.  He goes on to say that local government has no business doing central government business. This is referring to the Auckland Council’s clear target for education and skills in the region.

He is right to say that local government should not be doing central government business but misses the point that local government has a role to play in seeing that central government does its business. There is no issue with the Level 2 NCEA goal – last Thursday Prime Minister John Key clearly set exactly the same goal for the government and his Ministers (see below).

The role of local government with regard to this target is to advocate for central government to deliver on it. It might also have a role in facilitating collaboration and innovation across the region to support the goal. Such a goal, and this is clear to the Government and certainly the Prime Minister if not to Minister Smith, is at the heart of economic growth and development. When the Auckland Council and the central Government sit down to talk about such matters, it is exciting to think that they will share the same goal.

One party (central government) will be held to account in that discussion for delivering on it while the other party (local government) will be showing how it contributes to a region that is similarly committed to it and which contributes in appropriate ways to it. No local government has an appetite to do the government’s work!  But if unitary councils are to be taken seriously, central government has to see that its work is contributing to regional aspirations.

Minister Smith needs to get up to speed on education and training, its performance and its role.


The Main Course:  Whose will be done?  Education must respond.

The recent speech from Prime Minister John Key outlined some directions that will impact on education and training.

Education will have a key role to play in the reduction of numbers of people on a “working age benefit”. Many of this target group will through in some cases no fault of their own – life dealt a pretty rough hand – require additional training and education before they are able to work. The skills of employment may have moved beyond the level of competence that they were able to reach in previous employment or in their education (IT springs to mind).

This raises the issue of transition – just how are people assisted to move from benefit dependency to self-reliance in employment as a wage earner. It is not black and white, one minute you have a benefit, the next you are in sound employment. And certainly an interview in a WINZ office will not achieve it. Education institutions should get their thinking caps on.

It is interesting to see access to ECE placed into a “supporting vulnerable children” set of responses – increasing access, increased immunisation and reducing the rate of assaults on children. I hope the goal is to reduce assaults on children down to zero!  Again education is a key.

And it is also an explicit player in the goal to boost skills and employment. NCEA Level 2 (or an equivalent) will be a key marker of a platform from which 18 year olds can launch the pathways into the world of further education and training and of employment. This is sensible. It sets a clear target that should be attainable by all students without requiring them to continue along a track headed towards university when this is not the goal. But it is also a big ask for us to achieve!

Add to this the development of “Vocational Pathways” within NCEA and the promise they have to bring integrity and cohesion to the programmes of many students not heading towards university. We are starting to see shape in the senior levels of schooling with these proposals.

It therefore makes sense for the performance of 19-24 year olds to get some attention. The goal has been placed at an excellent level – advanced trade qualifications, diplomas and degrees (at Level 4 and above). 

Evidence supports this goal as one which will lead to employment, to a family sustaining income and to allowing a person to make a positive contribution to society. For it is a fact that a person qualified to at least this level is highly unlikely to be engaged in the dark arts of crime. It all ties together.

Get a well educated and knowledgeable community and you will get one which is less dependent of benefits, less likely to bash children, be more assertive about getting education for their children and looking after them and, of course, will be both employable and employed. So the challenge is there to all of us in the education community and we simply have to be up to it. With the clear connections now being made between education and social and economic development clearly and in measurable terms, we will have nowhere to go if we don’t perform on such measures. Certainly we cannot sit back and blame it on the government – this government or any government for that matter.

Finally, there must be at least a touch of interest in the creation of the “Super-Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.” Of course there are cost-cuttings and efficiency considerations in this expression of the latest attempt to clean up the Public Service. But there might also be quite a lot of good sense in seeing new connections and taking a multidisciplinary approach to public policy and oversight. The inclusion of Building and Housing also seems more like a continuation of a search for a safer pair of hands. But to group economic development, labour, science and innovation seems to create a potential for increased impact and progress in those areas.

Will the spotlight turn next to education? Bringing together the Ministry of Education, the Tertiary Education Commission, the Education Review Office and the New Zealand Qualifications Authority would at least be an interesting discussion and might well have legs. Perhaps the Careers Service could also be included. Have I left anyone out?

We talk a lot about connection and transition in education and how the lack of smooth transitions gets in the way of education success for too many and yet we all work within an education system that is built around a lack of connection.

Connections, transitions, lifting education access and outcomes – a lively setting for education is emerging.



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