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Tag: leadership

The first of several chats about policy



As promised folks, here are some thoughts on the Labour Party’s education policy.

It starts at an excellent place, reminding us of the Fraser / Beeby commitment to have an education system that offered choice, that offered equity and which respected all learners. This is a mighty aspiration for an education system to have and action is needed now if it is to fade away to become simply the rosy glow of Shangri La.

So with this in mind, what are the highlights as identified by the Labour Party and featured on the front page of what is a bulky document and will these key policy planks significantly contribute to those aspirations? Yes, A Little, Maybe, or No.

1.            Reduce class sizes


We have been over this before. They need to change the tune from “Kumbaya” to “When will they ever learn?” on this one. Let me repeat myself – more teachers doing the same thing will get the same results. It is not the number of teachers that will make the difference but what they do. It is not the number of children in the room but what the teachers do and how well they do it that will lift the quality of the outcomes. Class sizes as an argument has no credence any longer.

2.            All school children to have access to digital devices


This seems a big ask but do we have an accurate idea of the current levels of access across the different communities that goes beyond wild guesses and untested assumptions? It might be able to be achieved easily and quickly. On the other hand….. And again see above. The impact of this, which is inevitable somewhere ahead of us, will largely be the result of the use teachers make of the technology. Using new technology to replicate old practices will not work. But the excitement and possibilities of this policy are huge.

A key issue might turn out to be the provision of equipment using public funds that could well have even greater use outside of school and in that sense could be seen as public funding of private activity. But perhaps that would be an excellent thing as well.

3.            Funding schools that can’t get “voluntary” donations (aka School Fees)


I would have preferred to see this “inequity illness” being tackled directly rather than seeing the symptoms being treated. Yes, the schools that can’t get school fees out of parents will benefit a bit but this will not address the inequities created by the practice of flouting the rules and laughing all the way to the bank or the trust fund.

4.            25 hours quality ECE for all 3-5 year olds


There is no argument about it – quality ECE makes a difference. But Labour has done it before and could be about to do it again. A resource of this kind that is untargeted will increase inequities of access. Just observe the growth of palatial ECE centres being built

5.            Fund education to maintain it ahead of inflation and population growth 


There is a fairness about maintaining funding at levels that reflect inflation and population growth but this is simply prudent management of the system. Actually it is a little absurd to bring population growth into the equation when schools are funded substantially on the basis of roll numbers!

So those are the “highlights” identified by the Labour Party. But in the excitement of The Shopping Channel – “Wait! There’s more folks!

·         Cancelling the Investing In Education Success (IES).

The Labour Party perceives issues with this Government programme which will see top teachers and principals helping schools to lift their performance through best practice, proven management experience and demonstrated extra flair that such IES persons will be expected to display and indeed will have been chosen on that basis. The real trouble that the Labour Party has with it is that the teaching unions and some other teacher organisations don’t like it and when it comes to Labour Party policy they like to have things as they would wish them to be. And their wish is their command.

When IES is rolled out, wait for those who now are strong on their condemnation crying out “Pick me! Pick me!”

Ironically a Labour Policy is to establish a comprehensive school advisory service to share best practice and act as a mentor and advisor to teachers throughout New Zealand. And, what’s more they will “establish a College of School Leadership that will operate as part of the school advisory service, establish the minimum qualifications required of those applying for school leadership positions, ensure that quality professional development programmes are available for all new and existing school leaders, have the power to second up to 100 existing school leaders into the College for a period of up to 2 years to act as mentors and trainers.”

Finally, there is a commitment that will see it “RAISING THE STATUS OF THE TEACHING PROFESSION!” A great first step in achieving this worthy idea would be to ask the education organisations and especially those who work for them to stop lowering the status of the profession by their déclinologiste behavior (i.e. adopting a constant anti-everything-that-is-suggested stance and their concerted ad hominum (and ad feminum) attacks on people).



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Let the games begin!

Happy New Year! Well it is has been for the first four weeks and then all the political parties decided to tell us about their policies for education in this Year of the Horse.

And what did we hear?

First there were the Greens – poverty, poverty, poverty was the cry. This was a replay of the 1980’s when educators seemed unable to get past the fact that some students were hungry, in fact they were so obsessed by this that they forgot to teach the students how to read and write. Later in the weekend Labour was to get on this band wagon and opt for school lunches for the hungry.

There are many systems that provide food to students – the US and the UK both use eligibility for a free school lunch as a key measure of poor learners who learn poorly. The good news is that I am certain the students enjoy the lunches (although Jamie Oliver has a view about how good or nutritious they might be). But there is not a shred of evidence that there is a connection between the provision of free school meals and improvements in achievement on a scale that would suggest that it is other than a social gesture.

Labour made a grander entrance on the Early Childhood Education stage. Full marks to them for noting that ECE is important – it is more that important, it is central to sound achievement and equitable outcomes. But Labour didn’t wish to be too complex about all this.

Rather they preferred to bask in the glory of their (what seems to me to the failed) 20 Free Hours policy and, no doubt ignoring all the complexities of a schooling system that is not delivering equitable outcomes, decided to simply expand it – “20 Free Hours – no wait, there’s more – 25 Free hours.”

When the 20 Free Hours was originally introduced there was no discernable increase in access to ECE services. Similarly when the scheme was freed from any targeting there was again no discernable increase in access to ECE. Those who were using the resource were simply increasing the amount of ECE they accessed thereby consuming more resource with a disappointing and continuing lack of access for those who are unable to go to a quality ECE provider.

Most of these students who are denied the ECE benefits are Maori and Pasifika and they live in communities where there are simply not enough places. Take the Tamaki area in Auckland as an example: there are 7,000 little ones under the age of five who are trying to get into the 2,000 places available. You improve access to ECE services through providing more places. Labour tossed off a quick promise to “build more ECE Centres in high-need areas” but this was something of faint hope and perhaps an afterthought overshadowed by and of lesser priority than the popular promise to spend on seeing that existing services will get higher subsidies so as to have “100 percent qualified staff” – the barons of the sandpits rubbed their hands with glee – higher costs mean higher subsidies and higher fees, excellent for the balance sheet for the large centres that offer ECE services as a business rather than a service to the community.

You only have to look at where the new multi-million dollar ECE places (I almost wrote palaces) are being built – they are on the commuter roads where those in work are able to drop their little ones off at our expense while they go off and earn quite good money in a job.

The ECE 20 Free Hours is simply a badly targeted resource that has not worked. Of course it appeals to the middle class who have jobs and money and this is clearly a key target group for Labour. Otherwise how can you describe a baby bonus for the 95% of babies in families with incomes up to $150,000 as anything but a universal benefit? Again, those without a job, or ECE, continue to swirl in the poverty trap that generation will perpetrate.

That leaves National’s “let’s do something about leadership in schools” cluster of activities, policy initiatives that identify the school leaders who perform and give them a role in which they have a license to change the quality of leadership in schools beyond their own. This policy is a bit of a body blow for the educational leadership industry found in the universities which put on a brave face about the years of first principals, aspiring principals and the raft of qualifications in educational leadership which appear neither to have cut the mustard nor to improve achievement.

This is the policy that seems most likely to succeed. Educational Leadership is at the heart of lifting educational achievement and there have been grumblings about the quality of school leadership in New Zealand for some time. The additional allowances are generous so there is no excuse for involving only those who have proven to be capable in leading teachers.

It is interesting to note that in Finland, every pre-schooler gets to go to an ECE programme, every student gets a free school lunch and nobody gets to be a principal without the additional qualifications and the experiences that the position requires rather than being selected by the educational equivalent of the local bowling club committee.

At last we seem to be taking heed of those systems that are successful rather than claiming as our birthright the right to replicate the failed policies and doomed practices of the Anglo-Saxon systems.

 I await with bated breath the announcement of policies that will lift the performance of the school system:

  • policies that have a zero tolerance for the failure to gain basic skills at primary school;
  • initiatives that will stem the flow of disengaging students;
  • challenges to the sectors that have become walled cities that destroy the seamless pathways that are so central to success;
  • engagement of business, industry and commerce in the business of schooling, especially at the secondary and postsecondary levels;
  • cross-ministerial initiatives to address the back-log of educational failure – the NEETs of which New Zealand continues to accrue amazing numbers of young people not in employment, education or training.

And that’s just for starters.


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Talk-ED: The voice of the vulnerable young


What do the following three events have in common – the re-organisation of schooling in Christchurch, the epic-length Novopay school salaries saga and the re-enrolment of a troubled young man in a Paeroa school?

Teachers?  Schools?  Boards of Trustees?  Issues?  Consultation?  Ministry of Education?  Yes, all of those things but I wasn’t thinking of those in particular.  Each of these three issues has seen the involvement of young school students in quasi-political protest and campaigning.  Many of them have been clutching banners which appear to have been made as class projects, many have wept at issues that were probably beyond their ken and most of them have appeared in front of television cameras.

I seriously question the ethics of all this.  The issues have generally been between the grown-ups and ought to have been played out between the teachers, the Boards, the Ministry of Education and whoever else had a hand in them.  The young pupils (and this does seem to be markedly a primary school response rather than a secondary school one) could quite properly have been left out of the street marches, the protests, and the hate messages (mostly directed at the Minister).  All of this was demeaning to the profession.

Questions should be raised as to the level of informed consent that surrounds a group of young students being mobilised into protest action. Who consulted the parents and caregivers? What was the explanation and information given, what were the opportunities for permission to take part offered to both the students and their parents and caregivers?  What protections were in place?  What assistance and guidance offered when students became distraught?  And could a pupil decline to tag along if they felt uncomfortable?

Then there is the appearance of young people in television news broadcasts.  Were full ethical procedures followed?  Or did the television simply tag along believing that they had no requirements to see that the photographing of young people was within guidelines and in accord with ethical standards?

I have previously quoted John Dewey who back in 1909 in his important book Moral Principals in Education succinctly stated the following:

There cannot be two sets of ethical principles, one for life in the schools, and the other for life outside the schools.

Are the principles and values demonstrated by the actions of the schools in the cases we are discussing genuinely those held by the communities they serve.  I don’t mean simply did the schools and the communities agree on the issue.  What matters are questions such as whether the ethical standards implicit in the use of young people in protest match up with what the community expects, believes in and supports?  And to what extent was the emotion of the moment driving these events?  The issue is not the same thing as the response to it.

Ethics is the study of ideal behaviour.  Researchers when they start out on a research project are subjected to intense ethical scrutiny quite properly and if that research is on or about young people the intensity of the process increases.  Is the research going to be conducted in an ideal way?  Above all there is a key concept with the involvement of young people that they are not being “used” in ways that place pressure on them or increase stress and such like.

Schools carry these ethical standards day by day, and minute by minute and they involve everyone who is involved in the enterprise.  That is why we are so shocked when high ethical standards are breached – especially when it involves students.

Our society goes to some lengths to protect its young and there is currently a huge concern that we are falling below an acceptable standard. Concerns are gravest when those institutions that should conserve the highest moral standards let everyone down.  Examples include child abuse in a religious environment, sex criminals who one way or another inveigle their way into the employ of a school, the inappropriate relationship of a teacher with a student – they all make us feel abhorrence  and the profession is diminished just a little each sad and sorry instance.

Therefore we need to practice a concern for young people in everything that we do in the name of education and schooling.

I wonder if in these three issues we did just that through our involvement of young vulnerable people.



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Pathways-ED: Lead on, McProf!


Stuart Middleton
29 March 2012


I gave a little speech the other day on leadership in higher education. Much of it was pretty standard stuff until I got to the bit where I wanted to talk about how successful leadership in Higher Education should be measured.

There was some enthusiasm for successful leadership to be measured along sound business lines – the management of a tight ship where income is not exceeded by expenditure where the best people are hired and inspirational leadership rockets a pretty ordinary HE institution up an international list of world class universities, a list that few can pronounce and even fewer understand – the Boys Own Dream of the Vice- Chancellor!

Then in a moment of uncharacteristic clarity it came to me, why should the quality of an HE educational leader be judged any differently from how we judge the quality of the performance of all the others who work in HE? Yes, I thought, this is the answer.

The three key metrics for judging success in education including HE should be participation, retention and successful completion, the three old hardy annuals of getting them in, keeping them there and getting them through. Yes, let the VC be judged precisely on the performance of his/her institution on those three measures.

The connection an HE leader has with their different communities, the scholarship programmes they support, the direction in which they drive programming and collaborative partnerships and the articulation agreements they seek to have with other providers are all critical to establishing pathways into HE for under-represented groups. The student demographic profile of an institution and the degree to which it responsibly reflects the wider community of an HE institution is a direct reflection on the quality of leadership at that institution.

The HE leader that ensures that the right kinds of support programmes are in place and resourced adequately, who is prepared to make retention a key strategic priority is one who is demonstrating sound leadership.

Finally there’s that question of successful completion. Oh, is it to be successful completion of courses or programmes or qualifications. Well let’s keep it simple and make it the successful completion of qualifications. That seems only fair since it is the successful completion of qualifications that is the marketing promise of HE institutions and, a little sweetener here for the VC,  the track into postgraduate qualifications.

So that was done and dusted, I had solved all the issues of summing up successful leadership in Higher Education. Then the questions flew sharply and quickly. What about research performance? What about the capital works programme? What about the civic relationships, the chummy chats with business, industry and commerce, the sector politics, the successful outcomes to industrial negotiations, keeping the Council and the Senate under some semblance of order? What about…..? What about…..? What about …….? There seems to be no end to the list of crucial success factors and KPIs that seem not to be about participation, retention and successful outcomes and perhaps even leadership and much more about the normal requirements of management.

But as I headed home I wondered if that was really the case. Participation, retention and successful outcomes seemed to me to be the whole point behind virtually everything that the HE Leader did. Of course there was an issue that if these were to be the measures, they depended in very large part to be reliant on others. Those who teach and support students, maintain the facilities, prepare the laboratories and so on, are surely driven by those three goals. And if they are not, shouldn’t they be? Should not the entire institution be united in a desire to be the best institution on those three counts?

Or are our HE institutions a little more focused on other things? Things that require more complex words to describe and which inevitably become a little more elusive when we try to pin then down? That seems a pity.

Leadership has become such a complex and mysterious thing. It was bound to happen once it became a subject in higher education. Why must we shroud so much that we do in complexity when really the essential core of education in general and higher education in particular is simple. Students come into our care, we take them along a pathway and they demonstrate the knowledge, skills and understandings that allow us to give them the attestation of an academic qualification.

I got into trouble once and was lambasted in a rather polemic book written by a right-wing commentator for a quip when I was speaking about standards in education and had said that I felt the same way about standards as Gandhi had when asked about British civilization. He had replied that he thought it would be a good idea.

Leadership in higher education? Now there’s a good idea!





Talk-ED: "Follow me! I'm right behind you!"

(claimed to have been the call from a World War I General)

Stuart Middleton
7 February 2012

Another Waitangi Day comes and goes and I am not sure whether we are better off because of it. What makes me wonder is whether or not we continue to have the will to be a great country or are content to get into the scrum of a country that is safe and OK. Have our aspirations as a country lowered in order to make the challenges seem less daunting?

Take education. New Zealand has a history of striking out to do what others had not attempted to do. A universal, free and secular education system was introduced ahead of other countries. Incrementally, access to free education was extended upwards.

Dr Beeby, working with a willing Minister, was quite prepared to put a line in the sand that represented a commitment to each and every young person.

We led the world in the focus we brought to reading in our system and high levels of literacy were an expectation, not simply a goal in a strategy. Sylvia Ashton-Warner, arguably New Zealand’s most famous educator took us to places where we simply had to think again about how we taught in diverse settings. Dame Marie Clay and reading recovery was later profoundly influential across the world both English-speaking and in other settings such as Singapore.

None of this happened because people such as these were content to follow. They took a lead and took New Zealand to good places as a result.

I have spent a good deal of time over the past five years thinking about our progress as an education system and have come to a point where I see clear dangers in our continuing to follow the examples of our peer education systems in the United States, Great Britain, Australia and Canada (with the possible exception of Ontario). By and large, this set of countries, along with New Zealand, is headed towards a bad space.

It is not really anyone’s fault in as much as in these countries no-one is responsible for educational failure. We are becoming soft in accepting that it happens. It is not good, but, shucks, that is how it is.

Well, it needn’t be so. If New Zealand could with confidence stride off in some new directions we might be able to once again lead rather than follow.

How we could do this is to look at elements in systems that do better than us and using the underlying principles, consider how we might bring about change.

Example #1. Some systems such as those of Scandanavia, Netherlands and Germany take more students to positive outcomes than we do. To do this they have different institutions at the senior secondary level that offer different and flexible pathways for students. Well we don’t want a whole swag of additional institutions. Taking the principles of differentiation and pathways we could with little disruption adapt our senior secondary system to achieve results at least as good as those other systems.

Example #2. We lose quite a few students along the way and really have little idea of why and perhaps even who they are. Other systems track and monitor students in a variety of ways and by allocating responsibility to different groups – educators in some systems, local government in others and social welfare agencies in a few. The principle is that tracking and monitoring is valuable and should be done by someone. Now that is not hard and a decision on this could be made surely.

We need to be competitive in a real sense – looking at the best practices overseas and  turning them into practices which reflect the way we work in New Zealand, a small education system that spends enough money but is increasingly not getting the results.

So, there is no need to simply replicate stuff from other countries uncritically.

There is a mountain of evidence as to the success or otherwise of “charter schools” (and their other iterations as “free schools” and “academies”). It would be absurd to simply set out to have such institutions in New Zealand without considering the evidence, looking at the principles that underpin them and as appropriate turn those principles into a uniquely New Zealand way of working to the greater advantage of more young people.

Let’s not follow them blindly but be smart and lead once more.

Take the suggestion that we need a web site like Australia has with the – a site where you can see how good the local school is and how it compares to other schools. Well it is a pretty good site that gives good comprehensive information about each school and it requires an effort to use it for comparisons between schools. Let’s not copy it but look at how it could supplement the web sites that pretty well all New Zealand schools have. And National Standards are not NAPLAN thank goodness.

I think I have mentioned previously a colleague in London who wonders why New Zealand has any educational issues at all. “After all,” he says “you are such a small country you could all get together at the weekend and sort it out!”

Yes, we could. The tragedy is that we don’t.


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