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Tag: opposition

Talk-ED: Education Advice to the Incoming Opposition

Stuart Middleton
5 Dec 2011


Anyone can give advice to the incoming government, indeed scores of public servants are, as you read this, putting the finishing touches to their analysis and advice. Here, for the first time in New Zealand’s political history we publish Advice to the Incoming Opposition: Education (to be shared among however many political parties end up in opposition).

National Standards

Get over it. Move on. The public sees opposition to them only as a fuzzy attitude towards standards in basic skill areas such as reading, writing and sums and wonders why the teachers, principals and opposition parties don’t share their enthusiasm for high standards. The message on this one was lost a long time ago.


Embrace it. NCEA is admired as a flexible assessment framework within which students can find pathways to a meaningful future. Get behind the stroking of the iron sands (ref. Form 4 Science a long time ago) that are Vocational Pathways, seek connections between NCEA and postsecondary programmes.

Early Childhood Education

Admit it, the 20 free hours was a very badly targeted piece of assistance that ended up being counter-productive as it was hi-jacked by everyone other than the target group. Keep it simple – two days a week of quality early childhood education for every pre-school nipper in New Zealand. Be flexible – put ECE centres onto primary sites, train a couple of people from each community-based childcare centre, stop subsidising to such an extent the multi-million dollar private centres which provide parking spaces for rich kids.


We have the best teachers in the world but too many of them are doing the wrong thing. Allow teachers to have manageable groups that focus on the critical skills of learning. Allow teachers to achieve more by doing less. Support teachers by supporting families. When you have done rebuilding Christchurch start re-building schools – too many of our schools (especially low –decile schools) need attention. Be flexible about qualifications for teaching – don’t be distracted by arguments about who should teach students in secondary tertiary interface programmes – that will sort itself out as the students respond and are hugely successful.

Decile Ratings

Call for a Royal Commission into Decile Ratings – this device has outlived what little usefulness it had, promising much and delivering very little. It has simply become either a badge of honour or a mark of shame. Until you do persuade the government to abolish it, make it illegal for it to be used to compare education institutions – that will take some of the heat out of it.


Look at a copy of David Shearer’s Labour Party Tertiary Policy and his Skills Policy – they were pretty good and didn’t get much use during the election which was more a kind of game show (Personality Squares?) than a meeting of ideas. Learn the basic vocabulary of the skills debate – NEET, disengagement, etc – and remember that jobs do not create employment, education does.


A mate got it in one today – re-create the University of New Zealand and put the savings into educating more young ones to higher levels while at the same time taking us a little closer to having a world class university education widely available.

Student Loans and Allowances

The Royal Commission (see above) could get on to this after it has disposed of the decile rating system. Now some innovation is called for here. What about only asking for the money to be repaid if the student is successful and gets employment? What about a consumer guarantee attached to the payment of fees? What about payment to the institution of half the fees on enrolment and the other half on successful completion? What about putting “To avoid paying student loans” on the departure card, it was easy to put Rugby World Cup” on the arrival cards.  There is little wisdom in cycling investment through students so that it comes out as wasteful debt or money squandered by failure. Glue funding measures inseparably to accountability measures.

Finally, there is one further piece of advice. Allan Peachey was a teacher and on his watch as Chair of the Education Select Committee it gained a reputation for addressing issues in a bipartisan matter. That needs to continue. The opposition that makes a positive contribution to the education debate will be one characterised by thinking and ideas, by constructive proposals and by support for all those even when they come out of the government side of the house.

Nothing is more political than education. But it doesn’t deserve the petty politics that too often pass as debate and discussion in parliament.