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Tag: performance

What a dull party it’s been….

So the election is just two weeks away!

From an education point of view, it has been a pretty dull affair and education has largely been absent.

Perhaps the biggest political news is the support being given by the NZPPTA to the policy that once was called “Investing in Success” but seems now to have morphed into “Communities of Schools”. This has always been an excellent policy and it is to the credit of the secondary political lobby that it now is willing to get on board. But just as thrilling as that news is, it remains a great blunder that the NZEI stays away from the party.

I have never understood why the primary sector feels that it should just be allowed to be alone and blunder on. Yes, there are splendid primary schools. Yes, some of the most exciting work in education is being done in primary schools. Yes, many parents are happy with the primary schools they have.

Too many young students reach the end of Year 8 ill-equipped to continue the journey. This group is woefully short of the basic skill levels needed, skills that primary and elementary systems the world over have a responsibility to see taught and firmly in place by the end of Year 8. Refusing to take part in a system wide achievement initiative such as the Minister’s cross Sector Forum on Educational Achievement, and not wanting to co-operate with the Investing in Success / Communities of Schools policy are signs that the NZEI is more interested in the “politics” of education than in the policies and practices.

It is a truth that we are going into the election and are likely to come out of it with only the current Government’s performance and the achievement of the education sector in putting into place such approaches as Youth Guarantee, the clear Numbers/Names/Needs method of tackling achievement, the clear commitment to a true picture, and an assertive focus on achievement as the continued path forward

Other political groups simply haven’t come up point-of-difference policies likely to tackle the issues of achievement. Untargeted ECE resources can be increased till the cows come home without increasing access for many little ones in our community. Compulsory student unions at tertiary will achieve little and ignore the fact that young people have moved on – it’s the nostalgia of the student politicians of the past that keeps this one going! Putting however many devices into however many little hands will not address basic skills, like reading, writing and doing sums. Meals to feed the hungry will not create an appetite for learning if a whole lot of other things are not addressed.

And at the top of the list of what needs to be addressed is the issue of getting competent teachers to do the right thing. The issue with achievement in New Zealand is not one of teacher competence. It is one of competent teachers doing the wrong thing. Education needs to have a focus on best evidence as to what works intensified by a much clearer and unrelenting view on what matters in terms of skills. The target must be that each and every primary school student reaches the end of Year 8 with the skills needed to progress smoothly into secondary school. The goal of secondary school is to prepare each and every secondary student for further education and training and for employment (or “college and career” as they say in the US). This will involve multiple pathways to multiple exit points.

It is not that difficult. And having a succession of school cohorts who meet such expectations will also see an enriched community less dependent on welfare and able to rise above the standards of behaviour made explicit by so much in this election period.

If we want better adults we had better start ensuring that we get better young people.


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Talk-ED: A chance for education to score – or kick an own goal!

Stuart Middleton
14 May 2012


Education has surely moved into centre stage in a way that is spectacularly ahead of any time that I can remember.

In setting the Better Public Service Goals for the performance of government and the public service generally, the Government settled on a set of goals that are making a clear statement – Education has to perform! And it has to deliver by 2016.

 Clustered under a set of five headings those goals are:

 Reducing long-term welfare dependency

1.     Reduce the number of people who have been on a working age benefit for more than 12 months

Supporting vulnerable children

2.     Increase participation in early childhood education.

3.     Increase infant immunisation rates and reduce the incidence of rheumatic fever

4.     Reduce the number of assaults on children.

Boosting skills and employment

5.     Increase the proportion of 18 year olds with NCEA level 2 or equivalent qualification.

6.     Increase the proportion of 25-34 year olds with advanced trade qualifications, diplomas and degrees (at level 4 or above).

Reducing crime

7. Reduce the rates of total crime, violent crime and youth crime.

8. Reduce reoffending.

Improving interaction with government

9. New Zealand businesses have a one-stop online shop for all government advice and support they need to run and grow their business.

10. New Zealanders can complete their transactions with the Government easily in a digital environment.

On first glance it might appear that No.5 and No.6 are the key education goals. NCEA Level 2 for 85% of all 18 year olds seems certainlynow to have been accepted as the goal in terms of school leaving qualifications. The target for trades qualifications is appropriate even if expressed in rather softer terms. Both are tough goals and I will come back to these at some later date!

But it is the other eight goals that excite me today.

Getting people off benefits can only be achieved by training, retraining and education. There are jobs out there but there is a dearth of people especially among the benefit dependent with the skills to get them. Education and especially trades education and training will be central to Goal No.1. Education that succeeds will create more jobs as the increased supply of a skilled labour force will drive and increase demand.

Early childhood education is the very foundation for success in education generally and subsequently in life. This is recognised in Goal No.2 while Goals No.3 and 4 would be more likely to be attained in a well-educated and knowledgeable community. Perhaps the role of education is more peripheral here but it is among the poorly educated and ill-trained and those without skills that these issues are at their greatest.

We know the statistics for crime, youth justice, incarceration and general evil doing track closely the statistics of educational failure and disengagement. Goals 7 and 8, while not a direct consequence of what we do in education are certainly able to be impacted on them positively by what we could do in education. It is the best investment if we are serious about crime and offending.

That leaves No.9 and No.10 which at first glance seem to be the least connected. But business performance is greatly helped by a well-educated workforce and management skills are enhanced by education. Capability to deal with the mechanics of business development and growth from a government point of view is susceptible to an improvement through education.

So overall the 10 goals are a very strong statement about education. They are also a very tough ask.

But if we improve levels of educational success and engagement, if we make inroads into the NEETs in New Zealand, if we can knock truancy on the head, if we can get all students to a secure point for moving on from school and then get them successfully through the next qualifications – then and only then will the Better Public Service goals be met.

Education has moved to centre stage, the lights have gone up and the show has begun!

Are we up to it?



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Pathways-ED: Good, better, best, goodness me

Stuart Middleton
12 May 2011

 About a year ago there was quite a lot of chatter about accountability in tertiary education. There had been introduced into New Zealand the Education Performance Indicators which were a simple list of performance indicators that scored New Zealand’s Polytechnics and Institutes of Technology on five different areas. And, shock upon horror, they would be published in the newspaper.

Just like some earthquake predictions the dreaded day arrived and little happened, that evening the sun set and the next morning the sun rose and I swear I heard a bird burst into song just a day after the EPI’s revealed that some institutions were excellent, some were poor and some were more of a curate’s egg. Those who were good found ways of alluding to the results in a modest show of whatever they thought was the opposite of boasting. Those who were poor simply carried on doing what they were doing which is largely why they were in the position they were on the league tables.

It comes of a disappointment probably to those who would promote such schemes, but the impact and usefulness of such approaches have little impact outside of the institutions. Issues of whether the “results” are used responsibly are misused recklessly or are trunked into league tables is, therefore, largely a matter that is over to the institutions themselves. It is not, in such circumstances, why it is done to us but rather what we do to ourselves.

So the university sector in Australia might well relax over the impending introduction of the My University web site which will report the performance of tertiary institutions in Australia (or at least some of them). I predicted this development about 2 years ago; once the My School website had got underway in Australia it was only a matter of time before the universities received similar treatment.

A spirited but reasoned discussion in HERDSA News[1] from Marcia Devlin saw both good and bad in the development. The site would provide some measure of accountability for public funding, student performance was of interest to the punters, it would dispel some of the mystery of universities and it would encourage the institutions to better explain what they do to the wider community. Well, some of that might well be true but certainly the criticism are well founded – the comparing oranges with cucumbers argument, the summarising of generalisations of statistical overviews reductio ad absurdum, comparisons with other attempts such as NAPLAN and presumably My School.

We know all this so I ask the following questions:

Who cares? Answer: We do.

Who is most likely to misuse the site and other such ranking exercises? Answer: us.

Who will throw themselves into the league table game? Answer: We will!  Of course the rather crude attempts to disguise this will take the form of press releases in which institutional leaders will reluctantly accept that they are the best institution. Where research is weak, teaching will be claimed as the special interest. Where student performance is poor there will be a dignified silence.

For the fact is that the real league tables are in the hearts and minds of those in the profession not in the newspapers. Parity of esteem is in tatters because of the behaviour of those in the profession not because some journalist (both print and web) uncritically accepts a pile of statistics that are probably dubious and certainly not the whole picture and tries to produce a shock horror story.

All developments such as those public reporting web sites, newspaper tables and league tables should all be given the respect they deserve.

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Marcia Devlin, “Recent Policy Developments in Australian Higher Education” in HERDSA News, Volume 33 No. 1, April 2011

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