Skip to content

Tag: policy

Nifty Shades of Pay

It’s official – the Labour Party has got its first piece of education policy out there for all to see.

Progressively from some distant point in my lifetime, students will not have to pay fees to go into tertiary education. It has a good sound to it – student debt is ballooning, many leave the country to avoid it, others are stopped at the borders because they did forget it. Nostalgia sweeps across the community for the good old days when we went to university for free. Those were the days my friend, we thought they’d never end…..

But like a lot of things they did. Someone decided to introduce student fees and student loans. Did the Labour Party have a hand in this at any point? If not at the beginning then certainly many opportunities and elections have come and gone and they have remained somewhat silent. But now it is centre stage.

It really is an exercise in stuffing the genie back in the bottle. How do you introduce this policy without creating a new level of injustice for the generation that gritted their teeth and paid for the excellent education that they have had. Parents helped out in some cases. But a lot of young people simply had to go into debt.

I have written that we would have to pay a price for teaching a generation to be comfortable with and live with debt and perhaps that has turned out to be true. But there are other issues to be confronted in trying to recapture the good old days.

Is it to be a free-for-all by being free for all? Or will Labour have to learn to live with targeting the resource – something that has not been a favoured approach in the past. Well not in recent times – way back there was an element of “those-who-can-pay-should-pay” in the welfare state. The much vaunted 20 Free Hours of Child Care was a more recent example of a badly targeted resource. It didn’t increase access but simply enabled the middle classes to extend the number of hours they could put their young ones in day care etc and get on with the resumption of their careers.  Well, they had to, that’s the economics of being a family and having a house and a car these days.

You see, there seems not to be a lot of evidence that those who can go to university by being well-prepared academically don’t get there. Throw open the gates and the numbers will not increase without a dramatic increase in the success and level of preparation among those in communities not well served. And that is where the money should be targeted.

A few ideas for those developing policy

Put the money into the things that will bring about a more equitable spread of ability to access tertiary education.

Put the money into quality early childhood education that is characterised by programmes that prepare young ones for the task of becoming educated. Make it culturally empowering, create a multilingual setting complete with other services in health and support. Make it possible to have intergenerational learning so that families are given the tools to have success. In short spend the money where it’s needed and not throw it into what is essentially a subsidy for the commercial providers who build multimillion dollar castles on major commuter routes, placed for the convenience of middle class commuters rather than the communities.

Put the money into supporting “first-in-family-to-go-into-tertiary-education” scholarships for the pioneers in a family who change the world for all who follow. This could be perhaps the most radical and transformational thing to do. Families in which a member successfully completes a tertiary education is one which sets up tradition of going to university or into other forms of tertiary education. Look at the pakeha community – is that not true?

Take note of the developments currently happening in tertiary education. Youth Guarantee places are available for 16 – 19 year olds to continue their education in an ITP rather than a school without paying fees and with a little help with transport. This puts right a long established inequity which gave to young people the right to stay at school until they were 19 years old and fail as much as they liked (or didn’t like). Now they can leave school at age 16 years which the law says is OK and get on with an education that leads to employment and a fulfilling future without the burden of debt.

The Maori and Pasifika Trades Training goes a step further and provides not only fees-free opportunities but also the support to develop personal and cultural skills and be assisted through the process of entering employment. This is a good investment and trainees will look back on this, just as those who went thorough the old Maori Trades Training Programme do now, and give thanks for the money spent well.

Spreading money around tertiary education as if it were some kind of aerial fiscal fertiliser simply won’t do it.

And will communities tolerate the targeted spending of money to get additional people into tertiary education? Of course they will if they can see an improved community generally, one in which inequity is lessened and skills are developed. Most would say that it is a nifty way to pay!





Te Ara Whakamana is New Zealand’s largest forum dedicated to education and employment pathways and transitions.  Now in its sixth year, this event brings together educators from both secondary and tertiary sectors, industry representatives, policymakers, and researchers to share good ideas and practices, and to be challenged by different perspectives.

Earlybird registrations are open now.

Go to: 

Leave a Comment

Policy that should be read

I promised some more discussion on the policies of the Labour Party as we head closer to the election although policy is taking a bit of a back seat at the minute!

Here are a few other ideas that Labour has put into is Education Election Manifesto.

·         Raising the standard of entry into teaching.

To start with “requiring the Teachers Council to” is to design the cart well before thinking about the horse. The standard of entry will not in itself be able to be raised without lifting the degree to which teaching is an attractive pathway for new graduates and for those seeking to change careers. A better place to start is to remove the significant differences between qualifications required for entry into different sectors, something which serves to narrow the options that adult learners should have open at the point of entry. The Scandinavian approach is to have a very standard level of first degree (usually a masters level qualification that is then given a small degree of specialisation for the levels at which a teacher wishes to teach at).

And they only accept into teacher education programmes about 10-15% of the applicants compared to the numbers taken in to programmes in New Zealand.

But perhaps the biggest impact would be had by current teachers and the organisations that represent them focussing on lifting the respect that the community has for teaching and for schools (this is the easy bit) and the parity of esteem that we hold each other in (this is a harder ask) and, finally, showing a degree of self-control as a profession that would see education issues discussed professionally in professional places rather than becoming nasty squabbles played out in the newspapers and on TV. Respect of educational leaders in any government and in our Ministries would also encourage good people to believe that they too might be respected with respect.

No issues at all with the sentiment, but simply “requiring the Teachers Council to a,b,c, and d” and increasing resources for schools won’t cut it.

A good idea in this policy is to revisit the supporting and bonding of teachers at the time of entry and progression into teaching. This need not be cash payments but might in fact be the forgiving of the debts incurred in training etc. and can be equalised between new teachers in some way.

·         Support a self-governing teaching profession through the introduction of a democratic process for appointing the Board of the new Education Council.

This is a continuation of the teacher unions’ positions which have dominated the discussion about the new Education Council to this point in time. It is sensible for Labour to include it in its manifesto and to give this view an airing in this way.

·         Scrapping National Standards and Charter Schools

Two questions are asked on these:

What assurances would Labour give to parents that the skills of language, reading, writing and mathematics are being adequately taught?

And I do mean a response that is stronger than either “Trust us we know what we are doing!” or “Never mind the quality, feel the warmth!”

What damage have Charter Schools inflicted on the system since their introduction?

We need to bear in mind a number of factors and remind ourselves that Maori needed to have their schools in order to have their needs more fully met, that Catholics have always had their own schools, that those who would believe in different ways of teaching such as Montessori approaches have their own schools. The international trend is towards difference in schools not increased sameness.

The US has its Academy Schools, its Charter schools, its Early College High Schools, its Lighthouse schools and so on. The UK has its Free Schools, its Studio Schools, its Academy classes, its University technical colleges. All of these are premised that working differently gets different results and that is something we certainly need. Here in New Zealand we have the MIT Tertiary High School, Trades Academies, Secondary Tertiary Programmes, Schools of Special Character, State Integrated Schools and Partnership Schools – all of which provide positive pathways in addition to those offered within the state system

I have visited many of these schools of difference in these countries and like state schools, the best are superb, the middle achieving ones are middling and the poor ones are just that! They aren’t silver bullets! But they can’t be simply written off either.

They do offer opportunities to many students – the gifted and bright, the struggling, the disengaging – that state schools of sameness cannot.

And, these alternate schools do have a message for the state systems – change or watch the change happen around you.

There’s more of course in the Labour Election manifesto and it deserves to be read.



Leave a Comment

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).



Leave a Comment

The Wheels on the bus go round and round


At long last they are out of the starter’s blocks for the election. Well not quite. The Labour Party turned up in their red tracksuits and opened their campaign in good style at the Auckland Viaduct.

They unveiled not just policy but also a Big Red Bus with a big picture of David Cunliffe dominating the side of it. That puts paid to the argument that the election should not be only about the leaders!

But the good news is that education did get a mention and inevitably the initial outlook was gloomy.

On the current path Education is being undermined.

Undermined by charter schools.

Undermined by league tables.

Undermined by fiascos like Novopay, like unlawful school closures, like paying hundreds of millions of dollars to take good teachers out of their schools and turn them into middle management.

This is all predictable stuff and has already had analysis and comment ad nauseum. Old, old, old, boring, boring, boring but I bet they loved it.

We know the best education is critical. That’s why we stand for a strong, affordable, world-class state education that is there for every Kiwi kid.

Of course, we all stand for this; it is achieving it that is hard. It is agreeing on what that “world-class state education” might look like that causes great anxiety. So, what did they have in mind? Three suggestions on the day emerged:

1.       To achieve that we’ll ensure our kids have access to digital devices and 21st century learning spaces.

Nothing new here really. Digital devices seem like a good idea How you achieve it? And what agreement is there yet about the use of them and the readiness of teachers and schools for such a scenario? These are big unanswered questions. But there does seem an inevitability about such a move – it will happen one way or another probably and there might be some sense in letting it take its course and focussing on access. Devices will alter the dynamics of classroom and teachers might not maintain the same kind of leadership role that they have conventionally had.  And education has something of a track record in taking technology and using it as if it were the previous generation of technology. In other words, taking new technologies and using them not to change schools, but to replicate them.

There might be no such thing as a 21st Century teaching space in itself, only spaces which are equipped to support teachers in teaching in ways and with materials that are appropriate to the 21st Century. It is a wholesale overhaul of the education system, not a simple refurbishment of the plant.

2.       We’ll offer schools $100 per student so that parents – and even kids – are no longer pressured to pay so-called “voluntary” donations.

This is too silly for words but good news for many low decile schools which will now get a little bit of untagged money to supplement the amount they currently get that is decile related. Meanwhile the rich state schools chuckle and carry on flouting the law.

3.       And we will make sure that class sizes are smaller and kids have more one on one learning by hiring 2,000 more teachers.

Two thousand seems like a scientifically calculated number that has a good ring to it. But the short sightedness of linking it to class size is obscuring the real difference that two thousand teachers might make if teachers worked more collaborative, in teams and with complementary skill sets. It is nothing to do with the size of the class. This might be a good policy, who knows, but to describe it as addressing class size simply put it up to be shot down as the evidence is compelling – class size does not in itself bring about change.

Our education policies are about excellence, opportunity and fairness.
We’ll make sure that every student, no matter where in the country they are from, or how
wealthy their parents are, gets the education they deserve.
That’s how we will get the society where everyone can have opportunities to get ahead.

And some rousing and appropriate good sentiment to close this section of the speech. “Who could ask for anything more?” as the sold song goes.

Well, we all could and Labour has plenty more. They now have a substantial document that details the education policy and I look forward to writing about that next time.

It is hard for an opposition party to bring fresh ideas into an arena in which they have for six years opposed most of what has been happening. But that is the key to a fresh start that elections offer to the community. Telling voters what is wring is a waste of time – they will either believe you or disbelieve you. Offering new and fresh ideas that are rooted in reality and which seem feasible is the stronger path to move along.

And that will be the basis of the look we take at the rest of the published education policy next time.

1 Comment

Bottling up the policy on Te Reo Maori

Hon Nanaia Mahuta thinks that the policy is compulsory Te Reo Maori in schools, Education Spokesperson Chris Hipkins thinks that well its important but….. While the rest of the MPs and most of the electorate have no idea what the Labour Party’s position is.

Never has the case been stronger for a policy of compulsory Te Reo Maori instruction and learning for all New Zealand school students but this is not the first time that the Labour leadership has lost its bottle on this one.

In the 1980s I was on a national curriculum group developing a syllabus for English in Form 6 – up to that point the sixth form had no syllabus and simply used examination prescriptions (who said the senior schools wasn’t all about going to university!).

A distinguished group of knowledgeable people (and me!) set about devising a strategy to teach about language at that level that was innovative and exciting. It was to be a study of English language based on a comparative linguistics approach. In other words, Sixth Form students were to learn about English language by comparing it to another language and that other language was to be Te Reo Maori.

There were compelling reasons for doing this.

Te Reo Maori was an official language of Aotearoa New Zealand therefore all citizens have some obligation to be acquainted with it.

More importantly, knowledge about language is more easily achieved when a student has a basis for comparison. In what ways is this language different from this other language that I already know? Most English speaking people who insist on and endorse the teaching of English grammar actually only learnt what they know about through an experience with another language. This was probably Latin or French, or German.

You do not need to know about English grammar in order to learn the language as a native speaker. But knowledge about how the English language works is essential if students aspire to be highly articulate and elegant in their expression and especially in their writing. So what better way to seek improvement of your first language (should that be English) than by studying a second language? And what better language to study than Te Reo Maori?

It is a language used around us – daily on television, radio and in many places and occasions in our daily lives – I hear much more Maori spoken than I do French or German.

Maori is also linguistically an excellent choice as it has a different vocabulary, an easy phonics system and a quite different structure. And it is an easy language to learn and pronounce. No!!! I hear some older people say but that is not the fault of Maori language, it is the consequqnece of not getting the opportunity to learn about it and to learn it at a time when we were young enough and our aural skills were acute enough to hear and retain the sounds which are different from English – another useful comparison.

So a policy of getting more Maori language instruction into schools is on very strong grounds and there is no danger of it not helping students to achieve higher levels of competence especially in English.

The dangers and risks are all political and that is where some courage is needed.

And who and when did a Labour leader lose his bottle? It was about 1985 or 1986 when the new Form 6 English Syllabus was circulated for comment and a certain lobby group within education got at David Lange and, goaded by allegations from the Opposition side of the House that NZ kids would all be gabbling Te Reo Maori but have no competence in English, and not for the last time he lost his bottle. It was enough for him to summarily dismiss the English Syllabus group which never met again.

New Zealand lost a chance to lead the way internationally to not only  bring an indigenous language into the mainstream curriculum but to also demonstrate the value of doing so to all the students who each require in order to achieve  and learn, knowledge about and skill in language at increasing levels throughout their educational journey.

So Chris Hipkins should stick his head up above the desktop and declare a strong policy of introducing Te Reo Maori into schools for all students. Not enough teachers, of course there is. They live in the street out the back of the school.

“Courage mon brave” and what a shame my own education sees me default to this exhortation rather than to “Kia kaha!”


Leave a Comment

Getting the policy kettle on the hob!

There are rumours that there is an election on although the world of education would hardly know it.

But I guess the announcement that there has developed a coalition of the unwilling with regard to the Investing in Education Excellence (IES) – a troika of tantra.

This alliance between the NZ Principals Federation, the New Zealand Education Institute  and the Auckland Primary Principals Association beggars belief. Are these people simply against anything that the Governmdent suggests? Are these people blind to the opportunities presented by initiatives such as these. Are these people really caring about the achievement of young people?

There seems to be a high level of what the French call les déclinologistes about these organisations. What they are in favour of is being against whatever is happening. Their default position is simply “It’s a bad idea” or “It won’t work!” or “We should have been consulted!” We have no clear idea of what they are in favour of.  An idea can only be beaten by a better idea and their rejection of ideas is never supported with better ideas.

Not that they have this on their own. With an election about 100 days away we only have a sketchy idea of education policies from most of the parties.

Of course, as usual, the party in power has the inside running being able to point to what it has been doing over the past 6 years as evidence of its values and directions. So National Standards, Better Public Service Goals, Youth Guarantee and the IES are all major intiatives that those opposing them can only top by a better, or clearer policy. And they are not yet forthcoming.

Labour seems not to have an education policy – the leader tells us to be patient “We have a whole telephone book of policy!” he says on the television. Well, one hopes not. Just a couple of clear, targeted policies that are likely to lift achievement. And they need to be positive ones, new directions, better ideas.

So it was refreshing when the three most unlikely political mates stood on the stage together and Laila Harre, with arm held aloft by Kim Dotcom that the Internet Party would campaign on a policy of free tertiary tuition. Now there’s a big idea. If this policy is not seen to be touting for the votes of the moderately to well off, she will have to take account of the fact that increasingly tertiary education is free and is being gradually increased in a very targeted way.

First came the cluster in initiatives under the Youth Guarantee policy that started with Fees Free places in tertiary for those aged 16 – 19 years. This simply righted an iniquitous situation in which students aged 16 – 19 years could have access to free education but only if they remained in a school setting. The 20% who have dropped out of school and those who preferred to continue their education and training on a different setting were denied access to this right. So that gets a tick! Then there is the reality that now all Level 1 and 2 programmes in a tertiary setting are fees free. And the recently rolled out Maori and Pacific Trades Training policy offer fees free places to Maori and Pacific between the ages of 18 and 34 Years. So gradually, tertiary tuition is being made free for priority groups.

It being a proud boast of the university sector that their graduates get excellent and highly paid jobs – so the argument to extend it into that sub-sector seems relatively weak. Although, it must be acknowledged that again the universities are targeting priority learner groups in different ways with fees relief.

So the opposition parties are between the rock of what the Government is doing and the hard place where good ideas are scarce if the old default negativity is not to rule.

Each election for about twenty years now I have generously offered even-handedly to all parties a list of policy areas that they would be welcome to use. It has been a source of great disappointment that so few are taken up.

Stuart’s list of policy suggestions – free to a good home.

First-in-Family Guarantee

We know that when a family has someone complete a tertiary qualification and they are the first in that family to do so, the family is transformed to the extent that tertiary education becomes a goal for other family members from then on.

Sector Reform

The current sector arrangements were never designed to do the job they are now required to do. In fact, there is an element of truth in saying that they were never designed, full stop! The not-fit for-purpose sectors that we currently have create transitions that are dysfunctional for many. And reform needn’t be dramatic – combine ECE with Primary Years 1-6, combine Primary Years 7-8 with Secondary Years 9 – 10. Put secondary Years 11-13 into the tertiary sector.

Before we are overtaken by howls of outrage, this might all be simpler than we think, we’ll continue to see school plant in use appropriately and would have a dramatic impact on the negative elements of transitions in New Zealand.

(Further details available on request.)

Early Childhood Education

Establish two-year ECE unit / service established in every primary school. No land purchases required, governance already in place and smooth transition into primary schooling.

That is enough to get the policy ball rolling.


Leave a Comment

Talk-ED: "The party's over… (sung lustily with varying meanings!)"

Stuart Middleton
28 November 2011

“Here we go again…” is sung lustily at one post-election event while at another “The party’s over…” draws towards the mournful exhortation to “send in the clowns…” The election designed to bring New Zealand down from the euphoric Rugby World Cup to the realities of living in the early 21st century has done its job.

Once upon a time we would be offered the chance to vote for “continuation”, “state control” or “prohibition” but that related to alcohol. The election seems to offer us the same choices but now they apply to everything.

And continuation received resounding support with the National Government led by John Key returned with a clear mandate. That is very much what it means for education – a continuation of the key policies that started to get traction for the Government during its first term in office.

The government will continue to seek ways to bring greater focus into the early childhood education area with the intention of increasing access to ECE for some of the communities that currently miss out. This will require a greater emphasis on ECE and a shift of resources that while ostensibly for ECE, are in fact consumed by childcare for those who work. I do not argue that this is not important, simply that it is less important than getting that essential access to two years of quality early childhood education for all students.

At the primary level, teacher unions, principals’ associations and some Boards of Trustees need to seriously question whether they want to continue the battle against National Standards or is it time to get on with meeting the intention of improving reporting on progress in schools and in turn lifting student achievement in primary school education. Goodness knows, we just have to ensure that all students leave primary school with a sound foundation of literacy and numeracy skills. Schools can achieve this for some students, why not for all?

On the way to vote in the election I walked through a primary school area in which there was a row of school gardens. We stopped to look at them. There was a wide range of quality in them. Along came a person who introduced herself as “the garden teacher”. We chatted and I commented that the students might be encouraged to weed the gardens. This led immediately to a too-many-students-only-so-much-time-we-do-our-best response. Same old, same old. Meanwhile the weeds take over some of the gardens and the nourishing plants wilt. Was this a metaphor?

Secondary schools can look forward to a new focus on a secondary version of national standards as part of an emphasis on greater accountability in the secondary school sub-sector. This will not be easy as old arguments will be played out against new ideas. What matters most are the patterns of success and failure, of engagement and disengagement which appear to be so stubborn and concreted in. Time ticks on and change in these patterns is now urgent and sometime soon will shift to crisis. Discussions about raising the age of eligibility for the pension will seem irrelevant in the face of the falls in the standard of living that will be a consequence if we cannot turn the patterns of educational success and engagement around.

It could be that in line with the last couple of EdTalkNZ blogs, some attention will be paid in the next three years to the relationship between the senior secondary school and the postsecondary sector. A clear way forward in addressing the leakage from education is to allow for more flexible and multiple pathways between the conventional curriculum of the school and the opportunities afforded through the postsecondary sector. To more easily achieve this there will need to be some synchronisation of funding approaches between the senior secondary school and the tertiary sector.

New Zealand has the legislative framework in place to allow this to happen. Students in school study postsecondary courses, there can be flexibility in funding, there is a softening of transition points, gradually there develops a little less ownership of young people based on age, more exploitation of the flexibilities of NCEA  but we need to work harder on the application of the qualifications framework across transitions and between senior secondary and tertiary. So much of all this is within our grasp if we could develop an appetite to tackle the issues.

The tertiary sector will be expected to get on with whatever it does but within a fairly constrained budget envelope. Universities and Polytechnics will be expected to lead the innovation charge in complementary ways, research in one supported by technology transfer in the other.

Something could well be done about students fees and allowances. While the current system seems to have support from the ideologues, it is essentially a silly system which creates bad debt on the tertiary education balance sheet of a scale that would not for one minute be tolerated in business. There has to be a better way of getting the money directly to the institution and tying that up with performance measures without cycling the cash through the students.

I expect that the two minister approach – one for schools and another for tertiary – will continue for pragmatic reasons and to avoid conflicts of interest.

Meanwhile the students turn up at school this morning, for tertiary examinations and the NCEA exams continue, schools wind down a bit and it all seems quite remote from the events of the weekend.



1 Comment

A Treasury of advice

Stuart Middleton
New Zealand Education Review
Vol. 14 No.6, 20 February 2009, p.16
APN Educational Media (NZ) Ltd.

The briefing papers prepared for incoming governments by the various ministries in Wellington are a triennial ritual that attempts to strike a tone somewhere between the welcome home of the prodigal child and the stern lecture from Grandpapa delivered to the child about to leave for university in Dunedin.

Those from Treasury are an interesting collection.

Education was centre stage in the Treasury briefing papers of 1987 when an entire bound book was devoted to it. This was the occasion to develop at length the notions that postsecondary education was a private gain and that the rot that had set in to the leaky system was the result of provider capture. Snook (1994) described the Treasury briefing to the incoming government in 1984 as “an amazing document from a department of state, which is supposed to give financial advice to the government. It is a work, not of economics, but of social philosophy.”

Teachers colleges received a going over, state intervention compromised equity and the administration of education was something between inept and serpentine, We all know what happened as a result. A frenzy of reform was unleashed that was unprecedented in the history of education in this country. But did things change really? The papers of 1993 stated that the experience of the Tomorrow’s Schools reforms demonstrated just how difficult it can be to make substantial changes in the education sector.

Looking at the Treasury briefing papers between then and now encourages one to believe that there is some truth in this. Recurring themes are clear and repeated every three years. A key one is that the education system is not making the contribution it might to improving New Zealanders’ skills and adaptability (1990). This is expressed variously over time. A responsive and efficient education sector is necessary to improve the skills of the future workforce (1993). There is evidence that many young New Zealanders are leaving school somewhat less skilled than their international counterparts (1999). In 2001 there was the wish that the government should fund courses that that lift the skills of those participating in them. This was a goal greatly to be aspired to but seemingly difficult to achieve.

Another recurring theme was the juxtaposition against this were various expressions of pleasure at increasing participation. The irony of this seemingly passed by the writers of the papers. We now have a clearer view that increasing participation per se is necessary but not in itself sufficient to bring about increased educational outputs (that’s a good Treasury word!). The increases in participation noted in the 1993, 1999 and 2002 are finally put into context as the papers over time start to show a realisation that  those who were disadvantaged continue to be so in spite of what looks like progress in terms of numbers.

The 1996 papers somewhat awkwardly note that socio-economic background, along with innate ability, is a significant influence on educational outcomes for young people.

The papers are not without amusement. In 1993, in a list of “significant risks” they included implementing “Education in the 21st Century”. It was not made clear whether the risk was in implementing it or in not implementing it. This was the report that spelt out the notion of seamlessness and attempted to set up an education system without barriers. We opted for shapeless rather than seamless. Had we really tried to understand the notion of seamlessness we would now have been 15 years into the journey of developing personal pathways, of increasing pathways for students, of getting many more students through to successful outcomes in terms of qualifications and employment.

The papers of 2001 introduced the concern for the 18 to 24 school leaver cohort and noted that participation in this group is not growing. Since then we have come to understand better the phenomenon of disengagement and the growing issues of NEET’s – those not in education, employment or training. In that same year Treasury also noted the importance of early childhood education was critical and that a wise use of resources would be to concentrate on funding children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Current facts would suggest that this advice has not been acted on.

And so we move on to the recently released latest papers, 2008. Old Polonius Treasury adopts the second person giving them a more dramatic tone. The old Treasury themes are there – improving quality of expenditure, increased numbers of degree graduates and looking at the benefit system. When they get into a more derailed policy driven discussion the advice is clear.

In summary, schooling improvement should be achieved by increasing completion rates through a wider variety of options and pathways for senior secondary students who are more actively engaged. More controversial is the promotion of the idea of increased funding for independent schools and removing capacity restraints where schools are popular. Like chickens that eat eggs, once they start doing it is hard to stop them. Treasury officials have had egg on their beaks for a long time on this one.

The papers are stronger when they discuss the Youth Guarantee and the Trades in Schools policies. The need for more responsive and flexible secondary schooling and on identifying and supporting those at risk of disengaging (the word finally appears) is seen as a necessity. It is acknowledged that alternatives to school may be suitable to some students but the outcomes of such alternatives need to be robust.

Treasury is spot on in noting that changes to school funding rules and regulations could encourage partnerships with polytechnics to provide a wider range of vocational training courses. The recommendations in this area are sensible – expanding options for students, retaining schools’ accountability for under-18 year olds, increasing schools’ ability to use other providers while retaining students on their books and getting a greater focus on foundation skills for those students not currently succeeding.

It seems that much of the advice on education over the years contained in Treasury briefing papers, is not acted on. There are some key pointers in this latest set that deserve to be noted and the direction they suggest could, if acted on, save them having to continue to make the same points in 2011, 2014, and 2017.

Leave a Comment