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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!





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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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A Day in the Life of the Principal of Election High

Another day of meetings.

9.00am Pam Corkery, 3K

Principal   “I won’t mince my words, Pam, although I wish you had minced yours! You can’t talk to others like that, you can’t call them those vile things. Can’t you control your temper?”

Pam   “ I simply said everything that people had been thinking about the them, Sir.”

Principal   “That may be so, but you have brought great discredit to the school and I am going to stand you down!”

Pam   “But does that mean I shall miss the Ball?”

Principal   “Yes! And that is appropriate considering how comprehensively you dropped it!”

10.00am  John Key, Head Boy

Principal   “Come in, John. How are things going? I though you played rather well in the First XV match at the weekend.”

John   “Thank you, Headmaster. Their front row was pretty weak I thought.’

Principal   Yes, and their game plan wasn’t up to much. They simply ran around the field following us all the time.”

John   Well, I told  the boys before the match to keep the tempo up. Frankly the real danger was interference from the sideline. Remember that last week someone stole the ball!

Principal   Do you see any problems coming up in the last four weeks of the competition?

John   Not really but the MMP Final is always close. We want it more than them, we’ll give it 100%, it could be a game of two halves, at the end of the day, it’s not over until the whistle blows. Do you think we could use pyrotechnics before the final?

Principal   Oh, I think that’s the bell – I probably have to go and do something, go into the ring, go and vote, go to assembly?

1.00pm  Laila Harre,  Leader of the Election High Student Amnesty Group

Notice to Staff:

You will recall that Laila Harre was with us for some time until she shifted out of our zone. I wish to advise you that she has returned to Election High. I want you to make her feel welcome but I need to draw your attention to several things. When last she was at this school she showed great promise but unfortunately it seemed to be frustrated by the people she was mixing with. I am told that she has become associated with another interesting group which could prove to be an issue. Please keep the deputy principal aware of any problems you face.

12.00 noon  Jamie Whyte – new to the school, with caregivers

Principal   I wasn’t expecting a group of adult caregivers with Jamie.

Spokesperson   Well as you know ACT has great compassion for orphans and those who don’t quite fit. We are a firm of solicitors, Prebble Douglas Hyde and Banks and we assist them in this work. We have come to sort out Jamie’s enrolment at Election High.

Principal   Would you like a cup of tea? No, well let’s talk about the subjects that Jamie would like to do.

Jamie   Philosophy. I would like to do philosophy.

Principal   Excellent, I studied philosophy. It has stood me in good stead, I win most arguments with Form 4 boys by cleverly employing the syllogistic techniques and then closing the discussion with an apposite quotation from Plato. I find the allegory of The Cave a little beyond them, but that doesn’t stop me.

At this point the groups settles back into the couches in the office knowing that this meeting would in all probability be long.                     


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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.



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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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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.

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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!”


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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.


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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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Pathways-ED: What's the matter with size?

Stuart Middleton
18 May 2012


It is all a little surreal. I am up in Samoa for a couple of days finishing a task for the National University of Samoa and it happens again! The minute I leave New Zealand controversy breaks out.

This time the issue clusters around the announcement that teacher/pupil ratios are to rise a little. This is no surprise when just several weeks ago the Treasury put forward the argument that if we wished to really address teacher quality, one way of doing this would be to squeeze the ratios up a little, create uncommitted education funds and spend it on giving teachers the opportunity to develop new skills, to hone up the skills that they had and to generally contribute to that one thing we know really makes a difference to student achievement – teacher quality.

The announcement yesterday by Minister Parata did make an effort to emphasise that the money saved is not lost to education in the way that, say, the MFAT cuts money seems simply to be vacuumed up into the consolidated fund. In this respect education (and health) is being treated more favourably.

And this puts teacher and educators into a rather delicate corner because there is only a tenuous link between teacher/student ratios and class size. Or put more starkly, the increase in the ratios will not automatically mean that all classes will be larger. Schools will continue to make professional decisions about the optimal size for classes of different kinds. Reducing class sizes is clearly not a mechanism for school improvement.

I was an English teacher so I always got to teach classes that were as large as the school could manage. On the other hand some teachers in some subjects had rather fewer students. In primary schools this sort of manipulation is more difficult but perhaps high decile schools can justifiably have larger classes than low decile schools simply because the needs of the students are so dramatically different. This would be thwarted because of the way resources are allocated and there is little capability to transfer between schools. Imagine the fuss if differential ratios based on deciles was to be proposed.

The real difficulty is that the business model that school function with is not very functional. Having so much of the teacher resource tied up, and I mean tied up, in an inflexible staffing structure and delivered as FTEs leaves schools with little room to move. That is why the standardisation of the ratios between Years 2 to 8 and Years 11 to 13 seems to me to be an excellent move. The first signs of flexibility are creeping in.

Those who write the press releases for the Minister may have been a little careless in describing the money saved as “extra” – some of it seems to be new but some is really a reallocation. And how long now have we known that if we wish to achieve different results we will need to behave differently, we will have to use resources differently.

I think that the biggest risk in all this is that achievement might not go up. This would then create a rather traditional response from teacher organisations of “we told you so” when it might actually mean that the indicators are still heading south but more slowly. It is imperative now that we get into reporting progress in meaningful and honest ways and that means cohort reporting. What is happening to each group of students. That is the test.

So the unique student identifier has now become urgent and critical. I sometimes joke that an IRD Number should be tattooed, discretely of course but in a place able to be accessed without embarrassment, to help us achieve this but this idea has not gained ground. I believe that the privacy lobby is still arguing about the invasive nature of such identifiers. Meanwhile we pay a heavy price in education through simply not being able to produce robust statics on how we are going.

Then there is the impact of truancy on class size. If 29,000 students are on average away from school each day (these are official figures) then the impact on class size must have been significant. We will have to be vigilant that class sizes do not balloon as we get on top of truancy.

Also, if we tackle the NEETs issue with vigour and succeed there could be a further 20,000 students at school. Solving the issues of disengagement and educational failure is a sure way to increase the number of teachers in schools!

This is a vexed issue. Oh, I forgot there are also the teen parents (25,000 I was told). Of course there is some double counting in all these figures. A side issue is that a teen Mum only has an entitlement until age 18 years. This is something that is an abrogation of human rights and applies only to them and, seemingly, to First XV aspirants in Auckland schools!

The thing that will silence the argument about class size will be a clear improvement in achievement. That is the challenge and that is why we go teaching in the first place.



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