Tag Archive for primary

There’s more than one way to reach the stars!

Rather than let off a few sky rockets on yet another silly day we remember, hard on the heels of that even sillier day called Halloween, I thought I would throw a few ideas up in the air as we head towards the end of the year. These are called game-changers. They would lift educational performance in New Zealand. We have known most of these for a long time but other things get in the way. On Thursday I will give a complementary list of show-stoppers.

Principals of secondary schools are welcome to use these lists as they put the final touches to their prize-giving addresses.

The “Game Changers” List

1. Access to early childhood education

It astounds me that in this rich country we still have uneven distribution of opportunity for early childhood education. I do not need to repeat the evidence, it is over whelming. And the lack of equity in the area is hidden by two factors – quirky gatherings of information about actual participation (likely to be lower than reported) and the evening out of statistics into regional and national figures.

A stark statistic: In the Tamaki suburb in Auckland there are 7,000 youngsters under the age of five and there are 2,000early childhood education places.

A quick but excellent fix: In areas of low participation, add an early childhood facility to each primary school – same Board, same management, shared outdoor facilities, great savings. Best of all, it would be goodbye to the entangling bureaucracy that surrounds the development of conventional centres.

2 Greater attention to basic skills in primary schools

I might be naïve but it is bizarre that in the country that led the world not only in reading performance but also in the teaching of reading that so many children fail to reach a safe standard in the eight years of primary schooling. The same can be said of mathematics (sometimes called numeracy). Add to the list the development of knowledge, social skills, preparedness for further education, and exposure to arts and practical skills all in a context of new technologies and you would have not only an interesting programme but one which didn’t place so many students on a trajectory of failure.

A stark fact: Students show a decline in learning in key areas between Year 4 and Year 8.

A quick but excellent fix: Demand that primary schools do less but that they do it to higher standards. The foundation skills are taught in primary schools. Isn’t it ironic that the term “foundation skills” has been transferred to the first several years of post-secondary education and training for those who have failed to accrue such skills and this is clearly too late.

3. See a clear distinction between junior and senior secondary schools.

Education systems that we admire and would wish to emulate invariably have a clear distinction between what is in New Zealand Year 10 and Year 11. The first two years of high school are years of finishing off the processes started in primary school and the preparation for discipline focussed study that is in a context of future employment. Years 11 and 13 in these overseas systems are clearly differentiated with the availability of clear vocational technical opportunities emerging to complement the university track (which is working well in New Zealand). In other words, young students have choices about their futures.

Another shared feature is that at that age students are credited with much greater maturity but also supported to a much greater degree. The style and organisation of schooling is more akin to a tertiary institution than to the primary schools from which the secondary schools evolved.

A stark statistic: By age 16 years 21% of 16 year olds have dropped out of New Zealand schooling system.

A quick but excellent fix:  Sorry folks, but there isn’t one. This area is where the most comprehensive reforms are needed. Put simply, apart from the track to university, the New Zealand senior secondary school is broken. That style of education no longer suits too many of our young people. Don’t despair – we share this with our sibling systems in Australia, the United States, the UK and most of Canada. WE need to look elsewhere for evidence of what works and then craft our own responses for our particular circumstances.

4 Cement the output of graduates from tertiary education to employment.

There needs to be a clear line of sight between tertiary programmes and employment. I know that the universities resist any such notion – I have been told by those who know that such a connection is not helpful – “We do not train people, we educate them.” Just think of it, all those untrained doctors, ophthalmologists, engineers, lawyers – what rubbish such a claim is.  And in light of the unrelenting marketing of universities as the place to secure a future, to get high earning powered positions it is simply not sense.

Tertiary education is expensive both for the taxpayer and for the students who are the sons and daughters of taxpayers. They have a right to know that their investment in education at a tertiary level be it at a university, an ITP, a PTE a Wananga or wherever will lead to a job. If a degree in business has prepared you to look after the valet parking desk at the airport (as was a case I came across recently) then it can only be concluded that the programme offered little in the way of access.

A stark statistic:  About one half of those who start a post-secondary qualification actually complete it.

A quick but excellent fix:  it seems as if we are drifting towards a situation where tertiary providers are to be held accountable for the progress into employment of their graduates. If this were applied to all levels and types of tertiary education it might well be a good thing. Of course it would have to be first accepted that a key purpose of post-secondary education and training is to get the appropriate job. This might also require a better connection between demand and supply in the labour market. Consideration of these a matters need to be sped up.

Pathways-ED: Relationships up against a wall

Stuart Middleton
1 August 2012


It was not done lightly when they named the parts of Berlin after the Second World War that had come to be considered as exclusive property of this super power or that super power, “sectors”. The Americans had the American Sector and the Russians theirs. Movement between the two was restricted by that ghastly wall and Checkpoint Charlie became synonymous with freedom of access.

They had, after all, the lessons to be learnt from education where sectors had similarly become territory won and territory to be defended. The No-man’s Land was territory to dispute and little consideration was given to what is best for the citizen / students.

I was astounded that recently a one-day seminar on relationships between sectors with top presenters was offered by a reputable Australian organisation, ATEM, but was able to attract only 7 registrations from throughout Australia – well, it might have been six because I had registered.

Issues related to educational sectors and to relationships between them in Australia seemed to me to be an issue that demands attention. Especially in the tertiary area where chickens hatched in the late 1980s have all the appearance of coming home to roost. In New Zealand they also demand attention.

Relationships between higher education, further education, vocational education, academic education are simply beyond resolution by considering them each to belong to a “tertiary sector”. And just as the spoils of war are commemorated and held to be holy long after the fighting stops, much of the sector debate in education is based on the spoils of past wars and the now somewhat jingoist slogans of the factions – We are academic, protect the standard!  We are vocational , they need us to dig for victory! We are primary, we teach people! We are secondary, we teach subjects to people!

It is all nostalgia for a past age when education systems had the appearance of working. Let’s face the realities of peacetime.

The transitions between sectors has become dysfunctional with too many students successfully navigating through the checkpoints which have become chokepoints. The old academic / vocation distinction no longer applies. Education systems in Anglophone countries are characterised by unprecedented rates of failure and dropouts – casualties of this war. These countries all share the dilemma of skill shortages and increasing youth unemployment.

Lets calmly look at these sectors. Early childhood education is critical to later success in education and while we boast of pretty good national levels of access, the disparity of access between certain groups in the community is a less happy picture. A solution would be to subsume the ECE sector into the primary sector thus increasing the ease of access without increasing the need to escalate governance and capital works costs. Australia in ahead of New Zealand in halving the K Level entry group but this seems to be more of a Level 0 for primary than a dedicated pre-school effort. And one year is too short.

All systems know the importance of the primary, elementary part of the education system. The issue with this sector is that it is not encouraged other than through mechanisms of name and shame to have a successful but more narrow focus on the teaching of basic skills. I am not suggesting that we return to the old inspection when an Inspector of Schools would arrive at a school to hear the students read to ascertain whether Standard 4 or 5 or 6 had been achieved. But clear statements about exit levels would help with the critical platform that is primary education.

Where the primary sector has identity issues is at the upper end when it seems to grapple with the dilemma of being like a primary school but wanting to be like a secondary school. The solution is clear, create a new sector, Years 7-10, and let them get on with the job of making a successful transition from primary into the discipline-based secondary style programme. Introductory work on real pathways would replace the current work that is reduced to dabbling by the lack of clear pathways with continuity into post-primary education and training.

This would mean taking the senior secondary school out of the “school” sector and placing it in the “tertiary” sector. Having reached Year 11 students would have multiple pathways for further education and training which would be both, and simultaneously, academic and vocational. The different institutions of the senior secondary school, the university, the ITPs, Wanānga, PTEs ITOs and so on would then have a distinctive contribution to make to providing appropriate pathways, rich in their diversity, rewarding in their outcomes and  connected to the real world of family sustaining incomes, of employment and of continued learning.

A brief flypast over the battlefield cannot do justice to a complex issue but the general point is clear. Our current sectors have developed by accident not design, they have resulted in the development of distinctive features (unions, qualifications, sites etc) that are more intended to distinguish territory than they are based on what we know about learning and young people.

I would love to have got together with those six people who shared my enthusiasm for starting the conversation about sectors and the relationships between them. Who knows, it might have led to change somewhere ahead of us. One day the public will want to push the walls over. How much better it would be if we could do it before contempt for institutionalised education reaches that level?