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Tag: quality

Talk-ED: Sailing in a new direction or being all at sea


It might have been appropriate that in the week that the Americas Cup is all tied up in international juries, data and rules that New Zealand has hosted the visit of Andreas Schleicher, Deputy Director at the OECD and a specialist in evidence and data about student performance and system improvement in education.

Yesterday NZ Herald journalist Nicholas Jones had a full is page spread on his visit and it was a great pleasure to have this rare contribution to knowledge about education to consume with my breakfast.

Jones starts his piece……

“New Zealand’s education system has been treading water and its students will lose out in the global race for the best jobs unless change is embraced, a visiting expert warns.”

The appropriate nautical imagery in the context of a race has appeal in a  coastline hugging nation. And as we are asked to be interested in the Americas Cup even more so. That spring event is governed by some rules, that’s what the arguments seem to be about. Education is also governed by rules and that is what the argument is about!

Schleicher is reported as being in favour of National Standards and that is simply a rule. The arguments are not about evidence or even the light accountability that National Standards imply, it is about the rules. But change is imperative. Jones again….

“His [Schleicher,] reasoning for change  is that while New Zealand has a by good education system, if compared internationally its performance over the past 10 years has plateaued.”

We aren’t going to win the Americas Cup is that is also the case with any element of the effort to produce and sail a world class boat. In a country where we defend pretty well all that we do on the grounds that “we have a world class system” it all starts to look increasing hypocritical in the face of the evidence. If the boat won’t go any faster and the educational system can’t perform any better we will end up in the doldrums.

Spend more money on education! That is the clarion call from many. But Jones / Schleicher assure us that this is not necessary……

“Analysis shows poor kids in Finland, Canada and Shanghai do far better relative to their more privileged peers than poor kids in New Zealand and other countries.”

It is not the syndicate with the most money that necessarily wins the Cup! And yet we hear social class and parenting and markers of social class such as nutrition are unfurled as defences of a system in ways working that toss too many students overboard.

The article nicely lists actions that different groups can take. Parents can daily show interest in “what happened at school today”. This we are told has greater impact than “hours of homework”.

Teachers must deploy its best teachers to the most challenging classrooms.”  This is offered as a way of “prioritising and targeting the quality of teaching.” This it appears is better than to uncritically spray professional development over all the crew. Making the teaching profession a “high status profession”. Note that in Finland the profession was designed to be a high status profession – it doesn’t happen by chance. A ten foot tinny won’t become a high speed hatch simply by tying it up at the wharf and taking the odd fishing trip. Making the career for a teacher “more diverse and challenging for teachers.”

When it comes to schools the warning that has rung out throughout the week was repeated….

75% of students who are reflected in our low equity results are in schools where  there are not apparent issues with manifestly low achievement. This is not solely a low decile school issue but one for all schools. If New Zealand is to lift its achievement it can only do this through lifting its equity outcomes. Equity and equitable outcomes are a responsibility for everyone in the system.

The kinds of commentary inevitably produces a level of unease and even discomfort. But data is data and is of no account if it is ignored. The OECD data is based on over 70 countries  and  28 million students.

Nicholas Jones concludes his excellent article with a wonderful quote from Schleicher: 

I can see the challenges……But in the dark all schools look the same, and all students look the same. Unless you have some light to illuminate the difference, there is very little you can do about it.”

It is as if the Americas Cup is sailed at night – that would be very scary. But it is also scary to carry on in the darkness that the lack of data can impede the progress of students and the improvement of both equity and quality in the education system.


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Pathways-ED: To see ourselves as others see us


A research report had just been released and after the presentation I turned to a colleague and asked:

“Do you mean to say that education cannot do much about social class and socio-economic factors?”

“Almost nothing,” he said in a resigned kind of way.

I walked back to the hotel with heavy feet. This was in contrast to the spring I felt in my step the next morning as I left the breakfast presentation from Andreas Schleicher, Deputy Director for Education and Skills and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the OECD Secretary General. The theme of his speech was predominantly that it is possible to improve the quality and equity of education in a very short space of time.

In fact, if New Zealand raised the performance of its low equity schools, it would be No.1 in the world. But the challenge is not only in schools identified in this way. The majority of low performing students are in schools not identified in themselves as low performing – the task and the challenge was there for all teachers in all schools.

This was not new to us but having it said with the authority of such a figure gave it added meaning and force. Schleicher identified six key areas on which to focus. And at the top was the necessary belief that all students can achieve.  How often in New Zealand do we hear the apologists for failure blame the home and other factors in depicting a scenario without hope?  The message all children need is “you can succeed”.

He went on to emphasise the importance of a well-developed delivery chain.  This has notions of linkage and of strength.  It also echoes the notions of pathways and managed transitions and seamlessness that are mentioned so often in EDTalkNZ.  New Zealand is well placed with its attention to meta-cognitive skills but how strong are we in providing the democratic learning environment that was also part of this package?

Schleicher underlined the importance of having the capacity at the point of delivery – a profession that attracts the best teachers and leaders, retains them and sees them committed to system-wide development.  This also requires effective PD that goes beyond mere participation, not just doing a course, but involves reflective activity, collaborative action with colleagues and suchlike.  It seemed to me that a good bit of this PD activity is in fact about teachers working in new ways with each other.

The importance of balancing autonomy with accountability was another strong point made by Scheilcher. It was pointless to seek the one without accepting the other he made clear, the collaborative environment would ensure this achieved in a manner that added value to the system.  I have thought often that New Zealand has an obsession with autonomy but a loathing for accountability.  That is why the question – “Who’s accountable for educational failure in New Zealand?” – has long been able to be answered simply with “No-one!”  But that might be about to change with the new responsibilities for Boards of trustees in the most recent amendment to the Education Act.  But ascribed accountability is only part of it, real accountability is a deeply seated part of professionalism.

Then came a deeply challenging idea from Schleicher – put resources where they have the most impact.  I didn’t think it appropriate to ask whether in light of this, the failure of decile ratings to achieve this is one of our dark and dirty secrets.

Finally coherence and who can argue with this. We can choose, he concluded, to have an education system that moderates inequality or reinforces it.

Question time.  I got to ask a question.  It was the question that nags at me every day, it drives my argument for new and different ways of working.  But I gave it a go…..”Does anyone have to fail?” I asked.  He spoke of the complexities, the issues, the combination of factors.  Then Schleicher said “It is hard to change income inequality but changing levels of education inequality will bring change.”  I think I had answer to the question I had asked the day before – education can do something to minimise the impact of socio-economic factors.

It used to be a joke that we asked visitors as they stepped off the plane “What do you think of New Zealand?”  This time we got the answer from someone who knew us well.



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