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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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Talk-ED: Is it Time for a Report on Education in the 22nd Century?


Out for the constitutional walk one afternoon recently I looked up the road and saw a silhouette that seemed familiar. One which I had seen many times in the 1980s and through the 1990s, one which was something of a cartoonists, delight.  It was the former Minister of Education (and other things) and Speaker of the House, Hon Dr Lockwood Smith.  I crossed the road to say hello.

The 1980s had been characterised by  the second of the reform trio – administration, curriculum and qualifications – while the 1990s were to belong to the third, qualifications reform.  Lockwood Smith was to feature prominently in both the tail-end of the curriculum reforms and the front end of the qualifications reforms.

I stopped to chat with him and among other things I reminded him of his commitment to seamless education. His smile, already broad, increased and clearly he saw this particular theme as one of considerable foresight which saw a different future for many students.

He was right. The key policy document that carried this message was developed and promulgated under his watch.  Education for the 21st Century (MOE, Wellington, 1993) sought to paint a picture of a seamless education system – one which flowed from the home right through to post secondary qualifications and entry into the workforce.

The key description of this seamless education system is premised on the fact that the curriculum and qualification reforms which resulted in the New Zealand Curriculum and the National Qualification Framework, had created the context in which seamlessness was possible.

Individuals, the document tells us “…will be able to undertake education in more than one setting at the same time and have their achievements recognised through the Qualifications Framework regardless of where they work or where they are enrolled.”  It would be a future in which students in senior secondary school, the report suggests, “could combine regular school courses with polytechnic or university courses and workplace training provided by local industries.”

This was in 1993!

The policy document wanted schools, tertiary institutions and private providers to exploit the greater scope they would have to  “enter into arrangements with each other or local industries.”  Not only that but secondary schools would have the an opportunity to offer courses which have previously been available only at polytechnics or universities. It was an opportunity that was offered but not taken up. It would be another 20 years before there started to develop a tentative start to such a proposal.

This policy was well owned by the then Minister, Lockwood Smith, who the document describes as “currently working with the education community to design a way of resourcing this seamless education system to allow these education opportunities to flourish, and to build an education system for the twenty-first century.”

The opportunities offered by Education for the 21st Century were simple and well within our reach in 1993 when they were proposed.  It is only since the implementation of the Youth Guarantee policy that movement towards the goals of the report have become discernible.

The diagram that was progressively built, through the first twenty or so pages of the document is in itself interesting – I like to think of it as an early model for some of the thinking that is now looking at the development of multiple pathways with its clear links between parts of the system.

While the lines that demarcate the different levels of education are still there and clear and straight and and less diffuse than I might like them to be, the attempt to create relationships between the parts is what might be thought of as an early prototype of the more connected system that we know is so critical if students are to succeed.

Missing is the role played by industry training but these were early days in the shift towards ITOs and new training schemes. It was at that time slowly dawning on people that industry  training needed to be revived.

In addition to the general philosophic material, the document also proposed a way forward for funding – the five emphases were access to Parents as First Teachers programme, increased access to information technology, opportunities for second language learning in forms 1-4 [sic], establishment of kura kaupapa Maori and increased participation in tertiary education and training. It would be interesting to see what our five emphases might be today.

I recollect that it was around the time of this report’s release in 1993 that the battle over qualification reform really started up and became a great distraction. Again a thoughtful contribution to the qualitative improvement of education for many young people became less important than that protection of territory.

I wished Lockwood well for his forthcoming tour of duty as High Commissioner in London and he thanked me for crossing the road to say hello. I then carried on my merry way reflecting on the opportunity lost back in 1993.







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Pathway-Ed: Tales from the Past #2 – Challenges of changes that don't go away

Stuart Middleton
3 February 2011

This is the Silver Jubilee Year. No, not of some minor royal,  the A and P Society or even a school. It is the Silver Jubilee Year of a PPTA paper written in 1986 that deals with the issue of what the writer of the paper, Phil Capper, called the “Jagged Edge. (Capper, P. (1986) Jagged Edge, NZPPTA H.X.86/229, Wellington).

Let me quote a bit of it..

“This document is a discussion paper in which I attempt to bring together developments taking place in a number of areas which … present a challenge to the secondary education sector; and which underlies many of our [PPTA] policies.

The developments that represented this threat at that time were curriculum reform, assessment reform, transition education, ACCESS, Link Programmes, Lifelong Learning, education outside the classroom, bicultural education and vocational education. Many will remember these developments with some nostalgia.

What these developments had in common was recognition that the standard menu of offerings in schools was not catering for the needs of all students. The developments, especially the reforms, were a possible route through which, in Capper’s view, schools could “respond more readily to what the community wants, especially in the upper secondary school. If schools do not respond to the opportunities and challenges implicit in this, then I believe that we will see a flight of post-compulsory students to other educational institutions and the reduction of all but the most academic schools to virtual junior high schools.”

This is prescient stuff. The message, twenty-five years ago, was abundantly clear in the paper: the senior secondary school was not meeting the needs of a all students. This is the issue we face today and then, just as now, there need be no doubt that this situation would be responded to one way or another and if schools didn’t respond then others would. But as I have noted previously, it is not what reforms do to schools but what schools do to reforms that matters and change, when it did come, was both slow and of relatively little impact.

Twenty-five years ago, this PPTA paper grappled with a situation that still pertains today with one exception. This time alternatives to the conventional secondary school are appearing and schools are faced with issues (essentially those outlined by Capper back then) that arise from the need for schools to be flexible, to work with others and to see resources in terms of the student for whom they are provided rather than the school to which they are given. At this time, the developments are different but their impact on schools will be much the same if schools continue to exhibit the degree of unwavering commitment to the traditional patterns of schooling that Capper warns against.

In fact in concluding the paper, Capper argues that teachers were increasingly being placed into an indefensible position. He even questions the assumption that there is “something called a secondary school, in which people called secondary teachers impart something called secondary education to people called secondary pupils during a period of time known as the school day, term or year.”

Even now such an analysis would be thought of as a little radical and yet time has only underlined the basic truth of its hard-hitting comment. Six years later, Capper returned to the topic (Capper, P. (19992) Jagged Edge Revisited: Part the First – The Secondary Tertiary Boundary, NZPPTA, HX 92/032) this time describing the issue as “questioning the continued validity of regarding the secondary service as a fixed and discrete entity” and a blurring of the boundaries between secondary education and other sectors which posed a challenge at that time to the policies being pursued by the teachers’ organisation.

Issues that are not dealt with do not go away and even after twenty-five years will re-surface. In this instance, the issue that is captured by Capper has now become quite a focus throughout the English-speaking education systems but there is one key difference. There is this time a clear understanding of the demographic overlay that adds urgency and indeed inevitability that change must happen.

Schools have not been idle; teachers have not simply turned their backs in order to ignore the issues.  Much work has been done in developments such as NCEA and other qualifications, small concessions have been made with academies of one kind or another, and increasingly teachers are returning to professionally engage with the issue Capper highlighted – the appropriateness of current senior secondary schooling to a wide group of students in the face of developments of alternatives.

It must also be remembered that Capper was writing in the late 1980s and early 1990s at a time when the trend of keeping students in secondary schools for five years was starting to make  explicit the fact that there were at that time numbers of students in the senior secondary school that had never in the previous hundred years been there. The elongation of secondary education from two years to five years had rapidly happened in the period 1975 to 1990 with the 12% of students who had been staying at secondary school for five years increasing to 65%. The senior secondary school was now being asked to attempt something that it had never in our history achieved – i.e. provide a five year programme for a full cross-section of students. This was a major cause of disengagement from education.

So the stakes in all this are much higher this time as we replay a consideration of the issues Capper raised. No response is not an option. The role of secondary schools will play in any response will depend in large measure on the flexibility that they welcome into the senior secondary school.

A recent book from the USA has the title So Much Reform So little Change. This is now a luxury we cannot afford.

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