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Tag: schooling

No! You can’t take that away from me!

In amongst the swirl and the noise created by the suggestion of “Global Funding” and “COOLs” and other things in the Education (Update) Bill currently before the house, a really tragic change is about to be visited upon the school system and yet I hear no cries, of “Stop!” or allegations that the very heart of our traditions are being destroyed. No, just a silent acceptance.

I refer to the proposed change that gives to Boards of Trustees and Principals the right to decree that children reaching the age of 5 years might have to start school at the beginning of the next term rather than on their birthday.

Is nothing sacred?

Since the beginning of history going to school is what you did when you turned five. Any four year old, when asked about the forthcoming birthday, will reply to the question “What happens then?” with a bright and cheerful “I go to school!” “And what will you do when you get there?” the conversation continues. “I will learn to read and write!” is the confident reply from one who has yet to discover that learning is not always a piece of birthday cake!


Most New Zealand homes have photos of the respective first days at school – nowadays often showing the poor little person in a grotesquely large school uniform that they will “grow into” sometime in the years ahead! My own mother made sure that my twin brother and I had a photo taken – new shirts, new shorts, new sandals, new school bag and a sun hat large enough to camp under.

It was a significant day not just for us but for Mum and our older brothers one of whom still went to the primary school. For one day of the year we were important. And when we got to school we joined a class of other little people but we knew some of them – they were from the neighbourhood. Others had been there a little while and could look after us – they knew the ropes. Miss White the teacher, a tall woman with a big boot on one foot paid special attention to us and the day went well. Actually this was not taken on my first day at school but the day before. This was because we were going to be too busy on the morning of our first day according to Mum.

But so important was this day that Mum, who had something of a feel for events which she would describe as “history” and therefore accuracy was a critical. After the first photo taken on this gloriously sunny February day in Hamilton we had to go and dress up in our wet weather gear in case it was raining on the first day at school!

pic2I always had my twin brother with me so never felt lonely or lost but what a relief it must be when a five-year old first goes to school to have the help of others in the class. Teachers make very effective use of this – “Tommy, will you show Stuart where the toilet is?” Imagine the chaos of a whole room full of newbies, five-years old, all having left their mothers or fathers, milling around wondering what to do, where should they be, and when is “Mum / Dad / Carer / Au Pair” coming back to get me out of here? It will be like a paddock full of lambs after they have had their tails docked and have not yet been reunited with the Mummy Sheep.

Once again, schools are to change their way of working to suit the grown-ups rather than taking account of the needs of the children. Once again we are doing something because Australia has done it – the old let’s-copy-someone-else rather than have the courage to do it our way.

Voltaire once said that “when it is not necessary to change it is necessary not to change.” Rather than simply promote the change, let’s have some reasons why it is necessary from a five-year old’s point of view to change our tradition of introducing young ones to school on their fifth birthday.

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Housing, transport and schooling


All last week the NZ Herald produced another of its blockbuster page-after-page coverage of a key topic. This time the target was Primary Education.

This made a welcome relief for those of us suffering from AHSFS (Auckland House Shortage Fatigue Syndrome) which is a regular both for full-blast coverage and for other – it seems daily – shots fired through single articles. The full rotation is completed by the ongoing saga of that complaint called Auckland Traffic Congestion, a nasty complaint that strikes citizens usually twice a day and for which no cure has been found and an epidemic seems inevitable.

I wonder if it has occurred to the NZ Herald and to others that these three stories – schooling, housing and traffic are perhaps one and the same issue?

Take schooling for instance. When you see Auckland smiling for no obvious reason it is because it is school holidays and the transport system runs quite smoothly without congestion at the level it is during term time. Why does schooling create this increase in traffic?

I suggest that there are three reasons. First, following the disappearance of a young girl walking to school back in the 1980s it became quickly and seriously thought that it was now unsafe for children to walk to school. So driving the children to school has become something of a norm. Valiant volunteer parents manage a number of “Walking School Buses” but the majority descend on the schools in SUVs of military proportion.

Being outside many schools at the start and end of the day is not a pretty experience.

The second reason is that in desperation parents seek out the “best schools” regardless of where they live. Of course this requires a logic that ignores the fact that if they went to the local school, that school would be better! It also requires that our roads become clogged right when everyone is getting to work. This quest for Nirvana Primary is something created by real estate agents and to quite some degree the schools themselves.

Thirdly, despite the heavy emphasis on cycle lanes and the need to get out of cars, young people cycle less than at any time in the past one hundred years. Up until the 1970s nearly everyone cycled to school in the towns, the rest walked.  I saw a report yesterday that claimed that only 4% now cycled to school and that is certainly not where I live!

The housing shortage is in part the result of the quest to be housed in an area where there is a “good” school” (see above) and the premium of $1,000,000 and up from there to get into a Decile 10 area is a key driver in the scramble.

It is ironic that a house in Otara is attracting no buyers even though there is an excellent Decile 10 school nearby – the MIT Tertiary High School which produces NCEA results indistinguishable from Decile 10 schools. That aside, there are also clear indications that schooling is not the only factor – nostalgia is fairly prominent, nostalgia for the times when the quarter acre section was the God-given right of all. Related to this is the fact that antagonism towards the notion of intensive housing and high rise apartments despite the fact that every large city I have ever visited anywhere has found it necessary to head in these directions. Sprawl and fight to get back into the city centre on choked roads wins the day.

Of course our shape as a city is unhelpful for planning transport systems. The narrow waist line as the Tamaki river heads towards the Manukau Harbour provides challenges and it is a certainty that one day we shall simply have to build bridges over it and bore tunnels under it.

Intensive housing areas built on the fringes are hopeless unless they are accompanied by responses in schooling and transport. We need only look to Christchurch to see what happens when significant housing is supplied without an increase in arterial routes, both the number and the size.

So perhaps the NZ Herald could start to promote thinking about the spaces between the big issues of housing, schooling and transport that have been well and truly thrashed in a somewhat mistaken belief that each has a life of its own.



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Sauce for the goose but not for the gander

It was clear in the fall-out from the reduction in the numbers of students gaining university entrance in the recent round of NCEA results that the changes to the rules were driven by several principles that are of themselves quite worthy.

The first is that students should study a narrower range of subjects in order to know more. Or put another way, knowledge is gained vertically rather than horizontally. It is clear that the universities have believed this right from the very introduction of a standards-based assessment system when the move towards credits was described as the process by which knowledge had been turned into intellectual finger food!

That was not entirely true but there may have been a whiff of truth in it. Certainly depth of knowledge was thought to be in danger when students were given the opportunity to study subjects that are outside of the standard academic canon.

The second principle is that there should be a set of approved subjects that would be acceptable in making up the university entrance qualification. The existence of such an academic canon was the result of hundreds of years of development of universities as places of privilege and so certain subjects were also privileged. Such a list of privileged subjects was promulgated by the University Grants Committee and indeed even School Certificate maintained that privilege by on the one hand pretending to be norm-referenced while on the other using a procedure called “group mean referencing” whereby subjects undertaken by “brighter” students were scaled to a produce a higher set of results.

Now the education system has, some time ago, debated what real subjects were. “Twilight Golf” never made the cut, meditation had no observable actions that could be assessed, and language CDs handed out in cafes were thought to have had too few demands on the students. No complaint about all that.

But the firm grip that such views have enjoyed has seen a distortion on what was valued in terms of pathways to an education and to later success. Gradually only the track to university was valued in the school system and the capability and capacity of schools to provide programmes in areas that would grab the attention of young students was allowed to atrophy. The bog standard “academic” diet was going to nourish all the students.

When now there is a call for students to have the opportunity to study subjects based on applied learning and to specialize in technical areas that require skill and knowledge in greater depth in order to pursue fulfilling and useful lives in the community, that the argument is put forward that what students need is a broad and general education.

Is there a contradiction here?


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Starting with the end in mind

The central most important question used be called the $64 question – it was the last question in the 1950s show Take It or Leave It. It was  the largest prize. Of course the term has inflated due to the ignorance of folk top its origin and now the most important question is typically said to be the $64,000 question.

Today we might well be asking one question and it really is attached to the number 64,000.

This year 64,000 students will start school and the question is “Where will they be in 13 years time – in 2028?” It is the finishing point rather than the starting point that is important.

We know that unless there are changes to the system, 13,440 of these starters will have dropped out of the race before they are sixteen years old, forget reaching Year 13. Perhaps 10-15% of those left are unlikely to have a platform from which they can head securely towards a great future. That’s another 5k – 7.5k. And so the story continues.

If the little ones joining the system today face an unchanged system that keeps on delivering the same then they will simply get the same results.

And they are not the only ones starting – many are starting secondary school for the first time –   that is a challenge. Many others are looking at NCEA results and wondering about whether they are going well, doing the right subjects, heading on a career path that they understand and want?

Where each single student ends up ought to be a consideration from the beginning of each and every year. Doing well at each end point is simply a sound basis for doing better at the next.

What better inspiration at the start of the year than to recall T S Eliot’s lines:

What we call the beginning is often the end

And to make an end is to make a beginning.

The end is where we start from.

A good school education is the largest prize!


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Serving time

A school term starts. Back to the traffic issues created by schools (in Auckland anyway) and to the long period of fine weather that the gods seem to hold back until the school holidays are over!

And back to the rigours of assessment – the traditional end to the year.

Back in the late early 1990s after the the Education Act in 1989 had established the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, the education system moved towards a standards-based assessment regime to replace the norm-referenced examination system that had been premised on a deep-seated belief that success should be rationed. The new system would finally allow students to be acknowledged for achievement and this would be able to be accrued at time other than the end of year assessment season.

Twenty years later we still struggle to give full effect to this huge change and we have become stranded in mid-stream so to speak.

Now, the other great promise was that “time served would be dead!” No longer would students have to complete set lengths of time to enter an assessment. This would allow assessments to be flexible and be able to be made at appropriate times when student could demonstrate learning. Those demonstrations could be at different levels and simultaneously so.

And what have we got?

First you must serve 10 years of education before you can have a crack at the assessments. Then you can only dip into Level 1 in the next 12 months, Level 2 in the year after that and Level 3 in the final year. And there is a focus on the external assessment. Wait a minute. Isn’t that the same as we used to have?

Well, yes and no. In terms of the rigidity of the way in which standards-based assessment is made available to students (Year 11 = Level 1, Year 12 = Level 2, Year 3 = Level 3) it is not dissimilar to the old SC / 6th Form Certificate / Bursary routine. We had managed to socialise the new so that it resembled the old. In having to wait until Year 11 to start the qualifications trail it is the same.

But there are also some differences – the focus on assessment throughout the year and the engagement of students in how their work is assessed and what it is worth are different from the old mystery envelope approach.

NZQA is on a journey to provide assessment on line, anywhere and anytime. This is a bold initiative because it will at some point have to confront the practices in school which are not flexible and in their current state probably could not cope with the individual emphasis and freedoms that this development implies.

Making assessment available in the way that NZQA aspires will open the door to some potential developments such as:

·         increased responsibility on the part of students to manage their education journey in terms of accruing the evidence of achievement;

 ·         greater availability of multilevel assessment which avoids making students undertake Level 1 then Level 2 when they can already demonstrate Level 3 competencies;

 ·         offering courses in the senior school that are more modular and shorter in length rather than only a set of year-long subjects;

 ·         allowing students to start earlier and move more quickly in areas of greater aptitude.

There was recently a statement that there could be merit in looking at a national assessment in Year 10. Certainly, it has long been a need for greater focus in that year and even my old school introduced a Form 4 Certificate in 1960! But is there a need for something new? Could not NCEA Level 1 start in Year 10? Many students would relish the opportunity to get on with their qualifications. Of course it has implications for the length of schooling and perhaps many would be moving on to the next stage in their educational pathway earlier than is the current practice.

We need to challenge the use of time in education. I know of only one other institution in our society where you serve time, and even there you get time off for good behaviour!


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Talk-ED: A Smart Chart or Bawl and Sprawl


On the day that the Minister of Education assured Auckland Primary School Principals that Christchurch was not the start of a wholesale review of schools in other areas, the need for just such a review in Auckland was made apparent in a NZ Herald article.

I am not into conspiracy theories so the assurance from the Minister should be taken at face value – it is what it seems.  In Christchurch the cataclysmic events of the earthquakes put the city into a situation where response was required and urgently.  Children have to be educated, schools have to be provided.  So looking at the provision of education was urgent, changing the way schools worked and worked together and looking at the options for young people was a self-evident and sensible way to proceed.

But there is one critical difference between Christchurch and Auckland.  The school rolls in Christchurch have shrunk while in Auckland school rolls have increased and are predicted to increase dramatically over the next forty years.  The report in the paper tells us that the MOE has to find space for 150,000 more student s in Auckland by 2050.  Much of this growth, 70% probably, will be within the existing city urban limits.  In other words, 70% of the growth has to be absorbed in areas where there are already schools.

Building new schools is an option but land will be at a premium in these built-up areas where intensification of housing will be the modus operandi of the planners as they seek to achieve this bigger city in numbers but not in sprawl.

One thing is abundantly clear – education in Auckland will have to change the way it works and this could have an inevitable flow-on effect across other areas of the country.  But as soon as this is signalled the trenches are dug and the old education default position trotted out.  We don’t want to change.  What we are doing works well.  That could be true, but what the journalist calls a “population tidal wave” is headed our way and change we will.

The problem is that territory won is territory to be defended. Of course those in a school now, those with children in a school now, feel good about the school – they have to, it is a natural response.  But those children will grow up and leave the school.  Similarly Principals and teachers working in a school will feel good about the school – they have to otherwise getting up in the morning is too hard.  But they will move on one day.

“Now” and “us” is not a very good place to start planning for the future which will be “then” and “others”.  Stephen Covey tells an anecdote in which a group is hacking their way through the jingle with great energy and high levels of efficiency.  One of them climbs a tree and takes a look around.  “Hey!” they call to those on the ground, “we’re going in the wrong direction.” But this repeated anew information is ignored until those on the ground, irritated by the person up the tree call back “Be quiet!  We are having fun down here!”

To say that things must change is not to say that what is happening is of itself poor quality or wrong or not enjoyable.  But it might not be what will be needed for another time and in the future.  Someone has to “go up the tree” and see with a little more clarity than those on the ground just what the direction needs to be.

The MOE did just this in Christchurch with some appropriate urgency.  Auckland has the luxury of time.  Of course if Rangitoto was to blow up and enter a prolonged period of eruption (scientists tell us it is theoretically capable of this) then our protestations about change will seem about as pompous as Pompeii.  The Unitary Plan – the great chart of the unexplored future for New Zealand’s biggest city and a key reason for the amalgamation of the territorial local authorities – has the purpose of painting a picture of the future of Auckland.

Instead of resistance, educators would be well advised to welcome such an opportunity for change that can be planned for.  Some quick fixes might be needed which impinge on the current ways of working – increased numbers of students on school sites, expanding the age ranges in schools and so on.

But the future needs to be planned and orderly.  The nature and place of what we call sectors could be examined.  The way governance is achieved could be looked at.  The very notion of a school zone could be challenged and perhaps a place seen for differences between the curriculum and programmes in different schools.  This and other ways of increasing choice for parents could be examined.

We should embrace this opportunity for change in Auckland schooling.

One of the key issues according to some in Christchurch, well it seems so at a distance, is the fact that there has been a feeling that change has been foist on people, that they have not been consulted or consulted in the right way or at the right time, that communities have been ignored. Others assure me that this is not an entirely shared view.  There are those who welcome much of what is happening.

In Auckland we can make sure that there is consultation by taking ownership and control over the changes that we will face, work in a measured manner towards options and directions. Perhaps an Auckland Education Commission set up to take the Auckland Unitary Plan and produce a blueprint for change in schooling in Auckland would be a good thing to consider. This need not be rushed; the MOE can look after the few issues that need urgent attention.

The future demands a calm and thoughtful, widely discussed approach.  It will never be too early to start this.  But it is often too late when people are willing to get involved in such discussions.  If being the world’s most liveable city is an aspiration, we need to get thinking soon.


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Talk-ED: Solutions for a Solution


The Christchurch earthquakes and all that has gone with it have placed demands on a community that are alongside the devastation that the two world wars wreaked on the communities of New Zealand.

But if you can put the events of the quakes to one side, there might be lessons in the proposed re-organisation of schooling in Christchurch that has recently been announced. Perhaps all communities in New Zealand should be taking stock of current provisions, places and procedures of schooling and ask whether they deserve close examination.

Take the placement of schools. The principles by which school were located were originally that a young person should be able to walk to school or be taken to school by a school bus ride that was not unforgivable often along unsealed and poor roads. Those criteria have been well and truly shot to pieces in many communities, especially in the cities and towns where the middle classes and the rich take their little ones to school in SUVs and suchlike. It is really only in what we identify as low decile communities that walking is the norm. The school walking buses are a commendable exception to this rule. In the space of a generation biking to school has all but disappeared. And in country communities there are now generally better and sealed roads and better buses and it is conceivable to consider longer distances. 

So what powerful arguments exist that schools should continue to exist in the exact locations that they have in the past?

Well, tradition might be one reason and I can see the old secondary school sites being retained. But many of the old primary schools were located in parts of towns that might no longer have the communities of little ones to sustain them. A huge number of our schools were built in the 1950s and 1960s to cope with the baby boom and so the “traditional” argument might not be all that strong. It could simply be that we have too many schools, and some in the wrong places.

Then there is the matter of school size. I hear from many teachers that where schools use size to advantage then bigger is better. Just how much bigger might well be a moot point but where the resource base is able to provide choice and support across the entire diversity of a school population then it is a good thing. Where it is not then it is a pointless argument.

But perhaps the largest question I have about the “Christchurch Solution” is that it fails to address the sectors and their current structure, the place of senior secondary schooling and the development of choice through multiple pathways for students. It is in essence a housekeeping exercise with the existing ways of working which rearranges the furniture.

The results of schooling in New Zealand suggest that a more radical set of reforms is needed. If we were to look at the Finnish reforms that have taken the education system in that country to the top of the world three might be an argument for considering:

  •          changes to the sectors where a comprehensive “primary” sector would have responsibility for ages 5 to 16 with the eldest three years of this group (“lower secondary schools) starting the process of preparing students for the next step but doing this within the sector;
  •          the introduction of three year upper secondary schools that offer choices to students through academic tracks to university and vocational pathways into the trades and professions;
  •           rethinking the nature of a “local” school.

This last point is the most challenging. The Finnish put together teachers who previously worked in different kinds of schools and working to the view that understanding and working through human diversity was in itself an important educational goal, brought together students from different backgrounds, ethnicities, aspirations and circumstances. At the same time they eased the central controls on schools so that each school could introduce practices of a small-scale democracy (vivat Dewey). Teachers managed difference in the classroom through differentiated approaches often supported by assistant teachers.

This of course implies a more controlled system of allocating school places to produce the balance – the Finnish did it, such courage. Could we accept that parish pump and self-interest needs to be replaced by diversity and national goals? Do we really want to perform like Finland?

A system based on the principle of equal opportunity is one we aspire to but while we continue to work in a system that is structurally in opposition to such a goal, equitable outcomes will remain elusive. The cities and town of New Zealand should all be addressing these issues and starting to exhibit a willingness to consider new structures and ways of working or do we simply continue to do the same thing and get the same results?

In many respects the Christchurch proposals don’t go far enough – disruption on that scale that will lead simply to a perpetuation of the same way of working which is a disappointment. On the other hand it is a little unfair to expect Christchurch in these stretched times to alone make changes that should be permeating through the entire country.


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Pathways-ED: Blood and fire or beating the retreat?

Stuart Middleton
8 June 2012 


Now that the “alliance of education sector groups” formed to fight “government cut-backs in school staffing” appears to be out of a job, I suggest that they stay together and tackle some of the other big issues. This “unprecedented meeting of six school unions” as it was described would bring together a strength usually only seen in New Zealand when such “coalitions of convenience” are formed – and that is not very often.

Given that the issues of the number of teachers in our schools can galvanise all these groups to cooperate and to seek a common goal, it is exciting that that these key education groups are finally sitting around the table when there are even greater issues to be tackled and perhaps this togetherness is the start of something good. The factionalising of education at the school level has been in no-one’s interests for a long time.

Here are some suggestions for concerns that such a group might focus on.

Educational Failure

Why in an education system that has teachers capable of producing students educated as well as any in the world, do the statistics of education failure continue to resist improvement?

Teacher Professional Development

Why in an occupation which is dedicated to learning do we have so few opportunities for teachers to refresh and expand their own learning? Especially in light of the agreement that central to improving learning is the quality of the work of each and every teacher.


Why do we continue to have such clear demarcations between early childhood education and primary, primary and secondary, secondary and tertiary? Do sectors any longer serve young peoples’ learning? Should early childhood education be merged with the primary sector? Should a middle sector be created (Years 7-10)? Should the senior secondary school be merged into the tertiary sector?


Why in a state education system should schools operate with disparate levels of funding as government funding is distorted by community contributions, fees and donations? Is too much funding locked into inflexible provision of staffing? What are the true costs of a sound educational provision?


Do we really have a national strategy for the use of learning technologies in schools? Will the use of devices in schools be left to the whims of parental wealth and availability of funding? Will schools be in a position to respond to the roll-out of high-speed broadband?


Is it timely to initiate a review of the curriculum in order to clarify gaols and objectives at key transition points, to remove from the curriculum the clutter that has developed and to give priority to key skill areas that are necessary to see all students succeed? Is it time we got serious about teaching community languages?


Why do transition points cause disruption for many students? Are transitions in the right place? Why is it so difficult for us to manage students as they move across transition points?

Skills / Employment

Have we taken our eye off the ball? Is there a developed diminishing focus on skills required for employment or a disconnect between schooling and employment? What is the role of schooling in creating job ready young people? At what ages should the vocational purpose of education and training become explicit. Why do we have skill shortages and yet so many young people doing nothing with their lives?

School Location

Do we have the right number of schools and in the right places? Has the location of schools changed in response to the demise of the horse and unsealed roads in rural areas and changed urban behaviours?


There is agreement that disengagement from education is becoming (has become?) a systemic feature of education in this country. Teachers and school leaders tell me that they see it unfolding over many years in the schools. Do we understand this phenomenon? Do we know what interventions might work and when to apply them?

Any or all of these topics would benefit from a response as intense as that given to the teacher / student ratio issue. Each of these issues can only be addressed by a non-partisan and system-wide response. Each of these issues will continue to dampen educational success among our young people until they are addressed.

Actually, put together they might well make a good agenda for a Royal Commission on Education. Just imagine if we agreed to this in this the Diamond Jubilee Year – it could be referred to in years to come as the Diamond Jubilee Royal Commission on Education – that has a ring to it.

Or will each group return beat a retreat back to their camps to continue the battles another day and in their own way? One skirmish might be over but the war continues against ignorance, a future of doing nothing, educational failure and poverty.


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lk-ED Special: Finally we get towards the end of a confused and confusing debate

Stuart Middleton
30 May 2012


It took a little time but now we seem to know what is happening.


  •           School teacher / student ratios are to change.
  •           The intermediate school additional staffing allowance is to continue.
  •           No single school will lose more than 2 teachers.


What a shame we didn’t get it all on the table at the beginning, then the explanations of the changes and the responses to it might have made sense to the public.


Based in 1 July 2010 returns it looks like this:


  •           Years 1- 6 will lose 471 FTEs            
  •           Years 7-8 will gain 241 FTEs             
  •           Intermediate Schools will within the limits of the 2 FTE maximum loss when applied to the school will retain their specialist position additional staffing allowance. They enjoy the benefits of the increased Year 7-8 ratio which allpies to them as well as to full primary schools.
  •           Years 9-10 will lose 748 FTEs           
  •           Years 11-15 will gain 1,027 FTEs      


The real concern has to be the impact on Years 2-6 where in contributing primary schools where the more generous ratio at years 7 and 8 will not be available to even out the impact across the year levels. Secondary has gained.


There has been some very creative use of “class size” during this discussion and little emphasis on the goal of improved teacher quality. From what I can see the changes, and certainly with the compromise position which has probably pre-empted the work of any Working Group, there will be few resources released by the changes for teacher professional development. It is important to not lose sight of the reasons what all this fuss and pain was intended to achieve.



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Pathways-ED: Episode 2 – Crossing the Prairie

Stuart Middleton
2 June 2011

Folks this is the continuing story of the three dots. Those critical markers in education. The milestones along the educational journey to a bright future in which there are jobs and income, and civic participation, and better health and housing and happiness. Not just for some, but for all.


Dot 2: Schooling

Having got off to good start in Early Childhood Education (and three cheers to the ECE Taskforce that has recommended the ending of the untargeted 20 free hours) it’s off to school. I do not know any young person who doesn’t want to go to school at the age of five – why does that not last for the 13 years we would like them to be in school? The second dot is the successful completion of at least NCEA Level 2. Students who complete the school leaving qualification are likely to go on to complete a postsecondary qualification.

Schooling is divided into Primary and Post-Primary for a good reason. Primary is what comes first and post-primary builds on that. The use of the term secondary is relatively modern (indeed the NZPPTA preserves this useful reminder of the connection between the two in its name).

What is the role of the primary system? Well. I don’t think that it is very complex. It is to put in place an array of basic skills that lay the foundation for further education and training. Becoming a lifelong learner starts at primary school and those who fail to put into place those skills have no chance of becoming a lifelong learner – it’s that important.

What are the skills? As Dame Edna would say : “Call me old-fashioned Possums, but……” Surely the essential skills of language have to be at the top of the list. Reading, writing, listening, speaking are central skills in anything. If you can read you can do anything, learn anything. If you can write you interface with the world in so many different ways. Listening and speaking are keystone skills in team activity, working with others, being engaged with others, taking an active role as a citizen. Lack of these skills is crippling and limiting.

We wouldn’t even consider all those strange concepts such as financial literacy, computer literacy, food literacy and so on if everyone had high level language skills which these days are wrapped up usefully in the term “literacy”.

Sums, maths, numbers, numeracy, call it whatever you like but students who are good at this are well-equipped to tackle so many other things. The skills are fundamental. If you have to learn the tables to do this then just get on with it. If you have to do 20 mental arithmetic questions each day to increase ease and facility with numbers then do it.

It would be good if students developed some sense and understanding of the country in which they lived but it would have to be authentic – the modern, diverse country they live in not the world of Julius Vogel. Slowly the history of our nation would come into play and then there would develop an understanding of other countries. Primary school is also the place at which an ease with Te Reo Maori could usefully be developed.

Probably there is a need for a much narrower curriculum focus than that currently pursued but that might seem to lose too many valuable things that primary schools do. It will boil down to priorities.

When it comes to post-primary education there is clearly continuation of the development of language and of numeracy with an increasing emphasis on the ways language is used for varying purposes. It was always a disappointment that the notion of language across the curriculum enjoyed such a short life-span in secondary schools. Its intent was good but its execution was never able to overcome the silos of subjects.

As students approach the end of Year 10, the knowledge that they need to have around careers, vocational pathways and suchlike becomes central to their formulating a plan for intelligent subject choice and emphases through their senior schooling. So we are probably looking to start this process as early as Year 8 and perhaps even earlier. The goal of the senior secondary school must be to equip each and every student with the skills, knowledge and competencies required to proceed seamlessly to post-secondary study.

As with primary schools, doing less with increased focus and greater integration is probably a useful catchcry in reforming the secondary school curriculum.

The school system is central to a well-performing education system. Alternative programme and interventions can only operate at the edges – the bulk of students will and indeed must succeed in the school system. Schools cannot do everything. They are not resourced to do everything. It is timely for the school system to decide what it does best (and there is some evidence that it is in international terms a pretty good best) and get on with that.

Tune in next Monday for the last instalment in this story of connecting the dots.

 Episode 3 on Thursday:      The Destiny of Destination

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