Tag Archive for schools

Lessons on a Sunday morning

I went to church this morning, as you do when you are in Tonga.

The service was at Tupou College located just out of Nukualofa and one of the three major colleges in Tonga. It has a roll of around 1,000 and caters for boys. I noted a number of features.

The service was long, in excess of two hours, and I did not note a single instance of attention waning or impeccable behavior lapsing. The boys gave the service close attention right through.

The sermon was long and addressed the theme of “endurance being necessary in the search for your soul.” The message was aimed at the boys.

The singing was spectacular in a way that only Pacific boys’ singing can be. The responses, the hymns, the unplanned singing that accompanied the donation blessing (see below) were of a standard that would neither be expected nor encountered in a New Zealand school.

There were items by the school brass band – an outstandingly talented set of musicians and, of course, they accompanied the singing. One item – a selection from von Suppe’s overture to Poet and Peasant as good as you could hope to hear anywhere. The entire school marched back to barracks (i.e. the dormitories) at the end of the service and smart they were too.

Parents and community were involved. In fact a purpose of this service was to “bless” the donations groups of parents and staff had fund-raised over the past several weeks. $40K doesn’t sound a lot to most schools in NZ but this was a huge amount relative to the total funding of around $200,000 for the entire operation of the school including staff. It was indeed mana from heaven.

The living conditions at this residential school are typically Pacific i.e. tough, demanding and even harsh. But there they were, at church on Sunday morning with their all-white uniform immaculate.

So you get the drift – a church school practising its values in a way that allows students to make the most of their talents, inspires the community and the students with the talents of other students and doing it all with good connection to families and community.

I looked at these students and asked myself why the New Zealand education system struggles to bring Pacific students to excellent educational outcomes to the extent that it does. Why are Pacific students succeeding is so many ways at one school in the island nation when most New Zealand schools (well not just schools, educational institutions generally) struggle to get acceptable results despite the huge advantages in funding, teaching quality and resources.

I think I spotted some of the answers this morning. First and foremost is the values base of the school. Now I do not think that this requires schools to be faith-based but I do think it is a demand to reflect the faith of others. If children come from homes that have ongoing regular relationships with the faith base of a church, we might reflect on the extent to which our system has turned its back on this.

The requirement that we have a system that is universal, free and secular does not preclude a presence of values but does offer a prohibition on narrow, single-track church approaches. I suspect that a student coming from Tupou College into a New Zealand institution would in this area regard the environment as rather barren. Similarly, how genuine is the invitation of the institution to a parent about involvement. Rather than a “you need our help” we might try a “we need your help” with all communities not just those who conventionally populate the BOT and the PTAs.

The answers we seek about Pasifika education and which require us to hold symposiums, conference, summits and think tanks might just be there and is staring us in the face. Has anyone done a study of effective practice in Pacific schools and brought it forward as a potentially useful place to gain ideas for the improvement of our own schools?


Pathways-ED: The Empty Schools of New Zealand

I spent a lovely holiday once across the idyllic Kennedys Bay on the Coromandel Peninsula. We camped under the trees in splendid isolation and away from all the madding and maddening crowds.

But it wasn’t always like this.  A little further around the bay there had been in the 1800’s a thriving little town – houses, hotel and a school.  It was there to exploit the kauri needed then for spars on ships.  But that all changed and the town dwindled until now there was in the early 1970s only one house there, occupied by an elderly couple from a family that went right back.  Some Chinese gooseberry bushes planted a hundred years earlier now owned the treetops in what once had been an orchard.

This is not a remarkable or even unusual story.  All around New Zealand there are examples of towns that no longer exist, of of railway stations that are no longer used, banks and post offices that are now put to different uses and empty schools.

There are a number of reasons why schools can be empty.  Small communities have drifted to other parts and the children served by the local school simply don’t exist.  It used to be a joke that Education Boards liked to appoint teachers to such generally isolated school who had large families because that would double the roll!  Changes in the nature of employment, a sawmill closing, a dairy factory (many of which are now empty) being amalgamated with another,  and changes in farm size and modus operandi were all reasons that led to the empty school.

I was told the other day in a casual conversation that there are close to forty schools in the central area of New Zealand that are likely to run out of students over the next few years.

The demographics will have a huge impact on the placement and viability of schools over the next 30 years.  It is claimed that over that time period, the increased demand for school places in Auckland will exceed the total provision of places in the rest of the country.  This seems remarkable and, put simply, we are clearly in for a shake up.

There are however some opportunities that arise from adversity.  Such an opportunity is currently playing out in Christchurch where efforts are under way to re-position resources to allow for schools that work in different ways and provide different pathways for young people.  That such reforms should be located into communities that are under pressure might be regrettable but the opportunity is compelling.  It would have been better perhaps to have these changes made as part of a national intention to review the provision of schooling.

The water-tightness (which is really water-looseness!) of many schools is an issue that is measured in billions of dollars.  What a tragedy it would be to see those buildings simply re-built to replicate traditional provision in the traditional place and in the traditional way.  And I am not fooled by much of what passes for much of modern school buildings.  It takes more than calling classrooms “learning spaces”, placing corridors on the outside of buildings and bringing the trees inside to change a school and the way that it works.

The real changes come from the changing needs of education and the growth of ideas around increasing success for more young children and the older ones too.  Schools need to become a more humane environment where there is more emphasis on what happens inside the spaces.  Perhaps we need to be less nostalgic about the importance of fields for the playing on.  In a community characterised by intensification the juxtaposition of schools and public spaces to maximise use of land will be inevitable.

There is also the changing ways of working.  The senior secondary school is experiencing one such change right now.  The development of alternative approaches under the Youth Guarantee policy umbrella is seeing increasing numbers of students seek to continue their schooling along different pathways.  Trades academies, secondary / tertiary programmes, developments such as secondary/tertiary programmes located in tertiary environments, fees-free places in tertiary for 16-17 year olds are all developments that provide places other than in a school completely or in part.  The scale is there – by 2015 there will be around 15,000 students undertaking all or part of their senior secondary schooling in these programmes.  This means for many, being in a place other than a school.  Smart schools will be positioning themselves for a future in 30 or 40 years that involves partnerships and collaborations and working in clusters, not to be competitive but in order to provide quality provision.

There will be empty schools, there always has been.  But it would be a great pity if this was something that simply happened to schools rather than being a matter of design, the outcome of pathways for education that were designed to increase educational success.

Schools shouldn’t simply die on the vine like the Chinese gooseberries at Kennedys Bay.


Talk-ED: The voice of the vulnerable young


What do the following three events have in common – the re-organisation of schooling in Christchurch, the epic-length Novopay school salaries saga and the re-enrolment of a troubled young man in a Paeroa school?

Teachers?  Schools?  Boards of Trustees?  Issues?  Consultation?  Ministry of Education?  Yes, all of those things but I wasn’t thinking of those in particular.  Each of these three issues has seen the involvement of young school students in quasi-political protest and campaigning.  Many of them have been clutching banners which appear to have been made as class projects, many have wept at issues that were probably beyond their ken and most of them have appeared in front of television cameras.

I seriously question the ethics of all this.  The issues have generally been between the grown-ups and ought to have been played out between the teachers, the Boards, the Ministry of Education and whoever else had a hand in them.  The young pupils (and this does seem to be markedly a primary school response rather than a secondary school one) could quite properly have been left out of the street marches, the protests, and the hate messages (mostly directed at the Minister).  All of this was demeaning to the profession.

Questions should be raised as to the level of informed consent that surrounds a group of young students being mobilised into protest action. Who consulted the parents and caregivers? What was the explanation and information given, what were the opportunities for permission to take part offered to both the students and their parents and caregivers?  What protections were in place?  What assistance and guidance offered when students became distraught?  And could a pupil decline to tag along if they felt uncomfortable?

Then there is the appearance of young people in television news broadcasts.  Were full ethical procedures followed?  Or did the television simply tag along believing that they had no requirements to see that the photographing of young people was within guidelines and in accord with ethical standards?

I have previously quoted John Dewey who back in 1909 in his important book Moral Principals in Education succinctly stated the following:

There cannot be two sets of ethical principles, one for life in the schools, and the other for life outside the schools.

Are the principles and values demonstrated by the actions of the schools in the cases we are discussing genuinely those held by the communities they serve.  I don’t mean simply did the schools and the communities agree on the issue.  What matters are questions such as whether the ethical standards implicit in the use of young people in protest match up with what the community expects, believes in and supports?  And to what extent was the emotion of the moment driving these events?  The issue is not the same thing as the response to it.

Ethics is the study of ideal behaviour.  Researchers when they start out on a research project are subjected to intense ethical scrutiny quite properly and if that research is on or about young people the intensity of the process increases.  Is the research going to be conducted in an ideal way?  Above all there is a key concept with the involvement of young people that they are not being “used” in ways that place pressure on them or increase stress and such like.

Schools carry these ethical standards day by day, and minute by minute and they involve everyone who is involved in the enterprise.  That is why we are so shocked when high ethical standards are breached – especially when it involves students.

Our society goes to some lengths to protect its young and there is currently a huge concern that we are falling below an acceptable standard. Concerns are gravest when those institutions that should conserve the highest moral standards let everyone down.  Examples include child abuse in a religious environment, sex criminals who one way or another inveigle their way into the employ of a school, the inappropriate relationship of a teacher with a student – they all make us feel abhorrence  and the profession is diminished just a little each sad and sorry instance.

Therefore we need to practice a concern for young people in everything that we do in the name of education and schooling.

I wonder if in these three issues we did just that through our involvement of young vulnerable people.



Talk-ED: Free education! From what?


The New Zealand education system was established in the Education Act of 1877 as one which would be universal, secular and free.

Well the first of these, “universal”, is more honoured in the breech than the observance if you consider educational outcomes.

The middle characteristic, “secular” is disputed from time to time and the cycle is hotting up again on this one. The intent of the Act was I believe that schools were to be non-sectarian, non-denominational. If that is true then it has mostly been achieved as integrated, private and special character schools that cater for those who want a specific set of views, values and practices promoted within their school.

But the last commitment, that schools would be “free” is a real mess. Once again we see reports that the community contributed $98 million to New Zealand state schools  last year through “donations” which is a euphemism for “fees” and “compulsory charges”. These fees are levied on parents who have little choice in the matter. On occasion the fees have to be up front to secure an enrolment.

All this is, is a contributor to the iniquitous provision of resources to schools.

Higher decile schools get away with charging quite high fees while towards the lower end of the decile slope the schools have to consider whether it is worthwhile even asking communities for this extra money when those communities are under such pressure to pay for the daily necessities of life.

Up against this is a report that a young lady has been denied a ticket to the School Ball because the family are in the defaulters list for the donation. This puts an interesting spin on both the word “donation” and on the explanations that the school wraps around its actions. With 2,600 students and a reported fee of $175, they have a potential donation pool of $455,000 so it is a kitty worth protecting. And they would not be any means have the highest fee/donation.

It probably doesn’t stop there. In most schools students pay for being in a sports team, the costs of curriculum related field trips, items of equipment. Others demand that students have a “device” such as an iPad. Schools clip the ticket on supplying uniforms and stationery that are probably in the interests of the schools rather than the parents.

Higher decile schools have the opportunity to attract international students while lower decile schools do not. The reasons for this are various and some of them are not very pretty. But a school attracting 50 international students could be making anything from $0.5 million (this would really be conservative) to sums in excess of $1 million. They do this using state provided resources such as rooms, staffing  (for these students generate most of their teaching costs at the margins), principal salaries (since overseas trips to “visit markets” are an important part of activity it seems) and so on.

Again it is an income stream that is not equitably available.

I have not the slightest issue with any of this – parents have a right to spend their money however they wish and supporting their students in this way is nothing but commendable.

But it does stick in my craw when I hear the argument that low decile schools have privileged funding. Such claims can only be made by those who either do not understand the realities of a low decile school and its high demand students or those who have a very narrow view of the education economy.

Education is “funded” by the community. They fund it indirectly through taxes, a portion of which is passed on to schools, and indirectly though taking up the costs of education incurred by their children which includes the payments made by way of fees (that are all but in name compulsory) and the myriad of other costs that must be met by students if they are to have the full range of opportunities offered by the schools.

The real funding of schools is the total amount of money available to schools to spend. And here an issue lies. About 84% of state funding delivered to schools is fixed-funding delivered in little packets with its use clearly labelled on the front. This is not much different from the way my mother would budget using an array of tobacco tins, each labelled, into which she divided up the monthly pay packet faithfully handed over unopened by my father on pay day.

So a school relying on state funding only has in reality very little money that the Board or the Principal have discretion over. Imagine then the delight when those extra sources of funding open up.

If high deciles schools complain about the level of state funding for their school I would invite them to try running a low decile school with high maintenance students.

As Fred Dagg would have said – “You don’t know how lucky you are!”

As for the unhappy girl that can’t go to the ball? You aren’t the first victim of the school ball phenomenon but that is a grisly story that can only be told late in the evening.



Talk-ED: Rain, Rain, go away, come again another day



I wonder if there is any scientific evidence that it always rains on the first day of a school term, specially the one that starts in May? This morning pretty well the entire country will enjoy rain, torrential rain in places, gales and storms. Through all that the whole business of schooling will get under way. Wet rain gear hanging on hooks and dripping on the floor, shut inside at play-time, lunch eaten at desks, windows steamed up, puddles on the paths, leaves everywhere.

But still learning will take place.

The primary school I went to had really steep roofs so that the snow would not settle.  This was not because there was any snow in Hamilton, NZ, but because the buildings were a copy of the English style schools where it did snow!  Perhaps the design of school buildings in New Zealand should be looking ahead take account of a climate that could well be wetter than it currently is for many decades.

It is possible to design buildings that have large areas for being “outside” but under cover.  The building I have in mind is a very effective one.

Another interesting fact looking back is that the bike sheds had roofs so that the hundreds of  students that biked to school, even on a rainy day, would at least start off with a dry seat. But by comparison, in many communities, the first hint of a shower brings out a flotilla of SUVs to take their precious cargo, damaged if wet, to school.  Come to think of it, this happens on dry days too.

Back in the good old days we walked in the rain, that’s why we had rain coats and rain hats and bare feet.  Puddles, we knew with certainty, were made to walk through.  In the winter, such days produced a rush for the heaters, old cast iron radiators that had at two heats, barely discernible and likely to inflict third degree burns.  But clothing dried quickly and the day got under way.

Later, when I was a little more grown up and had a little more responsibility in a school, I used to feel very sorry for the cleaners on such days.  Tackling a large school at the end of a rainy day is quite a task and if rain is forecast for the next day, something of a Sisyphean act of hopelessness.  Even the paths are muddy and somehow or another most of it gets inside the buildings.

But I imagine that teachers look on the bright side and seize the teaching moment describing the wonderful way in which the drought has been broken and the impact of this on the rural community.  The increased level of water storage in the lakes feeding the hydro-electric dams is another blessing as we face winter.  Then there’s… actually I can’t think of another good point other than in desperation to point out many countries have a great shortage of water and we are blessed to have so much!

Subject teachers could capitalise on the rain.  English classes would study the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, music classes will listen to Handel’s Water Music, Art History classes will do any painting they can find with water, science classes will chant evaporation, condensation and precipitation and go spinning around the room on their water cycles!

Oh dear, rainy days do this to you.  But who can complain after such a long and wonderful summer and autumn.


The Bridging the Divides Conference

For more information, please contact the Manukau Insitute of Technology Centre for Studies in Multiple Pathways, Colleen Young:

E:  [email protected]  or P:  09 968 7631.


Talk-ED: We are in the hand-basket but where are we going?


I finally realised that we are going down a regrettable pathway in New Zealand when an initial reaction to the disturbing report of the tragic events at the CTV Centre in the Christchurch earthquake was “Heads must roll!”

We seem to becoming a country in which retribution has become de rigueur.

This country has got through many tragedies in the past – world wars, Mt Erebus, Tangiwai, the Kaimai Aircraft Crash and many more – and the response has been to a major degree,  measured. A quest for the truth was usually the goal of the enquiries that followed. Why did it happen? How did it happen? What do we need to do to see that it doesn’t happen again?

Now these concerns, while there, seem submerged under a revengeful desire to see that someone pays for it in some way to the extent that there is a growing call for the introduction of corporate manslaughter. This trivialises the suffering of those affected. Or is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth – lex talionis – how it is going to be because it certainly was not how we used to be.

Some other countries have a habit of show trials, public humiliation, imprisonment for a host of “crimes” against others and almost without exception those countries are less safe than ours, are characterised by higher levels of violence and have a much lower commitment to the rights of individuals. Do we wish to ape them?

I think some of this has happened in a rather unintended manner. The “sensible sentencing” movement was well-intentioned but has had the regrettable effect of developing and nurturing the “lock ’em up and throw away the key” mentality. What has this resulted in? An incarceration rate second only to the USA among our peer countries. The results of this increased incarceration level is not a lower level of crime  (this has been achieved where it has occurred through pro-active responses from the police) nor a safer community. When the court system is seen as a stopping post on the way to gaol it ceases to loose the power it has to contribute to a safer world.

It has also masked the significant role that mental health, drug dependency, alcohol abuse all play in crime – the solution of a “sensible sentence”, a euphemism a sentence that makes me the bystander feel good, one that will teach the so-and-so a lesson.  Sentences have only rarely taught anyone anything at all. The courts are not village stocks.

And it is in the courts where the other element that is not helping is being played out and that is the seeming development of a cult of the victim. Once victims were dignified and in being so were accorded the support of others and respect for their courage and strength. Now they have become central characters in the soap opera version of justice relayed with little taste and even less tact by the media to a community that appears to have a thirst for such stuff. It trivialises the real nature of crime.

Criminal offences end up in courts not only because they have been visited upon a victim and those around that person but also because they have greatly offended against the standards and requirements of a civilised community. It is not the sole role of the judge to adjudicate in a lex talionis squabble between the perpetrator and the small circle of people hurt by his or her actions – they are there to draw the line in the sands of that civilised community. It is the offence against humanity at large and the community in general that must be served by the judicial process. Yes, victims and their supporters have a role in the process but they are not the only targets of the offence caused.

Of course, if we are to take a civilised approach to all this then it all starts in homes and schools which struggle at a time when declining numbers of people are exposed to the moral standards of a community through such mechanisms as religion, service clubs, sport in the true sense of the word, youth clubs such as boy scouts and girl guides and so on. Homes are greatly varied it seems. We once could look up to the business community but that has been tarnished by those who would steal off the rich so that they might be richer.  Sports was a pretty example but that is now largely the arena of the overpaid hyper-inflated ego.

So schools might now be the first, last, and only place where these communal standards can be promulgated, practised, inculcated and carried out into the community. When I was a school principal discipline cases led me to believe that the only true offence was one which made it impossible to run a school which maintained standards and which had a sense of right and wrong. It wasn’t complex.

All this might be a bit grumpy. But I do watch a lot of people on television and wonder whether these people could have got the country through the tragedies that the generations of our parents, grandparents and great grandparents managed with a courage and a dignity matched only by their suffering.



Talk-ED: A fish rots from the head: The importance of good governance


The recent events within Cricket New Zealand suggest that some organisations don’t even need an opposition to be beaten – they are able to defeat themselves without any assistance. What staggers me is that once again a staggering failure of governance is allowed to pass. Victims are strewn all over the place, reputational damage affects individuals and the organisation and yet the Board sails on, unaccountable and unscathed. Well played, chaps!

On the other hand, governance of sport is consistently of a low standard. Take your pick, swimming, Otago rugby, rugby league are just a selection of sports governance which in recent times have managed to exhibit a wide range of issues at a governance level.

Over in the finance sector, failure of governance is rife.

Some of the issues in Christchurch and the responses to the quakes have been issues of governance rather than any operational ineptitude.

And in the education sector, governance continues to provide a challenge. A report[1] estimated that at any one time there were about 15% of the 2,557 Boards of Trustees in New Zealand that had issues of Board performance. This means that about 385 schools have issues. (You might well ask whether this is a surprise in a country where governance generally is weak – how can the nation’s schools be expected to find nearly 13,000 parents who have the skills and qualities of a Board Member.)

It is my experience as an observer of many schools that the key issue is actually knowing the difference between the duties of governance and the elements of management. Where Boards run into trouble is where they want to start running the school. That is why a recurring issue in school governance is the relationship between the Principal and the Board. These sometimes spill over into rather unpleasant public spats. And communities have a varied pool of experience available for selection to these positions – a selection that is made by the community which also will exhibit a widely variable level of competence to make such selections. It is all pretty hit and miss – not unlike our cricket team.

One of the great issues of school governance, in my view is that low-decile schools in which the issues are complex and not as straightforward as they are in middle and high decile schools and yet it is these very same school communities that have to provide a board that is, until it gets into trouble, largely left to do its best. When that best is not good enough, the state intervenes.

The various levels of intervention – requested by the boards themselves in about half the cases – can result in the board being replaced by a commissioner and this happens, the report tells us, in about 30% of the interventions.

The Boards of Trustees were never intended to be as isolated as they have become. Tomorrow’s Schools (which was the policy statement following the Picot Report on the administration of education) also proposed the existence of education service centres which  would be a relatively local mechanism to create support for Boards of trustees, community education forums that would give communities wider than the single cell of the school a voice and, finally, a parent advocacy council where parents could raise issues and seek solutions. None of that happened and the greatly exposed system of devolved school governance was thrown into the feral environment of competition between schools. There had to be winners and losers in that scenario.

Perhaps it is time to review the whole Board of Trustees set-up. With the notion of clusters and new ways of working making its appearance in the Christchurch re-organisation the way might be clear for such a review. The report Shaping Education: Directions for Education Renewal in Greater Christchurch (MOE / TEC / NZ Government 2012) has in it some exciting ideas for new ways of working – sharing resources, working to different times, new structures, mixing age groups, collaboration, school operating across different sites, shared facilities, new facilities, and so on. The ideas are flowing down there. One comment in talking about new structures talks of combining a “…. junior high school / senior high school focus, academic and trades specialisation all under one governing body…”

It’s tough in Christchurch at the moment but they will be creating a great legacy for New Zealand if they get the ball rolling on genuine structural reform of education. And none of those reforms is more urgent than looking at the governance of schools.

It is the role of boards generally to increase the value of the company for the shareholders. Therefore it is the role of the Board of Trustees of a school to increase the value in terms of the educational outcomes to the government. How refreshing it is to see that finally the Boards of Trustees are to be held accountable for the educational achievement of the school. The Education Amendment Bill currently before the House is greatly to be supported in this regard. After more than 20 years, school Boards are about to get on to the real work. Now, that will add value!



[1] Wylie, Cathy (2007) School governance in New Zealand – how is it working? New Zealand Council for Educational Research Te Rünanga o Aotearoa mö te Rangahau i te Mätauranga, Wellington


Talk-ED: Expressing ourselves in public


It is an interesting discussion that has arisen on the use of haka in general and Ka mate! Ka mate! In particular.

Valerie Adams was first to throw in the debate expressing in her recent book consternation at the actions of the Olympic Team Leader Dave Currie in unleashing a haka at 2am in the night after her victory causing some disturbance to other athletes. Her view was that it was over the top, well past a reasonable hour of the night and something of a habit that Currie had developed – the planned spontaneous haka.

That led to some interesting comment from a sports writer wondering why the All Blacks persisted with the Te Rauparaha haka rather than using the one specially written for them – Kapa o pango. This then led to a general discussion of the propensity for the haka Ka mate! Ka mate! to be done to death at the drop of a hat in versions that ranged from the moving to the grotesque, in settings that ranged from the appropriate to the absurdly inappropriate, and in styles that ranged from the respectful to the total disgusting sham.

The point was made that many schools grace sporting occasions with a haka that belongs to the school (especially the boy’s school) and that many rugby teams in the regions start and / or finish the big game with one of their haka.

The Ka mate! Ka mate! haka has become de rigueur to the current generation and one wonders why the keenness to “perform” it increases with the hour of the night and the extent of the carousing that has preceded it.  Men in black tie gear have been seen to strip off at a formal event and give all that they have got (and often all that they know). I have seen grown men in formal places and in other countries feel that such a display was something of an obligation. It is not pretty and they should all return home and wonder about the respect they are showing to a cultural event and artefact that defines New Zealand Aotearoa.

It is hard to imagine a comparable insult that could be visited upon the Pakeha.

The challenge to do something about this will only be met by what we do in schools with the oncoming generation. They learn lots of things in school and can certainly learn a haka or three. But the real difficulty is that when we are asked to behave as if we come from one country, a group of people drawn from different places has to have a default position – and the haka emerges.

What can we do to provide to young New Zealanders the means of cultural and country expression that can unite us in a public show of unity in performance?

The Australians have “Waltzing Matilda”, the English a whole sack of old numbers – “Land of Hope and Glory”, “Jerusalem” – the Scots have many a ditty and even more when the uisge (40%) flows. But what do we have?

Perhaps we should agree on ten waiata that all New Zealanders will know and be able to sing with beauty and skill. Then late at night in some foreign place, a group of New Zealanders could come together and appropriately, gracefully and correctly express wonderful sentiments and emotions in song.

Perhaps more attention could be paid to the context in which haka are appropriate, the grace and skill of the haka when performed well (c.f. Sir Apirana Ngata leading the haka in front of the wharenui at Waitangi in 1940), or go to any cultural festival such as the schools’ Polyfest, or Te Matatini.

There has to be more to us as a people than the denigration of culture and “Ten Guitars”!



Pathways-ED: Intervention for good


When I went to primary school we were prodded, inspected, examined and injected to within an inch of our lives. My recollection is that in the primers barely a week went past without us being summoned (and in some cases taken) into a room to strip for some medic who we did not know to perform some examination on us that we did not understand.

Or we were summoned to the “murder house” for another tooth inspection which was usually followed by yet another lecture on nutrition, toothbrush technique or both.

We were injected for TB and I think there were others, injections never brought out my most courageous side. We sipped the Sabin to stave off polio.

I am sure that few of these procedures had informed consent procedures in place although you could never tell, in those days parents acted with great complicity when it came to giving school licence. Indeed on one occasion when I fled school claiming unbelievable stomach pains to avoid one such medical adventure – my brother having informed me that the needle being used was only slightly shorter but no sharper than a broomstick – my mother plonked me unceremoniously on the back of her bicycle and took me back to get my dose which was apparently in my best interests.

My point is this – in those days adults did whatever was necessary to see that young people grew up to be healthy and to be effective learners in school. Presumably this was regardless of the cost and the net was cast wide and finely. It was interventionist. We were healthy young blighters but were caught up in a net designed to miss no-one for whom it was essential.

So why all the fuss about school meals for low decile school students as suggested by David Shearer this week? In Finland, a country we aspire to equal in our education outcomes every student grets a free school lunch from age 7 when they start school to age 16 when they complete the basic schooling.

It cannot be the case that all the students in Finnish schools are actually hungry to the point where wide state intervention (in a very minor and mild way compared to what was done to us in the 1950s) is both necessary and a priority. But I imagine there must be some students who do need that added boost of one good meal a day. So providing such a meal for all students ensures that those who need it badly will not miss out nor will they be stigmatised by any selective process. Yes it might make the policy wonks tremble at the thought that it is poorly targeted but many policies are so get over it and move on, there is a bigger fish to fry here (“fish is on Friday dear” I hear the response).

School meals in the United States and the United Kingdom (where it seems that Jamie Oliver is charged) are a long tradition but are selectively available for the deserving. This generates much discussion.

But why should we do this? For a start regular good food is helpful to sound growth physically and mentally and which country in the world has a better capacity to produce food than New Zealand? A balanced diet is critical so this suggests that the comfort the Prime Minister finds in some children having an apple a day might not be well-grounded. Think back to the school milk days – yes it was luke warm – that provided the daily quantity of a substance known to aid health and promote growth. We just did it until someone who saw dollar bills instead of milk bottles called the whole thing off. The scheme has started again in a small way up North but this time relying on someone other than the government stumping up with the cash.

And that really is the issue that gets in the way of making decisions that are in the interests of young people – who pays when in a time of user-pays those that would benefit most can’t pay and those who can would claim they don’t need it?

It is up to a body like the government to simply decide that it will be done.

Meals in schools? Sounds good to me. Now let’s focus on nourishing the brain!



Talk-ED: A right royal party

Stuart Middleton
5 June 2012


Considering that New Zealand is a constitutional monarchy and that the events of this week are of some historical significance with regard to the monarchy, I wonder what  schools are doing with regard to the celebration of the Diamond Jubilee?

My mind goes back to the ascension of Queen Elizabeth II to the throne 60 years ago. I was in Year 2 at that time and activity was ceaseless. We drew crowns, got given fold-out things about the State Coach (vehicle not football), actually was presented with a medal that commemorated the event, was taken by bus to the picture theatre to see a film of the coronation mere days after the event – it was a big event in schools.

But those were very different times. Paul Holmes refers to our generation as having been brought up in the shadow of the Second World War and I know what he means. It was a much more jingoistic time and although “we” had won the war the cost was high in both human terms and financial terms.

They were also rather simplistic times and I have long thought that this was due to the myriad slogans that were part of the war-time discourse and which stayed around for quite some time. “Freedom is in Peril”, “Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution Will Bring Us Victory”, “Keep Calm and Carry On”, “Careless Talk Costs Lives”, “Dig For Victory” were all known and acted as shorthand for some aspect or other of behaviour during war-time. Even some that seemed not to be about war had their origins during that time – “Coughs and Sneezes spread diseases” for instance.

And the “Empire” or what was left of it by the 1950s was a key organising principle of what we learned. South Africa, Canada, Australia and of course the “home country” itself were all topics that occupied quite a lot of our time – especially drawing the flags! School cadets were still in place in the early 1960s when we were in secondary school.

As a young boy I was on Sundays used to listening to the Listeners’ Request Session which had many nostalgic songs from the war, stirring military marches played by brass band and not the reedy military outfits and, on Sunday evening there was a “Diggers Request Session” that was weekly listening. This was wall-to-wall songs from the war period. And so it went on.

Shining through all this rather solemn stuff was our young Queen who we lined up on streets to see, were taken by bus from school to join all the other school children in Hamilton at some park to have her drive up and down the ranks waving demurely while we did what we were supposed to do.

We also knew what the Poet Laureate had to do – write verse for occasions. I think we even learned the rather forgettable verse that marked the failing health of King George Sixth:

Across the electric wires

The urgent message came

The king is not much better

In fact he’s much the same.

I couldn’t vouch for the authenticity of this but how on earth do I know it?

So here we are 60 years later and the world has changed – not quickly and for much longer than we have acknowledged. Peter Ustinov famously tells of going to school for the first time in England – There was a large oleograph on the wall of a classroom of Jesus Christ holding a boy scout by the hand and, with the other available hand, pointing out to the boy scout the extent of the British Empire on the map. Put it down to my foreign background if you will, but I was pretty sceptical from the start.

The red on the map of the world had long dwindled and then all but disappeared. But some things didn’t change. John Osborne summed it up well in a scene from Look Back in Anger when  Alison Porter’s colonel dad rues the changes to the Empire – “At the time we thought it would go on forever” – to which his daughter replies “You’re hurt because everything’s changed and Jimmy’s hurt because everything’s stayed the same”. This sums up the mood that was to prevail.

Unlike Australia, there is very little talk in New Zealand of replacing the monarchy with a republic. That might be because it isn’t an issue or, if it is, we still remain pretty divided on the issue. There are still sections of the New Zealand community who would regard such talk as treachery! Like changing the flag!

On the other hand we are a constitutional monarchy. The founding agreement for our country is between tangata whenua and the synecdochial crown, an arrangement that means much more than mere symbolism.

I thought that the elevation of the Duke of Edinburgh to the Order of New Zealand was a kindly act towards an old fellow – harmless in its implications and even rather gracious in its thoughtfulness. A bit like giving great grandfather a new set of slippers. The carpers were I think a little ungracious.

In a country where there seems little reason to party other than after a test match, the Diamond Jubilee seems a good excuse for a party for the little ones and I hope schools have felt able to.

And in amongst it all there could be also a little learning. I am a little surprised at the impact of all that we did in those years about all this stuff and how it has stuck. Then again, arriving in Great Britain for the first time many years later and many years ago, I realised that my education had prepared me to live in England rather than New Zealand! Some things change for the better.