Tag Archive for schools

Pathways-ED: Their brilliant career – all I want is a job!

Stuart Middleton
9 February 2011

A number of times lately in discussion with different kinds of people, the question of which word we should choose to describe the post-formal education destination of a students has arisen.

I favour using the simple word “job”. But this I am told is limiting and “career” would be a better choice. Even “employment” seems to be favoured ahead of “job”. But the words we use matter and the words that have impact on students matter. Our thinking is not just formulated by the words we used but actually formed by them. They are very important.

This is not a trivial issue. Currently questions are being raised about the effectiveness of “careers” advice and much thought is being directed at the nature of it, the way it works and when it should be delivered.

Let me nail my piece to the door. I believe that “career” is a concept that comes largely after the event. It is a qualitative judgment about a person’s continuous work over a long period of time. It is often used by people other than the person it is being applied to. “She has had a stellar career” might well be said of a person who could be reluctant to think of herself in these terms.

Children in middle class homes, the homes of the professionals, grow up with a sense of what a “career” is because there are people in the home who have had one, or know of people who have.

A “career” is something of a collective noun for a series of jobs that are connected and cumulatively add up to something.

I don’t want to here discuss careers education other than to say that it seems to me to be a lot like sex education – too little, too late and when it happens, overly obsessed with the mechanics of connection.

We might get much more traction and reach new levels of effectiveness in the advice we give to young people by using the word “job”. Is the point of education the development of a sets of skills, knowledge, dispositions and aspirations that will carry people into a job with enthusiasm and certain in their knowledge that their education will continue even though their schooling might stop?

That is why multiple exit points and pathways are needed. Some students need to make the school / job transition more quickly than others, some need to get onto a pathway along which they clearly see a job waiting for them at an earlier point. Others can sustain a more distant view of a job, perhaps even wrapped up in the concept of a career but not many.

So, let’s start being comfortable with the practice of making clear the link between “schooling” and “jobs” with a view to getting increased numbers into work. Such a commitment will not dent in any way the numbers who are heading for university or who have a view of where they are going. However it will be absolutely central to making inroads into the ranks of the disengaging and those who leave school to drift into the NEET group.

Making explicit the purpose of schooling is an important change we could make if we are to tackle the issues of dropping out and disengagement. We need to agree on and then work to a clear equation:   Schooling + Job = Purpose.  There is plenty of evidence that purpose is the very thing that many successful students have and many unsuccessful students do not. It might also be the difference between an effective teacher and an ineffective one (and this is not a comment on competence).

Perhaps the confusion about schooling that a group of students has is shared by their teachers. This is sad if it is true for such teachers will find it hard to aspire to a “career” in teaching and will instead become increasingly unhappy about the “job”.

The old battle cry of the teaching world in the 1960’s was “Give us the tools and we will do the job!” By and large any increase in resources was used to continue to do the same thing and not surprisingly the results were the same. Now demographic pressures and the realities of the sort of economy we have, demand different results which can only result from working differently.

A good start would be an affirmation that education should lead to a job and that this could happen at a number of points none of which need threaten the pathways that see students reach high levels of qualifications. But we must attack that group who end their encounter with education after eight or ten or 13 years and are either unemployable or ill-prepared to continue in education. It is not a mystery.

An orientation on “jobs” might be the solution.


Talk-ED: "Follow me! I'm right behind you!"

(claimed to have been the call from a World War I General)

Stuart Middleton
7 February 2012

Another Waitangi Day comes and goes and I am not sure whether we are better off because of it. What makes me wonder is whether or not we continue to have the will to be a great country or are content to get into the scrum of a country that is safe and OK. Have our aspirations as a country lowered in order to make the challenges seem less daunting?

Take education. New Zealand has a history of striking out to do what others had not attempted to do. A universal, free and secular education system was introduced ahead of other countries. Incrementally, access to free education was extended upwards.

Dr Beeby, working with a willing Minister, was quite prepared to put a line in the sand that represented a commitment to each and every young person.

We led the world in the focus we brought to reading in our system and high levels of literacy were an expectation, not simply a goal in a strategy. Sylvia Ashton-Warner, arguably New Zealand’s most famous educator took us to places where we simply had to think again about how we taught in diverse settings. Dame Marie Clay and reading recovery was later profoundly influential across the world both English-speaking and in other settings such as Singapore.

None of this happened because people such as these were content to follow. They took a lead and took New Zealand to good places as a result.

I have spent a good deal of time over the past five years thinking about our progress as an education system and have come to a point where I see clear dangers in our continuing to follow the examples of our peer education systems in the United States, Great Britain, Australia and Canada (with the possible exception of Ontario). By and large, this set of countries, along with New Zealand, is headed towards a bad space.

It is not really anyone’s fault in as much as in these countries no-one is responsible for educational failure. We are becoming soft in accepting that it happens. It is not good, but, shucks, that is how it is.

Well, it needn’t be so. If New Zealand could with confidence stride off in some new directions we might be able to once again lead rather than follow.

How we could do this is to look at elements in systems that do better than us and using the underlying principles, consider how we might bring about change.

Example #1. Some systems such as those of Scandanavia, Netherlands and Germany take more students to positive outcomes than we do. To do this they have different institutions at the senior secondary level that offer different and flexible pathways for students. Well we don’t want a whole swag of additional institutions. Taking the principles of differentiation and pathways we could with little disruption adapt our senior secondary system to achieve results at least as good as those other systems.

Example #2. We lose quite a few students along the way and really have little idea of why and perhaps even who they are. Other systems track and monitor students in a variety of ways and by allocating responsibility to different groups – educators in some systems, local government in others and social welfare agencies in a few. The principle is that tracking and monitoring is valuable and should be done by someone. Now that is not hard and a decision on this could be made surely.

We need to be competitive in a real sense – looking at the best practices overseas and  turning them into practices which reflect the way we work in New Zealand, a small education system that spends enough money but is increasingly not getting the results.

So, there is no need to simply replicate stuff from other countries uncritically.

There is a mountain of evidence as to the success or otherwise of “charter schools” (and their other iterations as “free schools” and “academies”). It would be absurd to simply set out to have such institutions in New Zealand without considering the evidence, looking at the principles that underpin them and as appropriate turn those principles into a uniquely New Zealand way of working to the greater advantage of more young people.

Let’s not follow them blindly but be smart and lead once more.

Take the suggestion that we need a web site like Australia has with the www.myschool.edu.au – a site where you can see how good the local school is and how it compares to other schools. Well it is a pretty good site that gives good comprehensive information about each school and it requires an effort to use it for comparisons between schools. Let’s not copy it but look at how it could supplement the web sites that pretty well all New Zealand schools have. And National Standards are not NAPLAN thank goodness.

I think I have mentioned previously a colleague in London who wonders why New Zealand has any educational issues at all. “After all,” he says “you are such a small country you could all get together at the weekend and sort it out!”

Yes, we could. The tragedy is that we don’t.


Pathways-ED: Chatter about the charter!

Stuart Middleton
2 February 2012


I really thought that the whole Charter School thing would simply die away but no, the Government is keen to pursue the idea.

Well let’s get a few things straight. The development of Charter Schools in other countries was intended to produce a new kind of school that could challenge the conventional schools. So what are the key characteristics of a Charter School?

1.    Charter Schools are freed from the direct control of a Department of Education or an education board or a local authority.

In the USA and the UK schools are typically under the tight control of a department of education, a schools district or board. The charter schools were set up to free them from this and to give to each school some autonomy.

Tomorrow’s Schools gave to New Zealand schools exactly the same level of autonomy that Charter Schools have.

2.      Charter Schools have a charter.

So does each and every New Zealand School. Unlike New Zealand schools where the Charter is between the Government and the local community (as represented in the Board of Trustees), the overseas Charter Schools could have such Charters between any number of groups and the Government. But actually there is some evidence that where the Charter is with a community-based group, the Charter School is likely to be more successful so we are already on the right road!

Our integrated schools and independent schools have a similar arrangement where the “Charter” is between the “proprietors” and the Government.

 3.    Charter Schools have the freedom to appoint their own staff.

So do all New Zealand schools. We forget that New Zealand schools have an autonomy that is unparalleled in other English speaking-countries.

 4.    Charter Schools are bulk funded.

So too could New Zealand schools be bulk-funded and indeed that was the intention some time ago but ideology won out in the end and it was withdrawn. It remains the last great freedom that New Zealand schools could have and there will be little accountability in the schooling system until it is achieved. So let’s not think that we need Charter Schools to achieve this.

 5.    Charter Schools have a special focus or special character.

So to can New Zealand schools and indeed some have in their charter the right to focus on a special character. We have not exploited this to any great extent. Charter Schools in the USA especially have a special character that is related to an interest (performing arts etc) or a discipline (STEM is popular) and so on. We could be much more adventurous in this area and the only progress we have made is to see a handful of primary schools have a special focus on technology. Of course the church schools have a special character, so too do the kura kaupapa.

 6.    Charter Schools select their students usually by ballot.

We use this where there is demand but the difference is that Charter Schools have no zone and they compete for students across a wider range of the community. Since it takes a certain kind of parent /caregiver to seek these opportunities for their children (and I have no issue with that) it is a selection of a selection that finally get to go to them.

 7.    Charter Schools attract private money and sponsorship.

This is a peculiarly American thing. Private money flows easily to US schools and colleges – it is simply the American Way. Indeed Bill Gates set out to put right what he saw as one of the key things wrong with the entire world – the American High School. The other thing wrong with the world was, in his view, communicable diseases. He has this week announced that his sole focus would now be on these diseases.

There is no tradition of private funding of state schools in New Zealand and what examples we have are valuable to the schools but relatively minor in nature.

8.    Charter Schools have been set up to be the panacea.

What Bill Gates discovered was that there was no panacea in education. Quality is quality; good is good and better is better.

Like most school systems, Charter Schools are a mixed bag – some work well, some fail and most are indistinguishable in their outcomes from the government system they sought to replace. We do not need an experiment or trial in New Zealand to find out all that is abundantly clear already.

The risk we take with the Charter Schools effort is to be distracted from the facts. All New Zealand schools have the advantages of a Charter School and the challenge to those who would make changes is to see that they are all, without exception, excellent Charter Schools.

And that is the big wake-up call. It is the Government that is the body holding the Charter for each New Zealand school and with that, comes responsibility. We are a small system and well within our grasp to get things right in every school. Then we can hold our heads high and say that New Zealand got the Charter School thing right.


Talk-Ed: Yawn topics we can expect

Stuart Middleton
30 January 2012


So it’s back to school this week and the media are starting to grind out their annual stories that they dust off and make a gesture to updating at this time of the year.

At the top of the list is the question of cost.

This year the initial focus has been on stationery and the direction of parents towards a specific supplier. Of course the schools are clipping the ticket and getting a payment directly as a result.  The company then tries to cover itself in by describing these payments as “grants” to the school under its benevolent and philanthropic scheme which will have a catchy little name of some sort.

When I went to school we got the cheapest books we could find and covered them with wall paper.  Nowadays when they cover exercise books it is with a synthetic material that sticks to the books.  This is excellent occupational therapy for the parents that end up doing it.

Stationery is stationery.  Unless schools can show that they have secured a good deal for parents, a better deal than the parents could get on their own, they should stay out of it.

Then in a few days the story about school uniforms will appear in our papers.  This is now another anachronism in education.  Someone claimed to me the other day that the single achievement of the administrative reform of schools (as in Tomorrow’s Schools) had been to put primary kids into uniform.  I doubt very much whether a school can dress its students more cheaply than any school uniform.  I look in the windows of those uniform shops as I pass and on the basis of such scientific evidence, confirm that this is so.

A funny thing is that when I went to school there was no uniform but when I look at the school photos, invariably the boys are clad in grey and even a surprising number of the girls are wearing gym tunics of the old fashioned kind.  But our school clothes would have been in the category of “tidy” perhaps even “going out” clothes and so got a use that was wider than any school uniform of garish colour, quaint checks, logos and stripes ever would.

So with the wide availability of young persons’ clothing at cheap prices, the days of school uniforms should be numbered.  And the old argument that uniforms make it evident who should be at school and are a deterrent to truancy is well and truly defeated by the facts.

There could be an argument to be made about sunhats.  It is a sensible requirement for which compulsion can be justified.

So, stationery and uniforms will tie the media up this first week.  Then there is a lull while the media gets back into its diet of wall-to-wall coverage of road smashes, its continued support for the cult of the victim (of all kinds) and, since there is still time before summer ends, some competition that sees our morning paper filled with contributions from readers.

But by Week 3 it will be time for the hardy annual – the shock horror story of school fees.  Of course no-one cares what the independents do, they charge what they like and their parents like what they charge since they are too polite to say otherwise.

But parents of children attending state school do ask the question: “If my child goes to a state school in a system that has since 1877 claimed to have a system that is free, compulsory and secular, why do I get a bill for a sum of money to have my child compulsorily attend this free school?  This is a good question and it never gets a convincing answer.

In truth, these fees are charged by schools because they can get away with it. And this education black market distorts funding in an extraordinary way.  High decile schools rake it in while low decile schools do not.  The schools with arguably the greatest need are the ones with the weakest power in this.

It really should be regulated for reasons that are about equity, ethical behaviour and, indeed, the legal framework within which schools operate.  But as sure as there are little green apples, the practice will continue, the complaints will be aired and nothing will be done to address it.

How refreshing it will be if the newspapers prove me to be wrong.


Pathways-ED: Teach First New Zealand or First Teach New Zealand


Stuart Middleton
26 January 2012


Debate goes back and forth about the plans of the Faculty of Education at the University of Auckland to bring to New Zealand a movement that has its origins in the education reform zeal of the United States – Teach First [add Country name]. The results to this point internationally of such programmes are pretty neutral – works in some places, less successful in others.

Like most reforms in schooling the fundamental flaw that it has is that it will simply bring young teachers into the schools to do the same things that schools have always done. If you continue to do the same thing you will get the same results. This is so clearly true that it almost sounds trite when said now.

Recruiting young teachers differently doesn’t address the key issues that must be addressed which might be summarised as follows:

Is the curriculum right for the world in which young people have to survive? Clearly not. That is why so many young people do not succeed and are at risk.

Will socialising young teachers, however clever they might be and however they are recruited, into schools bring about curriculum change? No, it has always been beyond the power of young teachers to do other than fall into line, teach what is required of them and is mandated by departmental plans, curriculum documents and so on. If students are failing in the current programmes they will continue to fail in the programmes delivered by the Teach First novice teachers.

Is a general academic programme taught in the setting of a comprehensive secondary school in the interests of all students? Clearly not. The evidence is overwhelming that disengagement is the result of the narrowing of the curriculum, the general nature of the curriculum, the requirement that students stay in school until an older age and the removal of clear vocational pathways and choices.

The evidence is clear – the most distinct marker between those systems that are successful and those that are not is the extent of the availability of vocation choices for students.

These are fundamental issues. How we recruit and train teachers is not going to advance changes in any of these areas.

So the discussion about Teach First New Zealand is at best irrelevant and at worst a distraction.

As a Head of Department, a Principal and a Director of Secondary Teacher Education, I know full well that a trained teacher is likely to be a better fit than an untrained teacher. There are things to be learned about teaching and learning and teachers need to know this material. It can’t simply be absorbed in some way or another.

But I also know that there are many ways of packaging teacher education and the pressure-cooker / block course approach is as good or as bad as any other approach. In 1981 I wrote with a colleague a programme of teacher education based in a multicultural setting. It had many of the characteristics of the Teach First programme. Of course it was rejected back then when the mainstream teacher education system knew better!

There is an element of naivety in the claims that top Maori and Pacific graduates will be attracted into teaching by a programme that offers a Limited Authority to Teach salary. This is an untested assumption that seems to ignore the realities of the demand for quality Maori and Pacific graduates. It has always been the case that attracting young people to teaching is a combination of things – a sense of the worthwhile, a sense of vocation, empathy for young people, love of the academic discipline and… a fair and reasonable remuneration.

It is also somewhat ingenuous to put the Teach First programme forward as a key contribution to lifting the value of low decile schools. There is little evidence that low decile schools need bright young novice teachers any more than any school does. Is it understood that the “decile rating” system is a description of the students who attend the school, their families and the communities from which they come?

It is hard work being a teacher in a low decile school. High maintenance students, layers of language issues, communities keen to support their little ones but without the wherewithal to do so and less money sloshing around in both the community and the school, all conspire to place demands on teachers. Low decile schools are the creation of the state which created communities of disadvantage through housing policies and until these undergo a transformation (as is being attempted in Tamaki) schools will continue to be in a lonely battle against the negative forces that are the real issue. The responsibility for addressing these issues lies firmly with the state.

Leaking houses, toxic waste sites,  the Christchurch rebuild – there are many examples of the state accepting a responsibility to put things right.

Teach First can never put things right in education. Nor does to be fair teacher education. The changes required are fundamental and significant in their scale.


Pathways-ED: If it's broke, fix it!

Stuart Middleton
24 November 2011


Remember the blog earlier this week when I said:

Here is an idea. Make the primary sector start at Year 1 and end at Year 6. Have a “Junior High School” from Year 7 to Year 10. Then re-position the senior secondary school (Years 11+) as a Senior College within the tertiary sector. This would allow the funding formula for all students from Year 11 on to be synchronised regardless of whether they are in Senior College or a tertiary provider. In fact, the Senior College could well be the tertiary sector.

(These ideas will be expanded in Thursdays EdTalkNZ)

Well, I have changed my mind a little bit. I think I should have also included early childhood education.

So here goes.

Primary School (K1 – Year 6)

This would include two years of pre-school classes located within each primary school especially in areas of high need. K1-K2 would provide a standard early childhood education programme. Then the children would proceed into Year 1 and stay there through until Year 6. This would cover the conventional primary school programme.

Junior College (Year 7 – Year 10)

This combines the current intermediate school with the first two years of what we know now as secondary school, Year 7 – Year10. It is a transitional institution intended to be the level at which students make a gradual transition from the “primary” programme to one closer to the ways in which secondary schools teach; from holistic themed programme to the discipline-based approach of the secondary school. It will be where quality advice, education, guidance and information about careers is de rigueur and academic planning both taught and caught.

Senior College (Year 11 – Year 13)

This is the more radical part of this re-structuring because I would also argue that the Senior College would be removed from the Schooling Sector and placed in the Tertiary Sector. What are the key reasons for this last suggestion?

It is critical that the collaboration between tertiary and secondary be escalated to allow young students the opportunity to study towards career and technical education qualifications through those years. Those headed towards university might similarly benefit fron an earlier opportunity to start on their university studies in the style of the US early college high school.

Youth Guarantee, trades academies, service academies have loosened up the hard barriers between secondary and tertiary, it is now time to finish the job. Having the Senior College included in the tertiary sector would allow for some considerable gains:

The synchronising of funding approaches for both. This would remove the most ticklish issue in collaborative activity between tertiary providers and secondary schools – the development of a funding approach that is easy, equitable and within fiscal constraints. With Senior Colleges having the same accountability measures and levels, the same course development and approval processes and the same quality assurance processes as other tertiary providers, the senior curriculum could over time become a cornucopia of opportunity for young people.

Alongside and embedded into NCEA, Senior Colleges could be at least starting students off onto tertiary qualifications and in some instances actually have them complete industry recognised qualifications and get their NCEA. It can be done, it is being done!

Now, how can all this be accommodated – literally? The Senior Colleges would in many places be alongside a Junior College sharing a site that was previously a secondary school site. The teachers would be predominantly teachers who teach in our secondary schools although in the Senior College there is room for a greater variety of teacher-background and experience being available to students at that level. On shared sites there would be a single administration.

As I said the other day, it can’t be the people who are getting it wrong, it has to be the structure.

Our education system grew as it has largely by accident and the simple addition of new levels and different ways of working without an overall design. The time is right for a deliberate and future looking system, planned, cohesive and above all, characterised by widespread student success.

This is only an idea. What is your idea?

Pathways – ED: Mending leaks or fingers in the dyke

Stuart Middleton
10 November 2011

At last some education features in the newspaper during the election after all but disappearing during the Rugby World Cup (along with pretty well everything else) and the early weeks of the election. And oh dear, it’s about leaky school buildings, this is certainly a major news item. But I was looking for some connection between and analysis about this news of the leaky buildings (well everyone had known about for a long time) and the “new” spending on schools buildings announced earlier.

The general community has huge issues with leaky homes, crowded out of the limelight currently by leaky ships, earthquakes and game shows such as the Rugby World Cup and the Election. The Education Community also has its leaky home problems estimated to cost about $1.2 billion but we know how these dramas unfold exponentially.

At the same time the great number of schools built in the 1950’s largely of untreated timber (they weren’t expected to have to last very long – just to get us through this baby bump after the War) are now surely at the end of their lives and rebuilding those schools will be a bigger challenge than the leaky ones.

So the inescapable conclusion is that capital expenditure on education will be a major ticket item for any government for a long time to come.

And I haven’t even mentioned tertiary education.

There is an incessant call, and rightly so, for young people to get postsecondary education. Schools are working hard and getting better at bringing students through to the gates to those postsecondary qualifications. But the increased numbers of students have to be accommodated. When the UK announced proudly that it would set a target of 40% of the population gaining a degree, a study showed that in the first instance the country could not afford to house such an increase in the postsecondary numbers nor would they be able to source sufficirent numbers of adequate teaching staff to teach them.

But perhaps there is an easier solution. Most early childhood centres, schools and tertiary institutions are owned by the crown and even though the respectives business models and regulatory relationships with the crown are different, perhaps it is time for some thinking to wrap around the extent to which demand for space could be solved by using vacant space within existing institutions. Rationalisation of schools, primary and secondary, might lead to a considerable amount of space becoming available for both early childhood education and perhaps even for postsecondary education. I know of one polytechnic that is making effective use of a disused primary school. With far less expenditure than might be needed for a new facility, adequate teaching facilities can be created in this way.

Why cannot early childhood programmes be offered out of empty classrooms in priory schools? Age is not a factor – children tend to live with people relatively close to their own age. What is significant about the fifth birthday that requires huge separation of the two groups?

Perhaps underutilised secondary space could be used for tertiary instruction or even a university class. Waikato University started life in a high school.

Let’s find some of that inventive thinking that got New Zealand through previous depressions and wars.

Of course, I can hear you reaching for your pens, keyboards and finger tips (this for the iPad users). There might be a fallacy in all this. The pressure of numbers is perhaps not in the same places as the pressure for space. In a clearly divided community such as we have, half the population lives together and has a low fertility rate while the other half lives together and have a high fertility rate. Education facilities under pressure for space are usually therefore cluster. That is where transport comes in.

The old principle that there are certain distances children can be expected to travel to schools is made a mockery of in communities where phalanxes of military style vehicles deliver children to the gate each morning and wait to ensure that the little ones have the strength to reach the building while in other communities children habitually walk!  One rule cannot be fair to all and perhaps in some communities, schools need to be closer to each other than in other communities.

The old notion of what a school is and where a school should be needs looking at. It is time to consider education centres that meet the needs of all three sectors, that utilise plant to the maximum, that see a flow of people entering for different purposes at different times. It shouldn’t be beyond our wit to devise ways of doing this without compromising safety and without meeting the specialised nature of the educational intervention that a student’s age and progress demands.

The structure of sectors needs rethinking. Does it make sense to build a senior secondary school that is not integrated with tertiary programmes? There is some exciting action planned in this area.

Perhaps it’s time to ask whether every leaky school building needs to be repaired, whether the number of schools we have should be retained, whether the sectors should be made to collaborate to bring about effective use of education buildings. Perhaps it time to ask if we should be structuring education differently. Perhaps it is time…

End note

You all know what muscle memory is – the fact that muscles can learn repetitive action and move ahead of the brain to undertake them. Each time I write “leaky” on the keyboard my fingers desperately seek out the keys for “education pipeline”. Perhaps it is also time…


Pathway-ED: Focusing on achievement

Stuart Middleton
5 October 2011

Teachers in schools are trained, registered and paid to attend to student achievement. Principals, middle managers and anyone with responsibility in a school is expected to know a little more about student achievement than those without it. School Boards have a responsibility to oversee student achievement in the school. In addition to this there is a plethora of assistance available to schools by professional development, tertiary education  specialists, private consultants and suchlike – that can provide further assistance and add to this focus on student achievement in schools.

And yet we learn that 30 “Student Achievement Practitioners”  have been appointed at  salaries in excess of $100,000 to provide advice assurance to schools.

The question has to be asked – why is this necessary when we have Principals, middle managers and trained and qualified teachers all of whom can be expected to have specialist knowledge in and of – guess what? – student achievement?

Well the answer to that is clear. We have a problem with student achievement in this country. Students are not achieving to satisfactory levels in sufficient numbers. Why?

Lets discard the popular opinion loved by those who call talkback radio that teachers are incompetent. There is not a shred of evidence that this is true. The same systems of teacher preparation, professional development, leadership and delivery that produce this worrying level of student failure also produces the best students in the world.

Lets also put to one side any suggestion that principals do not know what they are doing. There are issues of balancing the demands of being an administrative, professional and instructional leader and it is likely that there will be some struggle to be effective in all three to the same degree. But there are many opportunities for principals to get support should they need it. There are even I believe a group of “Senior Advisors” available to schools to support the principal and board.

I am left concluding that the issue with student achievement in New Zealand boils down to one thing – too many schools and too many teachers encouraged by too many principals are simply doing the wrong thing. They are working with diligence, flair and competence  but they are not hitting the target.

If ever the statement “less is more” had meaning it is surely when it is applied to schooling.  The demands made on schools is simply to do too much about too many things. There once was an expectation that schools had done their job when a relatively restricted range of objectives had been met.  Prime among these were at primary school the foundation skills of reading and writing and mathematics now perhaps usefully called literacy and numeracy. Where schools fail to bring students up to good and agreed standards in these areas they have failed regardless of whatever else they do.

Developing in students a sense of their history and their culture is also useful. Above all, exciting young people about learning and also doing these things – literacy, numeracy and a sense of who they are – is the hallmark of a good school where the talents and training of teachers is being directed towards positive outcome.

At the secondary school the single most important purpose is to build on these basic skills and prepare them for whatever is to follow – university, trades, employment, citizenship and so on. Sports and other activity such as school balls are nice to have, but never have in themselves a sufficient goal of schooling.

At a UC Berkeley football match I went to a couple of years ago they had a parade of the university’s sports teams. Mid-parade the stadium announcer solemnly advised the 80,000 people present that “no sports person is parading tonight who has not maintained an academic grade point average of 3.5.” In other words, make no mistake about it, learning comes first.

How do we reconcile the brilliant annual Polyfest in Auckland each year with its outstanding display of Maori and Pasifika performance with the grim statistics of Maori and Pasifika educational attainment in those very same schools?

If ever there was need for a group with the grunt of a Royal Commission or a Review it is now. We have to get back to making effective use of the skills of our teachers before we are overwhelmed by the issues of achievement. We need to reinvent the primary school and the secondary school and give fresh primacy to learning in every classroom.

Without fundamental and widespread change, Student Achievement Practitioners will be just one more attempt.

Imagine the concept being translated into the health sector. Patient Healing Practitioners would be a notion that would struggle to get traction.

Having said all of the above I was greatly unimpressed by the attack on the SAPs by the leaders of the primary principals organisation who went for a blatant ad hominen attack.  He was mighty lucky that no journalist thought to ask “Why do we need SAPS in schools?”

Talk-ED: What are we fighting for?

Stuart Middleton
11  April 2011

There has been a lot of media swill lately in New Zealand about bullying at school. Now, I must immediately reveal that I think I was bullied at school. It happened like this. A lunch time tussle got a little out of hand and Jacob, one of my best mates, and I ended up in a situation that of it was a game of rugby would have been called “willing”.

The next day Jacob informed me that I had “broken his arm”, an allegation that I was too ignorant, simple and scared to challenge. He went on to inform me that “his father would be coming around” (I understood clearly just where he would be coming around to) and that I would subsequently be sent to jail. I accepted this at face value and plunged into deep despair.

I lived in grim anticipation of the visit of Jacob’s father and was now clearly in a situation of psychological bullying. About a week later I arrived home from school and Mum had visitors in the front room. I went in and as expected took part in polite conversation until I saw, out the window, Jacob’s father cycling along our street. I fell to the floor as if being attacked by an Al Qaeda squad only to turn and sheepishly look up at my Mum and her friends. “What are you doing dear?” Mum said. I beat a hasty retreat out of there.

Now that was bullying!

But the events we see in the media these days are not bullying, they are criminal assault, they are doing grievous bodily harm, they are the robbery, humiliation and degradation of others. That they are captured on mobile phones does not diminish the criminality of the actions of these thugs in school uniforms. That they are happening in schools does not make them mere bullying rather than criminal acts.

So it was somewhat astonishing to open a newspaper to read a shock horror story that a relatively small number of primary school students have been suspended or expelled from school because of behaviors’ that cannot be contained within the context of a school. Make no bones about it – these are the new thugs. These intolerable young ones are to our times what the mod, rockers, bodgies and thugs were to the sixties.

If people don’t like it they should do something about it.

And that means a national trans-Tasman effort to produces a less violent environment in our communities. This means new responsibilities for sportspeople, new commitment to zero tolerance for violence in schools, renewed effort to moderate the behavior of people in bars, on the streets and in the homes. In other words, a community that will not accept behavior that simply cannot be tolerated in a school – that must be the standard.

If our schools are supported by the community in this way, then the benefits are there for everyone. Bullying in schools, violent behavior by school-aged students outside the schools and other unacceptable behaviours are a matter for all the community not just schools.

On the other hand, the statement of a New Zealand principal after two girls from his school had allegedly beaten up an old man in a shopping precinct that the worrying aspect of the matter was not only that they were of school age and in uniform but that they were girls was not very helpful.

Was the implication of his statement a suggestion that had they been boys it might have been understandable or perhaps even acceptable?

Sadly, given prevailing attitudes of the community, it might well have been.



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Think-Ed: A system shaken

Stuart Middleton
28 February 2011

This morning, seventy-six thousand learners will not go to kindy or school. No, it is not another statistic about disengagement but one that is a result of the Christchurch earthquake of last Tuesday which inflicted major damage to about 34 schools. Add to that the thousands of university students and students in other education providers and the figures are huge. This probably also affects more than 5,000 workers in education – teachers, support staff, administrators across a wide range of activities.

Another one thousand words on this grim subject is unlikely to ease the hurt and the suffering and the loss but there has been little said about the schools, the teachers and support staff, and the students who all rather remarkably appear to have avoided serious injury and death despite the physical battering that was visited on their buildings.

The fate of the students in the language school in the CTV building seems sealed and it is likely that staff associated with them are also victims. But the absence of deaths or serious injuries among the schools that have been damaged points to some pretty smart work on emergency procedures, on safe behaviours during such an event by a group of teachers and other staff that have got it all right. The whole of education salutes this.

The Ministry of Education has it seems been responding well and their response to the emergency is a huge exercise in logistics. Re-housing the students from schools that might not open soon is a huge undertaking. I know that at least one school had not re-opened after the first earthquake last September.

Could we take a lesson from the evacuation of children from London during the war. Could senior students be “adopted” by schools in the north or well outside the danger zone for a couple of weeks? They might be matched up with a student at the host school and be billeted with them. I think this might work but only with the older senior students. The little ones need to be near their carers.

The schools will get back to a different normal one day. I have seen schools damaged to the point of complete disappearance in cyclones through the Pacific and have always been amazed at the speed of recovery. I recall one in Samoa that opened for business on a Monday despite having been literally taken, both buildings and land, from the face of the earth by the cyclone on the previous Friday. The classes were distributed around the houses and fale in the village and while without resources that teachers worked to bring a pattern of school into the lives of their little ones.

It seems that the many schools affected in the Queensland floods are now back in business but that was again a disaster of a different order. Buildings were damaged but not generally destroyed. When the water went away life returned quite quickly to a normal pattern in the schools I am told.

But the earthquake is quite a bit more comprehensive in its impact and the damage is widespread. The roads to get to school are difficult and in places impassable. Many homes of teachers, staff and students have been damaged and undoubtedly many destroyed. There have been many deaths and teachers and students will be unable to avoid an impact on their lives through the loss of a family member or a friend or someone they knew. Normal will be very sad.

The response of the university students in Christchurch has been remarkable. Getting into the physical work or clearing streets and properties and generally being busy, normal people around those who are having to cope is probably the best response possible. That it was organised by the students themselves and that word of it was spread virally is something of a good news story in amongst the unrelieved grim and upsetting accounts that have prevailed. Many of these students will have been affected by damage to homes, injurious and even death among wider families and acquaintances but their response has been practical, good humoured and, if the television pictures give a true account, they have set about the task with a smile. It must have helped hugely.

How could we help our colleagues in education in Christchurch?

Money is probably the best help because it can be converted into whatever seems best help by those close to the damage and those who have the best idea of the needs at this particular time. Perhaps all education institutions outside of Christchurch could donate 0.5% of their operating budget into a trust fund that can be used to supplement the assistance the Ministry of Education will provide. It might even be achieved by a voluntarily imposed levy – is this not a response that the Boards Association, principals’ and teachers’ organisations could get together and promote?

But then you might have to pause and think about the fire at the Glendowie Primary School that recently inflicted huge loss on that school. Disaster comes in both small and large sizes but from a student’s perspective the scale doesn’t apply. The Christchurch Earthquake does seem to call for a response from the education community that goes well beyond our normal expectation that officials will put it right.