Skip to content

Tag: sport

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


Leave a Comment

Talk-ED: Time to blow the whistle on the sideshow!

Stuart Middleton
5 March 2012

Nero will around soon to hand out the violins.

Once again as the rugby season approaches the secondary school system is made to look silly by the annual argument about eligibility to play school sport for this school or that school. The issue is this: some secondary school principals cannot trust each other. They believe that their colleagues (but without exception never themselves) will stoop to illegal means to gain advantage by poaching athletes with skill from other schools.

It really is the poacher up against the gamekeeper and the poacher turned gamekeeper all rolled into one.

They wish to have a stand-down period which will expunge any naughty thoughts from the minds of young people who want to play sport for their new school and serve to teach the new Principal a jolly good lesson.

Set to music by Gilbert and Sullivan it would be a hit – intrigue, pomposity, victims, heroes and some damned fine choruses.

I felt some sympathy for the young lad who, having shifted school (as is his right), is now not allowed to play for six weeks (which is a breech of his rights). He wonders why a drunken All Black responsible for a certain amount of mayhem gets four weeks and he gets six weeks for doing nothing. He might well wonder why a cricketer who has repeated  misdemeanours gets one week and he gets 6!

A cricket coach tells me of being accosted by a Principal from the school they were playing against who declaimed that a certain young man should not be playing. He left with the assertion that “You are in trouble!” – later he was proved to be wrong.

I cannot understand for one minute why Principals who expect all their students to play by the rules seem unable to expect that they and their colleagues will as well.

If a young boy or a young girl sees opportunities at another school and is able to make the change, who should stand in their way? Such changes do not always pay off and there are quite a few instances of young men and women who don’t make the grade. Of course the school to which they are going must be able to show that they have behaved ethically and professionally. Principals have, since principal groups first existed, exercised too much of their time at meetings coming to an agreement about how “school transfers” are to be managed. (If FIFA can get it right, a group of principals working at a school level ought to be able to.)

Having agreed they should simply let themselves and their colleagues be guided by those rules. Schools derive leadership from both Principals and Principles and when there are Principals with Principles the results can be magic.

All principals know how tedious it is to have to sort out a “she said/he said”,  “no I didn’t / yes you did” sort of argument between Year 10 students. Well, that is the same tedium that the public sees in the arguments school leaders have about school sport and eligibility.

Those who set school sport on the greasy slippery slope of inducements for playing school sport for schools might have stopped and given it a little more thought at the time. Come to think of it, that is exactly the advice they often give to silly students who end up in their office after some incident or another.

And there are surely real issues in education that need their attention.


1 Comment

A public spectacle

Stuart Middleton
New Zealand Education Review
Vol. 14 No.33, 28 August 2009, p.16
APN Educational Media (NZ) Ltd.

There used to be a joke that went like this – “I went to watch a fight but unfortunately a game of rugby broke out!”

I don’t wish to add to the load of comment on that shoddy incident in a certain schoolboy rugby match on a recent Saturday. It was one of many shoddy incidents in sport and that includes school sport. Schools would have been best to sort this one out as indeed happens many times each rugby season in many schools.

“Boy, you can’t do that – I care about winning but I care more about how you win. I don’t like to lose but I care about how you lose.” This would be the line adopted by sensible Everyman-Principals,

But this captured the imagination of the public with a ferocity that was spectacular.

I believe that this was because the nation was thirsting for drama and guidance at a time when the national psyche was being both tested and confused by the smacking referendum. The moral certainty that it was wrong to hit children was being turned around when despite the scriptures those of the religious right would claim to understand and to love. People who would ordinarily be sensible would adopt the position of stating the “I wouldn’t hit a child bit I defend your right to do so to the death” (usually of the child.

In days of old, thinking folk would drift toward the village square to see a band of players present a morality play on the back of a wagon. A morality play was in medieval times called an interlude and what better description is there of going along to sport?

Typically these plays had a moral theme and they were an allegory which illustrated some aspect of life and its tribulations. The protagonist would be a good person who was facing the challenge of life’s confusions. The characters would include those who represented and personified various moral attributes. They would try to persuade him to follow a godly life rather than choose the path of evil.

So on a Saturday afternoon a Protagonist-Crowd assembled to join the the players, to set about their allegorical spectacle.  The two Personification-Teams paraded the temptations of reputation and riches up against the realities of struggle. The crowd troubled by deep questions about violence towards children saw the forces of privilege and power prevail but then the truth of life was still to be graphically played out.

When rules are no longer strong enough, when the gods are the side of the powerful the only recourse is violence. Spirit and values give way to force, order and respect are to be fought over, brutally and braggedly. In life as in sport,  the reality and truth of the scoreboard is not to be denied and as the last final blow of the Grim Referee approaches, desperation set in.

What followed this worrying first part of the play was an even more worrying commentary delivered ex cathedra by the priests of the Church of Sport. Feigned disgust by Sports Talkback Hosts cunningly masked the message of the scriptures that had taught for so long. Win at all cost – if only those namby pamby school teachers had not instilled the will to play fair and to play hard, New Zealand would still be a force in world rugby. Worse, the ultimate sin was to indulge in sport for pleasure!

The tales of St Loe, St Shelford, St Mead and a plethora of lesser saints were the parables of the Coaches had held the community together and belief in our might was unchallengeable.

As the play continued, in rode the Discipline Demons on the white horses of the powerful to pass down the law. Two people fight – the vanquished must be punished for they have no battles left to fight – the victors must be allowed to fight in other and not-far-away battles.

Protagonist-Crowd was perplexed. While there once seemed better ways of resolving tensions and even sensible ways of punishing those who had strayed, the world now seemed to be dispossessed of logic.  These young warriors needed guidance and the loving hand of guidance. The Protagonist-Crowd faced other issues and they were confused.

Sitting in their thousands of huts, huddled in front of fires they grappled with the issues of violence, of power, of the need to bring young people on rather than slap them down – to extend the hand of a loving deity when most they were troubled.

Was the spectacle of the fight at the end of the game an illustration of this love? Did the kindness of good rugby playing require this show of force? Should such loving behavior between the members of the fraternity of the young illustrate the extent to which Protagonist-Crowd was being asked to consider the use of violence against children.

Wait, they thought, we are told that it isn’t violence when it is part of good parenting even thought the law forbids it. But at what point does “loving” cease to be loving and “smack” starts to be “hit”? Probably at about the same point at which “playing to win with glory” becomes “playing to win at all costs”.

Does good rugby playing require an element of violence? Some who phone sports talk-back lament the loss of “mongrel”. Well mongrel is simply confused breeding and that gets s back to the heart of the issue.

Protagonist-Crowd having witnessed the Morality Play decided in its wisdom that the road to godliness was not cleanliness but good dirty stuff. In both the rugby game and the referendum the issue was never the young ones, it was always the grown-ups.

Leave a Comment

This sporting life

Stuart Middleton
New Zealand Education Review
Vol. 14 No.12, 3 April 2009, p.16
APN Educational Media (NZ) Ltd.

I love sport. I will watch it on the TV more than I should especially when the mighty Warriors are playing. How blessed we are to have so much sport on TV!

But it is a poor substitute of playing sport. Thank goodness our schools and educational institutions are still interested in sport.

Back at Frankton Primary School we would look forward each week to school sport. Off we would go to Boyes Park in Hamilton to do battle with Whitiora and Hamilton East. And as summer turned to winter we gave up cricket for rugby. The good thing was that we never had our unique skills coached out of us largely because we were never coached. Teams were assembled in those days rather than picked. Taking part was at least as important as playing well. Positions in teams were assigned and not a reflection of skill. I played lock in one of the Frankton Primary rugby teams if you can believe it!

I think the attraction of playing lock was that you got to wear the head gear –a smelly harness of leather and tatty cloth that must have been a sight to see but I tell you, just strapping it under your chin was empowering as they would say now.

In cricket I was even more hopeless except for one day when I perfected a single-finger-across-the-seam spin and got a couple of wickets. I went home to await my call-up to the New Zealand team which had just been bowled all out for 26 by England. The call never came and I went to school the next day.

I wished I hadn’t because half-way through the morning a teacher poked his face around the classroom door and said “I hear you have a pretty mean single finger spin, Middleton.” My face was redder than a Kookaburra.

At intermediate I was able to get into soccer at long last – my older brother had played for some time. I loved it and it was no surprise that when I went to high school that was my sport. Arthur Leong was the coach – he was selected for New Zealand and was an inspiration. He got us into club soccer – Hamilton Tech Old Boys – winner of the Chatham Cup in 1962 (the greatest day in New Zealand sport!!!). I was not in the team.

At secondary school I played tennis as well and I don’t think I was very good because the only thing I remember about it was walking across the Hamilton Railway Bridge on the way to Saturday morning tennis to meet a mate in the team to be told that John F. Kennedy jr. had been shot! I lost that day!

So on to university and those famous tournaments. From what I remember, and that is not a lot to be honest, I lost comprehensively in every game. In fact, in one game the opposition, having studied my form, asked if it was all right if he played with his track suit on!

Gradually one gives up sport although I should mention my career as an archer. My son had taken up field archery and was pretty good. So rather than spend all day in isolated forests I became a barebow archer. Lots of fun. It is with great humility that I admit to being runner-up for the 1993 Pacific Field Archery Barebow Mens title. OK, there were only two of us in that division and the points were 1320 first and 567 second. But that didn’t diminish the thrill of the silver jingling around the neck.

So it was on the basis of those recollections that I applauded the commitment of Minister of Sport Murray McCully to the promotion of sport in primary schools. That is where it begins. Schools are central to sport in New Zealand and any government that recognises this is on to a winner – literally.

If we are serious about sporting success then we have to be serious about the success of sport in schools. Getting kids involved is more important than worrying about the preciousness of quality coaching until about the age of 12. Then it should start to get serious for those who exhibit superior skill and potential. And any funding regime that ignores the pool of talent in the Counties Manukau region simply doesn’t know that if you want to buy good fish you go to a fish shop!

Secondary schools are critical and SPARC would be better to focus on this amazing pool of talent if it is really serious about elite performance. But regions such as Counties Manukau suffer from underfunding because of the emphasis on programmes. Thank goodness for trusts such as John Walker’s Find Your Field of Dreams in Manukau City. This trust recognizes that mass participation is the base on which elite sporting performance is based and sets out to do something about it.

I think that the days of provincial competition in various sports are finished and that a better format needs to be found. I have no hesitation in promoting the notion of “college sport”. There is much to commend a national sporting competition in different codes (rugby, soccer, netball, hockey, volleyball, basketball and perhaps others) that pits tertiary institutions (the universities and the larger polytechnics) against each other.

In such a competition young people of sporting talent would produce games of high interest and we would be secure in the knowledge that these young people were working towards real qualifications in real areas of achievement. The myth of USA sporting scholarships is just that and so is the mistaken view that USA college sportspeople both get huge payments and are excused academic work.

This is the future of New Zealand sport – linking it more closely to the education system. It is a sound investment getting general commitment to sport in primary school. Building on the specialist skills at secondary school and then giving sport real expression by a national competition that would well and truly capture the imagination of the nation.

Leave a Comment