Skip to content

Tag: success

NCEA is not at fault – but how we measure success is

In its editorial (20 May 2016), the NZ Herald was concerned about NCEA because “nearly half” of teachers surveyed were concerned.

The editorial provides a neat summary of what NCEA set out to do and notes that the moderation of the assessments has “worked well.” Then it notes that schools and parents get concerned when the “league tables” are published. Well, who publishes those tables?

NCEA is the most liberating innovation in New Zealand education for decades, and certainly since World War II. At long last, students are able to get credit for what they know and can do, rather than be punished for what they cannot do.

A parent that cares can see progress and, if the time is taken, can understand the skills that their young person has. The student knows what they have done successfully and what they need to do to build on that success. An employer has the potential to get more information about school success than ever before.

But most employers aren’t looking for whether a student can pass a test. They are looking beyond NCEA, for further qualifications that indicate the skills required to be work-ready and to understand the basics of the profession. And this is where NCEA has proved a winner.

Historically, our education system has been weak in helping students transition from secondary to post-secondary education and training, beyond the traditional high school to university track.

With NCEA being a portable qualification – where students are able to generate credit for knowledge and skills demonstrated in different places – education takes on a whole new meaning. It means these students, who never saw the purpose in what they were doing especially, now see the point of education and how it can be practically applied to their lives.

Since 2010, the Youth Guarantee scheme has seen the development of a variety of new approaches.

The Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) Tertiary High School catches students judged by their schools at Year 10 to be in danger of disengaging (or as the US calls it, “dropping out”). Four years later, we see a very different story. Our students are gaining high levels of NCEA and simultaneously completing vocational and technical qualifications that are industry recognised.  For those that like the league tables: NCEA results as reported by NZQA are for 2014: Level 1, 100%; Level 2, 91.4%; and Level 3, 83.3%. In 2015 the pattern was repeated: Level 1, 80%; Level 2, 87%; Level 3, 100%.

The innovation of Trades Academies into schools is more conservative but equally as successful. Students go to a tertiary provider (a small number of schools do provide their own Trades Academies supported by tertiary providers) – for example, MIT provides Year 12 students training opportunities across 10 vocational and technical areas. Each student on average gains 18 NCEA credits that they are able to add to the credits they have gained at school.

But the gains go beyond this credit transfer, they develop a purpose for learning and they improve across all of their schooling as a result. They develop a line of sight to the world of work. And they also develop an understanding that education and training matters. A significant number of students involved in Trades Academies return to school to complete Year 13.

None of this would have been possible without NCEA. It allows for flexibility, it allows for closer connection between students and the purposes for pursuing an education. It is in essence an educational currency that accumulates to a point where they have the entry price to a great future. It allows for students to develop an understanding of how their learning can be applied to the real world.

It’s not NCEA that is at fault in creating too much work for teachers. It is the simple fact that our education system for the past 70 years has greatly over-assessed students. Even the old examination system was characterised by too much assessment. It’s what teachers do! We need to change how we measure success – do we value test results, or do we value real-world learning that leads to life-long skills in the workforce?



Te Ara Whakamana is New Zealand’s largest forum dedicated to education and employment pathways and transitions.  Now in its sixth year, this event brings together educators from both secondary and tertiary sectors, industry representatives, policymakers, and researchers to share good ideas and practices, and to be challenged by different perspectives.

Wellington, 28-29 June 2016

Go to: 

1 Comment

Giving credit where credit is due

One of the key findings of the Pathways and Transition suite of programmes at Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) is that students who otherwise might find school hard reveal considerable talent and ability to learn when an early experience of applied learning triggers some inactive, inert ability that has not been released. The experience at MIT in 2015 suggests that given the different right stimulus, different learners will respond.

In sum, the total credits gained in the 18 classes across 10 different technical disciplines averaged out at 18 credits per student from a course that was the equivalent of one day in school. Two things stand out.

First, Māori gained on average 17 credits per student, Pasifika 16 credits per student and “other”, 20 credits per student. So success seems to be not displaying the same levels of discrepant outcomes that we are working to improve, it is more equitable.

Secondly, literacy and numeracy taught in the context of these 10 is such that progress seems not to be the hurdle that schools would have us believe. This is also the experience of students at the MIT Tertiary High School. The programmes that are done have literacy and numeracy embedded in them – you learn the skills of literacy and numeracy in a context where they can be applied.

It was therefore disappointing to hear the radio interview with the Principal of a large school claiming that NCEA Literacy and Numeracy was not working. He called for a return to having dedicated literacy and numeracy teachers – that would, he claimed, get the system back on track.

This would of course be taking the teaching of literacy and numeracy back to the 1950s where the notion of teaching in a context of use had never occurred to any one. This also characterized schooling in the 1960s but it received a jolt in the 1975s with the publication of James Britton’s A Language for Life. It was from this that the notion of “language across the curriculum” gained ground. The argument was simple – every teacher uses languages therefore every teacher is a teacher of a language.

Reading in Secondary Schools was a real focus of the late 1970s and into the 1980s. This was a good thing – you learn to read by reading and you also learn to write by reading – schools dabbled with reading sessions for all in one way or another.

The University of Waikato back then and on into the 1980s did pioneering research in Science that showed that students succeeded in science largely to the extent that they could master the language of science.

The evidence at the Tertiary High School, and in Trades Academies suggests that only in a few instances is specialist intervention in language/English and numeracy/mathematics needed. Of course, as happens in education, as soon as something is described as if it is a specialist task, an aura grows around it and the job is handed over to the experts. In the Tertiary Sector all lower level courses have literacy and numeracy embedded in them and the tutors are required to be trained to do so.

Embedded literacy and numeracy trumps literacy and numeracy for no obvious reason every time.

The education system has put on Edward de Bono’s seven hats ad nauseum but it doesn’t show. That is what is coming to the surface in secondary/tertiary programmes and not only in New Zealand. Early access to applied learning (e.g. trades, STEM, etc) develops cognitive skills in learners who have not until then been excited by learning. In other words, they become academic. A group of students who enter the MIT Tertiary High School because they are making worrying progress at school in Year 10 discover through the NCEA / Technical integrated programme that they can learn, and that they want to learn, and they carry on to get NCEA Level 3 and University Entrance. That is a small group but the rest of the cohorts achieve Levels 1 and 2 with some ease (and a lot of sound teaching!).

The NCEA results (as reported by NZQA) underline this. The 2014 results were NCEA Level 1  100%, Level 2, 94.4%, and Level 3, 83.3%. The 2015 results are similar – L1 – 80%, L2- 87.9%, L3 – 100%. (Remember that the L3 groups are small). Most schools would feel pretty good with results like this!

But wait, there’s more folks!

In addition to NCEA achievement the THS students also get a range of technical qualifications at various levels simultaneously.

Now this is not a competition between secondary/tertiary programmes and schools. It is simply evidence that multiple pathways that see education/school delivered in different ways, will get different results. We simply have to develop a level of comfort about those pathways and celebrate that it offers to many students better levels of success than they would face in the conventional school setting.

Programmes such as the THS and Trades Academies are making a contribution to the outcomes for many and NCEA is a wonderful vehicle that allows students to bring their achievements together.

Did I mention that MIT through its STAR courses programme allowed students to gain 40,914 credits (that is an average of 12 per student)? It couldn’t happen without NCEA.




Te Ara Whakamana is New Zealand’s largest forum dedicated to education and employment pathways and transitions.  Now in its sixth year, this event brings together educators from both secondary and tertiary sectors, industry representatives, policymakers, and researchers to share good ideas and practices, and to be challenged by different perspectives.

Go to: 

Leave a Comment

To be young is heaven

Don’t you get sick of the focus on the All Blacks as New Zealand’s seemingly only group of blokes who fly the New Zealand flag overseas? It defies the facts to think that they claim the headlines of the world outside of some of the remnants of the British Empire and even there they come somewhat down the list.

Australia lauds Rugby League, Australian Rules, Cricket and Tennis ahead of Rugby. Canada is crazy about Baseball, Ice Hockey and Basketball with Rugby somewhere behind. Britain is warmer about Rugby but only a country mile behind football while South Africa…… yes, well South Africa. They love Rugby and are pretty good at it!

This week we will be obsessed about the All Blacks playing the United States in Chicago. The field will be sold out no doubt due to the sponsorship of AIG who coincidentally are sponsors of the All Blacks. Conveniently forgotten will be the fact that the US is the only country to have won a gold medal at the Olympics for Rugby!

Meanwhile, who is really bringing the name and flag of New Zealand to the world stage? Not the All Blacks but a remarkable bunch of young New Zealanders who are succeeding in a range of sports that are genuinely world sports.

Lydia Ko amazes the golfing crowds at an unbelievably young age and seems unable to be shaken out of the No. 3 spot in the world of women’s golf. This is am amazing feat in a sport that is global and greatly loved by amateurs of all abilities. Not only that, she does all this with a modesty and charm that could serve as a model for many others among our sports communities.

Motor racing fans have followed the high-speed fortunes of Scott Dixon, the lad from South Auckland, who win races in the fanatical and frantic world of American motor sport. Again this young man whose ability to be articulate is matched by modesty. He continues the stream of young world motor racing champions including Chris Amon and the great Bruce McClaren.

Next we have the Adams family – Val Adams and younger brother Steven – who both throw things, Val the Shotput and Steven the Basketball. Val Adams (another South Auckland sporting champ!) has maintained her spot at the top of the world over many years and does so without the drama of injuries and what-not. In fact her recent surgery was simply fitted in to the end-of-season gap without a fuss. Meanwhile we have daily press coverage of a certain No. 10’s medical aches, pains and breakages.

Younger brother Steve Adams has literally burst onto the world of US basketball and after a year playing at the college level has seemingly become a frontline player in the NBA. Yet when he comes back to NZ he seems to be still connected to the local roots from which he started.

Of course sport is not all that we are good at. Think of music and the many young opera singers who are claiming successes in competitions. Some are going further, the three young Samoan lads from South who combine both formal study as opera singers with a lighter touch as the popular SOL3 MIO. And there are others young singers breaking onto the world’s opera stages – Marlena Ott Devoe, Elisha Hulton and Isabella Moore are just three Samoan singers to emerge.

And then there is Lorde – the phenomenon from the North Shore who in some ways defies the understanding of some age groups but who grips the tastes of so many young and seemingly all age groups in what is called “the industry”. She is truly taking New Zealand to the world.

Of course there is the issue that Australia will claim all of these as their own and if they can’t get away with it will try the description “Australasian” – it’s just too cute for words!

No doubt about it – we are being proudly taken to the world by young people, all stars in their own right and who collectively are arguably among the most widely known New Zealanders on the face of the planet!

I bet teachers had a hand in influencing all of them!


Leave a Comment

When editorial licence become rant


Every now and then the NZ Herald[1] simply gets it wrong and they waste a lot of their ammunition in blasting away this morning at Charter Schools (known in New Zealand as Partnership Schools and in other places variously as Academy Schools, Free Schools and so on).

Take for instance the confident assertion early into their piece – “State schools would not use their state funding for commercial advertising…” Not much they wouldn’t! For some schools image is everything and the costs of this come out of their funding. The Herald might be employing a cute logic that says that funding sourced from elsewhere is not “state funding” but that argument is spurious. Decisions about spending are simply decisions about what is important and all money is capable of being used differently. But spending to promote itself is well established in the education system.

Then there is the fuss about the “establishment grant”. When a new school is developed in the state system the establishment grant is simply huge – principals are appointed up to two years previous to the opening of the school and their senior team a year before. Much money goes into the establishment board and so on.

Then there is the matter of charter schools requesting that students be able to access some subjects at state schools. One of the excellent developments over the past decade has been some increased fluidity in students accessing programmes in a more flexible manner. Some of this is across the secondary / tertiary line but some of it is also between secondary schools. It is a very good use of resources.

The Herald acknowledges that size matters in these arrangements and that issues of subject availability challenge small schools, state or charter. And it is not a question of inflexibility that suggests this course of action to charter schools – quite the reverse. Because they can act more flexibly (both with regard to use of time and use of money) they can present options to students that are tailored to individuals just as some state secondary schools seek to achieve but with some frustration in an inflexible funding system.

Then there is the claim that the funding levels of the charter school is almost three times that of a state school on a per student basis. I would be very surprised if it was and suggest that Chris Hipkins is comparing two very different figures. The true comparison should be taken with all variables being equalized – establishment costs and all. It is again silly beyond words to dismiss the establishment costs simply because the schools weren’t needed.

This is followed by a suggestion that the partnership school development simply adds “needless capacity”. This might be true if only student numbers are taken into account but is grossly inaccurate if student achievement is taken account of. The partnership school development is aimed at adding to the capacity of our system to bring more success to more students and to turn around some of the disappointing performance of various groups. This is far from “needless” – it is essential.

Finally there emerges in the Herald piece the standard hysteria about public-private partnerships. They have served education well – integrated schools are public-private partnerships and New Zealand has managed these with success for 40 years. And the snide reference to the “clipper of the ticket” is getting into tricky territory.

Who is clipping the ticket in an education system that serves many students well but fails to serve too many others? Who is clipping the ticket when state schools demand money from parents to have their children in a school fully funded by the state? Who is clipping the ticket when the funding made available to a student to be in school fails to result in a positive outcome?


Leave a Comment

Pathways-ED: The final test of education


It is not just in New Zealand that there is disquiet being expressed about the trend for governments to look to assess the effectiveness of teaching and learning in postsecondary programmes by wanting increased  reporting on successful completion of qualifications. English and Australian tertiary organisations are expressing sentiments much along the lines of those expressed in New Zealand this week.

Essentially the argument is this: if there is to be increased scrutiny on successful completion then that could affect funding and that in turn will lead to tertiary institutions lowering standards in order to avoid such an outcome.

It is of interest that it is often the organisations that represent tertiary staff that make these arguments most often. Presumably it is never their members who would lower standards but someone else in the institution. There is no-one else – standards in an institution rely almost totally on the quality of work done at the interface between teaching staff and students. There are other interfaces – student support, pastoral care, administration and suchlike – but academic standards are a reflection of the quality of courses, the quality of the ways they are taught and the quality of learning i.e. results.

So a starting point might be to accept that if no learning has taken place then arguably no teaching has had impact. Of course that scenario is ridiculous but more palatable is the view that increased positive outcomes are a reflection on increased quality in teaching. Therefore, tertiary teachers should welcome the focus on outcomes as a measure. If they matter more to an institution, teaching staff are in a stronger position to be highly valued.

So why, are tertiary teachers not backing themselves? Perhaps it is largely because it has never been accepted that educational institutions are responsible for student success. The old question asked by groups such as Treasury, Ministers and the public generally, “Who is responsible for educational failure?” has for so long got the answer “No-one!”  Only this year was the Education Act amended to reflect for the first time in 134 years that someone in schools actually is – the Boards of Trustees of schools. Well they cannot actually be the ones who ensure that their responsibility is discharged but they can help by hiring good teachers, providing ongoing growth and development opportunities and helping to create the environment from which success flows.

Other factors external to the institution do get in the way but evidence is that excellent teaching to succeeding students does make a measureable impact on a student’s capacity to cope with those external pressures and obstacles. So, again, excellent teaching matters.

Arguments will be put forward that some institutions cope with student groups that are of higher maintenance than others. That is true and that is why the OECD persistently identifies as the most important factor in increasing levels of equitable social outcomes from education as making sure that such groups get the best teachers. Excellent teaching matters.

So what, then, is the point in measuring successful completion as an indication of the quality of an institution? Well, I believe that it might be tied up in the assertion that the issue in education is not that we lack competent teachers but that too many competent teachers are doing the wrong thing. Excellent teachers doing the wrong thing (in terms of the appropriateness and effectiveness with those students in those programmes) is measured by the results.

There is no hard evidence that there are children full of faculties and strong of limb who cannot learn at the point of birth. But their journey will place many things in the way of achieving the gifts that are by right theirs.

The quality of the first three years when so much critical intellectual and social development takes place will set in place the frame within which future learning will grow.

Access to early childhood education will further develop the young persons as to be ready for school.

Primary school will establish the sets of basic skills required for application in the secondary schools where the first steps along pathways to various futures take place.

Then at postsecondary the high level specialist knowledge and skill is put into place.

If the whole business of education and training is working it would show in the outcomes. But it requires everyone at every level to be measured by outcomes, by successful completion and by successful completion at increasingly more complex and demanding levels.

Rather than resisting calls for measuring the quality of institutions by successful completion levels, we need to be embracing the better futures they bring for us all and especially those we teach. Finally there would be a dent in that most stubborn of educational statistics – that only 50% of those who start a postsecondary course will complete it and those successful students represent only about 30% of the cohort born 25 years previously, full of promise.


Leave a Comment

Pathways-ED: Bridging the Divides with Pathways



Over the past two days 260 educators have been meeting in Auckland at the third National Conference on Pathways and Transitions – Bridging the Divides : Secondary-Tertiary-Employment Transitions for Learner Success.

The conference was organised by the Manukau Institute of Technology Centre for Studies in Multiple Pathways in association with Ako Aotearoa, the University of Auckland, the Ministry of Education, Cognition Education and Cyclone Computers. This “family of six” reflects the importance given to the topic and the extent to which it has moved more and more towards centre stage in the awareness of those who care about improving students outcomes.

There are two key concepts – the notion of “transitions” and that of “pathways”. We know that the transitions between and within the different parts of the education system are choke points in the journey students face as they pursue an education. The shift from ECE to primary, primary to intermediate and subsequently for all, into secondary, then on into some postsecondary education which finally move into employment is a reflection of a system that is built for the adults that survived rather than the learner/student.

Dr Joel Vargas from the Jobs for the Future Foundation in Boston U.S. showed that the loss of students at transition points was an issue that went well beyond our shores. We know that we “lose” over 4,000 students between primary and secondary, that 20% of students drop out, that half of those starting a postsecondary qualification do not complete. Much of this waste of talent and potential is the result of the issues surrounding transitions. And there is that transition form the stages of education into employment.

Associate Professor Leesa Wheelahan (University of Melbourne) reminded the conference of the weak link between education and employment, a point reinforced by business leaders who addressed the conference.

Transitions need to have “pathways” if they are to lead to the levels of seamlessness that will address the issues of the dysfunctional transitions which might more correctly be thought of as fractures.

Pathways are seamless, start somewhere and arrive somewhere else. In themselves they are an organising principle that calls for connection and quirks each of those who work on each side of the crevasse to work together. It is interesting that some of the systems we admire have solved this issue through looking to sector reform to shape a system based around the needs of young people rather than around the sensitivities of adults.

260 educators working to address these issues simply have to make a difference. There is developing a community of practice that is seeking to construct new pathways and transitions with a more seamless approach to create increased likelihood of more positive educational outcomes for more students.

This was a clear message of the Minister of Education Hon Hekia Parata who in addressing the conference emphasised the Better Public Service goals as clear markers for outcomes which the system must work towards.

This will require us to work differently but this will not always require us to embrace startling and new or radical ideas. As has been a theme of recent EDTalkNZ pieces, some of the ideas have moved across the education stage before. The notion of a “jagged edge”, even “seamlessness” and the reforms of Post Compulsory Education and Training in the 1980s had canvased many of the changes now being seriously considered – a point made elegantly by Professor Gary Hawke who led the reforms back then. Professor Hawke made an interesting point in his reminder that we need to focus on post compulsory rather than postsecondary.

So it was an exciting gathering where ideas surfaced and were considered, where for two days there was a coming together of people working towards shared goals. The things that divide us in education were parked at the door and students were considered. Many were impressed by the eloquence and directed energy of the students, especially one who had gone through the MIT Tertiary High School.  He had made the transition from risk to reward, from being given no hope in school to seeing a pathway that would take him into a job he loves and which opens up a big wide world.

It is early days but directions are emerging that hold the promise of an education system that will deliver pathways to students that see them college (postsecondary) ready and career ready. If we can achieve this we will perhaps avoid the demographic time bomb that ticks away and was so clearly described by Sir Mark Solomon.


It could be that in time is not on our side in these issues.


Leave a Comment

Pathways-ED: They learn to labour while we labour to learn


If I had heard it only once I might have simply believed that I had misheard but, no, I heard it a second time. It is apparently the case it was reported that in the UK, and this is what I heard: “poor white children” are now the “worst performing ethnic group in UK schools.”

This is somewhat astonishing in a number of ways. First, is the state of being “poor” sufficient to mark you out as an “ethnic group”?  A “social class” yes.  And it is true that often the picture of education achievement is one that does show concentrations of ethnicities in different parts of the achievement picture.  But usually an ethnic group is represented in achievement data at various points.  There will certainly be white students who are right up at the top of the achievement ladder and many others on each and every rung.  But have the “poor white” marked themselves out as being culturally different, ethnically different?

In the UK as in most Anglo-Saxon education systems the white children have had the lion’s share of achievement and success but there have always been some from that group who have had little success.  Similarly the fact that another ethnicity is over-represented in the lower end of the achievement statistics has never meant that none of that group ever makes it to the levels of excellent achievement.

But perhaps the combination of being white and poor in the UK has now created the conditions for educational failure that outweigh being poor and from any other group.  This is quite remarkable if it is true and it should serve as a warning to other Anglo-Saxon countries.

In the 1970s Dr Cluny MacPherson developed the argument that we had in New Zealand at that time clear signs that an “eth-class” was developing and this was based on the view that a cluster of combined characteristics including poverty and ethnicity were marking groups out from others.  There were certainly the signs of such groups forming in New Zealand at that time.  But I don’t think I have heard the term since the 1970s – perhaps I move in the wrong circles!  Is this the phenomenon that is seemingly appearing in the UK?

Or perhaps it is the flowering of a trend documented in 1977 by the sociologist Paul Willis in his book Learning to Labour.  His study has shown that a certain group of boys deliberately rejected the trappings of school success in order to claim as a badge of honour their right to replicate the plight of the working classes.  So mediocre school success would be the norm, jobs if they could get one would be in industrial settings, they adopted speech patterns and habits, and so on.

The “lads” in this group had developed an “oppositional culture” wherein in the interest of “having a laff” they would oppose the requirements of the school and all that went with being good students and gaining educational success.  At the time I read this as being a description of something that was peculiarly English and which I had seen in the east end schools that my work had taken me to.  But now I wonder as I see instances much closer to home where opposition for opposition’s sake seems to motivate some students, usually boys.

I came across some support for this that suggests that this might not be as fanciful as it first seems with the following appearing in an essay on Willis[1]:

In his article Stroppy Individuals or Oppositional Cultures in Schools Today?, Rikowski (2006) raises the issue of whether there are oppositional classroom cultures today or just badly-behaved individuals.  He highlights that although single disruptive pupils in classrooms are a problem, predominantly head teachers are still worried about gangs and therefore ‘cultures’ rather than individuals.  Rikowski supports the view that Willis’ study is relevant to modern education.  He advocates using the methods and insights of Willis to make sense of what is going on in our schools today (Rikowski, 2006).

Making sense of what is going on in our schools is a constant challenge and perhaps there are some insights in seeing a sociological explanation for the disenchantment of some students and some of our boys.


[1]James Thomson (2007)     An essay written for EDU3004 ‘Education, Culture & Society’, Education Studies, School of Education, University of Northampton

Leave a Comment

Talk-ED: Eating the Pudding: The Sweet Taste of Success

My Mum always said that the proof of the pudding was in the eating.  In other words, the recipe is not enough, the ingredients will not suffice, it’s what comes out of the oven and gets eaten.  That’s why results in education matter.  But I have always been opposed to league tables because they tend to hide invidious comparisons and there is always a feeling that what they set out to achieve is never quite what their creators would admit to.

The recent publication of the 2012 NCEA results in the NZ Herald does a good job of being fair by listing the results alphabetically and being restrained in its comment.  Of course the general reader is still unaware of the subtleties of the data presented and I have no doubt their minds move quickly to simple and incomplete tables in the mind that rank the schools.

Here is a table that reflects a small sample of the schools in that list – the Decile 10 schools of Auckland.

NCEA Results 2012 (NZQA Data)
    Secondary School   L1   %   L2   %   L3   %
School 1   86   89   66
School 2  *   8   77   65
School 3   91   92   80
School 4   99   97   94
School 5  **   98   99   93
School 6   75   80   74
School 7  *   81   96   79
School 8   91   98   85
School 9   95   98   88
School 10   91   93   84
School 11  *   92   88   76
School 12   85   96   100
School 13   67   71   na
School 14   87   90   87
School  **   99   98   99
School 16   95   98   95
School 17  */**   80   88   82
*     Cambridge Examination also in school    
**   International Baccalaureate also in school  


Actually, these are not just the Decile 10 schools of Auckland, this list is comprised of sixteen Decile 10 schools in Auckland but also includes one other school that is not a Decile 10 school and which appears in the Herald NCEA list.

Readers are urged before they go further to see whether at this point they can identify that school in the above list.

Because this other school recruits students who are not headed towards positive outcomes in their secondary schooling and who would benefit from an opportunity to engage with what is colloquially called “vocational and technical education” at an earlier point in their schooling.  After a process that involves the school, parents / caregivers and students, they enter a programme at a Polytechnic where a team of ten secondary school teachers supplemented by a group of 12 vocational and technical education specialists provide them with a different kind of schooling, a different way of completing their senior secondary schooling.  The NCEA assessments are the same as those in conventional schools and are moderated in the same way.

The “school” is different from others schools in a number of ways:

  •         it is not in a school setting but in a polytechnic;
  •         the students are expected to be like tertiary students rather than school students;
  •         they travel from many parts of the city to come to the school;
  •         their previous schools overall reflect a wide range of decile levels but the intake is weighted towards those from low decile schools;
  •         the ethnicity of the students reflects the future demographic profile of Auckland.

The programme they undertake has some quite unique general features which include: 

  •          earlier access to technical, career and vocational subjects;
  •          clear pathways through to tertiary qualifications;
  •          a curriculum structure that meets the requirements of the NZ Curriculum through achievement standards but which integrates the secondary elements with the tertiary elements;
  •          the capacity to generate credits to both NCEA and other qualifications;
  •          the opportunity to study at multiple NCEA levels simultaneously in Year 11 and Year 12;
  •          making available to students multiple pathways that lead them to positive outcomes.
  •          High levels of student monitoring, mentoring and partnerships with whanau
  •          Strong learning relationships

Above all, the students in this Tertiary High School have purpose and direction.  Let’s be clear, not all last the distance – some head off to employment, some to other providers, a small number return to their schools – but the retention figures are well ahead of national levels.

The first year of this programme (Year 11 in a conventional school) allows students to study in a number of technical disciplines as well as completing a full Level 1 NCEA programme in mainstream secondary subjects.  Students then choose to move into a fulltime tertiary course or complete NCEA level 2 and one tertiary area of study.  The majority of students choose to complete NCEA Level 2 and then move into fulltime tertiary courses in years 13 and 14.  A small group remain in the programme to complete NCEA level 3.  If the pathway they chose after that year is a technical pathway they would start that around the time of reaching NCEA Level 2.  This is a critical component that ensures that the selection of a future pathway is based on knowledge and experience of what that pathway entails and where it will lead to – and with a set of applied educational skills as a learner.

These specialised pathways often involve the stair casing journey to industry recognised qualifications.  But, and here is Surprise Number 1, the pathway some chose is an “academic pathway” into a degree programme.  This pathway is in reality both academic and vocational.

Furthermore, Surprise Number 2 is that an “academic pathway” has emerged in the programme and a group of students chose a pathway that takes them to NCEA Level 3 (with University Entrance) – they want access to degree programmes at any tertiary provider.  (One student who completed University Entrance and NCEA Level 3 started in a degree at the University of Auckland last year but he was quite exceptional.)

So here is a “league table” that the Manukau Institute of Technology Tertiary High School (internally known as the School of Secondary-Tertiary Studies) can get into.  But it doesn’t reflect the range of successes that the programme is having.  Some students have stepped into employment after obtaining the requisite qualifications (and that includes NCEA to the appropriate level), others are in Year 3 or Year 4 of the programme and fully engaged in tertiary programmes including degree level study, some have returned to their school to resume their education, some have shifted towns and countries with families to continue their education in other places.

This is not a secondary school and doesn’t offer some of the attractions that an excellent secondary school offers.  But it does have its attractions.  It does offer what in the views of parents and caregivers, the schools they had been attending and the students themselves something that had seemed out of reach and unlikely – educational success, positive outcomes, and the opportunity to be a successful contributing member of a family and a community.

In short, the sweet taste of success.


[For those who couldn’t spot the odd one out in the table of Auckland Decile 10 Schools – the Manukau Institute of Technology Tertiary High School is School No. 12]


Leave a Comment

Pathways-ED: Get out the compass, we know where we are going!

Stuart Middleton
28 June 2012


Is peace is breaking out in education?

The Minister of Education has announced the formation of a “Minister’s Forum” that will address the key goal confirmed last Monday in the Better Public Services goals: that by 2017, 85% of all 18 year olds in New Zealand will have NCEA Level 2 or its equivalent.

The Forum contains possibly the widest representation of education ever put together in one room. All major groups associated with pre-school, primary and secondary schools are there. So too are various governance groups such as trustees. There are some tertiary people also.

Chaired by the Minister, this group might be the best chance yet to effect the step change that will take achievement for all students up to levels that are competitive internationally and which will see increased contribution into the wealth of New Zealand.

The goal is that all 18 year olds will get there, not just a cosy percentage but a challenging one, And not only the Asian and European students but also Maori, Pasifika and other priority groups – it is 85% of each of these groups. No longer can our disparate performance be hidden in global percentages.

This is all good news. Yes the timeframe seems tight but the goal is beyond dispute. It represents something of true north for us to stroke some direction into the system. And what a great time of the year to set our eyes on a new star.

I say our eyes because a step change of this kind requires effort from everybody.

The foundations of education are constructed in family and early childhood education, well quality early childhood education. (A further Better Public Service goal calls for 98% participation in quality ECE). This then must lead to a primary schooling that focuses clearly and effectively on the foundational skills of education. We can no longer afford the luxury of having young people present themselves to the secondary school after 8 years of primary education still carrying weaknesses in basic skill areas, especially literacy and numeracy.

In an education system that is keen to boast that we are a “world class system” it makes no sense that students can slip through untouched by the teaching of these skills.

Then the secondary school takes over and faces several issues – keeping students in education and keeping them moving forward. Actually keeping students in education is also becoming a concern for senior primary levels. Progressions from secondary on to further education and training are also a challenge. Why are the transitions such an issue in our system?

The challenge for the secondary schools is on a number of educational fronts and seems to me to be clustered around the following:


  •           the development of pathways that clearly relate to further education, training or employment;
  •           a return to increased opportunities for some learners to respond to the challenges of learning in applied settings;
  •           closer co-operation between schools and tertiary providers both in the interests of increasing pathway options but also to re-introduce the rich opportunities for technical, career, and vocational education that once available to young people.


It seems to me that the 85% challenge will require us to bring new success into the educational lives of about 10,000 students, But the bigger challenge is that if the 85% target is to apply equitably to groups of priority learners, over 3,500 of this group must be Maori and over 1,000 Pasifika.

People from overseas, when I talk about such matters, are amused not by the gravity of the challenge but rather by its scale. With numbers such as those above, surely, they argue, you can get in there and “knock it off”. They come from systems in which the same issues have almost reach a scale of despairing numbers. In the US, a student drops out of High School every 9 minutes and 1.4 million a year are excluded.

World class? Of course we can be. Not just in measures of overall achievement (that after all is simply a league table!) but in our capacity to show that we recognise inequality of outcome and were prepared to do something about. To not achieve or get close to this target would be shameful.


1 Comment

Talk-ED: Changing the world

Stuart Middleton
11 June 2012


Over the summer I read the recent biography of Steve Jobs (Walter Isaacson). It was a good read about a uniquely eccentric, effective leader who changed our world in so many ways. There are lessons here for education I thought as I read it. Often I find books not about education teach me more than those that are! It would be good to summarise those and now Isaacson comes up with a little summary of those ideas (HBR, April 2012). (The bold works at the start of each paragraph is the Steve Jobs thought – the rest is my musing about their application to education.)

Focus.   From time to time we need to stop and have a serious rethink about direction and emphases. We need to withdraw regularly and renew the focus, not keep on doing the same old thing, working out what we want the education system to do, expressing it simply then doing it requires such focus.

Simplify.    Get the focus right and we find that what we need to do is simpler than we thought. I have long argued that education is not the complex process we make it out to be. What we want is simple and achieving it could also be simple.

Take responsibility end to end.   This is one that education might use to plan its attack on educational failure. Just as Jobs sought seamless integration in the devices he developed, so too should we be seeking seamless integration in education. With the current disintegrated system no-one can be responsible for educational failure because there is no oversight “end-to-end” of a learner’s journey.

When behind, leapfrog.   Thinking of the step to take after the next one and then going straight to it gave Jobs an advantage in business. Perhaps in education we need to think of the next big step and then the one after it and go straight there. Perhaps tinkering inside the existing sectors is not as profitable as thinking about what comes after the current sectors.

Put products before profits.   Seemingly this belongs better in a business world than in education. But, as a colleague reminded me recently, if we were to see that the products are our students (and the community is our customer) this becomes somewhat applicable.

Don’t be a slave to focus groups.   Public opinion and mob-think is not a good basis for planning. Jobs epitomised the freedom of the free thinker and the daring of some-one who was not afraid of be ahead of the general thinking that guided his industry. We need this sort of leadership in education, not the status-quo seekers

Bend reality.   Steve Jobs was described by a fellow employee as having a Reality Distortion Field (so-called because of an episode in Star Trek where aliens could through mental effort change the thinking of others). Having a capacity to think clearly (and forcefully) about what might be takes “impossible” out of the lexicon. We generally say “that’s impossible” or “that can’t be done” when really we mean “I am having trouble thinking that through.” Leadership in education needs to “bend reality” at this time more than ever before.

Impute.   The messages we give to the wider world about education have a profound impact on how they see our world. Jobs ran plenty of honest, hard-hitting sessions behind closed doors but his communications to the world imputed all the right things about what Apple did and what Apple produced.

Push for perfection.   What is perfection in education? Simple. Each and every student succeeds.

Tolerate only “A” players.   This seems obvious. But to achieve this we need to have greatly increased focus on professional development throughout a career in education, tight and high entry standards, a focus on achieving equity in teaching standards across and between schools and a clear notion of what constitutes an “A” player when it comes to teaching and educational leadership.

Engage face to face.   Education is good at this generally. Communities can engage face to face to their school. Education leaders have skills of such engagement. The quality of this engagement is genuinely two-way. That’s the goal.

Know both the big picture and the details.    The best leaders know both the big picture of education and the details of getting it right at the level of that individual student. It could be that we are better at the second than the first – we know the skills of the trade but are less clear about the business, strategy and performance, the bottom line.

Combine the humanities with the Sciences.    But overall the Americans maintain the ideal of a general education more successfully than we do – it’s just that so many students in the US fail. Successful educations systems have sorted out what a general education means and as a result have programmes that are broader yet more focussed.

Stay Hungry, stay foolish   This is the key. Those Apple advertisements in the 1980s and the exhortation to “Think Different” introduced us to the concept. Since walking into the Apple HQ in Cupertino CA in 2000, and seeing the Apple Creed splashed large across the entrance wall I have found it to inspire and encourage.

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see the world differently. They are not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.





Beahm, George (2011)      I, Steve Jobs: Steve Jobs in his own words, Hardle Grant, London

Isaacson, Walter (2011),    Steve Jobs, Simon and Schuster, New York

Isaacson, Walter (2011),    The Real Leadership of Steve Jobs in Harvard Business Review, April 2012, Cambridge MA




Leave a Comment