Skip to content

Tag: transitions

The science of earthquakes prediction by the bovine community

They say that cows are warned about earthquakes for they occur by a sense that something is changing, that something is about to happen. This might be true. Although I have no bovine features, I too have a sense that something is about to happen.

I sense that after a number of years, for me about eight years and for the education system perhaps five, I see signs that critical shifts are about to happen in the schooling system in New Zealand.

Back in 2008 and 2009 when I argued for legislative changes that would allow MIT to start its Tertiary High School I was motivated by a sense that the changes were not just about that programme but were in fact changes that would lead to side developments that would be in the interest of students who were underserved by the education system.

The changes to the law (which allowed for many other changes) were specifically made to allow the Tertiary High School at Manukau Institute of Technology to go ahead. But the next year, in the 2010 Education Amendment Bill, those changes were expanded to allow for other secondary / tertiary programmes to be introduced. By then the Trades Academies were starting to get a policy around them and a shape to what they might look like. Youth Guarantee had morphed from a couple of words in an election campaign into a policy setting.

Increasingly the discourse was using words such as “multiple pathways” and “transitions” and “partnerships”. Of course there was resistance as the tired and well-discredited cries of “give schools the resources – they can do the job”. But that was simply code for “give us the money and we will do the same old thing for the same old results.”

It is now not hard to find excellent examples of……

Trades academies, which are giving students the experience of trades, oriented disciplines in Years 12 and 13. And this in no way resembles a return to the old technical streams. These programmes are taught in ways that give students an experience of the kinds of training that will, would, get, should they make a decision to follow that pathway. The work they are doing is real and done in the same setting as others being trained for the trades. There is an authenticity about it that goes well beyond the school-based technical stream programmes which could certainly produce highly skilled craftspeople in the metal and wood crafts, outstandingly skilled and clever, but it isnot trades as we know them in this iteration.

The trades academies are conservative in that they are restricted to Years 12 and 13 typically and they pose little challenge to the structures of the schools with their simple one day a week out of class approach. But they are a great start.

Partnerships. There are examples of sophisticated relationships and partnerships between schools of different levels. Intermediate schools show that they can work with contributing primary school in the one direction and with high schools in the other. Again, this is conservative but it is a start. Excellent partnerships can lead to managed transitions more easily than a bunch of slightly hostile folk sitting down together to initiate them.

Some schools are forging great relationships with community. This is clearly evident in much of the work being done by wharekura and there are examples where such schools are outperforming many high decile schools that pride themselves on their results.

While this is something of a revelation to some, to those who have promoted such developments, it has always been a clear and confident expectation. Students who have access to vocational and technical education earlier, who can work in different ways, who can see themselves in what they do, who are culturally respectful simply perform better than they would have. In fact they perform to stunningly high levels.

The relationship between tertiary and secondary has developed in some instances with remarkable speed to find ways of working together.

And there is starting to develop a view that 14 years to 18 years is where the action must be concentrated. And not just for “low performing students” or for those who disengage from the education system. Changes have started that have wide implications for the future, implications that suggest we could start to perform in ways that match the education systems we envy. It is dangerous to be not doing well at school at the age of fourteen in New Zealand.

High performing students in the UK are being given the opportunity to start university level STEM qualifications at the age of 14 years and are then ready to pursue postgraduate study or to go into highly skilled technical employment at age 18 years. Lord Baker who is a key force in this development explains they they “start at age 14 because 15 is too late to specialize and they finish at age 18 because 17 is to early to start employment.”

Just as cows might sense an impending earthquake, I sense that a shake-up of another kind is on the way! But this one while causing distress to some will by and large be wholly to be welcomed.



Leave a Comment

We are not the only ones

A response to my blog last week about the gap in the middle has made me aware of some interesting developments in the UK. The respondent was a senior member of the staff of Edge Foundation whose tag line is “Champion of technical, practical and vocational learning”.

The Edge Foundation has six key planks in its belief[1]. They want politicians, practitioners and the public to:

  1.        recognise that there are many talents and paths to success;
  2.        ensure the “learning by doing” is valued equally with academic learning;
  3.        provide technical, practical and vocational learning as an integral and valued part of every young person’s education and as a recognized route to success;
  4.        from the age of 14, give young people a choice of learning experiences and pathways based on their motivation, talents, and career aspirations;
  5.        ensure that the technical, practical and vocational education and qualifications offered in schools, FE and HE are high quality and recognized by employers;
  6.        ensure all young people, whatever their different abilities and interests, leave the system with confidence, ambition and the skills to succeed and the skills the economy needs.

Britain, just like the other Anglo-Saxon systems, are appreciating that they got it wrong after the Second World War when they started to systematically remove vocational and technical education from their schooling systems. I recently read an argument that this was partly for reasons of snobbery and a desire to not be like Germany. The irony is that now such countries look at Germany and wonder whether they were right all along that it is we who  might have got it wrong as Germany continues to bring large numbers of young people through its schooling system well qualified and ready for work.

The Chairman of Edge Foundation is Lord Baker of Dorking, better remembered as Kenneth Baker, Sir Keith Joseph’s successor as Secretary for Education in the Thatcher government. This sprightly 80 year old has developed a passion for doing something about the young people being spat out by a schooling system that suits fewer young people while at the same time the country suffers from extreme skill shortages. A familiar story.

The vehicle he has pushed for leading this charge is a new kind of institution – the University Technical College. There are now 17 of these colleges in the UK and all share four key qualities[2].

1.       They aim to provide a high quality technical education involving 40% practical application and a balanced study of subjects that include maths, science, English and a modern language.

 2.       The practical and academic components of the UTC curriculum are developed through active cooperation with local employers and universities.

 3.       They serve children aged from 14 – 19 on the basis that “11 is too young and 16 is too old to specialize”.

 4.       They stretch students by making them work a longer day than the average high school or college from 8.30am to 5.00pm – and through five eight week terms – meaning children study for a 40 hour week rather than a 38 hour week year.

A recent article[3] comments that if the development succeeds “…. it will eliminate the problem of “neets”, youngsters who are not in education, employment or training. Baker says “Every student who leaves a UTC will go into a job, an apprenticeship, a higher apprenticeship, or to university.” The writer muses that all this seems better than “…. the pent-up energy, frustration and rage of those who should have been equipped for good jobs [rather than being] dragooned into classes they hated” that he had witnessed in his own schooling.

We grapple with the same issues in New Zealand and slowly programmes are emerging that are turning the tables of failure over and showing students who otherwise would have failed in the system, that success is within their grasp. The success of what is happening under the Youth Guarantee banner, the MIT Tertiary High School and the preparedness of communities to seek improved outcomes are all signs that we are seeking similar goals to those that Lord Baker of Dorking and Edge Foundation are seeking on the other side of the world. Our focus is greatly on those whose struggle is evident. When we have addressed that we will be able to focus on those who are doing well but would love to be educated in a different way. But, first things first.

Nevertheless, the worm turning as we discover that we are not the only ones.

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

Talk-ED: Clear the decks, here come another group


“Coming Ready or Not!” was the cry whenever we were playing hide and seek or “tiggy” as it was known back then.

And it has become something of a familiar cry at the start of each year as cohorts of about 35,000 all move up one class. Back then when tiggy was popular, the final line on a final school report for the year was Class for next year ____.   It was at that point that it was known to child and parents whether the student would proceed onward and upward or whether it was thought to be in their interests that they remain in the level they were in.

Nowadays its blow the whistle and everybody goes up. “Sooo long, it’s been gooood to know ya’”

This is because we have little idea of what constitutes readiness for the big transitions (home to ECE, ECE to primary, primary to secondary) let alone the transitions that take place within institutions at year’s end.

The old system of standards (Standard 1, Standard 2…….) has been replaced by the rather meaningless Year 1, Year 2, ….and so on. In fact ask many students what class they are in and they reply “Room 7!”

In 1989 President Bush in the fervent excitement that no child would be left behind declared that “by the year 2000, all children in America will start school ready to learn.” The only problem was that there was no shared understanding of what that meant. But parents perhaps intuitively do have a sense of readiness for you often hear a parent say that their child is “ready for school”. I wonder sometimes if they mean that they are ready for him/her to go to school!

What has to be understood is that transitions are a process and not an event and that the three parties to the process – the group from which the young person is farewelled, the group into which the young person is being received and the student/ caregivers from home – each have a vital role to play in this process.

The Receivers need to help the other two groups understand what they mean by “being ready” while the Farewellers need to reflect on what that means for them in the provision of a programme that will achieve a substantial number of the skills, aspects of knowledge and dispositions that have been identified.

This is no easy task, that is probably why it hasn’t been done. But it is arguably the most important way of helping everyone give meaning to their respective roles in the process called a transition.

Excellent work is coming out of the United States in the area of College and Career readiness. David Conley has developed a useful overview of the process and what we learn from that work is that readiness is not a single dimensional factor but rather a collection of features that develop and mature at different rates. Some of these characteristics spike early while others take more time – and the good news is that it varies from student to student.

National Standards perhaps had the potential to be helpful in leading people to an understanding of at least curriculum levels that are appropriate but all that got lost in the noise. But a readiness statement will encompass more than just academic preparation standards, although they are important.

And agreeing on them is no easy task. When they set out to do this in the US for the start of schooling there were some clear differences between parents and teachers.

Parents thought that the following were important while teachers did not give them much importance:


  •          can count from 1 to 10;
  •          knows the letters of the alphabet;
  •          able to use pencil, paint and brushes;
  •          sits still and pays attention;
  •          takes turns and shares.


On the other hand teacher ascribed importance to the following which parents did not mention at all:


  •          is sensitive to other children’s feelings;
  •          is not disruptive of the class;
  •          can follow directions.


The points about which teachers and parents ran the risk of almost agreeing were:


  •          enthusiastic and curious in approaching new activities;
  •          communicates needs, wants and thoughts verbally (in the child’s primarty language);
  •          physically healthy, rested and well-nourished.


It is not at all clear just what readiness statements could helpfully look like. But unless we start working on them we shall never know!


Leave a Comment

Pathways-ED: Would you like your eggs hard boiled?

Stuart Middleton
16 August 2012


There is currently renewed interest throughout the Anglophone education systems in the quality of careers advice, information, guidance and education. This is largely prompted by the slow dawning of a realisation that what we have been doing in the past might not cut it in the present nor be appropriate to the future.

I am off to be a member of a panel at a “summit” on just this topic. I take with me a little suspicion of events that style themselves as a “summit” when most of the time we find the foothill of ideas and issues quite challenging enough and our track record in scaling the heights only to discover it was the wrong mountain. Meanwhile we simply get better at climbing!

I am a member of a six person panel (plus chairperson) that has been allocated a total of 35 minutes. This seems at first glance a daunting task and it crosses my mind that in itself it might be a microcosm of the issues – too much in too little time, excellent resources (present company excluded) squandered, no immediate interaction with the audience, the urgency of afternoon tea pressing against the end of the time slot. It was, I thought, a little bit like school itself.

But snappy runners these days can scoot around a 1,500 metres race in less than four minutes, Madonna and Justin Timberlake “Only having four minutes to save the world” and many an instant meal is ready to eat in no more time than that.

So what do you say in four minutes that will contribute to the question: How do we improve economic performance through connecting education, business and industry?

I am tempted to adapt an old joke –  When Gandhi was asked what he thought about British civilisation he replied that he thought it would be a good idea! Yes, the connection between business and industry and education would be a good idea. But to achieve it requires some thought and attention by education.

For a start the connection can only be based on education success, real and appropriate qualifications, work ready graduates from all levels and pathways through the education system that lead to real destinations in real jobs in the reality that is employment, business and industry.

So, the corollary of this is that an educational failure, a disengaged student, a poorly educated or trained student is worse than no help to the mission of improved economic performance but instead is actively counter to it. Wealth generated by business and industry is diminished while it continues to be squandered through the unnecessary costs of educational failures and disengaged NEET youth.

What we have to understand is that getting educational success that is consistent with the economic performance mission is not about what secure, middle class adults do however well intentioned. It is about what happens in the heads of young people. It is about how education programmes impact on young people, and when!

If we look at education systems that are more successful than ours there stands out three key issues in this connection between education and career, education and economic performance.

First, awareness of the linkages between education/school, pathways and employment is well-developed by around age 12 or to put it another way the end of primary schooling.

Secondly, Senior secondary schooling is characterised not by sameness but by difference. Senior secondary schooling is differentiated by having a clear focus of one kind or another. The development of the general academic comprehensive high school has proven to be a failed experiment.

So, thirdly, there is earlier access to career and vocational education programmes leading to real qualifications recognised by business and industry.

These emphases lead to an educational output that sees young people gaining qualifications across a range of levels that match the needs of business and industry. Instead, in the Anglophone systems we produce relatively large numbers of degree qualified students and large numbers of students who are unemployable and who go on to prove this by being unemployed. In between there is a dearth of young people with middle level qualified technical skills.

In short, New Zealand moved away from what used to work – ability of youth to secure employment, on-the-job training, access to earn and learn opportunities, values placed on qualifications at all levels, an apprenticeship systems that other countries envied.

“Back to the future” is little more than one of those fatuous hopes, the world changes and there is no “back” to go forward to. But some of the solutions to getting our education system firing on all cylinders might well lie in the practices of the past. With the relative increase in resources available to us now, we can surely get it right again.

I think I could say all that in 3minutes 54.4 seconds – Peter Snell’s world record mile time set in 1962.



1 Comment

Talk-ED: A double helping!

Stuart Middleton
20 March 2012


The Entree:    What’s not local about education and training?

Local Government Minister Nick Smith is wide of the mark when he calls for local government to get “out of education” and uses the example of “a council that sets a target of Level 2 NCEA”.  He goes on to say that local government has no business doing central government business. This is referring to the Auckland Council’s clear target for education and skills in the region.

He is right to say that local government should not be doing central government business but misses the point that local government has a role to play in seeing that central government does its business. There is no issue with the Level 2 NCEA goal – last Thursday Prime Minister John Key clearly set exactly the same goal for the government and his Ministers (see below).

The role of local government with regard to this target is to advocate for central government to deliver on it. It might also have a role in facilitating collaboration and innovation across the region to support the goal. Such a goal, and this is clear to the Government and certainly the Prime Minister if not to Minister Smith, is at the heart of economic growth and development. When the Auckland Council and the central Government sit down to talk about such matters, it is exciting to think that they will share the same goal.

One party (central government) will be held to account in that discussion for delivering on it while the other party (local government) will be showing how it contributes to a region that is similarly committed to it and which contributes in appropriate ways to it. No local government has an appetite to do the government’s work!  But if unitary councils are to be taken seriously, central government has to see that its work is contributing to regional aspirations.

Minister Smith needs to get up to speed on education and training, its performance and its role.


The Main Course:  Whose will be done?  Education must respond.

The recent speech from Prime Minister John Key outlined some directions that will impact on education and training.

Education will have a key role to play in the reduction of numbers of people on a “working age benefit”. Many of this target group will through in some cases no fault of their own – life dealt a pretty rough hand – require additional training and education before they are able to work. The skills of employment may have moved beyond the level of competence that they were able to reach in previous employment or in their education (IT springs to mind).

This raises the issue of transition – just how are people assisted to move from benefit dependency to self-reliance in employment as a wage earner. It is not black and white, one minute you have a benefit, the next you are in sound employment. And certainly an interview in a WINZ office will not achieve it. Education institutions should get their thinking caps on.

It is interesting to see access to ECE placed into a “supporting vulnerable children” set of responses – increasing access, increased immunisation and reducing the rate of assaults on children. I hope the goal is to reduce assaults on children down to zero!  Again education is a key.

And it is also an explicit player in the goal to boost skills and employment. NCEA Level 2 (or an equivalent) will be a key marker of a platform from which 18 year olds can launch the pathways into the world of further education and training and of employment. This is sensible. It sets a clear target that should be attainable by all students without requiring them to continue along a track headed towards university when this is not the goal. But it is also a big ask for us to achieve!

Add to this the development of “Vocational Pathways” within NCEA and the promise they have to bring integrity and cohesion to the programmes of many students not heading towards university. We are starting to see shape in the senior levels of schooling with these proposals.

It therefore makes sense for the performance of 19-24 year olds to get some attention. The goal has been placed at an excellent level – advanced trade qualifications, diplomas and degrees (at Level 4 and above). 

Evidence supports this goal as one which will lead to employment, to a family sustaining income and to allowing a person to make a positive contribution to society. For it is a fact that a person qualified to at least this level is highly unlikely to be engaged in the dark arts of crime. It all ties together.

Get a well educated and knowledgeable community and you will get one which is less dependent of benefits, less likely to bash children, be more assertive about getting education for their children and looking after them and, of course, will be both employable and employed. So the challenge is there to all of us in the education community and we simply have to be up to it. With the clear connections now being made between education and social and economic development clearly and in measurable terms, we will have nowhere to go if we don’t perform on such measures. Certainly we cannot sit back and blame it on the government – this government or any government for that matter.

Finally, there must be at least a touch of interest in the creation of the “Super-Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.” Of course there are cost-cuttings and efficiency considerations in this expression of the latest attempt to clean up the Public Service. But there might also be quite a lot of good sense in seeing new connections and taking a multidisciplinary approach to public policy and oversight. The inclusion of Building and Housing also seems more like a continuation of a search for a safer pair of hands. But to group economic development, labour, science and innovation seems to create a potential for increased impact and progress in those areas.

Will the spotlight turn next to education? Bringing together the Ministry of Education, the Tertiary Education Commission, the Education Review Office and the New Zealand Qualifications Authority would at least be an interesting discussion and might well have legs. Perhaps the Careers Service could also be included. Have I left anyone out?

We talk a lot about connection and transition in education and how the lack of smooth transitions gets in the way of education success for too many and yet we all work within an education system that is built around a lack of connection.

Connections, transitions, lifting education access and outcomes – a lively setting for education is emerging.



1 Comment

Pathway-ED: Smoothing the educational paths rather than plugging the gaps

Stuart Middleton
7 July 2011

In the world of DIY there are products along the lines of NO GAPS which allow you to deal with gaps as they appear or even in new work to maintain those continuous lines and surfaces that lead to a quality finish. 

Continuity of progress is central to students achieving a good result and a gap in the educational journey is disruptive, counter-productive and in some cases the cause of failure and disengagement. The cumulative gaps lead to loads that many students simply cannot endure.

There are a number of reasons for this. One is cognitive: as Vygotsky described it, there is a “zone of proximal development”, a point at which students can with help learn. It occurs just on the edge, the fringe, of previous learning not at some spot that is removed from it or distant to it. Therefore the connection to previous learning is critical. Seamlessness in educational journeys is all.

Many students fail early in their further and higher education for this reason alone. There is a disconnection between their previous learning and what they are now encountering. This might be one of generally inadequate academic preparation or it might be a disciple deficiency. Or it might be the result of poor teaching either before or after the transition from school to post-school. As an educational issue it is serious, is often ignored and is generally seen as the fault of the student.

So getting a “no gaps” mentality into the educational system will require a far greater effort on the part of further and higher education and pose some challenges to the high school sector.

Of course, some higher education institutions simply keep raising the requirements for entry into courses and eventually will have made entry too difficult for such a number of students with the result that they will have taken themselves to a place where students entering courses are prepared to cope with whatever they are thrown. This also enables them to dispense with the support mechanisms required by higher maintenance students. It will depress their numbers and results with under-represented groups but there will be other institutions to pick up that responsibility.

Funding formulae for further and higher education that does not adequately reflect the efforts required to see that there are NO GAPS are simply not adequate. Similarly in high schools there has to be recognition that social class, the way we distribute ethnicity throughout a city and the challenges of low or no income groups make the provision of education in some schools a far greater responsibility and a far harder task than in some other schools. To fund school equally is to fund them unequally.

But gaps are not only the result of inadequate academic preparation or misplaced accuracy in assessing the needs of students, there is also the designer gap as in the “gap year”. Origninally this was the domain of the soft upper classes in the UK who were generally succeeding and were not troubled at all by a gap in the journey. But it has become a notion that not only has spread but which is admired and condoned. “My son / daughter is taking time out / finding their feet / deciding what to do….” and so on are official gaps and the evidence is ambivalent as to how this aids progress.

The final arguments for NO GAPS approach  hinge around clear evidence that if a student proceeds through school and into a postsecondary qualification without a gap they are highly likely to also undertake and complete a further qualification at a level in advance of the first qualification completed after leaving school. The road to advanced qualifications is perhaps one characterised by NO GAPS.

It could be that a “lifelong learner” is the result of this smooth and uninterrupted journey from the novitiate of the early years through to the advanced state of being a self-sufficient learner at a later age and a higher stage. The American Dream of a college degree for all has become the nightmare that it is because this smooth passage through educational stages is seriously disrupted. A great confusion of gaps characterises the community college where qualifications are significantly marked by remediation.

Most do-it-yourself exponents will tell you that those NO GAPS products have limits and their success relies on a solid structure each side of the gap and there are limits to the gaps they can close. My Dad was always saying of a extension he made to our house many years ago that should an earthquake occur we were would in trouble – “all the putty will fall out!” he would say.

Too many students face this threat when the seismic transitions they are asked to make give them a good shake-up. You can’t fill large educational gaps through some quick fix.

Leave a Comment