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Pathways-ED: Blood and fire or beating the retreat?

Stuart Middleton
8 June 2012 


Now that the “alliance of education sector groups” formed to fight “government cut-backs in school staffing” appears to be out of a job, I suggest that they stay together and tackle some of the other big issues. This “unprecedented meeting of six school unions” as it was described would bring together a strength usually only seen in New Zealand when such “coalitions of convenience” are formed – and that is not very often.

Given that the issues of the number of teachers in our schools can galvanise all these groups to cooperate and to seek a common goal, it is exciting that that these key education groups are finally sitting around the table when there are even greater issues to be tackled and perhaps this togetherness is the start of something good. The factionalising of education at the school level has been in no-one’s interests for a long time.

Here are some suggestions for concerns that such a group might focus on.

Educational Failure

Why in an education system that has teachers capable of producing students educated as well as any in the world, do the statistics of education failure continue to resist improvement?

Teacher Professional Development

Why in an occupation which is dedicated to learning do we have so few opportunities for teachers to refresh and expand their own learning? Especially in light of the agreement that central to improving learning is the quality of the work of each and every teacher.


Why do we continue to have such clear demarcations between early childhood education and primary, primary and secondary, secondary and tertiary? Do sectors any longer serve young peoples’ learning? Should early childhood education be merged with the primary sector? Should a middle sector be created (Years 7-10)? Should the senior secondary school be merged into the tertiary sector?


Why in a state education system should schools operate with disparate levels of funding as government funding is distorted by community contributions, fees and donations? Is too much funding locked into inflexible provision of staffing? What are the true costs of a sound educational provision?


Do we really have a national strategy for the use of learning technologies in schools? Will the use of devices in schools be left to the whims of parental wealth and availability of funding? Will schools be in a position to respond to the roll-out of high-speed broadband?


Is it timely to initiate a review of the curriculum in order to clarify gaols and objectives at key transition points, to remove from the curriculum the clutter that has developed and to give priority to key skill areas that are necessary to see all students succeed? Is it time we got serious about teaching community languages?


Why do transition points cause disruption for many students? Are transitions in the right place? Why is it so difficult for us to manage students as they move across transition points?

Skills / Employment

Have we taken our eye off the ball? Is there a developed diminishing focus on skills required for employment or a disconnect between schooling and employment? What is the role of schooling in creating job ready young people? At what ages should the vocational purpose of education and training become explicit. Why do we have skill shortages and yet so many young people doing nothing with their lives?

School Location

Do we have the right number of schools and in the right places? Has the location of schools changed in response to the demise of the horse and unsealed roads in rural areas and changed urban behaviours?


There is agreement that disengagement from education is becoming (has become?) a systemic feature of education in this country. Teachers and school leaders tell me that they see it unfolding over many years in the schools. Do we understand this phenomenon? Do we know what interventions might work and when to apply them?

Any or all of these topics would benefit from a response as intense as that given to the teacher / student ratio issue. Each of these issues can only be addressed by a non-partisan and system-wide response. Each of these issues will continue to dampen educational success among our young people until they are addressed.

Actually, put together they might well make a good agenda for a Royal Commission on Education. Just imagine if we agreed to this in this the Diamond Jubilee Year – it could be referred to in years to come as the Diamond Jubilee Royal Commission on Education – that has a ring to it.

Or will each group return beat a retreat back to their camps to continue the battles another day and in their own way? One skirmish might be over but the war continues against ignorance, a future of doing nothing, educational failure and poverty.


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