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Posted by on in Uncategorized

Eric Crampton, from the New Zealand Initiative, pointed out some research recently which resonated with the experience of a lot of people around here.

It’s about the impact of disruptive students on their peers, and after some of those brain-ache inducing calculations that econometrists of education in the USA are fond of, concludes that they have a significantly bad impact on their educational attainment– to the extent of reducing future earnings to a statistically significant extent.  Here’s a link to the research.

Not being a researcher, I struggled with the use of children’s exposure to domestic violence as the identifier used to determine that a student is disruptive. Surely if the researchers have access to school records (which they did for test scores) they could have used students who were suspended or expelled from school at some point as the identifier instead – which still wouldn’t be perfect, but would have to be an improvement.

But the final sentence of Eric’s post got me thinking. He writes  “The benefits to disruptive students of being in mainstream classrooms would have to be substantial to make integrated classrooms desirable overall.”

This seems somewhat out of touch with how our schools work.  The reality is almost all schools in New Zealand see integration (of disruptive students) as desirable. Removing students, from class or from school, is heavily frowned on by the powers that be (unless you’re a charter school apparently), and the vast majority of schools agree.

An example of this is from a very traditional boys’ school I visited a few years ago which had just got rid of the ‘withdrawal room’ where students were sent to cool off when they were playing up in class. Now teachers were expected to deal with the problem; the message teachers were given was “be more interesting and the boys won’t cause trouble”.  This is consistent from the top down, when the Minister praises schools for getting the rates of suspensions and expulsions down, and the Ministry of Education’s PB4L action plan is about keeping students engaged and at school.

There are a lot of good things about this, and there are good reasons to believe that school practices can reduce the rates of disruption. But, like with student achievement gaps, school practices on their own almost certainly won’t be able to eliminate the problem.

But Eric also seems to assume that there’s a reasonable alternative for ‘disruptive’ students, which isn’t being in mainstream classrooms. Currently there are around 1800 students in Alternative Education (AE) centres, which are where some of the ‘most challenging’ students end up .  While AE providers no doubt are doing the best they can, the outcomes for these students are not good – a 2011 report by ERO found that 37% of the cohort they studied had what they identified as ‘positive outcomes’ after a year.

And AE is only for students aged 13-16 who are “genuinely alienated from the education system”, and specifically not for students who are “difficult to manage in a mainstream setting”. So of the around 230,000 students aged 13-16, there are places for 1800 highly alienated ones in AE centres. What else is there? Very little.

Both practical and ethical considerations mean that we don’t really have a lot of choice about keeping disruptive students in school.

Research we did in 2007 indicated that parents were concerned with disruption in schools – with 18% saying it was a serious problem, and another 43 % saying it was an occasional one. Many expressed a common view of four or five disruptive children per class. Figures reported to the Ministry indicate that, unsurprisingly, rates of formal discipline interventions increase significantly the lower down the decile scale, and the Ministry recognises this by prioritising PB4L support to lower decile schools.

So what else can be done?

Accepting that we shouldn’t, and can’t exclude disruptive students from mainstream education, but that they do, as the research indicates, have a serious impact, particularly when there are multiple disruptive students in a class, maybe the solution is about reducing the numbers of disruptive students in each class?

One way to do this is to dedicate staffing to low decile schools where disruptive students are more prevalent. If classes in those schools went from 25-30 students with 3 or 4 disruptive students to 15-20 with 1-2 that would significantly improve their peers’ learning. This isn’t just backed up by the research Eric points out, it’s also supported by evidence about where class size interventions make the most difference; one of the groups that they make the most difference for is low SES students.


And to go back to Eric’s blog,  if parents knew that the low decile school they were considering for their child had significantly smaller class sizes than the alternative, and therefore the teachers would be much better placed to deal with disruptive behaviour, that could encourage them not to ‘choose up’ the decile scale. 

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Posted by on in Charter schools

David Seymour almost appears reasonable when discussing educational choice – stating that consumers should be “free to choose the school that suits them” is a nice political soundbite, made more compelling given his personal foibles and practised earnestness. But, let’s be frank - every school in New Zealand must cater for difference. Schools are obliged to provide opportunities for all akonga to learn while providing the acculturation they need to take their place in society.

The public system provides this – and continued improvement will result from sharing best practice and providing professional development for teachers to meet the needs of all, not from ideology dressed up as fact.

Education ‘silos’, ostensibly catering for interest groups, will do little to ensure these needs are met. Rather, evidence suggests that students who do not meet a Charter’s targets are ‘let go’ (and those with complex educational needs often don’t get in in the first place).

Imagining that an approach to schooling which allows untrained and unregistered teachers, lacks an evidence base, is without any public scrutiny around how managers spend taxpayer dollars and does not require these institutions to take the very learners Seymour suggests might 'need' a new model is not about choice - it's political chicanery.

Word map - political chicanery


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Posted by on in Politics

There isn't much that shouldn't be taught at school - possibly there isn't anything that shouldn't be taught at school (especially if you ask politician who is trying to find an answer for a particularly vocal constituent, lobby group and/or party donor).

Schools should (and many do) educate kids on:

how to be financially savvy

how to be entrepreneurs

how to drive

how to swim

reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic

how to appreciate the importance of the dairy industry

how to cook

how to clean

how to garden

how to have sex

how not to have sex

how to dress

how not to dress

how to .... (fill in the blank)

It's nearly the weekend - so I'm going with Italy's idea:

schools should teach kids how to drink wine.

(and NZ craft beer - Have a good weekend!)



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Charter schools have been kicking out students at a rate many times higher than comparable public schools, a risk raised when they were first proposed.

Vanguard Military Academy expelled or excluded four students in 2014, and another four in the first half of 2015, while the total number of students at the school was around 100.

The average rate of exclusions in public schools in 2014 was 1.4 per thousand students, and expulsion was 1 per thousand students. Vanguard’s rate was more than 20 times the national average.

A 2012 report in the Herald on data about suspensions showed that even schools with very high rates of use of formal disciplinary measures, such as Rotorua’s Western Heights High and Hamilton’s Fraser High School, had lower rates than Vanguard, which excluded or expelled nearly 4% of its students, compared to 1.2% and 2.5% respectively.

Charter schools in the USA are notorious for doing this, with research from Chicago showing the charters were expelling students at over 10 times the rate of public schools. In New York just last month children’s advocates called for increased accountability and transparency with charter school discipline processes to address this significant problem.

Vanguard not only has very high exclusion and expulsion rates, it also has very high numbers of students leaving during the year, with 29 of 104 leaving during the 2014 school year, nearly 30% of the school.

While their representative claims that this is because they have completed qualifications and are leaving to further work or study, this has not been independently verified. Internationally charter schools are known to informally exit students who will undermine their achievement data.

Vanguard is not the only charter school in New Zealand with unusually high levels of disciplinary exiting of students and turnover of students during the year. South Auckland Middle School, with 111 students, excluded 2 students in 2014 and another 1 in the first half of 2015.

The same operator runs another charter in West Auckland which just opened in 2015 and excluded one student in its first six months.

South Auckland Middle School (SAMS) also mirrors Vanguard in the high number of students leaving during the year, with 15 students leaving during the school year of 2014. Turnover during the year of more than 10% would be very unusual at any public school.

The high turnover and disciplinary rates at these charters casts real doubt on their achievement claims – any school that got rid of ‘problem students’ at that rate could get fantastic NCEA stats. And while charter supporters may say it’s a good thing as it shows they’re maintaining high standards, it completely undermines the claim that this policy is about raising achievement for students who are failing in the mainstream system.

And in the USA this video, filmed in a classroom at a Success Academy charter school has again raised questions about ‘no excuses’ charter schools treatment of students.  It’s not hard to see from this why student turnover at these schools would be high.




Figures are all from the school’s annual and quarterly reports, which are available here: http://www.education.govt.nz/ministry-of-education/information-releases/partnership-schools-kura-hourua-information-release/approved-partnership-schools/  Annual reports for 2015 have not yet been released, so data goes up to July that year.

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I am  surprised at the comments made by some Principals over recent days. I have sat on a cross sector Health and Safety Forum that was formed on 9 December 2014 and has met regularly since.

Every agency involved in any aspect of education in NZ has been represented. This group has cooperated, debated, argued and resolved issues that suddenly have reared their heads again.

The liability and ability to sue individual teachers and principals has been around since the 1992 Health and Safety in Employment Act was passed and continues through various amendments until the present day.

These fines were for failure to provide duty of care and gross negligence and where serious harm was caused, as such nothing much has changed.

1992 penalties

(a) imprisonment for a term of not more than 2 years; or
(b) a fine of not more than $500,000; or
(c) both.


a fine not exceeding $250,000, who fails to comply with the requirements of……….


Every person who fails to comply with section 16(3) commits an offence, and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $10,000.

So what has changed?

2015 penalties

The Act creates three offence tiers relating to breaches of the health and safety duties. The offences and the respective maximum penalties can be summarised as follows:

Reckless Conduct (has a duty and exposes any person to whom the duty is owed to risk of death or serious injury/illness and is reckless as to that risk) – fines up to $3 million
(or $600,000 and/or up to five years’ imprisonment for individuals).

Failure to comply with a Duty (with exposure to risk of death or serious injury/illness) –
fines up to $1.5 million (or $300,000 for individuals).

Failure to comply with a Duty (no exposure to death or serious injury/illness) – fines up to $500,000
(or $100,000 for individuals).

So let me see prior to the new act fines of up to $500,000 caused no issues ($500k is approx. $808K now) but $600,000 now is a problem? That means individual houses have to be put in trust?


Who is kidding who?

The new law clarifies and tightens up lines of responsibility and that post Pike River is a good thing but in order to qualify for these fines you must have done something reasonably (extremely) bad.

Today saw the launch of a health and safety practical guide for boards of trustees and school leaders. The guide provides clear explanations, example policies, procedures and checklists. The Ministry have also separated out the individual tools and put write enabled versions under the appropriate sections on the webspace.

The dual NZSTA and Ministry resource, the guide has been peer reviewed by over 80 schools and the Health and Safety Sector Reference Group, (the forum) made up of your principal associations, PPTA, NZEI and NZSTA. NZSTA have also committed to printing and sending all schools a copy of this guide.

To ensure a positive health and safety culture, as well as compliance, at all workplaces the general expectation is that schools will review their practices in this area to ensure they are meeting the requirements. Our practical guide and factsheets will support principals and boards to meet their obligations.

As the forum have said all along, if you have sound robust current systems then you have nothing to worry about. Do ensure that you get feedback from your organisation representative at the very informative forum.

If you are a PPTA member get the latest updates by contacting us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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Yesterday’s release of leaked documents from the Ministry of Education on a potential replacement for the decile funding system was a good kick-start to the debate on school funding.

Predictably though, there does seem to be a lot of confusion about how schools are currently funded, let alone what’s being proposed.

To start off, on One News last night Katie Bradford said that government funding is “allocated based on a school’s decile rating.”

That’s a lot like saying “How well kids do at school depends on how good their teachers are.” Yep, it’s true to some extent, but there are a bunch of other factors that matter too, and their impact is far from negligible.

Conveniently, with regards to funding, we can work out exactly how big all these factors are.


That little red bit above, in the middle of each column is the part that is generated by the decile rating of each school. It ranges from 8% of total resourcing in decile 1 schools to 1% in decile 10. Compare this to locally raised funds, i.e. what they get from having fee paying international students, art auctions, or sausage sizzles, which ranges from 4% at decile 1 to 15% at decile 10.

Much to no one’s surprise, Mike Hosking was well off beam on the topic.

“Deciles are a very very blunt instrument, a big wide geographic net that somehow encapsulates a bunch of kids, based on little more than the value of the house they happen to live in. And having used that blunt instrument you then toss money at the school based on that number.”

While lots of people have been talking about the ‘blunt instrument’ of deciles, the reason for that is they do not recognise characteristics of individual students at a school , and not because they are an unsophisticated or simplistic measure. If you want to get into the details of how they are calculated, it’s all in this great post from Professor John O’Neill. Suffice to say, house value has nothing to do with it.

If, as Hosking asserts, decile ratings are used to ‘toss money’ at schools, then the graph above should show that low decile schools were getting significant amounts of their funding on that basis. It clearly doesn’t.

And talking about tossing money at schools, the amount that high decile schools raise from their communities, both as a percentage and in absolute terms massively outweighs any funding that’s generated as a result of measures of need. The figures are that the lowest decile get $42 million in decile related funding, while the highest raised over $100 million. To put it another way, decile one schools on average are 'tossed' about $145,000 per school by the government, while decile 10 schools each get around $380,000 from their local fundraising. 

The only part of school funding that seems to be up for a change in the proposal that the Ministry is considering is that little red section, i.e. the decile component. It’s not insignificant, but it’s not exactly a comprehensive review of school funding, and won’t touch on much bigger questions, such as the overall sufficiency of funding.

One illustration of how we’re going with that can be found in the graph below – which is directly from the Ministry of Education’s website.



This shows New Zealand’s per student funding remain persistently below other developed countries. I’m guessing this isn’t going to be a part of the debate though, and instead we’ll have Hosking and other blunt instruments telling us that tossing money at things doesn’t help. 

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On the way to work yesterday morning I read this:

Gerry Brownlee, the making of the man in charge

It was the first three paragraphs that caught my eye:

"The crowd at the Post Primary Teachers' Association meeting was almost united. Brian Dunne, a maths and religious education teacher from St Bede's College, can't recall what the motion was for, but he remembers the entire meeting was in favour of it, except for one voice. It was Gerry Brownlee who called out "No".

"When they said 'carried' he yelled out 'division'," Dunne said, "Which meant they had to go and count every vote. That was Gerry."

Gerry Brownlee, a singing, rugby-loving woodwork teacher from Christchurch, already appeared to be cultivating an image as a master contrarian. He was a loyal National party man in a roomful of teachers for starters. Here he was making sure everybody knew.

Brownlee has ascended from fighting the good fight in an enemy stronghold to be the number three man in the National Party and the Earthquake Recovery Minister."

The framing would appear to be

1.     That teachers don't belong to the National Party (except Gerry did and he was a teacher)
2.     That fellow teachers are the enemy (doesn't say much for  the reporter's view of teamwork, collegiality or professional relationships)
3.     That members of the PPTA  are the enemy (except for the fact that, according to this story, Gerry was obviously an active member of the PPTA)

And assumptions that

  • the other teachers in the room knew Gerry was a National Party supporter.
  • the other teachers cared about what political party Gerry (or any colleague) belonged to.
  • teachers vote along party political lines not on the basis of their professional beliefs.
  • teachers who are National Party supporters should treat their colleagues with disrespect.

Poor Gerry -  what a conundrum to be in.

Imagine changing a sentence -

"He was a loyal National party man in a roomful of fellow citizens (fellow voters)." Or even

"He was a PPTA member in a roomful of fellow PPTA members" (or unionists if you prefer).

"He was a proud teacher in a roomful of teaching colleagues."

Gerry was all of the above - but then there’s no story and the next sentence about fighting some imaginary enemy wouldn't make any sense.

If that's the quality of the story that was being sought - then it was certainly a good reason for Gerry Brownlee to decline to be interviewed.



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Posted by on in Education

Despite certain MPs chirruping that “we place more value on things we pay for”, the pitfalls of the ‘free market’ have struck a chord recently.

We read that 60% of the higher incomes associated with having tertiary qualifications are cancelled out by the current Loans System and that Teacher Aides may make less over their careers than people with no formal tertiary qualifications.
(Further, we frequently hear that newly trained primary teachers can’t find jobs -so have to find alternatives to pay back their Loans- while first year secondary teachers can only find precarious fixed-term work -despite teacher shortages).

This is out of tune with National’s “everything is rosy” chorus.

The ‘user pays’ approach also has consequences for schools: when the MOE spreads the putea more thinly to meet business-model educational precepts, we see ‘efficiencies’ to school-based initiatives and other operational costs and the farming out of in-school services to private contractors (which schools can “choose” to pay for).

The result is that parents have propped up what schools ‘are expected’ to provide, to the tune of $1 billion.

Whether or not Labour’s free study and Future of Work policies provide the answer, at least they are humming a different tune.

$ apple

(Jack Boyle is the PPTA Executive member for Hutt Valley/Wairarapa. Letter published in Dominion Post February 2016)

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Hekia has said it hundreds of times, Graham Stoop’s got it stuck on a loop, it’s all over their website, and it’s even written into the law – so it must be true, right?

The Education Council is supposed to be ‘raising the status of the profession’… isn’t it?

If so, their new approach to reporting deregistration decisions is mystifying.

Check the list of their latest press releases:


The Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal (which covers the two most well respected professions in the country, nurses and doctors) doesn’t put out press releases trumpeting their decisions to deregister someone who has done wrong.

Neither do the Law Society or IPENZ.  

Yes, the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal releases its decisions publicly as it should, and as the Education Council should too. The outcomes of these decisions are clearly in the public interest.  But it’s quite a different thing to send around a press release.

Transparency about these decisions is important, and making sure that people who are unfit are not allowed to teach is one of the most important roles of the Council.

But shouldn’t the Council have a calm and measured approach to this? Press statements on these decisions are in bad taste and make it appear as if the Council is desperately seeking publicity.

Journalists cover these decisions in great detail anyway, and it wouldn’t be hard for them to find out who to call at the Council for comment.

The Education Council’s PR has been ham-fisted on a number of occasions now, from failing to engage with the stigmatising front page story on mentally ill teachers to briefly releasing suppressed details online.  Let’s hope the substance of what they are doing, which is so crucially important, is of better quality than the spin.

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This week’s OECD report on low performing students in the 2012 PISA tests demonstrated again the significant impact that out of school factors, such as demographics and socio-economic status (SES) have on student achievement.  So far, so sadly predictable.

What it also gave was some pointers towards what to do about it. In New Zealand, as the headlines said, being from the lowest SES quarter of the population means you’re six times more likely to be in the low performing group. In some countries the rate is far lower – in fact in the Netherlands, the difference is so low it’s not statistically significant.

 The final section of the report gives policy advice, based on what the countries that are doing well and improving have done. This comes with the usual caveats, which generally disappear when a politician has a microphone in their face, i.e. there’s no silver bullet, countries are different from each other, and every country, at all times, has had an achievement gap of some kind.

Bearing those sobering points in mind, the Netherlands is still an interesting case. One of the strategies that is used there, highlighted in the report, is “….allocating additional resources to schools based on the number or proportion of disadvantaged students enrolled…“ and that this “…can be an effective and equitable way of supporting low performers.”

To some extent we do this already in New Zealand, through the much discussed decile system.  There’s a lot of misunderstanding of decile, mostly by people who seem to think it has some sort of relationship with the quality of the school. But what’s often lost is just how small the decile related components of school funding are.

Decile related funding ranges from 9.5% of total funding (operations, staffing and locally raised) in decile 1 schools, which are the 10% with the highest proportion of students from low SES communities to 0.5% of funding at decile 10. And just to be clear what this means, the purpose of this funding is “..to help … overcome any barriers to learning that students from lower socio-economic communities might face”, so we (i.e. governments the public has voted in over the last 20 to 30 years) think that less than 10% above base funding is enough to overcome these barriers.

The contrast with the Netherlands is stark. There, the nearly 15% of schools that serve the highest proportion of disadvantaged students receive 80-90% extra funding, as this 2010 paper describes. In practice what this means is that the schools which serve the most disadvantaged students have much lower teacher : student ratios (around 60% more teachers ) and many more support staff, along with other advantages.

Of course, there are a lot of factors which have to be interrogated closely about the comparison, and I’m certainly not advocating picking up the Dutch system wholesale – for one thing, in the Netherlands one of the main identifiers for educational and social disadvantage is being a recent immigrant, where in New Zealand new immigrants tend to perform well in school. But it seems as if this concept is one which we would be crazy not to be looking at closely.  There’s a review of school funding happening at the moment, and I sincerely hope that this type of information is being taken seriously.

So perhaps successive New Zealand governments are right that less than 10% extra funding is perfectly adequate to overcome the barriers to learning that the poorest students in New Zealand face, and perhaps there are quite different things going on which lead to the persistent achievement gap that so closely correlates with socio-economic status. On the other hand, this evidence from the Netherlands, and increasingly also from the USA where the impact of court-ordered school funding reforms has been tracked now for several decades, does seem to indicate that significant extra resourcing to schools which serve our poorest children makes a real difference.

Of course, there are lots of questions that have to be answered about this, like how disadvantage is identified and measured, what are the appropriate ratios or weightings, and what are the right mechanisms to deliver the extra funding. But we’re keen to try and find answers for these questions, and we’ll work with anyone else who wants to do this crucial work too. 

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Posted by on in Politics

I was sorry to see Chris Hipkins succumb to the ever-present temptation amongst politicians to use public servants as cannon fodder in their war with other political parties.

The Ministry of Education has moved to a new building instead of being scattered across Wellington in four buildings. For those who complain about “silos” in the ministry the fact that everyone is now in the same building is surely a good thing.   There is nothing luxurious about this new working space. It meets all cost-saving demands Treasury makes; hot desking (if you’re late you have to hunt round for somewhere to do your work) everything digitised, no paper anywhere and no cafeteria /staffrooms.  In other words, the complete commodification of labour. There are no personal spaces (although everyone gets single locker and a laptop) and no unsupervised spots where staff can get together and talk about things management would rather they didn’t.  As with MLEs in schools, the ugly reality is concealed by the phrase “modern working environment.”

Worst of all was the way Hipkins set the issue up for a sorry piece by TV 3 Story programme making a superficial comparison with the state of school buildings by choosing a particularly extreme example of a leaky school.  Comparing the one-story staircase at Clayton Park School with the $2.5 million staircase in a multi-storied Wellington high-rise that would have to meet very stringent earthquake safety requirements was ridiculous in the extreme.

It also missed the real story there and that is if we really cared about value for taxpayers, Clayton Park would be closed. There are surplus school places in Manurewa and it should never have opened in the first place – spending $15 million to rebuild a school that is surplus to requirements (but good at managing the media) is where the real scandal lies. 

There are times the ministry gets what it deserves but this isn't one of them.


 PPTA staff meet with a ministry official to discuss senior secondary school staffing in the (somewhat noisy) open plan ministry.


PPTA staff meet with a ministry official to discuss senior secondary school staffing in the (somewhat noisy) open plan ministry.


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I don’t envy the officials who are writing the new purpose statement for the Education Act. I’ve been on two boards of trustees which did something similar with our school charters, and it’s tortuous trying to find the balance between competing views and priorities (in one school even), let alone coming up with words that are pithy, honest, and hopefully vaguely inspiring.

No doubt many of the submissions to the review referred to the statement written in 1939 for the minister of education, Peter Fraser, by the young assistant director of education, C.E. Beeby:

The government’s objective, broadly expressed, is that every person, whatever his academic ability, whether he be rich or poor, whether he live in town or country, has a right, as a citizen, to a free education of the kind for which he is best fitted and to the fullest extent of his powers

This statement, an expression of the idea of equality of opportunity, became something of a ‘foundational myth’ for our public education system, and helped cement Beeby’s place in the hearts of progressives, and eventually pretty much everyone involved in education in New Zealand. Illustrating this, until recently a bust of Beeby sat on the counter of the ministry national office (during some of the ministry’s less glorious periods he would certainly have been ‘liberated’ by various defenders of his legacy if he wasn’t so heavy).

Over fifty years after writing his most famous words, Beeby reflected on the purpose of education and the hunt for a statement to sum it up, and his words are a caution to the public servant following in his wake today:

“My search for a realistic and lasting statement on the objectives of education led me to recall a lecture at Canterbury College in 1921, where an earnest fellow-student of mine, anxious to see the relation between Shelley’s invigorating presentations and the routine lectures at training college, asked Shelley when he was going to give a lecture on the aims of education. Shelley replied, ’You tell me the aims of life and I’ll tell you the aims of education.’ It may have been the wisest thing I ever heard Shelley say. For administrators, defining the objectives presents an insoluble dilemma. If they set out to itemise their objectives in what I earlier called a grocery list, they know that there will be competition between the items, either because the conflict in principle or because they are competing for limited funds; if they spend more on jam they will have less to spend on bread. But if they express their objectives in broad abstract terms, they are aware that their words can be interpreted to mean different things, and that academic theorists are standing by to perform the useful task of spelling that out.

Oh dear. Let’s put ‘the aims of life’ into law aye….  Where could this possibly go wrong?

But, he continues with this:

Yet the public and the teaching profession have a right to know, in clear and simple terms, the overall policy of those who control the national education service…”

So, this makes things interesting, in that really what we need to know is what Parata and her colleagues think the purpose of education is.  I’m not sure about this, but maybe it would be better that this was set out in a speech (like what Beeby did for Fraser back in 1939) rather than written into law.


Anyway, good luck to whoever is writing this section, I hope Beeby’s muse appears for you.


Quotes in this post are from C.E. Beeby's The Biography of an Idea, Beeby on Education (NZCER, 1992)

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There are not many New Zealand books specifically about secondary education, and even fewer by people with the wealth of experience that this author has. Bold and challenging, Bali Haque’s ‘Changing our Secondary Schools’ is in many ways a timely and important book. It’s also very flawed, both in its analysis of the problems facing the sector and in regards to the proposals for change.


An example of this is the solution he proposes to the issue of teacher workload.  While it’s very welcome to see someone taking this problem seriously, there are major flaws with his solution, which is that if teachers worked through the school holidays and had the same amount of actual leave as other employees, then teaching would be a much more manageable and desirable job.  The issues of all teachers being forced to take much less leave at the same time, that many teachers choose to go teaching for the family friendly holidays, and that teacher remuneration would have to increase significantly to offset this loss, are all ignored.

Haque was a secondary teacher, member of the PPTA executive, principal at three schools and most prominently lead the secondary assessment section of NZQA during the mid to late 2000s. He knows the education sector well, and is thoughtful and not easily pigeonholed.

Many of the problems that Haque identifies in this book will be familiar; unsurprisingly the main one is the ‘achievement gap’. What is a bit more surprising is that he’s adamant that schools and teachers can’t solve this problem on their own, and that a wider government programme to address poverty and inequality must occur if this ‘gap’ is to be closed. This is welcome realism from someone who in many ways speaks the language, and is a member, of the educational policy elite. In one section he is scathing of Graham Stoop, current head of the Education Council, for suggesting that “all schools, regardless of their decile rating should be expected to perform equally well”.

The main strengths of this book are the explanations of some of the existing features of secondary schooling – in particular what NCEA data shows and doesn’t, and why comparisons between schools are fraught, how decile ratings work and the problems with them, and the strengths and weaknesses of the ERO model.

Haque explores four main policies, Tomorrow’s Schools, NCEA, the New Zealand Curriculum, and National Standards in some depth, coming to the conclusion that all of them were poorly implemented, something that anyone who is familiar with PPTA’s critiques over the years will have heard before. He also lays into the Ministry of Education, PPTA and secondary principals for a range of sins, some of which are probably right, as well, of course, as the politicians.

The inconsistencies in his analysis are perhaps most clearly revealed in his views on Tomorrow’s Schools. While he rails against the competitive, fractured model of schooling that it introduced, and includes an interesting ‘mea culpa’ about his time as principal at Rosehill when he deliberately undermined a neighbouring college, he is also critical that the full Tomorrow’s Schools vision has not been realised, claiming “If we are to retain the philosophy of Tomorrow’s Schools, then bulk funding is a necessary part of that philosophy.”

Similar to this, while he says that principals are encouraged to behave badly by Tomorrow’s Schools, and that their current appointment and management processes by Boards are woefully lacking, despite this we should also give them far more discretion over teacher pay, both in regards to progression up the scale and extra ‘Excellence Units’ to reward top performers.


It will be interesting to see what, if any, influence it has on the policy debate; he certainly doesn’t sugar coat things to try and make them more acceptable to the current government,  for example he is very dismissive of Investing in Educational Success (“…it is abundantly clear already that the chances of success of the new scheme are low…”). Despite all the problems, I welcome an honest vent from someone with many years of experience in and around schools. Haque’s views won’t be widely palatable, which is what makes this a courageous book.


Changing our Secondary Schools, by Bali Haque, published by NZCER Press, 2014. You can order a copy here . 

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Today's announcement that the struggling charter school in Whangaruru will (likely) be closed has been hailed by David Seymour as a sign of the 'strength of the model'.

The possibility of occasional school failures was accepted during both the formulation of the policy and the authorisation of each school,” said Mr Seymour.

“The potential for school closure is a strength, not a weakness, of the Partnership Schools model. Overseas evidence shows that closing failing schools and allowing successful schools to expand improves education outcomes as the charter or partnership model matures.

“Education innovators should be continue to be commended for their bravery, supported in their efforts, be accountable for their failures, and congratulated for their successes.”

In a pure market model of schooling this makes sense. Bad businesses 'go under' and good ones thrive, ergo, the same for schools. 

But (in this model again...) the people who pay the price of a business going under are the owners - the risk, and the rewards, are theirs (of course in real life there are also employees, the community etc... but let's ignore that for the sake of Seymour's model).  

It's not the same with a school. The risks here have been borne most heavily by the students; around 50 of them have had two years of a complete mess of an education. The trust who run the school on the other hand - well it looks like they walk away with the assets and a couple of years of very generous pay packets. Is that what being 'accountable for their failures' means? I don't think so. 

So, after the state puts in over $4.5 million over two and a bit years into around 50 students' education, what does the minister think they have got?

* student achievement concerns remain and the quality of teaching remains poor

* inadequate curriculum leadership continues to impact negatively on students

* the curriculum is not and has not been consistent with the broad ranging curriculum vision articulated in the contract

* a lack of basic literacy and numeracy underpinning qualification credits achieved

This is really shows up some of the bullshit about the whole issue of social entrepreneurship. Vulnerable people, young people, sick people, people in jail don't have the same relationship with the providers of schools, counselling, healthcare or prisons, as they do with the people they buy their groceries from. It's ridiculous to pretend that they do. 

And we get called 'ideological' for pointing this out...  



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Winston Churchill famously referred to it as a “black dog”, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin - arguably one of the greatest heroes of modern history - has spent a lifetime dealing with it, John Kirwan has been extremely open about it, and it is infused in all of Stephen Fry’s comic genius. I am, of course, referring to depression.

There’s been a concerted effort by organisations like the Mental Health Foundation over the last decade to destigmatize depression and other mental illnesses, so it was with some surprise that I found myself reading a headline in the Dominion Post this morning, by Caleb Harris, entitled “Mentally Ill Teachers Investigated by Watchdog”. One click and I’m faced with another piece of clickbait in the sub-headline, this time; “99 Teachers Investigated Over Psychological State in Six Years”. A quick skim of the first paragraph of the article suggests that, quite frankly, we’re leaving our precious children in the hands of loonies. Loonies I tell you! Won’t someone think of the children? (Problematically, Harris appears to include ADHD and Aspergers as mental illnesses. They’re not.)

It’s not until the fourth paragraph that I discover that, actually, only four teachers in this period actually had their registration suspended which, given a workforce of some 100,000 teachers, seems incredibly small. And without comparing teachers to other professionals, this data is fairly meaningless. How many lawyers have been struck off in similar cases? How many doctors? How many nurses? Let’s face it, Harris’ article was nothing more than a cheap shot - a classic example of teacher bashing (on the day when many parents realise they’ve lost their state-funded free childcare until 2016, and are faced with the grim reality of having to look after their own children), as well as further stigmatising the mentally ill, already a soft target when the mainstream media is looking to point a finger at someone, for something.

This article really got my blood boiling. As someone who has lived with depression for many years, I don’t consider my illness to have ever impacted on my teaching. It certainly has never led to “aggressive, violent or threatening behaviour toward children” nor to “theft, bullying, harassment and falsifying grades”. That’s OK though, there’s an organisation that can DO SOMETHING about this outrage. They’re called the Education Council, and one of the things they’ve been charged with is raising “the status of the profession”. I flick them a quick message on Facebook, assuming they’re as incensed as I am, and will immediately issue a press release condemning the facile assumptions in the Dominion Post. But no … a few hours later I receive a notification from them, telling me that they thought the article was “balanced”. I am honestly perplexed by this. Were they reading the same article as me? How is the professional organisation that represents “all teachers from early childhood education through to primary and secondary schooling” and aims to “champion good teaching practice and help raise the status and image of the teaching profession” not really angry about the assumptions that this article makes - that mental illness is still taboo, that teachers who live with mental illness are a threat to the wellbeing of their students and colleagues, and only a program of “rehabilitative support” will allow them to continue teaching?

And herein lies the rub. Does the Education Council really have the best interests of teachers at heart? Whilst they quickly claim to be an “independent” organisation, the non-democratic, politically appointed positions show this to be a lie. And whilst the council is charged with “raising the status of the profession”, this doesn’t sit easily with its other roles - like replacing the current Code of Ethics with a Code of Conduct or acting as a “watchdog”. PPTA has been, and continues to be, critical of the way the Education Council has been foisted upon the teaching profession, despite the large number of submissions from members of the public concerned about the removal of democratic, non-political voice on the council. A few months back, in reply to another Facebook post, Educanz stated “Wait and see. We don't expect to convince teachers with our words but with our actions.” Today’s lack of action spoke volumes.


This is a guest post by PPTA Executive member for Auckland's Eastern Ward, Lawrence Mikkelsen.  Follow Lawrence on Twitter @suburban_ennui 

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I’ve been wondering lately if the age of radicalism in  New Zealand education in is over.

I don’t mean radical in the sense of jumping on the latest fad or getting excited about ‘disruptive innovation’. I mean radical as in wanting to change the world for the better.


In the early 1970s, from my reading of it anyway, it was pretty common for teachers to explicitly state that real social change was the goal of what they were doing. This wasn’t social change in the sense of producing better workers for ‘jobs that don’t exist yet’.  This was social change in the sense of taking on the established order.



It seems to me that the scope of debate now is about means rather than ends. This recent publication, and in particular the final two contributions from John Morris and Claire Amos show this perfectly.

To simplify, the former is the advocate of the traditional, desks in line in rigidly stratified classrooms, with a professorial and charismatic teacher up the front asking socratic questions about Shakespeare, and the latter is a fan of kids on bean bags, hooked up to a 3d printer and skyping with an industrial designer in Beijing while the teacher uses google docs to give feedback on their latest Vines. 

While they seem wildly different, I reckon it’s mostly cosmetic. Preparing students for the ‘21st century’, or the ‘knowledge age society’ is all the same – it’s about getting young people ready to be good citizens.

The radical argument takes a different perspective – we shouldn’t be preparing young people for society, because that society is stuffed.  They should be learning why and how to change it.

I’m not pretending that this was ever a dominant philosophy in NZ schools, but from my reading and talking with some people who were beginning their teaching careers then, it was really a thing for a while,  particularly in the late 1960s and early 1970s.


Why then? I think one big reason is that education seemed less high stakes then – the sense of economic nervousness that drives a lot of decision making, both from parents and students, and from the government didn’t really exist.   This gave the freedom to push the boundaries and no-one minded too much;  kids would leave school at some point and get jobs if they wanted to, and be pretty much fine if they didn’t anyway. This all started to change in the mid 1970s. And now it’s become so much the norm that we don’t even notice it.

Maybe we’re fortunate that we’re living in an era where the big arguments are about form rather than function …. “THIS is the best way to raise achievement”, no “THIS is the best….” Maybe we’re in  Francis Fukuyama’s  ‘end of history’ for the teaching profession.


Despite what it sounds like, I’m not 100% certain that the radical take on what school is for is the right one, but it would be a real pity if there's no one to make the case for it any more.  

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At the moment schools are sorting out their timetables for next year. To do this, they need to have the teachers lined up and ready to go.

And the word we’re getting from a number of secondary schools is that they’re struggling to get the staff they need. The pressure in Auckland, with ridiculous housing costs, is one part of it. Another, all around the country, is finding teachers of subjects like science, maths, Te Reo Māori and technology. I heard recently about a secondary school with no trained maths teachers lined up for next year after several just left.

Some of the suggestions for solving these have been an Auckland allowance (like exists in London) and reintroduction of scholarships/traineeships for particular shortage subject areas.

There’s another possible solution though that’s pretty much taboo to talk about – but it’s staring us in the face and should certainly be put in the mix.

Here’s a hint.



(Data from OECD Education At A Glance 2015.  Indicator D3 How much are teachers paid?  http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/888933286177 - in $US with purchasing power parity. Based on earnings from 2012)

 What this shows (and not only how low our salaries are)  is that New Zealand is pretty unusual in the way that teachers in primary and secondary schools are paid the same. The OECD average is that secondary are paid around 7.5% more than primary.

By suggesting that we should look at this I’m not saying that primary teaching is less important, or an easier job or anything like that. It’s about recognising that it’s harder to recruit people into secondary teaching – as some stories from earlier this year showed. This one, on secondary teacher shortages and this one, on graduates from primary teacher training not being able to find jobs are examples of the different issues in the different sectors.

We’ve got a working party on secondary teacher supply beginning soon, which came out of the STCA round. It would be worth considering this issue as part of the mix.

For some background, read more about entrenchment here

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Yesterday a number of technical and relatively minor amendments to the Education Act and other related legislation were announced- some coverage is here and here.

But one of the changes struck me as curious -  it's an amendment to section 79 of the Education Act which authorises the minister to make payments to boards of trustees - i.e. for their operational grants, property and so forth. 

What this amendment does is also allow payments also to be made to 'sponsors' , i.e. the organisations that run charter schools. 

Here's what the Cabinet Paper introducing this legislation said about this section:



The question is then - if this change is 'required' and these payments "should also be authorised" - under what authority have the payments (around $20-$25 million so far) been made? Does this mean that they are open to legal challenge, or should the Auditor General be looking at this? 

(I'm too petty not to point out here that this bill with these 'inadvertent omissions' was claimed by David Seymour to be the 'best charter school model' in the world... a low bar eh...)

One thing that I'm wondering (assistance welcome!), is how this fits with the fact that appropriations for charter schools were made in the budget (for each of the years they've been running, so the first one was Budget 2013 for the schools which opened in 2014) - which is passed by parliament, so that arguably would seem to authorise payments. 

However, from reading a bit about this on the Parliament website - it does seem as if appropriations don't necessarily mean that there is authority to make payments, i.e.;

An appropriation does not enable the Crown, a department or anyone else to do something which they are not otherwise legally authorised to do; the existence of an appropriation does not make lawful something which is unlawful.

So were the payments unlawful as there wasn't explicit parliamentary authority to make them? 

The other way they could have been lawful, without having explicit authority from parliament (i.e. in an Act), is if they are allowed because of the contract that the Crown entered into with the sponsors. It seems, from that same page, that entering into a contract might be authority enough. But if that's the case, why is this change required?

And then, where does that leave the extra payment made to the (supposedly about to be closed) charter school in Whangaruru? It got an extra $129,000 above the contractually agreed funding earlier this year. 

I'd be happy to be put right on this and have someone explain what's going on - and I definitely don't think it's is a conspiracy, but if it is a cock up, it's a spectacular one. 


Updated 30.11

Thanks to the people at the MoE who got back to me to answer this. Turns out there is a clause in the Education Act that made these payments lawful (particularly the one above the contract) - Section 321. This seems to be a catch all section which I have no idea what sort of 'bodies' would be paid under generally - as things like tertiary, compulsory and ECE all have their own specific sections. 

Would have been helpful if this had been mentioned in the Cabinet Paper or Regulatory Impact Statement ... That it wasn't does make me wonder whether it was dug out after the fact to cast a veil of respectability. Here's the full response:

Section 79 of the Education Act 1989 is the main resourcing provision for state schools. It authorises the payment of, for example, operational funding and salaries funding for state schools. For Partnership Schools, most funding goes through the contract. The amendment clarifies that section 79 applies to any grants or payments outside the contract to sponsors of partnership schools.


The grants are authorised by section 321 of the Education Act 1989 (“grants to educational bodies”).  However, as Partnership Schools are registered schools, it is more appropriate for grants to be paid via section 79.  The Bill clarifies the legal position.


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New Zealand recently hosted a conference for Teach for All, a global network which the Herald described as leading ‘a teaching revolution’.


The short version of what they do is just that, short. Train people for six weeks and get them out into schools as ‘teachers’.

It’s not hard to see why this is controversial when it’s put this bluntly. In the USA, where the programme first began under the patriotic-sounding title ‘Teach for America’, the main criticism is that these teachers are woefully underprepared for the realities of the classroom, and in particular the classrooms in schools in poor neighbourhoods where they’re specifically recruited to teach.

Again, in the USA, it’s also seen as a cut price way to get bodies in front of classrooms, which undermines the teaching profession and does a disservice to needy students by giving them inferior teachers.

Teach For All’s professed goal is to close the education gap between students from poor and wealthy backgrounds, and the way that they aim to achieve this is by recruiting ‘top graduates’ who wouldn’t usually choose to go into teaching.

It’s a noble and important cause that’s worth taking seriously and looking for new ways to address.

When PPTA first was informed that New Zealand was getting a Teach First programme here we were sceptical. We had heard the US criticisms and were aware of its connections with the corporate education reform agenda.

However, we also could see that a programme of field-based teacher education, for subjects where there are shortages of teachers, could have some advantages.  Many of our PPTA members went through teacher education under somewhat similar schemes in the 1960s and 1970s, when they were paid as they trained. 

Cognisant of the potential benefits and pitfalls, we commissioned independent research on the impact of fast track teacher training schemes. The research, which pulled together over 100 studies from around the world, painted a complex picture – more ‘shades of grey’ than black and white.

Teacher training, like these six week courses, that is “minimal and highly technicist”, combined with the “inherent assumption that anyone who is bright and enthusiastic can teach”, is seen as devaluing teachers. The high turnover of graduates from the various Teach for All schemes around the world compared with teachers who have taken traditional training is also problematic.

On the other hand, the few well designed comparative studies of student achievement show that typically students of teachers in these schemes achieve similar results to what they would with other teachers, and possibly even better in science and maths.

As a result of this research PPTA’s position on Teach First has been not to oppose it. We encouraged the Teach First NZ and Auckland University, who deliver the programme here, to ensure that Teach First participants would be teaching for only 12 hours a week, with support from experienced mentors who have release time to work with them. These things happened.

In New Zealand, the teacher education programme continues for the first two years of their teaching, so they are learning and teaching at the same time.

And it has emerged since that the Teach First NZ programme is far from a ‘cut price’ model.  The government has put over $6.5 million into the three-cohort pilot of the programme, which has put fewer than 60 students through.  This is many times more expensive than traditional teacher education.

The court case that PPTA has against Teach First NZ, the University of Auckland and the Ministry of Education is on a particular narrow but important issue. The State Sector Act and the Secondary Teachers’ Collective Agreement are very clear about how appointments to teaching positions must happen, to make sure it’s a fair process. The way in which participants on the programme are appointed to schools breaches this. There are a number of options for how the Ministry of Education, along with Teach First and Auckland University, could resolve this, and we hope that they do.


In the meantime, we look forward to seeing the final results of the evaluation of the New Zealand programme, and are hopeful that even a fraction of the enthusiastic claims of its promoters, like those at the recent conference, will be borne out.

This blog appeared as a column in the November 2015 edition of Principals Today - available here

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The Education Act update that’s touring the country at the moment, with Ministry officials doing a sterling job of talking to as many teachers as possible, got me thinking about some big questions about our system,  and not only the ones in the glossy documents.

What strikes me is that there does seem to be a widely shared understanding (thanks Cathy Wylie, and others) that our fragmented and competitive system needs to change. As the document says

“The law should also make it easier for schools … to work together more…”

And further through,

“It may also be useful to let groups of schools and kura work together when they are planning and reporting. This will help a community plan more cohesively, share expertise and reduce administration.”

This sounds great. But there’s one big problem.

If we’ve got a system where schools are set up to compete, i.e. Tomorrow’s Schools, then ‘allowing’ them to collaborate more is not going to solve this. For schools that are ‘winning’ under the current model, (the ones that the news media refer to as ‘top schools’) bulging at the seams and collecting millions of dollars in locally raised funds, what’s the incentive for them to collaborate? And if they’re not going to opt in, what’s the chance of area strategies for education working?

The changes underway specifically exclude ‘self-management of schools and kura’, which is the basis of Tomorrow’s Schools. So it looks very unlikely that there’s going to be any way to make the ‘winning’ schools behave more collaboratively, and current practises from the Auckland Grammars, Kings High School and the rest will no doubt continue.

This leads to a point that the Minister made recently in this speech. She discussed her experience of, and dislike for streaming, along with the (pretty compelling) evidence against it from the Best Evidence Synthesis. It won’t be a surprise that most of the ‘winning’ schools under our competitive system disagree and stream students intensively – with Auckland Grammar of course being the lead exponent. Despite what the Minister, and the evidence, say – there’s no ruling, or even any guidance on this practice from the Ministry- it’s up to each school to decide. Again, voluntarism rules – or is it being afraid to tread on toes?

One more piece of the puzzle is the decile funding system. At present schools with the most students from the poorest 10% of the population get around 15-20% more funding than those with the least (not counting the large sums that schools which serve wealthy communities can raise themselves). The purpose of this is to compensate for the additional educational challenges that these students face. However, there is increasingly convincing evidence emerging from around the world that to offer the same educational opportunities to children from very poor or struggling homes would cost around double what it would cost to educate privileged children. And despite this, people like John Morris, former principal of Auckland Grammar, still claim that low decile schools are awash with cash when schools like his are struggling.

I think what these examples point to is that we’ve got a system which protects the autonomy, and the resourcing of a few big ‘successful’ schools, flying in the face of the evidence and at the expense of the rest. So where does the power lie?

Well, clearly a lot with the Minister, but maybe not as much as we sometimes think, as the example above shows. She alluded to this in the same speech, when she discussed Shanghai and Beijing’s ‘equity and excellence’ gap being the lowest in the OECD- and she wistfully reflected that she doesn’t have the same ‘levers available’ that they do there.

So maybe it’s the principals of these ‘top’ schools who hold the power (as we all know a strong principal can lead their Board by the collar), with a Ministry that would like to create a more cohesive system unwilling to even propose taking a more hands on leadership role. But it’s not just them.


It’s also, and perhaps most importantly, the parents at these schools that hold the power. And they’re almost certainly the same ones that Max Rashbrooke identified in his work on wealth inequality in New Zealand – the wealthiest 10% who own more than half the assets of the country. Their choice to attend these schools, pour resources into them, and fight for them (with advocates like Matthew Hooton) is the flip side of the ‘struggling schools’ story. As Rashbrooke writes, a seesaw doesn’t make sense if you only look at one end of it. And education policy that continues to allow ‘top’ schools to deny the evidence, deny resourcing to schools that need it more, and protect their autonomy when it’s hurting the rest looks like a see saw that’s well out of kilter to me. 

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