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Posted by on in Uncategorized

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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Heard the Education Minister speak today - didn't use her notes, no surprise there - and she didn't mention possums either! It was an entertaining and interesting speech but, as usual, she saved a couple of kickers for the end.

Anyway this blog is about a bell curve of teachers - yes Hekia was talking about The Bell Curve of Teachers.

(Not mentioned was The Bell Curve of MPs!)

PPTA has talked about a bell curve too - but we might have a very different way of describing teachers in that bell curve.

The Minister wants the 'bad' teachers - as measured by The Bell Curve - put out of teaching. The Minister also mentioned standards that she wants EDUCANZ to get 'onto' -  I'm guessing these standards are her bell curve measure.

When we talk about students, we talk about supporting all students to succeed - to be the best they can be.

When we - and the Minister - talk about teachers ... rather than a bell curve and labels ... I'd prefer to hear about supporting teachers to succeed.

So here's a challenge -  we don't and won't "label teachers 'bad' until we have fully equipped all teachers to succeed."*

It's a systemic thing after all.


Oh and the Minister also talked about data and the All Blacks so:



P.S. Minister - teachers already have to meet two sets of standards - The Practicing Teacher Criteria  and their Professional Standards   


Along the same lines: 

Teacher Power! 

The Bad Teacher Debate: Losing Labels in Education 


* I think quote is from Randi Weingarten President of the American Federation of Teachers


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Posted by on in Education

President Angela Roberts submitted the following letter to The Listener, in response to its editorial of 15 October.  The Listener, in its usual biased fashion, slashed it to pieces, taking out all the arguments in favour of NCEA being a multi-field qualification, providing choice for students and valid assessment in subjects that don’t lend themselves to written exams, etc.  They removed all the words from “PPTA has argued since the 85% Level 2 goal was set…” right through to “instead of standards that stretch them”. 

At the same time, they published a letter from Professor Warwick Elley which argued that New Zealand should go the English way and cut back internal assessment dramatically, get rid of modular assessment, and abolish re-submission.   Elley also supported the Listener’s recommendation to reduce internal to no more than half the credits as “a good start”.   They also awarded it “Letter of the Week” – I hope he enjoys his copy of Nadia Lim’s Fresh Start Cookbook! 

Elley’s letter was at least as many words as Angela originally submitted, if not more!  That’s really partial editing of letters that are over the recommended length.   Don’t tell me that Listener Editor Pamela Stirling isn’t biased! 

The original letter

Dear Editor

Your editorial in the 15 October edition was mostly right on the nail, but it’s a pity you drew the wrong conclusion. 

Panning the government’s “bullish pressure on pass rates” was absolutely right.  PPTA has argued since the 85% Level 2 goal was set that a target like this is dangerous in the context of a standards-based qualifications system that contains significant amounts of internal assessment.

Your claim that there has been a “gradual makeover of NCEA into an extraordinarily permissive regime”, however, is nonsense.  NCEA has always been a “multi-field qualification”.  This means that students can enter standards from right across the Qualifications Framework to gain a certificate at a particular level. 

In the absence of a percentage target, this works fine.  Students, in consultation with their families and teachers, assemble assessment programmes that match their aspirations and abilities.  A student who is aiming for a career in the primary industries can assemble a programme made up of relevant curriculum subjects such as English, Maths and Science and also more applied study such as unit standards related to farming skills.  A student aiming for a career as a civil engineer, on the other hand, will do a programme focusing largely on Maths and Sciences. 

This kind of choice is what people from the pre-NCEA generations wish they had had, instead of the heavy academic focus and built-in 50% failure rates that left many people with no recognition at all for what they could do. 

However, pressure on schools to ensure that all of their students achieve NCEA Level 2 incentivises school leaders the wrong way.  It encourages them to demand that teachers find standards that students can be guaranteed to achieve, instead of standards that stretch them.  

The answer is not to cap the number of credits that come from internal assessment.  Our robust moderation system which produces teacher/moderator agreement rates at a level envied by the rest of the world means that internal assessment is just as reliable as external assessment.  Exams are often not a valid way of assessing the much wider range of learning that can be recognised through NCEA, and which a modern school system should be promoting.   How much of subjects like Horticulture or Drama, for example, can be validly assessed through written exams?  Very little. 

The solution is instead to stop measuring the system’s success through a percentage target.  We should focus instead on how well students do when they leave our schools.  That’s the true test of a successful school system.


Angela Roberts


PPTA President

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Guess what? Charter school students love their small class sizes and feel like teachers really have time to work with them as individuals. 

That's the stunning new finding from the just released round one evaluation.

This report feels a bit like a brochure for a cruise ship holiday. Yep, cruise ship customers love it. But let's not talk about the impact on the islands where the ships stop, discharge tourists and waste, and move right along. 

Just to assure you I'm not being unfair here - check the methodology for this report: 

The PSKH were all told who we would like to talk to but the schedule was determined by each individual school/kura.

So yep, they spoke to a bunch of people who the school leaders wanted them to.  

And there's no room in here for any analysis of wider impact... or actually what the impact is at all, as earlier posts make clear. Nope, this is just to look at how well they're 'innovating' - so if anyone claims that this shows they're making a great difference for students, they're making stuff up.

How about that innovation then?

Curriculum - "Little real innovation"

Engagement with community and parents "Little real innovation"

Pedagogy teaching and learning  - "Multiple examples of 'best practice'... while similar examples can be found in some state schools, these practices are not widespread across the state sector".

Fascinating. I didn't think this research was looking at state schools - but apparently so. Would love to know how these researchers could make a call that 'best practice' (as they identify it) happens more often in charters than state schools, from a couple of visits to charter schools. I guess the people they interviewed told them.

So where are the big innovations happening?

Governance  "highly innovative".

And how so?  Here's what a Ministry of Ed person said :"The Board members aren't elected - it's a private commercial organisation; it's a business model and ensures the right mix of skills." Great to know our public servants have such high regard for elected representatives.

Use of funding "the funding model is innovative in and of itself"

Oh it certainly is. One of the CEOs noted "A big freedom we enjoy is the funding model." I wonder whether this was the one that banked $1.9 million surplus, or the one that paid management fees (on top of salaries) of $260,000. Worth noting that future rounds of charters will have significantly less money in the set up stages as the Ministry belated realised that these guys were getting absurdly high funding. 

And linked to that, policy people in the Ministry should be worried about this from one of the principals "Our success is related to our size - we don't want to grow our roll too high," when the recent change in funding was partly driven by the fact that their was an incentive for them to keep the rolls tiny, and thus keep pocketing masses of cash.

Not that Hattie is to be relied upon unquestioningly, but he's fair and square debunked the value of innovation that's all about governance and funding, and doing nothing different in classrooms. But that's irrelevant to the people who came up with the policy, as this evaluation shows. If they can inveigle the private sector into the public domain, move money from state institutions to private businesses and get in some hits on public schools in the process, then they're meeting their targets.




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Posted by on in Charter schools

A recent OIA request unearthed this email from Alwyn Poole, who runs two charter schools and a private school, to Catherine Isaac, the chair of the Authorisation Board.



ERO reviews of private schools are notoriously hands off. Gloriavale is a case in point - basically the people running the school say "This is what we want to do, and this is what we're doing" and ERO gives them a tick. ERO notes that, "...reviews of private schools are significantly different in process and more limited in scope than those for state and state integrated schools..."

Alwyn claims that their quarterly reporting to the minister would provide more than enough oversight and accountability. The irony of this is that the quarterly self-reporting from the first round has been shown, in some cases, to be misleading - and the new policy design for future rounds of charters tightens this up.

Of course, Alwyn also is avoiding (legally required) public scrutiny by failing to provide his accounts to the Charities Commission - now over three months late. Contrast this to public schools, whose accounts are public, and have to hold open Board  meetings, are covered by the OIA and have legal obligations to consult with and report to their communities. 


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Posted by on in Uncategorized

Two very different education stories today gave an inkling that maybe we're going to see some positive changes around the corner.

First, Salvi Gargiulo's opinion piece in the Herald, while a response to a sad and nasty incident, was a magnificent defence of the work that schools in some of our most challenging neighbourhoods do. 

This section in particular really struck me. 

As a community, we often have little idea of the poverty trap. I have served as a principal in Nelson, Dubai, even Tanzania.

Yet, until I came to Manurewa High School, I didn't really comprehend, either.

Poverty is not being short of money this week; poverty is being in survival mode, year in and year out.

Poverty is never knowing if you can remain in the place you are living in next week; it is never being sure there will be enough money to feed your children; say nothing of yourself. When you are in that mode, personal strength is all you have left.

It is the same personal strength our students muster to pass assessments, to meet challenges they face at home and at school. It is that same strength our teachers draw on to support them through the vicissitudes of life, walking the journey with them.

There is little cause for optimism in the substance of this. That we have students and their families in ‘survival mode’ isn’t something that we should accept. 

But that a principal like Salvi can come to somewhere like Manurewa, when he could easily have stayed in the relative comfort of traditional boys’ schools like Nelson College, and make an impassioned case for our society not to judge but to support his students and their community, is heartening. 

And credit to the Herald for publishing it. Young people from all sectors of society (even Etonian future PMs, allegedly) make wildly stupid decisions. Let’s hope the community rallies around the school and gives it the support it deserves.  With a defender like Salvi, I’m hopeful that they will. 

The other cause for optimism is the sort of thing that only an education policy nerd can get particularly excited about. Today the Minister finally released her decisions on the review of professional learning and development.  While it’s not all gold, there are some good moves that should start to see a much more coherent and meaningful system of PLD developing in the coming years. 

First – 

Prioritising support will strengthen those communities and over time build their internal capability in areas of curriculum, teaching and learning.

Good to see the focus is on what goes on in schools - internal capability rather than parachuted in consultants to deliver a motivational spiel and move on pocketing their wodge of cash.


We will build effective local, regional, and national networks of curriculum and subject specific expertise, such as subject associations and gifted networks.

Recognising the subject associations, who are the (largely voluntary, un-supported and taken for granted) spine of curriculum expertise is fantastic.  For most secondary teachers the subject associations are the main repository of expertise and conduit for collaboration. Until now they’ve been sidelined by the glitzy consultancies who soak up most of the PLD resource. 

And one more- 

Additionally, in response to the growing obesity problem and concerns about progress and achievement in the curriculum hauora/health and physical education learning area, there will be a hauora/health and physical education (H&PE) pilot in 2016. Following this we will consider the framing of hauora/H&PE as a national PLD priority starting in 2017.

Secondary students earlier this year reported that health was one of their favourite subjects, and it’s great to see an often neglected area of the curriculum getting attention. A wider focus on well-being  at school is good news – recognising research like this that shows the long term value of social connectedness at school over pure academic achievement.

Of course, maybe it’s just that it’s been a long, rather miserable winter and I’m hanging out for spring – focussing on the blossom and daffodils and refusing to notice the storm clouds. For today I think that’s okay though.





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Posted by on in Uncategorized


Howick College teacher Nathan Kerr and director of ICT Robert Douglas share their thoughts on web literacy 

What is it?

Students are turning the web into a giant Lego set, where they are using content on the web, pictures, sound files, multi-media footage (television programmes, movies, games cartoons, special effects), and their own media footage, and then mixing all the content together, to produce truly unique resources, in many cases with a strong global flavour, and in many cases, the finished product – has little, or no link to the original content that was used.

Examples of Web literacy are found on Social Media Sites (Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, MSM Chat), and tribute videos on YouTube

It is not: focusing on software programmes, and what they can, and cannot do, it is not focusing on associated hardware, such as, laptops, mobile devices, tablets – it (hardware) is simply there to access the web, and its massive content supply, storage of their resources, and basic editing functions.

Why is it important?

Students are not focusing on software programmes, or hardware, including devices, and are solely using the web for content sources, distribution method, and feedback.

As the web becomes more accessible (more coverage, and cheaper), this development in learning will become more pronounced, and exciting.

For educators, web literacy could be exciting – as long as the focus on the learning is focussed on the curriculum.

For students, web literacy will allow them to demonstrate their learning, in a highly creative and unique way.

Web literacy will challenge traditional approaches towards digital learning, by removing the focus on learning software programmes, and hardware tools. Instead the focus is on transforming multi- type content into a finished product.

Skills needed

For students the key skills will be exploring by navigating the web for content, creating for the web via remixing content, designing the finished resource, and connecting on the web, this is done by sharing their finished project.

For educators the key skill will still be applying subject specific curriculum knowledge to the students, and managing students projects to ensure they focus on the learning objectives, and not to stray from those objectives.


Challenges of web literacy to both educators, and students is developing projects that cover all learning outcomes, while allowing students creativity to shine through.

For school management and the wider community the challenge is web accessibility, and developing policies to best match the school’s culture, and the curriculum.

School ICT manager could storage, and access those projects/resources on the cloud.


The best advice for web literacy is to focus on a specific task/assessment, this allows both the teacher, and the students to focus on a clear goal, therefore reducing the chance of getting off-task.

The techniques needed for web literacy are data capture, and data management.

Data capture can be achieved by either a simple print screen for websites, or a combination of converting media files into a more interactive file type, and transferring to a media playing, and editing software, such as MovieMaker.

ICT Manager Feedback

I own a lot of CD’s and DVD’s and I have downloaded music and movies and stored them on hard disk for when I want to use them. This marks me as being ‘pre-web.’ Why do I need to store what is available online at any time. Netflix and other systems provides access to movies and television programmes on demand. Spotify and I Heart Radio gives me access to any music I desire on demand. I have yet to make that conceptual transition that I do not need to keep it; I just need to know where to find it. This is the changing nature of web literacy. Our students are learning where to find things and how to make them interact together to create something new and unique. They are learning how to access source code and manipulate it to create. It’s a new literacy and a unique challenge to concepts of ownership and copyright.

International Community Direction

In the United States web literacy focuses on the skills and competencies needed for reading, writing and participating on the web. It has been described as "both content and activity" - web users should not just learn about the web but also how to make their own website. Web Literacy is closely related to Digital Literacy, Information Literacy, and Network literacy but differs in taking a more holistic approach. Mozilla Foundation is one of the major forces promoting, and developing it in the United States.

In the United Kingdom web literacy tends to concentrate on web etiquette (net etiquette), and standardised web literacy in terms of the best way to promote content on websites. 

 The Future

Web literacy future is based on web accessibility for the students, student’s creativity, and the student’s ability to apply curriculum knowledge using content from the web.

Educators will continue to deliver subject specific curriculum knowledge to the students.

Web Literacy is continuing to move schools away from being pen and paper islands in a digital sea.

The teething stage will be developing best practice, based on specific skills, and strategies to enable the best possible learning outcomes for the students.


Web Literacy has the following traits

·        Students use the internet as a giant Lego set, mixing and matching files into a highly unique resource

·        Many of the resource/products develop via web literacy have little, or no link to the original files used to make those resources

·        Web literacy has an international flavour due to the internet

·        Web literacy does not focus on learning software programmes, or hardware issues.


·        Web Literacy continues to move schools away from being pen and paper islands in a digital sea.

Tagged in: Web literacy
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No surprise that coverage of the latest PISA report has focused on the finding that more computer use doesn’t lead to better results, but would anyone in education really have been shocked at this?

The ICT advocates are already rushing to say “but PISA doesn’t measure what really matters”, and the traditionalists (e.g. Roger Moses on RNZ this morning) are using it to advocate for a return to more ‘direct instruction’ in the classroom, a la East Asian countries that dominate in PISA. So far, so predictable.

Looking further into the report, beyond the headlines, though there are some things that could be useful for educators, school leaders and policy makers.

Firstly, it’s abundantly clear that ICTs can’t substitute for quality teaching.  The end of the policy chapter says:

What this shows is that the successful integration of technology in education is not so much a matter of choosing the right device, the right amount of time to spend with it, the best software or the right digital textbook. The key elements for success are the teachers, school leaders and other decision makers who have the vision, and the ability, to make the connection between students, computers and learning.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say this is a real endorsement of Investing in Educational Success – putting resources into structures and systems to get teachers working together  is far more effective than buying hardware or software.

The report also provides good evidence to push back against the ‘edu-corps’ who circle like sharks around schools and the Ministry touting their wares. It states:

But other activities, such as using drilling and practice software for mathematics or languages, show a clear negative relationship with performance. And more frequent, daily browsing of the Internet at school is also generally associated with lower performance.

The call for scepticism and gradualism is one that some of these outfits will be very concerned about – there’s a lot of money and reputations to be made by selling the narrative of crisis and the need for revolutionary change.  Carefully planning change and figuring out clear goals isn’t super sexy, but many teachers will breathe a sigh of relief to hear the OECD endorsing it.

Still, countries and education systems can do more to improve the effectiveness of their investments in ICT by being both gradually accepting and sceptical. They can more clearly identify the goals they want to achieve by introducing technology in education, and strive to measure progress towards these goals, experimenting with alternative options too. This kind of clarity in planning would enable them, and other countries and systems, to learn from past experience, gradually improving on previous iterations and creating the conditions that support the most effective uses of ICT in schools.


Of course we shouldn’t reify PISA results (or any forms of assessment) – they’re an interesting proxy and construct, rather than a goal in themselves. Most of the important purposes of education are resistant to measurement. But if this report helps shift the focus towards supporting and building the capacities of teachers, then I welcome it. 

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Posted by on in EDUCANZ

PPTA member James Colvine shares a letter sent to the Education Council (EDUCANZ) 


Dear Council Members,

In his Highlighter report of 13 August, your Interim Chief Executive gives an account of your function, as you perceive it.  It is an absolute insult to teachers.

So your primary function is to raise learner outcomes.  But raised learner outcomes can only be achieved by rank-and-file teachers.  Indeed, most spend most of their working life raising learner outcomes.

If you want to help teachers then, first and foremost, you should respect them.  They should be supported and not patronised.  Raising the status of the profession is central.  It was considered a primary function when the rationale for your council was first spun.

Like it or not, your council has a crucial role.  You are gate-keepers.  If you do not challenge the use of untrained persons in charter schools, you will have failed at the first hurdle.  Only you can weed out the incompetents and scumbags who slip through.  The Teachers Council did great harm to my profession.  Let us hope that you are more efficient and effective in this role.

I applaud the indication that you intend to play a positive role in many aspects of Education.  But you also need to be very active in promoting a positive image of teaching and in countering the negative propaganda, to which teachers are frequently subjected.

Sadly you see raising the status of the profession only as a means of attracting “the best possible teachers” and not as a responsibility to the existing workforce.  This betrays a breath-taking contempt for those who are actually paying for your council.

The final irony is that teaching can never truly be a profession when its putative professional body is populated by government appointees.  To underline this, you place “discussions” with “key stakeholders” and the Ministry above “conversations” with teachers.  And not regarding teachers as key stakeholders is deeply, deeply insulting.

Yours faithfully,



James G Colvine

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Posted by on in Teaching Profession

Here are my thoughts about EDUCANZ.  Part of the work I am doing towards a PhD looking at the quality of teaching and the qualities of teachers.  Happy to take reflections from people about my thinking along the way…


One such development has been the set up of the Education Council of Aotearoa New Zealand.  This was a political initiative aimed at increasing the government’s ability to penetrate the sector with a permissive bill which provides scope for action from the new council across a number of fronts.  There was a particular emphasis on the ability of this new council to provide leadership for the profession.    A role many would argue is taken up already by the Teacher Unions and Professional Associations.   The legislation also emphasised the new council’s ability to enact control over the quality of teaching.  This included through the auditing of appraisal documentation as well as by continuing to oversee registration via the new practising certificate. 

The Bill also established a new role for the Council:

c)To identify and disseminate best practice in teaching and leadership and  foster the education profession’s continued development in light of research, and evidence of changes in society and technology. 

At this early stage it is unclear what is mean by this.  Barbara Ala’alatoa said in the introductory pamphlet that ‘The Council will be a strong and independent voice for the profession’.  This ambiguous line in leadership and identification of research and best practice harks back to the original quality teaching report.  This is how teachers will be made sensitive to the teaching and learning cues mentioned by (New Zealand & Scott, 1986).  The ability of the Council to provide such leadership has been heavily contested.  The appointment of an Australian to the Deputy Chair’s position has further inflamed sector views and the appointment of Professor Helen Timperley (Timperley, 2007) whose work on the Best Evidence Synthesis suggest an expansive role for the Education Council around Professional Learning and Development.  Helen is also positioned in the introductory booklet as the ‘Principal Investigator Building Evaluative Capability in Schooling Improvement Project’.  This schooling improvement focus in line with government rhetoric around national standards and percentage achievement rates has a number of possible implications. 

It is early days with the Education Council, but PPTA’s boycott and conference papers have laid out a number of the complexities involved in the establishment of a politicized council that is opposed by the secondary teacher’s union.  The use of ministerial appointment and the abolition of teacher voting was argued by submissions on the bill to be particularly problematic.  The overwhelming majority of submissions to the Education and Science Select Committee opposed the council and suggested that teachers prefer their registration body to be restricted to just that function, entry and exit provisions only.  Expansive activity by the council and the inevitable rise in fees will be seen by teachers as increased taxation.  PPTA also points out in its 2015 conference paper on the subject, that PLD being organised through the council responsible for the compliance function of registration and deregistration is beset with contradictions.

It would appear, to follow the argument of Peter Jones (Jones, 2011, p. 6), that the emotional capital of teachers was being exploited by the government and the Education Council in providing a false sense of leadership to the sector.  This, of course, has been heavily resisted, but the idea that ‘organizational emotion’ can be corralled and directed by a disconnected body of ministerial appointees remains a mystery to many teachers.  That teachers must be led into ‘correct feelings’ about the quality of teaching and initiated into the mysteries of inquiry learning by a council set up to ‘bring greater clarity to the kinds of behaviours we demand of our profession’, is not perhaps a natural fit.  The relationship between behaviour modification and the control of emotional capital is not a hard jump to make and it remains to be seen how much the council will direct this sort of approach. The early documentation certainly suggests it is an identified goal. 

 This fits into an established critique of surveillance and conduct control.  There is in the shift from a code of ethics, which was established by the Teachers Council in a consultative manner, to a code of conduct produced by an unelected body, a clear shift in emphasis and one that stands against the new rhetoric of collaboration and co-operation.  This focus on bringing clarity to professional ‘behaviours’ while providing a ‘strong and independent voice’ for the profession is in many ways a shift back to the dualism of the Scott report.  The new council is aspirational on the one hand claiming to be able to drive up the status of teachers not through pay but through words, and controlling on the other. 

 The ‘struggle for democracy’, as Wrigley puts it (Jones, 2011, p. 32), is central to our cultural experience.  Thus, the removal of voted positions and the development of ministerial appointments was seen as particularly problematic for teachers.   The rhetoric of ‘excellence’ and ‘high standards’ when thrown into this mix is both specious and culturally disorienting.  The re-establishment of cultural and professional orthodoxies at a time when more than ever success for students is seen to be relational and a response to the local is a strange development.

 To go back to Paul Willis (Dolby, Dimitriadis, & Willis, 2004) we also need to be reminded of the function of culture and class in all this.     This new positioning about codes of conduct and higher standards is a way of hierarchizing the profession within the profession.  No longer are you defined purely by your position within the school, but also by the thoughts applied to you via an appraisal system that is ever threatening a lean towards bureaucratic, technocratic and ultimately reductive processes that define teacher success within distinctly measurable frames.  This is not the rich culture of teaching promised, but a new class ridden way of segmenting and separating, the teacher able to take the nuanced and heroic path from those who can’t.

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Recently we released a paper calling for the Minister to scrap the 85% NCEA target. The main reason, we argue, is the very real risk to the qualification – bluntly, it puts pressure on schools to ‘juke the stats’ which undermines NCEA's credibility.

The other day the Minister said that basically a school could do whatever it wanted with its curriculum as long as it was producing good NCEA results (see this interview – no need to teach Te Reo Maori, even in a predominantly Maori school if your grades are good).  Of course that’s the central premise of charter schools too. A senior official lately was singing the praises of schools for having a much sharper focus on ‘achievement’ than ever before. 

And by achievement, we’re not talking personalised portfolios or individual leaver profiles, this is quantifiable achievement, i.e. qualifications. Maybe there’s no problem with having a view of schools as ‘qualification factories’. But lately I’ve seen some reports and studies which cast doubt on the value of qualifications over all else at school.

One of them was the Ministry’s review of the various Youth Guarantee initiatives.  These programmes are aimed at students who are not doing very well at school and are at risk of disengaging, around 14% of young people access them. The report showed, when they tracked participants for a few years and compared them to a similar cohort, that while the programmes helped with gaining level 2 NCEA, “there is no evidence that they are providing a more effective pathway to further education and training than other educational choices for a similar group of young people”.

So, while it helps the minister’s target, it doesn’t seem to help the students much.  Is this a worthwhile initiative to put resources into?

But perhaps more important is  this fascinating report based on data from the Dunedin multidisciplinary study. It was reported on at the time and it’s not new, but in the light of schools’ supposed ‘sharper focus on achievement’ it’s worth revisiting.

What it shows is that in the long run, academic success at school is not as important for having a good life as what the authors call social connectedness.  The authors write “Adolescent social connectedness was a better predictor of adult well-being than academic achievement “.

We’ve got a few measures that relate to our students’ ‘social connectedness’,  and well-being, from some of the questions in the PISA survey that goes along with the tests, Youth 2000 and Wellbeing@School. But  are schools allowed to report these things alongside NCEA or National Standards? Does the minister have an ‘unrelenting focus’ on well-being? Not so much.


Of course , as usual, this comes back to some of the fundamental questions about the purpose of school. Secondary teachers know that qualifications matter – that’s why we want a valid, robust system that treats students fairly and is useful for people who need to know what someone leaving school can do. But there’s a balance to be struck here, and an ‘unrelenting focus on raising achievement’ may not be setting up students for the best possible lives.

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This is based on data from the August 2015 School directory, filtered for state, state integrated and independent secondary (year 9-15, 7-15) junior high (7-10) and senior high (11-15) schools. 

A few schools, without decile ratings, are not included. 

Would be interesting to break this down by regions too, and size of schools. 

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PR 'expert' and charter school pusher Catherine Isaac came up with the great idea that rebranding our version as 'partnership schools' would differentiate them from the US model they're based on and avoid some of its grubbier connotations. 

That didn't work, everyone still calls them charter schools, and to no-one's surprise, they've been proven to be behaving like their US counterparts too. As this Huffington Post headline reads, 'Charter schools spend more on administration, less on instruction than traditional public schools.' 

The NZ Herald reported in depth on the weekend about the fees they're sluicing out to their owners and sponsors. The article noted that in normal schools 10% to 25% of costs go on administration. My experience, from being on Boards of Trustees and asking around, would be that the lower figure is more realistic and common. 

Now a public school principal has sat down and compared their audited accounts line by line to one of the charter schools. Check out a summary below:



(Click for the bigger version)

A few things that stood out to me about this:

The charter school should be spending far more on curriculum resources and so forth than the public school as they're just getting set up. They aren't.  The curriculum area where they wildly outspent the public school was extra-curricular activities - this was the school that was in the news for bribing students with KFC...

The public school outspent the charter on teaching staff, This is really surprising, as they charter school claims to have classes of 15. From what I hear this is often achieved by not actually having a teacher in the class with the students, and leaving them to be supervised by a non teacher.

I wasn't surprised that the admin costs for the charter were high, as the economies of scale and the reality of the establishment period would mean there'd be a fair bit of admin required. However, the admin salaries, consultant fees and 'management fees' add up to nearly the same as they spent on teaching staff - this seems exorbitant.


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There is a lot of jargon when education and technology are combined, especially when there is a sales opportunity in the offing.

I have noticed that the combination of assumptions around ICT/technology and the jargon of the sales pitch are about creating a 'club'  those who are in and the rest are out.  To create the club you need to pick your market - and then play to the 'self image' of those you want to market to - part of this strategy is to also create a group of outsiders/others. This strategy requires neither facts nor context - it works on stereotypes and picking one identity to play off against others.

One interview last week* gave us many examples

"While 50 is the average age of IT secondary school teachers in this country, most are already well and truly on the back foot and have long since surrendered."

This plays on the stereotype that increasing physical age is correlated with decreasing intellectual ability and an inability to manage change  - on this basis if you are over 30...35 ?  you can't 'do technology'.  

The market here is younger teachers, primary teachers and maybe the secondary teacher who has refused to be insulted by the quote above. The identity of teaching professional is divided into the identities of primary teachers and secondary teachers.

“I think we want to be very clear what we’re not trying to– we don’t want kids coming in thinking they’re going to school. With the staff and team we’ve developed, we want them to wonder and to ponder."

Here is the stereotype that school aka the compulsory education system is not about wonder or pondering - or in fact learning.  'Those kids' the 'genius' and 'entrepreneurial' kids will not find learning opportunities at school.  Here the promoter is seeking funding support, a failing system narrative can be highly profitable for education technology business.

The* Last week a similar interview was reported slightly differently* in Computer World  (they skipped the ageist quote):

"While the real world of business and industry has adapted, adopted or disappeared in the face of technological advances and disruption, the high school learning experience has become stuck, unprepared for the students who are about to throw the legacy education model into disarray."

Still looking for business funding here - a bit of jargon - 'legacy education model', earlier the reference was to primary children as a "formidable force of young change agents who have never experienced a traditional class" (what's a traditional class?). Compulsory education is divided into two identities - good primary schooling, bad secondary schooling.  

What this and articles like it illustrate is that facts are not required. Generalisation is easy, context can be ignored and so can evidence, especially if you are an 'entrepreneur'.

Interviews are of course at risk of generalisation and a lack of depth -  the interviewer doesn't always have the opportunity to say: where's the evidence? what experience of teaching and learning do you have? what is your background? why do you say that? is your observation supported by the data? what is the context? ...

When it comes to teaching and learning we have compelling evidence that always and most importantly it is relationships that matter.

When it comes to technology in education the OECD sums it up as "technology alone will not enhance learning, but using it as part of good teaching practice can open new doors to learners and teachers".

It would be nice if making a buck in education included an approach that publicly supported teaching and learning. Working together for all our students. It might be harder to make headlines from the facts (evidence informed, not carefully selected anecdote), from acknowledging differing schooling and education contexts, and from good news stories, but it would be more honest. 


 *see comment below - the Computer World article was last week (21 August 2015) the Mind Lab interview was in 2013.




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As New Zealand edges towards shortages of secondary teachers in some regions and subject areas, it's worth considering what the impact of this will be on students. 

Experience in schools tells us that students don't do as well when they don't have people skilled in their subject area teaching them. And in the voluminous PISA 2012 reports there's real evidence of this, and evidence that it was happening in some areas of NZ even then, when recruitment issues were less than they are now.  

Worst of all, the impact of shortages of specialist teachers is felt heaviest on the students who need the most support and are most at risk of not achieving. 


This report is primarily about maths achievement, one of the areas that principals are increasingly reporting they are having trouble recruiting suitable teachers. 

Now correlation is not causation, and this report doesn't  claim that the difficulty recruiting teachers of maths in low SES schools leads directly to lower achievement. But the fact that at that point in time principals in low SES areas were more likely to report difficulties recruiting in specialist areas should have been cause for concern to the Ministry and Minister. 

A Ministry of Education survey at the start of 2014 showed that 47% of secondary jobs were advertised more than once. This seems to signal a fairly widespread supply problem, and there is no indication that things have improved since. 

How we go with this year's STCA round could have a big impact on this. The relativity of teachers' earnings to other jobs matters for people who have other options. Teachers have not just been falling behind inflation as we all know, but our wage growth has been slower than average increases in the private sector. Earlier this year Bill English said we are looking at average wage growth of 2.9% a year for coming years. 

If this government is happy to let teachers earnings shrink relative to both inflation and other professions, then they should expect to have increasing problems recruiting teachers. As PISA warns, the impact of this on students won't be good, and it will fall disproportionately on the students who need the most support.




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The minister has announced another round of charter school applications despite having assured parliament earlier this year that that was it for 2015.

According to “a spokesman from Parata’s office” the minister’s assurances were correct at the time but subsequently “Mr Seymour mounted a persuasive case for more partnership schools.”  

It doesn’t take a genius to figure that the persuasive case would have been the Prime Minister, John Key, telling the minister she had to suck it up because David Seymour was threatening to pull his vote on some piece of legislation (perhaps the new Health and Safety Bill).

Once again – the last time was over class size – the boys are making Hekia swallow a live rat. The minister has really grown in the education portfolio and no one can question her commitment to kids – it’s beyond belief that she doesn’t know how unsuccessful and destructive charter schools are.

John Key knows this too and he would also know from his focus groups that the public hate charter schools. His aim would be avoid damage to his reputation by keeping well clear.  He has no such scruples about Hekia’s reputation and no conscience about using scarce education funds to bribe Seymour.


How delightful that one of the private member’s bills to be drawn from the ballot proposes that the David Seymour sinecure - education undersecretary – should be subject to the Official Information Act.  The Act Party with its high standards of probity and transparency will no doubt want to support this legislation and it’s hard to see why any other party would vote against it.  What fun we will all have then when the machinations that underpin the charter school model are exposed for all to see.


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The tension between assessment and learning is one that all teachers will be familiar with. A secondary school curriculum that's driven by NCEA is something that many schools grapple with - yes we know that student achievement as measured by our national qualification is essential and central to our work, but there are other worthwhile and valid goals for schooling too. And to what extent are we really making use of the flexibility that our curriculum and assessment system allows? Recent evidence would suggest not much - and that's encouraged by the powers that be.

One of the premises and key features of NCEA is that it's modular and allows a whole lot of flexibility in designing assessments that adapt to students' & school communities' interests and needs. At the Select Committee last week when NZQA was being questioned about their annual report, the Chief Exec, Karen Poutasi revealed something that was concerning in this regard. 

What she said was that over 90% of NCEA courses offer standards from single subject areas, and that this is a good thing because it shows they are 'coherent'. The implication here is that QA does not approve of courses that use NCEA standards from a range of subject areas.  This narrowing of the scope and flexibility of NCEA has also been heavily encouraged by the universities with their insistence on students not just achieving level 3 but having 3 lots of 14 credits from approved subjects - which contributed significantly to the big dip in UE last year.

What's going on here? Why is a course that uses standards from a range of areas, say a cross-disciplinary course on an issue like climate change (which could use social studies, geography and physics standards) or a combined ag-hort and business studies course considered 'incoherent' , and thus is unlikely for schools to offer?

The conservatism of universities has a chilling effect on the senior secondary school curriculum, and has for years, but this is a crazy situation when  only around 30% of students go on to university. What's more NZQA doesn't work for the universities and should be encouraging schools to make use of the flexibilities of NCEA rather than enforcing an agenda that's often not in the interests of the majority of students. 


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Just yesterday I was defending 'mainstream' education reporting to a new-media type who was very skeptical and unimpressed, so today's feature and series of stories in the NZ Herald felt like vindication. How heartening to have Liz Gordon, Allan Vester, Cathy Wylie and Peter O'Connor, educators and researchers with decades of experience and mountains of research behind their views, as the leading voices. 

The data showing the increasing and extreme segregation between Maori/Pasifika and Pakeha students in decile 1 & 10 schools is what's caused the biggest splash from this, and deservedly so. It's a massive issue, that challenges some of the basic tenets of fairness and  social inclusion that we think of as fundamentally kiwi. It's also something PPTA has been talking about for a while now.

Another thread to the story of the impact of opening up the schooling 'market' to increased choice is also the shrinking of low decile schools, and commensurate growth of those that are high decile, as Kirsty says in the story.

Secondly, the drift upwards has left a significant imbalance in school size, with popular high decile schools becoming huge while those in the lower decile stagnate or shrink.

For some high decile schools, this has lead to overcrowding, "zone cheating" and increasing expectations on staff to ensure kids achieve at extremely high levels.

At the other end of the scale, academics say the drift away from lower decile schools is further entrenching inequality.

NZCER chief researcher Cathy Wylie says this is because many low-decile schools are now smaller than they were and less able to attract their community's higher-performing students. Instead, they migrate up the decile ladder leaving the schools to struggle with fewer funds and a concentration of high-needs students behind them.

The Ministry of Education data sets allow us to track this change. b2ap3_thumbnail_Proportion-of-students-in-decile-bands-of-schools.jpg

In 1996 there were only slightly more students at decile 8-10 schools than the lowest three schools and the largest number were in mid decile, 4-7. Now 40% of students attend schools in the top three decile bands, while around 5% fewer are at low decile. Cathy Wylie pointed out what some of the effects of this are above. 

Another effect is that it saves the government money - as students in low decile schools attract more funding. This essential (and barely adequate) component of school funding is intended to allow schools serving students from low SES households to access the same educational opportunities as those from the leafy suburbs, where parental investment in education is so much higher. 

This graph shows the difference in funding that would be going into each decile band of schools if the proportions of students in each had stayed constant since 1996 -  as  showed in the darker blue bars above. 


The bottom three deciles would be getting over $20million extra decile related funding. On top of this of course, there would be millions in staffing, which has shifted from them to the high decile schools. The trouble is, with this decile related funding, it's not money that has shifted within the system like the staffing funding does by following the students, but it's simply not being spent. It's not that these students don't require or deserve extra support and resource either - but parents' choices are depriving students of resourcing that they should be getting.  It's another consequence of what Hattie is talking about below:

Except, says Melbourne University education professor John Hattie, it needs to be remembered there is a "vicious" end of school choice, in that too many parents are using socio-economic status as a proxy for quality.

So what's the solution, if we can't or won't move to limit, or 'nudge' against, the 'choosing up' that's happening so rampantly? My two cents worth - make the schools in poor communities AMAZING - with the best facilities, small classes and the best trained and most supported teachers. Surely then motivated parents in and around poor suburbs will send their kids to the local schools... unless it really is just racism, which is a thought that's a bit too depressing to contemplate. 

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So school boards can essentially opt out of offering Te Reo Māori if they are getting good NCEA results?  That seems to be what the Minister of Education is saying in this interview on Native Affairs.

The interviewer Ward Kamo points out at the start,

“Japanese is offered year round at the high school, while Te Reo Māori  is offered for just six weeks of the year”

Kamo asks Parata “Is it okay with you if Te Reo is offered as an option alongside skiing at Taumaranui High?”

and the Minister responds

“It’s more important whether that’s okay for the parents of the kids who are enrolled at Taumaranui High and whether the Board of Trustees is representing what the wider community interests are…”

While many would disagree, and would like to make sure that Te Reo is much more central in our curriculum, and there are certainly good reasons for that- the Minister is on one level correct in leaving this decision up to the Board. It’s what Tomorrow’s Schools and the NZC do. Thank god we’re not in the UK where Minister of Education essentially sets the texts that will be studied at each year level!

However, the reason she gives for this isn’t about the Education Act and school autonomy. It’s about results.

“What I can tell you is that there has been a significant increase in the achievement generally at Taumaranui High in the last five years, and in particular Māori  students’ achievement has gone up at a very significant rate. SO I think there’s a lot to congratulate Taumaranui High school about in terms of making sure that Māori  students are getting qualifications that they can leave school with.”

 This opens up a massive can of worms. If schools were to follow this is to its final conclusion, could they ditch any subject areas that they wanted in order to get students through NCEA ? If the Minister will not defend Te Reo Māori , will she defend science, or English? We already have examples of incredibly narrow and ‘functionalist’ NCEA offerings at charter schools like Vanguard – is this what is being encouraged?

With a ‘single minded focus on student achievement’ (the Minister’s phrase) as measured by NCEA level 2, what else is the Minister willing to let Boards do to get students across the line? And if there is, as hinted at the Minister’s discussions about the resourcing review,  moves afoot to gives schools with ‘good results’ more money and even greater autonomy to decide how it’s spend, what’s being incentivised here?


There is a big discussion to be had about individual student needs, school autonomy and the interests of a nationally coherent and equitable curriculum, and it’s one that we shouldn’t shy away from.  But the Minister’s response seems to be,”Forget about that, as long as they meet my achievement targets”. 

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Last week the Northern Advocate ran an editorial about our charter school boycott that got a few things wrong, and missed a bunch of context which is pretty important for understanding the situation. They ran our response on Saturday, but it didn't go online, so here is the letter from Angela Roberts in full. 

It’s a pity that the editorial in the Northern Advocate about the charter school student teacher ended on a plaintive note about the students missing out, because it’s contradicted by the facts and the details in the rest of the piece.

As the writer notes, the student teacher has the opportunity to complete his initial teacher education placement at a private school or other charter school , which was suggested by PPTA when we became aware of the situation.  He can still complete teacher training, and when he’s done so will be very welcome to teach in the public sector. This is not a boycott against individuals; a teacher who leaves a charter school and gains a teaching position in a public school is very welcome to join PPTA.

While Mr Kahukiwa may be temporarily inconvenienced, he is in a situation that very few other student teachers are in, with paid employment and the support of a well-endowed school. The salaries at his current employer are significantly higher than public schools, and they can offer conditions, like small class sizes, rivalled only by exclusive private schools.

PPTA’s boycott on supporting charter schools is about them standing or falling on their own merits. They were set up on the premise that public school, and teachers, are doing a terrible job. The application from He Puna Marama Trust says it clearly, it states they are “ acutely aware of the gaps in quality, delivery and relevance at each of the schools” in the area.

The great irony of their seeking assistance from teachers in schools which they rate so lowly is not lost. And nor is the fact that they are banking millions of dollars surplus which could be used to purchase all the support they need on the open market, a situation that no other schools in the area can match.



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