Guest Post: Educational Aspiration in Crisis

May 25th, 2015 at 11:30 am by David Farrar

A guest post by Alwyn Poole:

In New Zealand it is acknowledged that a University Education is an important pathway to change socioeconomic outcomes. Back in October 2014 Professor Stuart McCutcheon noted:

Each year, some 10,000 ordinary, mostly young people leave the University of Auckland armed with a new degree or diploma. Their qualifications will lead to them having lower unemployment rates, higher salaries and better health outcomes than those whose education terminated at school. The lifetime salary benefit of a degree is estimated to be in the range $250,000 to $500,000. (

You would therefore think that any major disparity in University Entrance results would have opposition politicians, teacher unions and educationalists raging – and parents on the street.

The PPTA used to campaign on this. In a 2009 report they stated:

New Zealand has a tail of students with low academic achievement. Although internationally standardised test data for literacy, numeracy and science show New Zealand does very well in terms of its average performance, we have high quality but low equity achievement. Almost all of the students “at risk” are found in state schools, the highest proportion of which is in lower decile schools. The skewed nature of educational disadvantage correlates with family income and ethnicity. However, there is increasing evidence that genuine solutions can be found to reduce this problem.

The Labour Party manifesto in 2011 acknowledged the problem:

Some children are missing out on a quality education. A good education is a human right and we will work to make sure the most vulnerable students don’t miss out: Māori, Pasifika, children from low-income families, children with special needs, victims of bullying and violence, and those who struggle to achieve academically and don’t have a clear post-school pathway to work or higher education.

However, after the 2011 ACT/National agreement to introduce Charter Schools as a small part of a solution to address the problem for priority learners the issue stopped being of importance. Any effort to point it out might be seen as an endorsement of a policy that the Opposition and associated unions had chosen not to like. Since that moment almost all of their protest energy has gone into trying to eradicate Charter Schools as opposed to trying to find solutions to the huge disparities in the outcomes of young people in NZ. This expensive, false, and misdirected protest finally reached the point of outright comedy when Labour and the unions raged about how a Charter School spent money from multiple sources on a waka. They currently say very little about the outcomes for priority learners in many of our high schools. These schools that receive tens of millions of dollars every year. They have tied their own hands with the mantra of “world-class” that they dreamed up to imply that there was nothing to see here and no need for change. They have fallen silent about inequitable outcomes when this generation needs them to stand strong.

Recently the NCEA and UE qualifications data was released for 2014.

In terms of UE a sample table is as follows (referenced from NZQA published tables).

School Name Decile 2014 UE Roll Based Pass Rate
Northland College 1 12%
Tamaki College 1 10%
Southern Cross Campus 1 18%
James Cook High School 1 7%
Mangere College 1 12%
Papakura College 2 9%
Huntly College 1 6%
Fairfield College 4 17%
Flaxmere College 1 5%
Melville High School 4 15%
Edgecumbe College 3 0%
Opotiki College 1 12%
Otorohanga College 4 6%
Tokoroa High School 2 15%
Te Kuiti High School 3 14%
Ruapehu College 3 8%
Wanganui City College 2 9%
Rangitikei College 3 18%
Wairoa College 2 12%
William Colenso 2 16%
Makoura College 2 7%
Mana College 2 10%
Naenae College 2 18%
Some Comparisons
Glendowie College 9 65%
Howick College 10 48%
St Kentigerns College 10 77%
Pakuranga College 8 65%
Epsom Girls Grammar 9 81%
Rosmini College 9 74%
Wellington Girls College 10 81%
Samuel Marsden Collegiate 10 93%

The discrepancies in outcomes speak for themselves but it is worth reading the above table two or three times to really get a handle on it. This is a blight on our society and that almost no one is talking about it and/or reporting on it has me flummoxed. I won’t name them here but two lower decile school Principals who stated that UE and University wasn’t for “their kids” must, I hope, have had their statements taken out of context.

Keep in mind also that these are the roll based statistics for Year 13 students. It says nothing of the children in these schools that have left through attrition in previous years – i.e. the actual percentage of any cohort achieving at that level is even lower.

Schools in New Zealand are set up and funded to bring about progress, development and change. Blaming the circumstances of the children, or the surrounding area, isn’t an option as a society, and it doesn’t help. The reason we have state funded schools should be to ensure that education can precede changes in circumstance. If we were to wait for social equity before we felt we could educate children we will be throwing a portion of another generation on to the heap. With education, being Left or Right does not help.

In saying that, there is no denying the disease. We have to look for massive aspirational approaches to overcome this. It should be all hand on deck for these young people. Twenty years ago I was studying for a Masters degree in Education and all of the talk was about how to overcome the outcome problems for Maori, Pasifika and lower socio-economic children. The difference with today is that at least twenty years ago it was being talked about.

Solutions have to be found. There are a lot of tyre-kickers in education in NZ. People who criticise outcomes, criticise attempts at solutions, attack all manner of people who are doing the job but do nothing to assist. The kids who are missing out don’t need theoreticians – they need on the ground solutions. The vast majority of those solutions involve people and not flash buildings. People who understand the new learning paradigm understand that all children, given quality teaching/coaching, repetition/practice and opportunity can develop remarkable skills and knowledge sets. These young people need to be surrounded by adults who understand aspiration and change.

I know these aspirations are worthwhile. I managed to get through one of the decile 1 schools listed above and get to University. I had three teachers in that time who communicated to me that it was possible and I was unsophisticated enough to believe them.

What are some of the solutions within the school system that are worth discussion?

– Communities need to take this on and need to militant about it. Every community needs to demand schooling that generates results that allows their children to move into the higher levels of education in roughly equal numbers as any other community. Passive acceptance of the status quo should not be an option.

– Revisit bulk funding and give Principals in schools much more discretion on how they spend their money. They know the children, families, and locality so allow them more say in provision.

– Differentiate teacher salaries across the deciles. Pay a premium to teachers working in decile 1 – 3 schools to bring about change. If there is not a will to differentiate for results by teacher then incentivise the whole school for externally evaluated improvements. Allow the Ministry and management to bring financial and other incentives for bringing about great outcomes for kids. If it is acknowledged that working in some of these schools brings a different level of challenge then reward people who take it on and succeed.

– Children in the lower decile schools are not having special exam conditions applied for. Of the 5454 students with exam help last year only approximately 330 were from decile 1 schools – as opposed to 1440 from decile 10 schools. Something is significantly amiss here that needs to be fixed immediately.

– These students don’t arrive at Year 13 from a vacuum – continually revisit the base and the provision there – particularly in the subjects the Universities have designated as key. Ensure that all primary school teachers can teach Maths, English, and Science well and a start would be to have strict entry qualifications to teacher training in those areas (e.g. at least level 3 NCEA).

There will be other suggestions out there that can make a difference. It is time to get things done.

(Note: I would also have a concern that too rapid a transition to computer based qualifications may exaggerate the gaps further.)

Alwyn Poole

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Guest Post: Partnership Schooling – Year 1 – A Chink of Light.

December 14th, 2014 at 8:23 am by David Farrar

A guest post by Alwyn Poole:

Whenever anyone in New Zealand talks of making a difference to the lives of children and their families then the topic of education is not far away.

 I began thinking about the NZ education system as far back as 1988 when I took some Education options while completing and Economics degree (I hadn’t thought education  much when I was at school as I was too busy playing cards in class or running around on the sports fields when I shouldn’t have been). The massive preoccupation with the content of  the Education papers was with the under achievement of Maori and Pasifika children and the subsequent over-representation of those groups in statistics of social ill. Given the left wing bias of the lecturers and the material presented the claim was that these outcomes were semi-intentionally generated to perpetuate power structures within society and serve Capital. It almost goes without saying that the “high flying” academics proposed nothing of effect/worth to change anything. There are still a lot of these hopeless finger pointers in NZ today pretending they have something to say about education.

A quarter of a century later much has changed in the world. New Zealand is materially better off. Around the world rates of poverty are in decline, people live longer, opportunities are expansive. The variety of careers has broadened immeasurably. The understanding of how children learn and how it can be enhanced has improved exponentially. Information technology and the availability of high quality learning resources – at very low cost – has exploded.

A quarter of a century later much is the same. Maori and Pasifika children and those whose families are on lower incomes are over represented in underachievement and qualifications statistics. So are those with defined learning difficulties even though we now know how to do a lot about those (although sometimes parents also have to have the trust, knowledge and courage to stay with a programme).

The other thing that is the same is that academics and those on the political left would rather point out and perpetuate problems than openly evaluate every possibility of solving them. Maybe it is their power structures that now feel a little threatened in the field of education and they have circled the wagons.

Twelve years ago the Villa Education Trust (VET) was established. It was done so because there is a need to provide innovative models to produce excellence in Education. It was also done because after the Economics degree I did a teaching qualification, a masters degree specialising in programme design for teaching high ability children, a sports management diploma, traveled overseas to look at ideal models, taught at 3 high quality schools in NZ, did system wide study of NZ schooling, talked to anyone who would share their ideas and read widely about how to assist children and young people to develop knowledge, attitudes and skills. The VET was established after massive hours spent on model and curriculum design. It was established through my wife and I deciding that the reward of making a difference to the education of children was worth the risk of selling all we have to start a Charitable Trust.

In 2003 the VET began Mt Hobson Middle School ( It is a private Year 7 – 10 school for 48 children (12 per class). It teaches the NZ curriculum through core classes in Maths, English, Science, Social Studies and Technology. The children also have an hour of guided independent time each morning working on fully cross curricula topic based projects – e.g. Architecture, Flight and Space, Oceans (that set the context for the school). They do 8 projects a year – learn a massive amount in terms of self management, research and academic product skills. They also develop their knowledge base superbly. The afternoon programme is activity based – Art, Music, Sport, Community Learning, Community Service. We work with a broad group of children – from those with fantastically developed all round abilities looking for extension to those who have areas to overcome to set them up for Year 11 and beyond. It is demanding and effective. We have significant data and case studies of generated change and improvement. We also continue to innovate – for instance – a complete rethink going into 2015 with many new start aspects in response to further changes/understandings in education.

Given that background in 2013 we gained permission from the New Zealand government to take the developed model to Manurewa and begin South Auckland Middle School (SAMS: We had looked for this kind of opportunity before but under past legislation it was not even close to feasible (NB Labour party). We were allowed an establishment period of four and a half months and an establishment fund of $1.3 million dollars (compared to a two year lead in for a State School and at approximately 5% of that model’s establishment cost). We are funded at a decile 3 level on a per student basis each year and, like State schools, have a guaranteed fund during the establishment period. We were not given a zone and there was no certainty that anyone would come. We attracted high quality staff even though the PPTA took out ads in the Education Gazette telling teachers not to work for us (very sporting of them – must have made their members proud). We leased premises and outfitted them to facilitate the tried and tested model from Newmarket.

After a year is is worth thinking about the progress:

– A full SAMS roll is 120 students. In Year 1 our Year 7, 8, 9 were all full with waiting lists. We have averaged seventeen Year 10 students coming in for a year or less to re-boot their education.

– We are full for 2015 and have substantial waiting lists.

– The children have thrived on the day structure and have worked very hard through the academic mornings.

– The children have excelled on the Projects and produced some remarkable work – both individual tasks and completed projects.

– We can evidence significant progress in the basics of all 5 core subjects in our morning programme.

– To ease the financial pressures of families we provide uniform and stationery (and do not ask them for per annum donations) and have a Community Liaison Manager who is working hard at getting to know and to help solve the external pressures that impact on learning.

– We are significantly under local school averages for truancy, disciplinary actions and transience. 

– We have a very good ERO report and have students able to eloquently express their experiences:

– Like MHMS will be SAMS will be better in 2015 than in 2014 because when you see areas of needed change in education smart educators make the changes.

We are able to make many of our choices, such as a student:teacher ratio of 15:1 through receiving our funding in bulk. We don’t carry large infrastructure items, our Principals/Academic Managers teach large programmes, and we keep much of what we do simple in terms of resourcing.

The long established Mt Hobson model and the immediately evidenced success of SAMS earned the Villa Education Trust the opportunity to begin Middle School West Auckland ( which will grow to 240 students from a beginning in February of 2015. Again – our establishment period is short but we already have a remarkable staff in place under former St Peter’s College Deputy Head James Haggett. Great teachers want to work in an innovative situation. We are setting up quality facilities and have a good level of enrollments coming in. We are confident that this will also become and outstanding academic school.

To ensure that all we do is cutting edge I had the privilege of travelling to New York City and spending 3 days meeting with a group of the very best educators I have ever met – who happen to be running sets of simply outstanding Charter Schools that are changing the lives if under-served children and their families. These were the top organisations such as KIPP, Achievement First, Uncommon Schools, Success Academies. Their success is clearly evident and given that we have visited them and Charter Schools in Tampa, Jacksonville and Andre Agassi’s school in Las Vegas the dishonesty of the teacher unions in NZ and the political Left for saying that this is a failed model overseas became crystal clear. As the Stanford Credo report 2013 stated: (

Black students in poverty at charter schools gain 29 additional days in reading and 36 additional days of learning in math.Students in poverty, English language learners, and special education students all benefit from attending charter schools as well. 

On Friday December 12 I was a guest at North Shore’s Vanguard Military School’s first prize-giving. The testimony of the children, the evidence of academic success, the pride of the parents and the job satisfaction of the staff was clear to all.

As I think back to the readings of systemic failure thrust upon me in 1988 through to misguided people today stating that schools can achieve nothing because of socioeconomic disparity – I see a light in the tunnel that is not just a train coming the other way. There is growing hope of a genuine means for Partnership Schooling to be a part of systemic change and a quiet revolution in the provision for children who are otherwise not doing well. Like all changes and challenges it will not be smooth at every stage or with every establishment – but for the children and families that need innovation and choice the necessity to persevere and enhance the model is clear.

For those who doubt and have genuine interest in the well being of the young people of New Zealand our doors are very open and we are willing to collaborate and share our experiences. For those that criticize from a distance – have some courage and come and see.

 Alwyn Poole
(VET Board member, Principal MHMS)

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A campus of charter schools

September 3rd, 2012 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The SST profiles Alwyn Poole’s plans for charter schools with John Tamihere:

Starting his own school cost Alwyn Poole his home.

He knew buying the century-old property amid the ranks of private clinicians on Auckland’s blue-blood Remuera Rd was a necessity; he had to set up somewhere affluent enough that the parents could afford $12,000 fees. A decade on, Poole and his wife Karen are still renting, but Mt Hobson Middle School’s Victorian villa has been oversubscribed for the past eight years.

Poole reckons the school’s core principles – small class sizes, focusing on the individual, using outside experts – work well. It has the academic results, the ERO report and, importantly, that bulging roll to prove it. Last year, he says, the marketing budget was a mere $300 (spent on new business cards) because the school doesn’t need to spruik for pupils.

So he believes himself perfectly placed to run the first charter schools in New Zealand – and surprisingly, given the right-wing genesis of charter (or “partnership”) schools, his partner in this enterprise is the former Labour minister John Tamihere.

In the US, the biggest supporters of charter schools are in fact African-Americans.

Even more surprising is the concept: not aimed at middle-class parents lusting after extra clarinet lessons and a debating society, but to the children of Henderson, West Auckland, and with an intention to provide them with a private school education, but without the fees.


Poole and Tamihere, with the Waipareira Trust, want to establish four 50-pupil middle schools on a single West Auckland campus.

The project envisages a central hub with an indoor sports hall, auditorium and offices, with, it seems, some sort of business manager at its heart. Each school would have its own principal responsible for academic affairs.

Quite a smart idea. All sorts of innovations are possible when freed from central planning.

Each year, Poole’s school receives $1300 per student from the Government in funding, but pays it back in GST on fees. So his income is the $12,000 per year paid by parents for fees. A substantial proportion of that goes into paying the mortgage on the school property.

His argument is that because of the $8500 the Government pays for each state-educated pupil and the lower property prices in West Auckland, he could run exactly the same model there without charging parents anything.

Would he make a profit? He says not. “We have been as philanthropic as you can be [in selling their home]. Most people who are likely to become involved will do so without even a hint of a profit motive. I don’t think there are vast profits to be made from education in New Zealand.”

Anyway, he says, everyone makes money from education: teachers, unions, IT providers.

Some hate the fact someone may make money out of something, that they’ll fight against it on principle.

Critics of charter schools suggest that allowing business through the doors will mean the educational imperative becomes downplayed, conjuring images of a Dickensian private academy where 50 students cram over a single textbook and the proprietor swims in piles of money. “I understand that if you are compelling the children to go to the schools,” counters Poole, “but parents aren’t stupid . . . you have to trust them to make sound choices.”

Something the education unions and their proxies seem to hate – allowing parents to make choices.

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