Hooton on teacher unions

August 19th, 2016 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Matthew Hooton writes in NBR:

It was education minister David Lange who first had the vision to try to fix this system with his bulk funding proposal in 1988, shared by his successors Phil Goff and Lockwood Smith.  Despite Smith’s opt-in trial in the early 1990s, which showed bulk funding was overwhelmingly positive for teachers and students, union militancy meant all three education ministers ultimately failed and the full centrally controlled system was restored by Helen Clark’s union-friendly government in 1999.

It goes without saying that, until now, John Key’s poll-driven government has had no inclination to revive the issue, daring only to confront the unions over Anne Tolley’s national standards proposal, also vehemently opposed by the union bosses on the grounds it could be used to provide information on teacher efficacy.

That said, both the union bosses and Mr Key are acting rationally from their own perspectives. Any form of bulk funding – even Ms Parata’s half-hearted “global funding” proposal – would slowly weaken the hold of union bosses over schools. Over time, principals would start to evolve the structure of their schools to better meet the needs of their students. Tired older teachers would more easily be moved on to administrative roles. Successful younger teachers might be paid a bit more, at first informally but later under new non-union employment agreements. Part-time specialists in science, art or critical thinking could be hired more easily, working in more than one school.

It goes without saying that the unions think giving principals more flexibility to run their schools along these lines must be stopped at all costs and they have a history of being prepared to go to any lengths to retain the status quo.

In most workplaces, staff would welcome greater flexibility!

Education Achievement changes from 2011

August 14th, 2016 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Education Stats

Good to see most of the indicators heading in the right direction. Also good just to see more standardised data so we can see where the most support is needed.

NZ 4th for adult literacy

July 2nd, 2016 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Adult Kiwis are among the most literate in the OECD, according to a new report.

The survey of adult skills, released by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on Tuesday, showed New Zealand has steadily improved adult literacy over two decades.

It was ranked fourth of the 33 countries surveyed, behind Japan, Finland and the Netherlands. In the same survey in 1996, New Zealand was ranked 12th. 

Adult Kiwis also ranked fifth in problem-solving using technology and 13th in numeracy. They were above the OECD average in all three categories.

Pretty pleasing results. But we have always tended to do quite well overall. The challenge is in our tail – the bottom 15% or so who do significantly worse than tails in other countries.

Letting poor schools persist

June 29th, 2016 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Some Kiwi children are leaving school having being failed for their entire education, a new report reveals.

School quality reports from the Education Review Office (ERO) reveal as of June last year 185 schools were in ERO’s worst performing category.

Of those schools, one-third were “persistent” poor performers and some had repeatedly failed students for at least a decade – spanning the entire schooling career of their students, says the New Zealand Initiative report.

That kind of underperformance wouldn’t be tolerated in other sectors but is “accepted in education”.

“If restaurants were repeatedly failing hygiene standards or if hospitals were constantly killing patients they’d be shut down. But we accept it with schools,” says NZ Initiative executive director Oliver Hartwich.

Only in state schools. The good thing about the charter school model is a poorly performing charter school gets shut down. While there appear to be around 60 state schools that have been persistently failing – yet carry on.

Greive on Bryan Bruce’s education “documentary”

May 25th, 2016 at 2:01 pm by David Farrar

Duncan Grieve writes:

Last night TV3 screened a “special report”, “written, directed and produced” by Bryan Bruce, the veteran of dozens of documentaries over the years, many of which he has fronted with a familiar, bleakly beseeching on-camera presence.

This one was called World Class? Inside NZ Education – A Special Report, and was comfortably the most asinine of those I’ve seen from the man, a windy and handwringing collection of reckons and I thinks which saw him jet around the world to have confirmed for him what he had already decided – that our education system is fucked, and neoliberalism is to blame.

Pretty much every documentary from Bruce is the same – neoliberalism is to blame.

It was a rambling, incoherent mess of a product, at once disdainful of testing and reliant on it, dated in its construction, sloppily assembled and wilfully misrepresentative of both the intent and reality of the teaching systems it assessed.

And they were the highlights.

We see some kids getting on a train to go to school in Wellington, which he unaccountably finds offensive – choice is an enemy in his mind.

How dare parents and students have a choice of school.

Bruce went into this project with supreme self-righteousness and certainty of his perspective. He was driven by the powerful nostalgia so many of a certain age and gender experience for life before the fourth Labour government. He sought out people who would echo his opinions. Then he delivered us his findings from the mountain, and sat back waiting for the applause.

There’s a lot of people like Bruce. They think the 1970s were some magical utopia and they’re been railing against everything that has happened since 1984.

In the end the enduring image I’ll take away from this truly awful hour is the unedifying spectre of an old pākehā man, wandering slowly toward the camera and plaintively asking – certainly not for the first time – why the world has to change. I hope I never have to see him pose the same question again.

Sadly I suspect NZ on Air will continue to fund them.  A quick search shows they have funded at least 17 documentaries from him which means he has received from the taxpayers over $1.7 million.

Why girls are outclassing boys at school

January 9th, 2016 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Economist reports:

Until the 1960s boys spent longer and went further in school than girls, and were more likely to graduate from university. Now, across the rich world and in a growing number of poor countries, the balance has tilted the other way. Policymakers who once fretted about girls’ lack of confidence in science now spend their time dangling copies of “Harry Potter” before surly boys. Sweden has commissioned research into its “boy crisis”. Australia has devised a reading programme called “Boys, Blokes, Books & Bytes”. In just a couple of generations, one gender gap has closed, only for another to open up.

So it is a global issue, not just a NZ issue.

The reversal is laid out in a report published on March 5th by the OECD, a Paris-based rich-country think-tank. Boys’ dominance just about endures in maths: at age 15 they are, on average, the equivalent of three months’ schooling ahead of girls. In science the results are fairly even. But in reading, where girls have been ahead for some time, a gulf has appeared. In all 64 countries and economies in the study, girls outperform boys. The average gap is equivalent to an extra year of schooling.

That’s a huge difference.

To see why boys and girls fare so differently in the classroom, first look at what they do outside it. The average 15-year-old girl devotes five-and-a-half hours a week to homework, an hour more than the average boy, who spends more time playing video games and trawling the internet. Three-quarters of girls read for pleasure, compared with little more than half of boys.

So parents need to make reading cool for boys.

Once in the classroom, boys long to be out of it. They are twice as likely as girls to report that school is a “waste of time”, and more often turn up late. Just as teachers used to struggle to persuade girls that science is not only for men, the OECD now urges parents and policymakers to steer boys away from a version of masculinity that ignores academic achievement. “There are different pressures on boys,” says Mr Yip. “Unfortunately there’s a tendency where they try to live up to certain expectations in terms of [bad] behaviour.”

Gender stereotypes for most of our history have worked against women, but now gender stereotypes in education are working against boys and men.

Perhaps because they can be so insufferable, teenage boys are often marked down. The OECD found that boys did much better in its anonymised tests than in teacher assessments.

Discrimination on the basis of gender?

What is behind this discrimination? One possibility is that teachers mark up students who are polite, eager and stay out of fights, all attributes that are more common among girls. In some countries, academic points can even be docked for bad behaviour. Another is that women, who make up eight out of ten primary-school teachers and nearly seven in ten lower-secondary teachers, favour their own sex, just as male bosses have been shown to favour male underlings.

The lack of male teachers is a concern.

Girls’ educational dominance persists after school. Until a few decades ago men were in a clear majority at university almost everywhere (see chart 2), particularly in advanced courses and in science and engineering. But as higher education has boomed worldwide, women’s enrolment has increased almost twice as fast as men’s. In the OECD women now make up 56% of students enrolled, up from 46% in 1985. By 2025 that may rise to 58%.

At 60%, there would be 50% more women than men in tertiary education.

Social change has done more to encourage women to enter higher education than any deliberate policy. The Pill and a decline in the average number of children, together with later marriage and childbearing, have made it easier for married women to join the workforce. As more women went out to work, discrimination became less sharp. Girls saw the point of study once they were expected to have careers. Rising divorce rates underlined the importance of being able to provide for yourself. These days girls nearly everywhere seem more ambitious than boys, both academically and in their careers.

The mass entrance of women into the workforce and higher education is one of the great trends of the 20th century. Now the challenge is to ensure boys are not left behind educationally.

Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one?

November 20th, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

A Wanaka family are at a loss what to do after their 7-year-old son was excluded from Wanaka Primary School and all other schools in the area refused to enrol him.

The family, who have asked not to be named, said yesterday their son was excluded on October 28 after throwing a folder at another pupil and a teacher.

The boy’s mother said earlier incidents at the school included the boy stabbing another pupil with a pencil on his first day at the school and being suspended twice for disruptive behaviour and biting staff.

No one wants to see a seven year old not in school, but schools also have a responsibility to other students to keep them safe.

The mother said her son could be difficult and had recently been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder.

You can have ADD but not stab people with pencils and bite teachers. At the risk of am armchair diagnosis, the kid needs a psychologist.

$7 billion and it didn’t help the worst schools

November 7th, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Politico reports:

In 2009, the Obama administration saw a chance to tackle a problem that had bedeviled educators for decades.

“Our goal is to turn around the 5,000 lowest-performing schools over the next five years, as part of our overall strategy for dramatically reducing the dropout rate, improving high school graduation rates and increasing the number of students who graduate prepared for success in college and the workplace,” said Arne Duncan, the administration’s new secretary of education in August of that year.

The administration pumped $3 billion of economic stimulus money into the School Improvement Grants program. Six years later, the program has failed to produce the dramatic results the administration had hoped to achieve. About two thirds of SIG schools nationwide made modest or no gains — not much different from similarly bad schools that got no money at all. About a third of the schools actually got worse.

In total $7 billion has been spent on those 5,000 schools.

But then why has the SIG program, created in 2007 under President George W. Bush, produced such uneven results at a total cost of about $7 billion?

A comparison by POLITICO of two troubled high schools — one in Miami and one in Chicago — both of which received millions in SIG funds, both of which followed a similar turnaround strategy, reveals that education officials at the federal, state and local levels paid too little attention to a key variable for success. One school made impressive gains, rebounding in three years from an “F” rating to a “B.” At the other, less than 10 percent of juniors are proficient at reading, math and science — the same level as before the grant.

The difference between the schools was in their readiness to make use of the sudden infusion of money. In Miami, school district officials had prepared for the grants. They had the support of teachers, unions and parents. In Chicago, where teachers fought the program and officials changed almost yearly, schools churned through millions of dollars but didn’t budge the needle.

So let’s look at what worked in Miami.

When the $43 million in SIG money arrived in 2010, Carvalho and Vitti knew that improving personnel in the failing schools would be the key to their success. That meant moving weak teachers out and replacing them with stronger teachers from high-performing schools.


After years of failure, the state ordered Edison to hire a new principal, who started in 2009. Then, with the help of nearly $1.5 million over three years in federal grant money, officials changed out more than half of the school staff. The district brought in Teach for America recruits and held teacher recruitment fairs. Top teachers who volunteered to work at Edison were given financial incentives, like signing bonuses and extra pay for boosting student test scores.

The strategy worked.

So what worked:

  • Being able to move out weak teachers
  • Using Teach for America
  • Financial incentives for top teachers

More flexibility for schools a good idea

August 2nd, 2015 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The Government has considered giving schools discretionary power to decide their opening hours, and putting one principal in charge of several schools. 

The proposals were contained in a document leaked to Radio New Zealand, which also detailed the idea that schools could own and operate early childhood centres. 

The document followed on from last year’s Taskforce on Regulation as Affecting School Performance, and said education legislation was not clear about what the education system was trying to achieve. 

Radio New Zealand reported the document suggested four specific changes:

* Giving schools greater flexibility to provide early childhood education;

* Giving schools greater flexibility to set their minimum opening hours;

* Letting principals be in charge of more than one school; and

* Extending the National Student Number to support student participation in digital environments.

Schools must be open for two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon, which cannot be changed without permission from Education Minister Hekia Parata. 
The document proposes removing the requirement for ministerial consent, RNZ reported. 
These look sensible to me. Each school and their community is different and the focus should be on how schools perform, rather than how they operate.

Trade academies

July 20th, 2015 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

Teachers’ unions always insist they are professional bodies serving the interests of education, not just their members.

How disappointing, therefore, to discover the Post Primary Teachers’ Association’s secondary principals’ council has suggested schools limit the number of pupils admitted to their new “trades academies” so as not to put staffing positions at risk.

Trades academies — technical courses, as they were — have been reintroduced to schools for 15- and 16-year-old students who do not want to take academic subjects much further and can get NCEA credits in subjects of more use to their employment prospects.

The courses are funded from an account for all industry training providers and the funding of schools is reduced accordingly.

The PPTA principals have warned schools that “depending on how many you enrol (in trades academies), the changes would also be likely to reduce the number of salary units, middle management and possibly the number of senior management allowances the school would receive”.

Their concern is understandable to a degree. It seem fair that salary units would be reduced since the technical classes are being funded from another source, but with the total number of pupils in the school remaining the same, management positions should not be reduced. A professional response, though, would not make the pupils suffer.

Unfortunately, that is what will happen if principals follow the advice of the PPTA to cap admissions to trades academies. One of them in our story today admits, “It doesn’t make me feel very good at all.” Yet she is following the advice, reducing opportunities for students in her school.

The purpose of schools is to give students an education, not to ensure there is a certain level of salary units and managements jobs.

Why millions on maths returned little

June 4th, 2015 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The NZ Initiative has released a new report – Un(ac)countable – Why Millions on Maths Returned Little.

Some key findings:

  • This report documents the 15-year history of the Numeracy Development Project (the Numeracy Project), a nationwide centrally devised approach for improving maths. The Numeracy Project existed officially as a professional development (PD) programme for teachers in most primary schools in New Zealand between 2000 and 2009. It put more emphasis on teaching children a range of strategies for solving maths problems, with greater emphasis on mental problem solving and less on written methods.
  • New Zealand policymakers have been lamenting the state of maths education for over 30 years. However, maths performance did start to show signs of improvement in the late 1990s, around the same time that many localised teacher PD programmes for maths (that were precursors to the Numeracy Project) were in play. But maths performance has since been in decline.
  • TIMSS 2011 showed that New Zealand students spend much less time memorising basic facts and much more time explaining answers compared to students in the top five performing countries.
  • While the basics (like times tables) are likely limited in use unless they are understood conceptually, they are still important because knowing the basics off by heart helps to free up working memory for children to learn more complex maths.
  • A 2010 study found that a third of new primary school teachers could not add two fractions (7/18 + 1/9).

That is 9/18 or 1/2. Took me around three seconds.

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. (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11350829)

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

Labour’s assumption wrong

April 23rd, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Thousands of students in Auckland suburbs including Ellerslie, Lynfield and Te Atatu will be part of a radical education reform that aims to spread the best teaching and leadership.

Education Minister Hekia Parata has announced another 129 schools across the country have signed up to the flagship Investing in Educational Success (IES) programme.

The schools have more than 45,000 students between them and will be divided into 18 groups or “communities”.

Good to see so many schools signing up.

New Zealand’s education system gives a high degree of control to each individual state and state-integrated school and its board of trustees, and studies have pointed to a lack of collaboration as a major problem.

Who would be against collaboration?

The scheme uses $359 million over four years to create “communities of schools” where principals and teachers are paid extra to collaborate and provide additional teacher-learning time for the schools involved.

There is also a teacher-led innovation fund, which provides funding and time for teachers to research with colleagues within schools.

Today’s announcement by Ms Parata brings the total number of schools involved to 222.

Hopefully over time we will be able to measure progress in schools taking part, against schools that are not.

Labour’s education spokesman Chris Hipkins said that paying bonuses to teachers and principals from schools in wealthy communities would only enforce inequality in the schooling system.

Ms Parata said almost 60 per cent of the 129 schools signed-up in the second round were decile 1 to 5.

So Labour assumed it was wealthy schools taking part, but in fact 60% are from lower decile schools.

Teaching by phenomenon

April 1st, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Quartz reports:

Finland is considering itsmost radical overhaul of basic education yet—abandoning teaching by subject for teaching by phenomenon. Traditional lessons such as English Literature and Physics are already being phased out among 16-year-olds in schools in Helsinki.

Instead, the Finns are teaching phenomena—such as the European Union, which encompasses learning languages, history, politics, and geography. No more of an hour of history followed by an hour of chemistry. The idea aims to eliminate one of the biggest gripes of students everywhere: “What is the point of learning this?” Now, each subject is anchored to the reason for learning it.

Sounds intriguing.

Pasi Silander, Helsinki’s development manager, says the world has changed with the spread of technology and many of the old ways of teaching have no practical purpose. “Young people use quite advanced computers,” he told the Independent. “In the past the banks had lots of  bank clerks totting up figures but now that has totally changed.”

Many teachers in Finland, many of whom have been teaching single subjects their whole careers, oppose the changes. It is not hard to see why. The new system is much more collaborative, forcing teachers from different areas to come up with the curriculum together.  Marjo Kyllonen, Helsinki’s education manager and the person responsible for reforming the system in the capital, calls this “co-teaching” and teachers who agree to it get a small bonus on top of their salaries.
Could be a good area for the new Education Council to look at.

Schools improving at looking after special needs pupils

March 9th, 2015 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Most schools are catering better for students with special needs, according to a recent report.

The ERO report released yesterday, Inclusive practices for students with special needs in schools, found almost 80 per cent in its sample were “mostly inclusive”. The Ministry of Education says inclusive practice is when schools “adapt to fit the student rather than making the student adapt to fit the school”. …

The latest report ranked 78 per cent of schools mostly inclusive, up from 50 per cent in a similar report from 2010. The proportion of schools with few inclusive practices dropped 19 percentage points in the recent survey.

But CCS Disability Action warned that the two reports were not directly comparable because the 2010 report focussed solely on students with high needs while the latest report covered all students with special education needs.

Still seems to be good progress, and definitely going in the right direction.

Walking the talk in education

February 14th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

An interesting article at CIS:

Jennifer Buckingham is a prominent advocate of school choice. She’s middle class and strongly believes parents should be able to choose where they send their children to school. So which primary school did she choose for her two daughters? ­Raymond Terrace Public School, located in the low-income town of the same name, just north of Newcastle in NSW.

More than half its students are from the bottom quartile of socio-economic rankings and about a fifth are indigenous, both indicators that are statistically linked to lower academic outcomes. Buckingham says that when her eldest daughter, who has just graduated from year six, started at Raymond Terrace in kindergarten it was perceived by many in the town “as a school people wouldn’t deliberately send their children to”.

What makes her choice of school all the more interesting is that Buckingham is an education policy specialist and research ­fellow at a right-wing think tank, the Centre of Independent Studies (CIS). From her perch at the CIS, Buckingham is a strong advocate of private schools and their role in providing wider choice to parents.

Yet she chose a struggling public primary school for her daughters. Why? “I could see the potential at Raymond Terrace Public School, and thought that I had something to contribute,” she says.

And how did she contribute:

But along with the right to choose, another part of Buckingham’s education credo is that parents should be able to be influential in their children’s schools – and that is exactly what she has done.

With Picton at the helm, and plenty of input from Buckingham, Raymond Terrace has seen a remarkable lift in performance. In 2008, Raymond Terrace’s Naplan results were level-pegging with similar schools in the area. The latest available 2013 figures show it is significantly ahead of its peers. It is also well ahead of the three other primary schools in the town – two public, one Catholic.

At a time when Australia’s schools are seen to be failing – with literacy and ­numeracy standards falling against ­comparable countries, and a sharp ­ideological divide over the Gonski funding scheme and the national curriculum – ­Raymond Terrace stands out as an example of what can be achieved in an individual school by a ­committed principal who has solid support.

The Raymond Terrace story is also notable on another level. ­Buckingham is an education commentator who walked the talk and enrolled her own children in a failing school she intended to help improve.

So school success is not predetermined by socio-economic status.

One key development was a visit from noted educational reformer John Fleming in 2010. Fleming’s 10 years in charge of Bellfield Primary School in Melbourne is one of the celebrated success stories of turning around a failing school, and last year Fleming was appointed by federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne to be deputy chair of the Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership. Fleming came to Raymond ­Terrace to offer his advice.

It was a turning point in Picton’s ­willingness to engage with Buckingham.

“Had John Fleming been a waste of time, I probably wouldn’t be here talking to ­Jennifer today,” says Picton.

It led to three “pillars” – principles set then which the school still operates by.

One is explicit teaching, where the key skills of reading, writing and maths are taught explicitly and directly to students and then practised repeatedly until testing shows they have got it. This is in contrast to still-popular education theories in which children are expected to master these ­fundamental building blocks of knowledge by exploring for themselves.

Another is building a relationship with the children, and expecting teachers to get to know each child well and understand what they are capable of, with the aim of boosting self-esteem.

Last, there is creating high expectations, in which children and parents are ­encouraged to aim for the best.

The three pillars seem very sound.

NCEA achievement increasing

January 29th, 2015 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Hekia Parata announced:

The provisional results, released by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA), show the achievement rate for NCEA Level 2 increased from 85.7 percent in 2013 to 86.8 percent in 2014. Since 2010, Year 12 achievement rates have risen by 7 percentage points.

The same data shows that the 2014 Level 1 rate is up by a hefty 7.6 percentage points since 2010 and the Level 3 rate is up 4.4 percentage points over the same period

So Level 1 achievement rates are up 7.6%, Level 2 7% and Level 3 4.4%. Good to see them all heading in the right direction.

Level 2 is regarded as the minimum necessary for school leavers so having that almost hit 87% is welcome. The more we can do to reduce the under-achieving the tail, the better.

Education and profit

January 8th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Jamie Whyte writes in the NZ Herald:

On these pages late last year, Linda Mitchell, an education lecturer at Waikato University

I tend to stop reading when I see the phrase “education lecturer at Waikato”! But Jamie did read it.

She claimed the quest for profits damages the service provided. Or, as she put it, an interest “in making profits for owners or shareholders positions Evolve Education Group at odds with more community spirited aims to invest fully in the service itself”.

That profits injure consumers is a familiar idea. But this should not blind readers to its absurdity.

Kindergartens, like most enterprises, need capital and labour. The capital pays for the buildings, equipment and so on, and provides cover for “rainy days” when costs exceed revenue. The labour at a kindergarten is mainly teaching but people also work on administration, cleaning and maintenance.

Ms Mitchell is right that if the people who contributed capital were not paid for it then more could be spent on educating the children.

Yet the same is true of those who provide labour. Imagine a kindergarten with four teachers. If they all took a 20 per cent pay cut, they could hire a fifth teacher on the same pay and give more attention to each child. If they worked for nothing, they could hire even more extra teachers and pay for all sorts of other services that might benefit the children.

Why does Ms Mitchell not lament the fact that teachers are paid for supplying labour? Why is paying teachers not also “at odds with more community spirited aims to invest fully in the service itself”?

Excellent points by Dr Whyte.  Why do they argue against a return on capital, yet for a return on labour.

Second, eliminating profit harms the intended beneficiaries: in this case, children receiving preschool education. A kindergarten that gets its capital from profit-seeking investors must provide a good service. If it doesn’t, parents will take their children elsewhere and profits will decline. If the kindergarten performs very poorly, it may even go out of business and lose its shareholders the money they invested. A privately owned kindergarten, like any privately owned enterprise, has a powerful commercial incentive to provide a good product or service.

Yep. Unlike at school level, pupils are not forced into their nearest school.

Ms Mitchell pointed to the insolvency of ABC, an Australian preschool company, as evidence against private ownership. This is the crowning glory of her confusion. That underperforming private firms are subject to insolvency is a virtue of private ownership, not a vice.

The same applies to charter schools. A charter school that fails will be closed down. State schools that fail get given more money.


Improving teaching

December 16th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

An interesting interview in the NZ Herald with Bali Haque. His background is:

Bali Haque is well known in education, having headed schools, a principals’ association and as the former deputy chief executive of the Qualifications Authority.


Mr Haque – a former executive member of the PPTA

So what does he see as a problem:

Mr Haque stresses that most teachers do a great job and that socio-economic factors are most important when looking at the “tail” of student underachievement.

But he doesn’t shy away from what he sees as problems within the profession. A big one is teachers he terms “free riders” – those he says refuse to work past 3.30pm, do nothing during their holidays and the very minimum required in class.

The collective agreement has provisions for incompetence – themselves often not acted upon – but not for the relatively few teachers who “hover in the only-just-competent area”, Mr Haque says. In the book, Changing our Secondary Schools, he argues that under the current collective such “free riders” will be paid much the same as those who go above and beyond.

We need to better reward the great teachers, motivate the mediocre teachers to improve, and weed out the teachers who are just not able to connect with students.

He says this should be addressed through a version of performance pay – not linked to one measure such as student achievement, but likely judged by the principal and possibly paid as an end-of-year bonus.

Principals should have more flexibility in how they pay their teachers.

also believes that teachers, through their unions, should look at reducing their holidays from 12 weeks to four or five.

The workload pressures that some teachers complain about are often self-inflicted, he says, and other professions work more flexibly to cope. Because most of the workload happens during the 38 weeks of term time, many teachers cope by working evenings and weekends, leading to stress.

Using some of the current holiday time to call all teachers in to school to carry out tasks such as planning meetings and professional development could go a long way to reducing the overall stress levels in most staffrooms, Mr Haque argues.

I can’t see the unions or teachers agreeing to giving up eight weeks holiday!

The lack of male teachers

November 17th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Students are now less likely to have a male teacher, with many going through their early education years without ever encountering a male role model.

Ministry of Education figures show fewer than one-in-five primary school teachers are male.

Principals want more research on what is putting men off the profession, but fear pay and high-profile sexual abuse cases are to blame.

The Ministry of Education is “very conscious” of the gender imbalance, but says with no shortage of teachers there are no recruitment drives aimed at men.

“Evidence tells us that the most important factor in lifting achievement is the quality of teaching, not the gender of the teacher,” said Dr Graham Stoop, the ministry’s head of student achievement.

But that doesn’t mean the gender is insignificant. There is a wide and growing disparity between the achievements levels of boys and girls at school. Girls on average are doing significantly better. It should be a priority to close this gap by improving the outcomes for male students, and I would not dismiss the possibility that the lack of male teachers is a significant factor.

9% more female students achieve NCEA Level 1 in Year 11, 8% more achieve NCEA Level 2 and 13% more achieve NCEA Level 3. These gender gaps are larger than the gaps between decile 4 to 7 schools and decile 8 to 10 schools.

NZ 6th for education efficiency

September 15th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

A report assessing 30 OECD countries for their educational efficiency (results vs money spent) has New Zealand as 6th best. The top 10 are:

  1. Finland 87.8%
  2. Korea 86.7%
  3. Czech Republic 84.4%
  4. Hungary 84.1%
  5. Japan 83.9%
  6. New Zealand 83.3%
  7. Slovenia 83.3%
  8. Australia 81.2%
  9. Sweden 80.6%
  10. Iceland 79.4%

Of interest the two most efficient systems have relatively large class sizes. Finland averages 1:16.5 and NZ 1:13.5.  Greece by the way has a 1:9.7 ratio!

Issues that matter – education

September 15th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Another series of graphs for those who think the election should be focused on policy. All data is from data.govt.nz and compiled by me.

I thought we should look at all four sectors from pre-school to tertiary.


The proportion of new school entrants who did not have early childhood education has halved from 6.4% to 3.1%.



And where have the greatest gains been made? The ECE non participation rate for decile 1 school students was 19.2% in 2010 and has dropped to 12.5%. That is what makes a difference to equality of opportunity.

The Maori non participation rate has dropped from 10.7% to 7.1% ad for Pasifika from 14.1% to 9.7%. Real gains there.

nat standards


In just two years, there have been significant increases in the number of primary students making the national standards for reading, maths and writing. National standards have allowed schools to better identify which students are struggling, allow the Government to give more assistance to schools that are struggling, and given parents much clearer information on how their kids are doing.



If someone leaves school without at least NCEA Level 2, their future employment and income prospects are bleak. National has lifted the achievement rate from 68% to 79%. The gain is even greater for Maori and Pasfika students. The Maori achievement rate is up from 45% to 63% and Pasifika from 51% to 71%. Not bad for just five years.

Maori tert


Then at tertiary level, we have almost 50% more Maori gaining a tertiary qualification than in 2008. Again this is how you reduce inequality – rather than increasing taxes.



And in case you think not enough people are graduating at the top end, the number of doctorates granted has increased from around 800 to 1,100.



And possibly the most important tertiary indicator – the completion rates. This has gone up from 75.6% in 2008 to 82.95 in 2014. The tertiary system is now better incentivised for people to actually complete their degrees and diplomas.

All these improvements despite inheriting an economy rocked by the Global Financial Crisis, and serious funding constraints.

Voters reject Labour’s class size policy as best use of money

July 23rd, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

New Zealanders would rather money was spent on improving teaching standards than on reducing class sizes, a Herald-DigiPoll survey reveals.

Education has become a political battleground before September’s election, with both major parties promising to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on it.

Asked about their priorities, more than 60 per cent of those polled said they would spend money on trying to improve teaching standards rather than cutting class sizes.

Labour has included reducing class sizes in its election policies.

Another of its policies, a promise to pay schools which do not ask parents for donations, gained support in the poll.

National has pledged $359 million for a scheme that would pay the best teachers and principals more.

Labour countered by promising to use that money to instead hire 2000 more teachers and reduce class sizes.

Asked about those policies, 61 per cent of those polled said the money was better spent on trying to improve teaching standards.

Thirty-five per cent thought it should be used to cut class sizes.

Excellent. Voters understand quality is more important than quantity.

Teacher unions at war with Obama

July 17th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Hill reports:

Teachers unions have turned on Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the Obama administration, creating a major divide in the Democratic Party coalition.

The largest teachers union in the country, the National Education Association (NEA), called for Duncan to resign at its convention on July 4, arguing his policies on testing have failed the nation’s schools.

Tensions between Duncan and the unions had been building for some time.

The administration’s Race to the Top program, which has provided $4.35 billion to states, incentivized changes that unions strongly oppose. One of the most controversial policies backed by Duncan is using students’ improvement on standardized tests to help evaluate teachers and make pay and tenure decisions.

“Our members are frustrated and angry,” said NEA president Dennis Van Roekel. “Number one is the toxic testing. There is too much.”

An added spark came on June 10, when a California judge ruled the state’s teacher tenure laws are unconstitutional because they keep ineffective teachers in the classroom and deprive poor and minority students of their right to an equal education.

Teachers unions, which are strong defenders of tenure, expressed outrage when Duncan said the plaintiffs in the case were just some of millions of students disadvantaged by tenure laws. He called the decision “a mandate to fix these problems.”

Heh if Chris Christie becomes President, then they’ll really have something to complain about.

According to a report from the National Council on Teacher Quality, at the beginning of the administration, in 2009, no states had clear policies that ineffective teaching was grounds for dismissal. By 2013, 29 states did. 

You can’t sack teachers for incompetence. That’s heresy.

Slippery on education

July 10th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

On The Nation:

In principle, do you like super teachers as an idea, good teachers getting paid more?

In principle I agree that having excellent teachers is really important but it’s not the only thing we have to do and you’ll find out more tomorrow.

In principle, do you agree with them being paid more though?

In principal I agree with great teachers and great schools. And you’ll find out more tomorrow.

Because will there be a choice here between having an iPad and no donations or having your good teachers paid more?

No, we can do both.

Will parents face a choice?

No, they won’t.

That was on Saturday. And then on Sunday they announced they will not pay good teachers more, as they will use the money elsewhere. So Cunliffe’s answer on Saturday was very misleading. He should have said “Yes, they will face a choice, but we think our priorities are better” – but he gave the very misleading impression that they will fund both.