A heartfelt plea from one of New Zealand’s great principals

Thursday 13th April 2017

Kia ora Former Minister of Education Parata

Happy Retirement

I would like to wish you well for your remaining months in parliament and on into your next phase of your life. As a principal of a school that was the recipient of an adequate slice of funding to build a purpose-built set of facilities for our learners now and into the future I am extremely grateful. It is just a shame that the standard that was set here has not been replicated across the modernisation projects in Christchurch and in the new schools in Rolleston.

I started writing this letter having just left a Family Group Conference (FGC) for a ten-year-old child, and I thought I should share my dismay at the infinitesimal contribution the ministry of education is willing to make to help turn this struggling young child’s life around. I have slept on it and greatly moderated my initial writings.

The facilitator of this well-attended FGC explained the role of her new ministry:

  • To prioritise existing services, resources, and new ways of working to create joint responsibility for our at-risk tamariki.
  • To get practitioners and professionals from health, education, NZ Police, Justice, and the social service sector to work together, to put the needs of children first, and share responsibility.
  • To improve the capability of the children’s workforce to work in a child-centred, trans-disciplinary way in partnership with whānau.

Immediately after the conference had concluded I was informed by Brent Hastie from the ministry team that this child will only be funded for 50 hours of support next term.


Oranga Tamariki is involved due to concerns for the child’s safety in the home because his behaviour pushes his father to the point of wanting to harm him physically. He was removed from the home, term 4 last year, and lived in another city after completing 3 months at Halswell. When he returned in February 2017 he was in his 8th school in 5 years.

This child is a very capable thinker and learner who is currently working well below the government’s standards in both literacy and numeracy. He has been attending Halswell School for the last 4 weeks, mornings only until this week but, in the main, in an out-of-classroom context. I have had a parent (father and former farmer who is between jobs) with no previous experience of supporting children with extremely challenging behaviours, employed to supervise 1-on-1.

The initial period was spent making skateboard ramps, erecting cricket nets, and other tasks related to making a positive contribution to the school and therefore being the recipient of positive feedback from his peers. Three other boys have also worked alongside them, giving positive encouragement and feedback and being good positive role models for him. These boys will be in the same Learning Studio.

The three boys have earned the right to have the choice to work on the ramps and are strong positive y. 8 role models. We developed a collaborative behaviour plan and a process to integrate the child concerned  back into a Learning Studio which started last week , Wednesday – Friday, with 1-on-1 support 9am to 12 noon. He is working with 93 other children mainly y. 7 and 8, but also including the 20 oldest y. 6 children. Although it did not go without incident he has not harmed anyone else and his disruptive outbursts have been at the lower end of ‘his scale’ and largely ignored by our other children, until today.

He continues to exhibit behaviours that will make it difficult if not impossible for him to be re-integrated back into the Learning Centre full-time even with 1-on-1 supervision. Problematic behaviours exhibited have included: talking out of turn, disruptive talking, non-attentiveness, chronic avoidance of learning, disrespecting and rudeness towards teachers/ teacher aide, disobedience, verbal aggression, violating the implicit norms and expectations of the Learning Studio, interfering with teaching activities, harassing other children, verbal insults, non-co-operation, defiance, non-compliance, and hostility.

Obviously, these misbehaviours retard the smoothness and effectiveness of teaching and also impede the learning of the other 90 children in the studio.

The programme we have been running has provided him with an opportunity to get re-established in the school setting without disrupting the learning of others, while giving him total supervision. This has not gone without incident, but nothing as hugely significant as the events of 2016, so we are making progress. His worst days tend to follow on from how he has arrived at school. If he has a negative attitude on arrival, then he struggles to follow instructions and remain focused on the tasks at hand, and then resents the re-direction, but has been begrudgingly complying, though not completely dropping the negative attitude. We have a rewards-based incentive programme in place which he has responded to.

The parent referred to has been employed to work with child for three hours a day, 9am until 12 noon. So far the he has been supported building the scooter ramps, and joining the y. 1 and 2 children at 9am until 10:30, to support the children during Learning through Play.

His presence in Huritini (y. 1 and 2) has been welcomed by my teaching team and while he has had challenges around remembering that it is about helping the younger children and not about him having the best of the activities, we have made significant social progress. For several days we focused on helping him with understanding the concept of ‘sharing’ and then teaching this to the younger children. We had planned to continue this next term, for the child to learn other social skills while helping our y. 1 and 2 with 1-on-1 supervision.

The next major community contribution project would have been making a hen-house and run. He has spent time researching this with the parent helper, developed a design concept, and together they are in the process of ordering material to complete this project.

We have introduced a 9-week-old huntaway puppy into the mix, with plan to having the child spend some time on a ‘station’ watching working dogs at work.

Ideally I would have liked to integrate this child into the y. 6 to 8 (Otumatua) Learning Centre early in the new term. He has been spending intervals in the playground without any significant issues (until today); he has been observed at a distance and is being encouraged by some of our y. 8 Leaders, who are all supportive of him and understanding of their role.

Successfully growing him into a full-time student, in my opinion, will need to be a gradual process. The funding stream that we would need to accomplish this should provide cover for him from 9am to 3pm, at least initially. with his programme being a blend of appropriate classwork and some practical activities building things for our Learning Community. This opportunity has been denied by the ministry.

The parent who was between jobs (Rural Real Estate Agent) had offered to defer starting his new job to provide the child with stability through the next phase. A very generous offer, but I do not have the funding to support that desired approach.

This morning I broke the news to the parent and he has accepted that we will not be able to retain him next term. This is an awful shame as the trusting relationship that had been built up between him and the child will now only result in disappointment and resentment.

The child will only be able to attend for 1 hour a day in term II.

I do not intend to let this matter lie here. I totally appreciate that those who are allocating this resource have a very limited pool of funding to work with and I have no intention of attacking the local ministry officials. I received a call from a ministry official this morning (who had received an earlier version of this email) who regretted to tell me that he was already $90,000 in the red.

The recent article by Te Tai Tokerau principal Pat Newman demonstrates the feeling that is festering in that region. Pat has for a long time been a lone voice in the wilderness. A man who has contributed much to education nationally. Te Tai Tokerau schools’ plight is duplicated across the country and needs to be acknowledged. Katrina Casey has her head in the sand and needs to be told so. In my role as Waitaha Rep on the NZEI Principal’s Council I have the privilege of collaborating with principals from across NZ. At the last Principal’s Council hui the common theme around the table was the increase in problematic children and aggressive parents.

When the ministry dismantled the likes of McKenzie Residential School we were promised a wrap around service for the most significantly challenged children. The most complex behavioural children do not get anything like a wraparound – a band aid at best. Most of these children are destined for a life of incarceration contributed to by education sector neglect which is unfair to it, and hurtful to me.

I have suggested to CPPA, NZEI and NZPF that principals be encouraged to express their outrage on behalf of the neglected large numbers of challenged learners and email Casey with their ‘At Risk Registers’ (behaviour) with value in dollars of support given and shortfall of funding. It is obvious that she is naively unaware of the reality of what is really happening, perhaps the shortfall information sits in local offices – not being requested – therefore she doesn’t know.

Interesting to note that billions of dollars are about to be spent on new prisons to house these neglected children when they become of age, when for a fraction of the cost many of them would have taken a different pathway and been equipped to make a positive contribution to society.

At Halswell we are already investing $123,000 more than SEG, plus 0.4 staffing, in trying to help children reach the government’s national standards, unattainable for many children due to reasons of nature or nurture, but still we must try, so I don’t have funds to prop up the lack of funding for severely disturbed children.

It has taken 10 years, five of compulsory sector neglect, to determine this child’s future. Having been in the system for 43 years, 32 as a principal, teaching special class, streamed extension classes, and the majority of my career in low decile schools on the East Coast, I have seen numerous schemes for managing resources around the most disadvantaged children. But for so many of those children into which I have put my heart and soul, my reward  has been to read about them in the court news sometime later. In my opinion the education system has never been well enough resourced to allow schools to be the change agent that they potentially could be, but the current environment is the worst I’ve seen in 43 years.

Needless to say I will take some time to ponder my next move, but I will move. I consider myself a-political as I have never belonged to a political party. But I plan to make it my personal crusade on behalf of New Zealand’s thousands of neglect children.

Might I also ask that you inform Elizabeth Clapham, case manager of Oranga Tamariki, and the child’s family, that he will only be able to attend one hour a day. I am too embarrassed to relay that news.


Obviously the end of term can be traumatic for children like him. Yesterday he refused to engage in learning activities specifically designed for him, abused my teaching staff and the parent employee, and threw a chair across the Learning Studio. I did ponder exclusion, as then he wouldn’t be our challenge, would he?

Maybe if I join a CoL all of the world’s problems will disappear.


B.R. Topham


Posted in Education Policy | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

In which Pooh looks for a 21st Century Education Part 4


‘Yes?’ said Pooh

‘When I’m – when – Pooh!’

‘I’m not going to do Nothing any more.’

‘Never again?’

‘Well not so much. They don’t let you.’

Pooh waited for him to go on, but he was silent again.

‘Yes, Christopher Robin?’ said Pooh helpfully.

‘Pooh, when I’m – you know – when I’m not doing Nothing, will you come up here sometimes?’

‘Pooh, promise you won’t forget about me, ever. Not even when I’m a hundred.’


In which we look at a classroom that connects directly to the timeless democratic education values we observed in the 1950 classrooms.

Sue Bradly’s new entrant classroom was visited by me and written up just before the move to Tomorrow’s School.  While the values remain the same, the practices from 1950 have been developed and extended. This is a classroom that expresses perfectly the primary school education culture, but in the Tomorrow’s Schools’ era, when recognised scorned, and when not, simply overrun.

It is a classroom that expresses teacher-produced knowledge (accommodating of other knowledges but unique in combination) making it a threat to those who control the education system with knowledge produced from ideology and business and given theoretical backing and specificity by co-opted academics.

Such classrooms work for all children and meet the highest purposes of society and education.


A new entrant classroom before Tomorrow’s Schools

At the conclusion of this account, Sue Bradly, the new entrant teacher involved, says something of forlorn significance:

I’m just one of thousands of primary teachers who think like this. 

But not now, and those that are, are considerably isolated and at risk.

I visited Sue’s room in 1989, knowing that even before the Labour government had concluded the introduction of Tomorrow’s Schools it was the end of the co-operative education system as we knew it; the end of respecting teachers like Sue and their knowledge; and the end of the holistic philosophy that had its beginning, it could be said, with the 1937 New Education Fellowship Conference – to be replaced in the Tomorrow’s Schools years by teacher denigration and centralised control based on fear, command, propaganda, and a curriculum that could be measured, policed, tested and, above all be sufficiently simplistic to be able to be understood by those in control.

I had resigned from the formal education system, begun Developmental Network Magazine, then set out to take courses around New Zealand to do what I could do to preserve the holistic, to keep the lamp alight. I also determined to record the stories of teachers – teachers like Sue Bradly.

What follows in the description of Sue Bradly’s classroom links directly with what was shown in the 1950s film and beyond to the aspirations of the 1937 New Education Fellowship Conference and forward to Sylvia Ashton-Warner and Elwyn Richardson and further forward still to a strong vein of inspirational primary teachers especially junior ones, some still there today, hiding in the shadows. This is our culture, our inspiration we want to celebrate; our knowledge and values we want the freedom to act on. We challenge the knowledge coming from the cult of the academic used to shore up and make more powerful the bureaucrats and politicians. We want a sharing education system.

The 1989 classroom is an expression of the values demonstrated in the 1950s classroom: values drawn from a close observation of children’s needs and characteristics and agreed on by teachers and all in the education system.

Look for expressions of values such as:

We want children who are lively and eager and full of wonder

The free play is a direct introduction to the idea of community; their own way understanding and controlling the world around them

The teacher plays a delicate role: setting things up, letting the children explore, intervening judiciously

Reading is finding the meaning behind whole words and sentences: from first to last it should be a ‘thought-getting’ process

Pleasure, interest, and enjoyment in reading carry forward into their lives a love of reading

Number works is more than figures and sums; it involves what number means in the world outside the school

Number work should connect with the outside world and involve activity and experience

A lot of what children do is extended make-believe from experience

Those experiences need to be vivid and stimulating whether a story, exploring nature, or gaining knowledge in other ways

The children’s art work is bold in colour and scope meaning their imaginations have been stirred

Imagination links experiences

The overall aim is to establish a vivid and stimulating environment to retain children’s love of learning and a sense of wonder.


And one thing to look for in particular in Sue’s room:

The ‘I can do’ attitude that comes from confident, interested children.

You can see Sue chivvying the children along on the idea of: I can read or can write – and then one day they can.

The description of the new entrant room (1989) begins

When I arrive at Sue Bradly’s new entrant room at 8.25 a.m., eleven children are already at various activities. One child is doing carpentry, one is holding two dolls to comfort them, one is reading with the teacher, one is painting, one is carrying around what I thought was a doll but I subsequently found to be a  live rabbit, one is reading a story he has written.

‘This is a long book,’ Stuart says.

He proudly holds up a stapled newsprint booklet. Inside the booklet (which did in fact have very long pages) are pasted two small yellow memo tabs on which he has written seven words.



Sue told me later that those seven words represented a breakthrough for Stuart. He has succumbed, as had the other children, to the blandishments of the ‘I can write’ confidence that pervades the room.

Two children are reading in the reading corner, one of them rests on a cushion, the other on her friend. The sun slants onto their sprawled limbs.

Two children are talking.

‘I’m writing about the new baby.’

‘Oh – what is it?’

Another two children are writing – one in a newsprint booklet, the other in her exercise book.

There are twenty-three children on Sue’s roll. As a class they are a representative mixture from the various cultural and social groupings. Most of them have been at school about two months, some only a few weeks.

The room is interestingly organised – full of angles, corners, hide-aways and possibilities. There is a reading corner (already mentioned), a play house and a supply of dress-up clothes, a display of shoes for language experience, an overhead projector set up with some children’s stories ready to show, a filmstrip projector showing the opening frames of a picture story, an oven with catering utensils beside, a writing table with alphabet charts and various language activity cards, a settee, a table for displays (at this moment showing some outcomes of the social studies feeling for approach), and an art and craft area with materials readily available for the children to use. Outside there is a carpentry table, large building blocks, and water and sand play equipment.

Other resources are available to the children. Prominent is a shelved stand holding the children’s boxes of independent reading material. Also available are mathematics and physical education equipment.

Three large junior tables for the children to work at are in the centre of the room.

And, of course, on the walls, and strung across the room are examples of the children’s current work.

By now all the children are involved in some activity. Whether the day has officially begun is difficult to decide. Whatever the situation, the programme in Sue Bradly’s new entrant room is gathering momentum.

Sue is now doing ‘running records’. These are taken fortnightly with every child. Sue said later she found the developmental atmosphere allows her to take such records at various times during the day.

A parent arrives to help in the classroom. The functioning of a roster means there is usually a parent present, especially in the mornings.

When I talk to the parent she tells me that to help her carry out her role, she had attended two meetings. At these Sue had explained the nature of the programme, and ways parents could contribute. She remembers Sue being particularly insistent on the need to listen carefully to children, and not to cut across children’s efforts to solve problems for themselves.

Another parent comes in to discuss a matter with Sue. After doing this she goes over, hugs her child, and leaves.

Sue has two or three children around her. They start singing a song. The rest of the class drifts over.

I’m introduced to the class.

‘This is Kelvin. He’s writing a book!’

‘Put up your hand if you’re an author too.’

Very quietly Sue starts to read a story about a taniwha (Terrible Taniwha of Timberditch). The teacher leaves silences, which are followed by surges of responses by the children. A rhythm develops between teacher and class. A kind of oral cloze procedure is used, not for teaching points, but as part of the story-telling. Pictures are discussed, and so are key parts of the story, but the momentum is always maintained.

The children are asked to mime certain parts. A girl stands up and sits by the teacher and looks back at the children in a teacher sort-of-way.

At an exciting part of the story the children mime spontaneously. The teacher moves location, the children swivel and follow pied-piper-like. The teacher’s voice lowers to a whisper; the atmosphere is hushed and expectant. As the teacher rises, the children rise; when the teacher paces, the children’s heads  turn-their eyes alight with excitement.

The story ends. There is a moment of reflection – then the children move away.

Two children pick up the taniwha book and read it together.

Five children go to the art and craft area to make a taniwha with flax, or to continue with some other activity.

Others go to the large tables to write about the taniwha, or on topics of their own choice.

The children write variously in exercise books, long books of stapled newsprint, or on newsprint sheets.

One child lies down and feeds the rabbit.

Another tells me that everyone has to write something before the end of the day.

Stuart comes up to show me his long book and to read his story again.

‘It’s the first one I’ve written.’

The teacher discusses a spelling contract with a child. (However, the teacher does not use the term contract in doing this.)

Another child comes up and says she’s written two books. ‘One about my baby. The other about Andrew’s bike.’

The children mainly use ‘have-a-go’ spelling but one or two prefer ‘try-cards’. As the children write, the teacher moves around talking to them.

Two children are working with an alphabet game.

The parent is listening to a child read a story.

Over in the art and craft area some children are working on various constructions. Containers permanently fixed between the tables give the children easy access to materials. An art and craft book open on a stand is being used by a boy to guide his activity.

‘Yes, I chose it. I mainly work from the pictures.’

The teacher sets up a printing contract with a child.

Another parent bustles in. ‘I’ve just come for half-a-day. I’m feeling a bit fragile’

The parent exchanges a smile with the teacher and then skilfully slips into a supportive role with a child.

Two children engaged in another alphabet game busily rub the magnets to make them work better.

Nancy, a child whose second language is English, sits at the writing desk to write a story about the rabbit. She’s writing on yellow memo tabs in a long book. Every now and then other children sidle up to her to see how she’s getting on. They give help when it’s requested.

The teacher continues to work with individuals. At the moment she is doing running records.

A child is sitting next to Nancy at the writing table, practising his printing.

The writing table is a focus of much activity. A large alphabet chart is displayed on it, as are various suggestions for language activities. Available for the children to use are pencils, thin stemmed marker pens and lined sheets. Various task-cards for printing, punctuation, and spelling are stored in half containers and envelopes.

While I’m standing near the writing table a child settles down to do some writing.

‘I’m writing a letter to my dad.’

Another child nudges me.

‘I wrote a speech bubble.’

She then reads it to me.

‘Who am I? I’m five and I like lollipops.’

‘I’m going to write a story about going to the farm now.’

A parent arrives with her child. The boy is to start school in a week. For orientation, the parent and her son have been coming to school each morning.

The two of them are looking through the Ready to Read books.

A child beside the writing table is learning a contract spelling word.

‘School, S-c-h-o-o-l, School’

The child covers the word and writes it in her book again.

A relaxed but purposeful air prevails. There is a pleasant hum of conversation.

A girl leans towards a boy.

‘There are two t’s in little.’

He reflects for a moment then reaches for a rubber.

There is a clatter as some felt-tips spill on the floor. In a matter-of-fact way two other children come over to help pick them up.

The outside equipment is shared with a neighbouring room. Two children are hammering and sawing, one is pouring water.

The teacher is on the move now, questioning one or two children to check they have a sense of direction for their morning’s activities.

A child is using the tape-recorder and intently following the story being told.

Two children are showing the teacher their constructions. She admires them and gets them going on their next activity.

Nancy has made good progress with her story.

She reads her stories to the rabbit.

The teacher comes over and talks to me.

‘The organisation is such that they don’t learn they are behind in this or that. They don’t feel they are scrambling to be first to climb up learning ladders. When they are working they simply feel they are doing reading or doing mathematics, and so on?’

The parent and child having an orientation week are now looking at the mathematics resources.

Stuart shows me his taniwha. ‘I’ve made it for my sister. She’s three.’

Two children are now in the play-house using the dressing up material. The teacher looks over there, and so do some of the children. Clearly something of significance is occurring.

I learn later that the boy who is playing ‘house’ with the girl has a problem in getting on with other children.

His playing with another child in the play-house is the first time he has been seen by teacher or children to sustain a constructive relationship with another child.

I watch him as he carefully wraps a doll in a blanket and places it in the pram.

After morning play, the teacher sits down with a book. Very soon there is a cluster of children around her to listen. However, many children continue with the activity they were on before play.

A song in Maori is coming from the tape recorder. Two children sing along with it.

Three children are over at the writing table working on spelling contracts. Another two are writing out the  alphabet. One child is doing printing on his own initiative.

Stuart rearranges the social studies display to make a space for his long book.

Four children get out some musical instruments and start beating time to their singing. The teacher joins them.

The boy in the play-house is still maintaining his constructive behaviour. He’s tidying up now with the girl.

The parent and her child are looking through the blown-up books.

Two children have taken a pointer from the pointer container and are reading around the room

Greer comes over to me. ‘If I put my hand to bunny’s mouth he licks me.’

Two children are doing a spelling activity. They put their hand in a box of words (high usage words) and pull one out. After a quick look they turn it over and write the word down. ‘We’re not supposed to look again but I just cheated.’

‘I like doing neat printing,’ says the child at the writing table.

Greer is walking around the room reading to the rabbit.

Two children are making constructions with dough.

Three children are working together using lego.

Stuart, having finished his taniwha, is again clutching his long book. He reads his story to anyone he can inveigle to listen.

There are now a lot of children reading books. Since morning play the emphasis has moved to reading. Some children have gone to their individual reading boxes and are now variously reading their designated instructional reader, or an associated reader, or a wider choice reader (known to them as ‘swap’ books).

The teacher explained later that the instructional and associated readers are chosen by the children but from within a restricted range of reading levels. The wider choice reading box has books with a wider range of reading levels.

The teacher is very busy hearing children read to her. With some of the children she does running records.

A child comes over to me with some folded cardboard into which he has cut serrations.

‘These triangles make diamonds when you open it up, see?’

‘Who thought that up?’

‘I did.’

The musicians go to their individual reading boxes for reading material.

Except for one child in the art and craft area, the two children in the play house, and two children at the writing table, all the children are now doing reading. They have settled to it gradually, without fuss, and without direction.

Stuart comes over with his reading box and reads All Join In to me.

The teacher is introducing books to a group of eight children.

They glance over to the play-house and express concern that the boy is not with them. The teacher reassures them.

‘We’ll leave him. He’s done pretty well today.’

The children understand.

The boy is now pushing the pram around the classroom.

Three informal groupings have developed. There is a group being introduced to some books, a group preferring to read on their own, and three children who have not fully settled to any particular reading task.

Stuart reads to me.

‘As tall as a …’

He looks at the illustration for a clue.

‘As tall as a …’

He looks to and fro. ‘House.’

Josh comes over to help.

‘I’ve read this book.’

In anticipation of some support, Stuart looks grateful.

The children’s involvement in the reading programme is now far more dispersed.

Everywhere there are children reading on their own, in pairs, to the teacher, or around the room.

A number of children are reading their homework books. In these books there are various bits and pieces for children to read at home. Included in these bits and pieces are songs, poems, and jingles the children have written. They seem to know most of them off-by-heart.

The play-house boy is looking at the taniwha. 

Josh says, ‘Stuart.’

Stuart moves along the settee so Josh can sit beside me and have a turn at reading his book.

There is a buzz of children reading.

The play-house boy is now working with dough.

Stuart carefully follows the words as Josh reads.

The teacher is hearing various children read.

Greer is practising the spelling of a word she found difficult in her reading. She goes through the routine she has learnt for learning words.

I ask her if the teacher gave her the correct spelling of the word.

‘No,’ she says. ‘She made me think of where I had come across the word before. It was in On a Chair. I got it from there.’

A child holds a Maori text towards me.

‘Can you read Maori’?’

I shake my head.

‘I can,’ she says.

She then proceeds to do a ‘translation’ by reading the pictures.

Children are reading everywhere: in the class library, on the settee, on the floor, on desks, under desks, around corners, in the play house.

The children are intent and purposeful. There is a quietness to proceedings. Movement from activity to activity has been relaxed and unhurried. The programme has unfolded impressively. A shift to fitness occurs as the children see the teacher take some equipment outside.

The lesson begins with children choosing some task-cards and doing what is suggested individually or in pairs. They then go to teachers stationed around the playground for group activity. The teachers are available because a number of classes have joined in.

After lunch the children come in and settle down with books.

Josh asks me to read the story of the taniwha again.

The teacher encourages the children to take a careful look at the books in the library.

She starts to read Where the Wild Things Are. A number of children settle around her.

The teacher then takes an enlarged printed book and turns over the pages to a taped story. As the story of Mrs Wishy Washy proceeds, the children mime parts of it.

The children drift to various places to read. They are mainly reading their wider choice books now.

They read to anyone they can collar.

There is movement to mathematics. Two groups of children continue to work with activities from their previous day’s work, while one group works with the teacher.

The groups away from the teacher show absorption in their tasks.

A teaching group is working with the number 5.

Another group has jig-saw cards.

Various materials are used for counting.

After children have their turn at group teaching, they continue with that activity for a while, then they go to a collection of materials and activities designated for their group.

The children select some materials and then find somewhere to use them.

A relaxed atmosphere is evident.

The quality of the conversation amongst the children is purposeful. ‘If you move these 2 and put them with those 3, you have 5.’

All the children are now working independently.

A child with special mathematics needs is given individual help by the teacher.

Three children recite a number chanting song.

As part of evaluation, the teacher has a cardboard checklist on hand. From time-to-time she ticks a section or writes a comment.

The teacher introduces new activities to children as the programme proceeds.

A child says to me, ‘Our activities are over there. I just put my hand in and got one.’

The teacher moves fairly quickly around the class. She is making sure the children know what to do for the beginning of the next day’s mathematics.

Towards the end of the lesson, a number of children become involved in group game activities.

Some children decide they are finished with mathematics and move away to do other things.

‘I’m good at maths too,’ says Stuart.

The teacher sits on a chair near the social studies display – the children around her on the mat.

The day before, the children had been asked what things grandma and grandpa had, and did, at school.

As they said them the teacher had written the children’s ideas in pencil on small strips of newsprint.

The children then printed over the top of the pencil script with thin stemmed felt-tips. Some children, though, printed their ideas without this support.

For to-day’s work the children sit on the mat looking at their ideas blu-tacked to the display board. Beside the display board is a Venn diagram with a main label of At school, and three sub-labels of Our school, At both schools, and Grandma and grandpa’s school.

The teacher goes over the list of children’s ideas — responding to questions, or skilfully encouraging the children to respond to them themselves.

‘Did they write on paper?’

‘What do you think?’ asks the teacher. There is a chorus of replies from the children.

‘What about felt-tips?’ asks a child. A pause by the teacher encourages responses. They quickly resolve matters to their satisfaction.

‘Did they have radios?’ This one takes longer to discuss, and is not conclusively resolved.

The teacher says, ‘Now what things are only at our school, or only happen at our school?’

The children look through the list, or just remember. When they think they have an answer, they stand up and blu-tack the label in the appropriate space.

The children are asked not to comment on the correctness of the placements.

‘We’ll discuss that tomorrow.’

Next: ‘What things were only at grandma and grandpa’s school, or only happened at their school?’

And, finally: ‘What things were at both schools, or happened at both schools?’

By this stage of the topic, the children have developed a feeling for grandma and grandpa’s life at school. There is considerable interest by nearly all the children in the activity. One child, however, near the end, drifts off to the play-house. This is accepted matter-of-factly by the teacher and children.

At the end of the lesson the teacher reads a story of school in olden days.

To finish  the day, the children have music. They sing a song to a tape, accompany it with some instruments, and then respond with movement and dance.

The children go to their reading boxes for their ‘bedtime’ readers, and they collect their homework books.

Most of them say goodbye to the teacher individually. They are kind enough not to forget me.

Another day is over in Sue Bradly’s new entrant room.



Sue rests her forehead on her hand: I encourage children to solve their own problems. Sometimes I wonder if I demand too much of them. The emphasis is on children taking more responsibility for their own learning.

No matter the curriculum area, they’re expected  to think about what they’re doing.

I tell them to do this. Sometimes I will ask them what they’re doing. I expect a response. It’s to help them learn how to learn, it’s giving children a sense of control. They need to know why they’re doing things.

I’m just one of thousands of primary teachers who think like this. I wish those outside schools who talk a lot about education would listen to us. Really listen to us.

This account was in a booklet I published in 1989 (Developmental Teaching and Learning in Practice Part 1), I sold some copies, then put it away to become more-or-less forgotten. Somehow I came across the booklet and remembered Sue, wondered where she was, hoped all was well, then had a thought that the booklet might be useful for a posting, but didn’t read it. I sent it away to Allan Alach to transfer to Word, and in returning it he said: ‘A very good teacher.’ (Which I should have picked up on then because he doesn’t praise lightly.) I put it aside for processing and have just got round to reading it. I was overwhelmed and wept for Sue and teachers like her, and the children who could have had teachers like her, and didn’t, and myself (if you will excuse me) for a whole complex of things. This account is a treasure I feel transcendent to be associated with. It is dedicated to Sue and all the other Sues, some of whom, against the odds are still out there.

Pooh thought for a little.

‘How old shall I be then?’


Pooh nodded.

‘I promise.’

Still with his eyes on the world Christopher Robin put out his hand and felt for Pooh’s paw.

Pooh,’ said Christopher Robin earnestly, if I – if I’m not quite’ he stopped and tried again –Pooh, whatever happens, you will understand won’t you?’

Posted in Curriculum, Education | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

In which Pooh looks for a 21st Century Education Part 3

In Part 2, Pooh, apparently disillusioned with his experience with a 21st Century Education, announced to Piglet that though he didn’t know what it looked like, he was just going to try and catch a Good Education because the century mightn’t matter.

The First Two Years at School 1950

Please note: statements by the narrator judged as organising values have been highlighted.

The pure, uncomplicated expression of education values that follows has its origin deep in our culture. But, particularly from the mid-thirties, there was a coming together of events, ideas and people including the depression, the election of a Labour government, the political education leadership of Peter Fraser, the ideas of John Dewey, progressive education thinkers from England, the influence of New Zealand educationists like Clarence Beeby and, tellingly for what follows, Gwen Somerset, a New Zealand-born primary teacher and infant mistress. These came together in the New Education Fellowship conferences, held around New Zealand in 1937 – stirring events that put education in the headlines and provided a sense of infinite possibility. After that the war and the return of soldiers and a sense of new beginnings.

By 1950 there had been a change of government (election 1949) but the film project was allowed to proceed. Beeby, appointed as director of education when Fraser became prime minister in 1940, continued as director for a time under the new government. Of significance is the Fraser-Beeby policies being put to the test when the National Party came to power, but the new minister, after making extensive visits to schools and consulting parental opinion, endorsed them.

The holistic had struck forming a crucial part of our education culture and history.

I am impressed that Douglas Lilburn composed music for the film; an indication of the importance placed on the project.


After the puzzled mother who wanted less play and more learning – something for children to get their teeth into – the narrator announces, voice deepening, that there is a new order in the infant room.

We want children who are lively and eager and full of wonder. 

There is always the danger of cramming classroom subjects into them before they are ready.

Children’s natural pleasure of learning should never be blunted.

Children grow by learning and experiencing: by seeing, feeling, and understanding.

Play is a way of children’s own natural way of learning to understand the world around them. 

It was clear there were a number of audiences for the film: media, public, parents, and teachers.

I noted the architecture of some of the schools: the Labour government architectural design of glass-framed doors on one side of the room opening to the sun and the playground, the inviting steps down. The openness an expression of the openness to ideas and the link between the classroom and the outside world.

In the free play that starts the day, the narrator says, the children are reliving experiences from their home understanding of the adult world.

How lively and eager the children are, so full, of wonder.

The free play is a direct introduction to the idea of community living; their own way of understanding and controlling the world around them.

It is a way of children learning that they can get more out of playing together than playing separately.

The film shows a boy crying and comments that for some children playing together and sharing can be uphill work.

Children learn to organise themselves.

For teachers it is away for them to learn about the behavioural characteristics of the children.

I liked the way when the end of free play was due, the teacher instead of using her voice held up a notice that said: TIDY UP PLEASE. The teacher was sensitive to the idea that a teacher’s voice can be pervasive, ever-present, signalling that he or she was there and in control; using her voice less indicated leaving more room for children’s sense of individuality, responsibility, and shared control.

The concept of free play, the narrator said, is a way of tying together many threads of learning without the children really knowing they are learning.

A successful adult life stemmed from the rich and varied world of childhood.

Play in the Infant Room

We now see the hour of free play being set up to begin the day: the hour of free play was the standard not so many years ago, but with more children having early childhood experience, the free play idea remained but in different expression. In the contemporary example of a junior room to follow, that will be demonstrated.

Sand and water play is still common in schools. The working together and the experimenting with water play still teaches and delights. https://networkonnet.files.wordpress.com/2016/12/attack-99the-ero-visit-and-the-water-play.pdf

Construction materials, dress-up, and many other props and play things were available in the free play hour and were continually varied.

The narrator comments again on the relevance of school to life at home and the adult world.

A child sitting on a chair balanced on a desk with the dentist poking a ruler into the patient’s mouth is something unlikely to be seen in classroom nowadays but note the deep involvement.

The child smacking the doll (letting out pent up feeling of anger and shame comments the narrator), and the girls busy being housewives both in the Wendy House and outside might cause some cringe, but that was their home reality.

The art work around the room is boldly expressive: evidence of confident, engaged, and imaginative children.

The narrator says the children regularly experience things by accident which they subsequently build into their planning, they [and what a concise expression] ‘use to intelligent purpose’. 

There was no direct reference to drama being organised but I noticed that the children’s deep and concentrated involvement in their devised activities, for instance, use of dress-up props, the dentist’s chair, or housekeeping, sand play, and using paper and cardboard constructions – all had drama elements.

There is reiteration by the narrator of the children learning how to be social beings and learning to share.

The narrator points out that the teacher plays a delicate role: settings things up, letting the children explore, intervening judiciously.

Learning to read

There is a guiding principle for reading, the narrator says, and once it is in place, everything comes together.

The children are shown looking at picture books and ‘reading’ the books

The teacher stands at an easel and the children discuss a sequence of pictures.

Pictures, the children are told, tell a story that can be expressed in words.

Enjoyment is gained from getting meaning from pictures.

Pictures are displayed with sentences below.

The interrelationship of pictures and words provides meaning [the origins of the ‘I can read’ idea can be found in this].

Reading, the narrator says, is not just a collection of letters but something that is alive and interesting.

Reading is finding the meaning behind whole words and sentences [which I take is the guiding principle for reading the narrator refers to].

Pictures can be dispensed with and the words and sentences carry the meaning.

The way to develop education understandings is by closely observing children [the basis for teacher-developed knowledge].

Reading from first to last should be [another wonderfully concise expression] ‘a thought-getting process’.

Reading should be a happy experience for children [is that to be found in written comprehension?]

Reading broadens and enriches their thoughts.

Pleasure, interest, and enjoyment in reading carry forward into their lives a love of reading.

Number works

Number works, the narrator begins, is more than figures and sums. 

It involves what number means in the world outside the school.

It is conceptions of measurement, size, space, weight, and shape. 

Connects with the outside world.

Involves activity and experience.

Leading to such things as practical ideas of capacity, telling the time, shapes and sizes, and counting.

Activities around the room are changed from day-to-day.

Number games widely used.

Number is continuing experiences gained from outside the classroom and from home.

Only after children build up a wealth of experience from first-hand knowledge should they concentrate on what number means; should they get down to more abstract book-work. 

Because of the understanding of practical number the children will then very likely display rapid improvement.

Living and Learning

The children are sitting before the teacher as she reads a story.

Their eyes shining with wonder through the black and white film and the decades.

A lot of what the children do, the narrator says, is extended make-believe from experience.

Their activities organised around something that interests them.

Can link a great range of children’s experiences, giving them social meaning.

Those experiences need to be vivid and stimulating whether a story, exploring nature, or gaining knowledge in other ways.

A love of learning is the birth-right of all children.

With stories, the children can identify with characters in the world of fantasy.

Catch their concerns and sympathy. 

A peg to hang other activities.

Activities, projects, science investigations. 

The children’s art work is bold in colour and scope meaning their imaginations have been stirred.

Children studying a farm grow wheat.

Hand-crafted cardboard models used for drama games.

Imagination links experiences.

The overall aim is to establish a vivid and stimulating environment to retain children’s love of learning and sense of wonder.

And thus concludes this film that inspires: inspires because we see an education system in which system and classroom values are in harmony, and the values concerned are so holistic – the values begin with children in classrooms and end with the system, on balance, seeking to support those values. Yes – it is more complicated than that because there is an interaction between classroom values and social and political expectations to shape those values (which is as it should be), and the values in various classrooms can vary greatly, but in the complex and value-laden world of education, we can see something exceptional, integrated, democratic, and beautiful happening here.

We now move to a contemporary expression of those values (1989) and we should feel a terrible sense of loss. I have been in hundreds of classrooms like this, classrooms that suited Maori and pakeha, girls and boys, all children; as a mark of their effectiveness I cannot recall any child not becoming an independent reader or an interested writer in them. And yet, through ignorance or ideological blindness, the values expressed in the 1950s film and in the pre-Tomorrow’s Schools classroom have been replaced by other values – adult-centred, bureaucratic, and control ones.

Our political leaders, and we in education, failed our children.

Piglet came to the edge of the river where the bridge let you get across. On the bridge was a big brown furry ball. When he touched it, the furry ball moved and it was Pooh. He was leaning over the edge of the bridge, a pile of fir-cones beside him.

Before Piglet had a chance to ask, Pooh said. ‘I’m doing number because I caught a Good Education.’

‘You drop in one then another and two come out the other side.’

‘That’s called number.’

Piglet waggled his tail in admiration.

‘You drop in a large one and a small one to see which comes out first.’

‘That’s called investigation.’

‘If you want to clap,’ said Pooh, ‘now is the time to do it.’

Read Part 4 and wonder: how did we let this near demise of such classrooms occur; is there a way we could return?

Posted in Curriculum, Education, Schooling | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

In which Pooh looks for a 21st Century Education Part 2

In Part 1, Piglet and Pooh wondered about something called a 21st Century Education;
Pooh said he’d found it but, in being asked what it was like, ignored the question, evincing more interest in the honey pot his head was in.

Except as a chronological expression, 21st century education is nothing special, remaining part of a continuity that, despite considerable twisting and turning, remains just that, a continuity; the technological disruption predicted for that chronological expression being just a further example of ideological disruption that is always there or near in the sensitive and value-laden area of school education.

In Part 1, I described how those who talked most about the 21st century education were ideological groupings (political, technology, business, and academic) who wanted to control the present of school education to control the future; even more, I suspect, to control the future to control the present.

This posting is also about an ideological disruption, in this case, though, an holistic one, the intention being to control the past to control the present. I’m not too fussed about the future, believing that getting the present ‘right’ is sufficient preparation for that. This last based on the idea that because we are dealing with human nature, the behavioural characteristics schools have to contend with remain much the same,  with differences in schooling coming from differences in ends. The argument in this posting is that holistic and democratic ends are the way to get the present right as against technologically-focused, hierarchical, and control ones.

I disagree with the hierarchical and anti-democratic purposes inherent in the ideology of Tomorrow’s Schools and want to disrupt that by returning to the power-sharing values portrayed in ‘The First Two Years at School’, a 1950 National Film Unit production for the Department of Education, and available now on YouTube (in Part 3 the link will be provided and the film discussed in detail).

The film will look at classroom practices with particular attention to the values expressed not just for the classes involved but for the education system. It was funded by the government to explain its education policies to teachers, parents, the community, and the media. The values expressed became organising ones for schools at the time; they are child-centred, equitable, communal, and democratic. Over subsequent years, culminating in Tomorrow’s Schools, those values were ignored, weakened, misunderstood, misrepresented by values that were individualistic, hierarchical, and control-seeking to the detriment of primary school education.

This posting will demonstrate that the values expressed in the film, though consistently under duress, still survived and still survive in classrooms – and are as relevant today as ever.

The main message from the film is that a school education system in a democratic society does better when the production of knowledge is shared throughout the system, in other words, the cult of the academic expert is absent and the dominance of education bureaucracies diminished. In those circumstances, I see the government, after consultation, setting out the guiding principles in the form of an expression of values, then inviting teachers to translate those into curriculum and classroom practice. This is what the First Labour Government provided under Michael Joseph Savage with Peter Fraser as minister of education (also later prime minister) and Clarence Beeby as director of education (from 1940) – and the Fourth under David Lange took away.

The First Labour government set out the value ends, provided a framework of support with resources and advisory support (especially in the arts), but did not presume to direct teachers how to go about those value ends. That is the present I would like re-established. I believe it is the best for children, the best way to get the best from teachers, and the best way to support a democratic society.

It is the cult of the academic expert co-opted by governments for control purposes that is now the most undermining characteristic of modern education. Colleges and schools of education have ‘experts’ for part of the story but few for the whole. The idea of teaching being required to be evidence-based is the most damaging myth of modern schooling and the one, as parents seek a more satisfactory education for their children, most likely to lead to the breakup of public education. To cut to the chase: the main expert used for evidence-based ideas in New Zealand is John Hattie, and his research is phoney.


Appointments to colleges and schools of education should be made according the needs of teachers and children and encompass all kinds of knowledges from classroom to academia, not the rating needs of universities.

My particular argument is to consolidate and develop the position of teacher-produced knowledge which has its own process of establishing validity, for instance, recognised longevity of success. In Part 4 of this series, just such examples of success will be provided. Teacher-produced knowledge has been trampled on, derided, ignored, and made largely forgotten by those wielding academic evidence-based knowledge of the sort allowed into the system by a neoliberal-based government, but it has persisted

Fraser was frustrated that more teachers did not take the opportunity to explore the freedom available but the values did strike; the difficulty was that in the times that followed there was antagonism by the media and conservative politicians and what had struck had to grow and develop in an increasingly unfavourable environment.

There was also some parental resistance. Indeed, the beginning of the film had a parent doubting the kinds of ideas children were bringing from school to home. The media and conservative politicians called it ‘playway’ so it is understandable some parents took up the theme. But as a message of freedom it held sway in primary school education as an ideal to form the basis for a golden period in New Zealand that still glisters today.

The film, I believe for tactical and defensive reasons, takes clear aim at the junior rooms, though Fraser was forthright in wanting the principles to characterise the system.  The values expressed and the freedom made available was picked up by some remarkable women who, on the whole, concentrated on their children and did not court publicity. In return, the junior part of the school was often seen as something apart, as something special that could be left to the stjc (senior teacher of junior classes).

Before we consider the film, a number of matters need to be referred to. The narrator refers to education from a variety of classrooms being used. But the main classrooms used in the film have children almost entirely pakeha. This was not discrimination or oversight; the film was made before the Maori migration to cities. I went to New Lynn School in West Auckland and can’t recall any Maori child there at all. When, however, the film went to a country school almost entirely Maori, the decision was made to have children doing outside things, which had that gardening stereotype to it (and indeed, had the children actually gardening as one part of it); the children also went on a nature ramble to a river; but what the teacher did with that is not shown. The point I would like to make is that the kind of holistic, informal education depicted in the pakeha-orientated city schools used in the film would have been just as wonderful with and for Maori children (yes – I know along with particular Maori cultural elements added).

When I went recently to a conference on Elwyn Richardson and his teaching at Oruaiti School in the 1950s, a number of his pupils were there and they exalted his teaching – nearly all were Maori.

The other matter that might jar was the gender aspect. The universal ‘he’ and ‘him’ was used (just once I think); more significantly was the gender stereotyping the children brought from home to their free time play in the classroom.

The books the children read and had read to them were European-centred; Sylvia Ashton-Warner responded to that and so did other teachers but New Zealand-centred books did not become widespread for another decade.

The percentage of children who had attended pre-school education would have been smaller and those who did would very likely have had a less rich experience than available today. (We should keep in mind, though, that Beatrice Beeby, wife of the director of education, Clarence Beeby, was one of the founders of the playcentre movement which established its first playcentre in 1941.) You will note that classroom practices depicted in the film would seem to have picked up nicely from where children were likely to have been.

And to reiterate the four main aims of these postings were to demonstrate:

  • The holistic classroom continuity from the 1950s to the present day
  • How century-bound conceptions of education  are harmful and invalid
  • The way values were used to organise the system, leaving teachers to devise classroom practices in response
  • The origins, power, and authenticity of teacher-developed knowledge.

Now one autumn morning when the wind had blown all the leaves off the trees in the night, and was trying to blow the branches off, Pooh and Piglet were sitting in the Thoughtful Spot and wondering.

‘I think I’ll try to catch a Good Education today,’ announced Pooh.

‘What does a Good Education look like?’ asked Piglet.

‘Don’t know.’

‘But I’ll let you know when I catch one,’ replied Pooh blithely.

Continued in Part 3



Posted in Education Policy, Teaching | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Oh come on! Bring in the NCEA cavalry (Warwick Elley)

Staffroom photos help boost NCEA pass rates at North Shore’s Glenfield College

‘Schools can achieve any pass rates they want; it is simply a matter of being sensitive to believability limits and cheek. Principals keep their hands clean but they know it is happening and put pressure of expectations on make sure it does. It all comes to a crashing end with UE or with external exams, though.’ Quote from: https://networkonnet.wordpress.com/2017/04/17/ncea-the-great-learning-robbery-the-culprits-the-government-editors-and-in-this-instance-simon-collins/

In the posting above I did not talk about the diverting of students to so-called ‘vocational’ units. Those units, of course, have a place but the pressure to lift NCEA passes means schools are relying on them to up pass rates: students who are on the borderline are not taken a risk with.

The aim of the school should be to increase the number of students who have a real choice amongst the ‘academic’ units as well as the ‘vocational’ ones.

I have long agitated for increased staffing for secondary schools to enable them to set up, from students’ first years, small group tutor systems to provide learning guidance. In my campaign against clusters that was my suggestion for the better use of the money.

I’m not saying that all those hot-housed students were in the vocational ones, but a good few would have been.

The overall difficulty is that throughout the education system, wrong messages are being sent. NCEA is a mess no matter what way you look at it and needs to be sorted out. The results from schools can mean something or very little. Who knows? A previous posting makes clear teachers are being ‘pressured’ into irregular behaviours, and that these behaviours are having harmful effects throughout the education system extending to primary junior classes. https://networkonnet.wordpress.com/2017/04/06/attack-106-things-are-not-ok/

Students from families with substantial social capital (of a particular sort) are the ones who will be able to pick themselves up and go on to pass UE; students from families without will be far less likely to have that choice.

Even in the face of falling international results, with the distorted NCEA ones, governments are able to keep the public reasonably content and thus resist pressure for more funding. Once again it is the students without that substantial social capital who will be most affected because they are the ones most in need of an education system more able to be attentive to their needs.

National standards need to go, to be replaced by a re-establishment of the National Education Monitoring Unit and the continuation of the Dunedin-based research unit. For the moment I’ll leave my ideas for secondary schools aside but I remind readers that our most eminent testing researcher, Warwick Elley, was always firmly, perhaps even bitterly, against the NCEA structure, perhaps it’s time to go cap in hand and ask him for help.

New entrants in the junior room, and from then on, are being disadvantaged because of a government-allowed scam at the top. NCEA graduates must be able to read, write, do sums, and think at a basic level or it will remain a giant con – an open, but conspiratorially not reported, injustice in our education system. The politicians, principals, and teachers are not doing a kindness to the candidates – they are self-servingly functioning at the expense of children starting right from the beginning of children’s school learning lives.

Posted in Education Policy, NCEA | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

NCEA: The Great Learning Robbery – the culprits: the government, editors and, in this instance, Simon Collins

NCEA rates slump at tiny Ngata Memorial College, but school averages improve

NCEA and national standards results are being manipulated in schools, and especially NCEA: the government knows, the media knows, everyone in schools knows (ask any student, they all know too) but why worry about it; the children from families with substantial social capital will shrug off the effects; too bad for the children without.

Making things seem to go well in education allows the government a relatively free hand to maintain its fierce centralised control of education and from there to exclude teachers from genuine participation in policy- and decision-making; also to avoid policies that while they might well improve education – particularly for children from lower socio-economic environments – are removed from consideration on grounds of cost. Why fund for improved learning when the government can get it for free by relying on teachers scamming NCEA? School education at both primary and secondary is weak and heading to the dismal but where schools have control of the testing it is sunlit vistas.

(Note to Hekia: of course you know.)

(Note to Simon: doubling from social issues to education seems to have made you amnesiac about your regular past references to the importance of education to the solution of social issues.)

The main actions taken within secondary classrooms to manipulate results are:

  1. Far more assessment opportunities than regulation allows (this is almost universal) and is the big one: students and teachers have told me it is close to standard practice for students to take their work to the teacher time after time, adding a bit incrementally till finished. This allows schools to push their pass rate to the extremes of the believable and sometimes beyond. Of all the manipulation tactics this is the one that delivers the success in media ratings and in Hekia Parata’s farewell media releases.
  2. Overly scaffolding learning (in other words, setting out more information for student inclusion in their answering than should properly be made available): Mainly done by the teacher directly helping students to scaffold NCEA answers, leaving the student to express it in the form required but often completely uncomprehending about what is being expressed.
  3. Putting information on whiteboard and leaving it there (not so common but it does happen).
  4. Overly detailed and suggestive feedback: a more informal version of 1.
  5. Working in the computer lab to allow cutting and pasting: A digitalised version of 1 and 3.

Literacy can now be passed in nearly any subject – with most passing that requirement before they sit English, as a result, few take English seriously. The students can be passed for literacy, for instance, by drawing a graph, moving the curves correctly and adding a couple of sentences. They are able to pass passing in literacy using credits where the attention is not on the literacy but the ideas contained, scattered around so to speak. Very little English has to be deployed to pass.

The way things are set up allows many students to sidestep challenges, play a game of deep manipulation, just doing enough to meet what is required – leaving an overwhelming feeling of neither caring about learning nor understanding what was supposed to have been learnt. Students are more-or-less saying, if you want me to pass, get me through, but if you won’t someone else will. (This strongly relates to the list above.)

Schools can achieve any pass rates they want; it is simply a matter of being sensitive to believability limits and cheek. Principals keep their hands clean but they know it is happening and put pressure of expectations on make sure it does. It all comes to a crashing end with UE or with external exams, though.

This scam occurs across all secondary schools and particularly intensively in schools that take the Cambridge Examinations. Taking the Cambridge Examinations as well, has the obvious effect of restricting time for NCEA meaning shortcuts are a near necessity. Also, schools taking the Cambridge Examinations are almost certainly ones that have very high examination expectations.

The farce of post-Christmas passes that became a particularly big thing two years ago will serve as a metaphor for the whole sorry matter.

The universities understandably fed up with large numbers of half-literate, unmotivated, and anti-intellectual students turning up at their ivy-framed gated-entrance, lobbied for some consolidation of English and mathematics standards into external exams. The result, a plummeting of marks that not even the ritual head office tweaking could hide. So there was a rush of students back to their local schools early in the New Year for what I call holiday passes. Typically, those students have not so much failed as fooled around in the course of the year making a nuisance of themselves with their distracting behaviour and lack of motivation.

Then, after the results are out, having heard, say, that a friend was going to university at Dunedin to do a physical education course become all interested and beseech their secondary school. The school in return has a vested interest in building up pass numbers. Success by a student in any post-Christmas NCEA sale would necessarily involve breaking NCEA protocols. The teaching or learning would not have been authentic. Students should properly have only been offered a touch here and there by the teacher with the initiative lying very much with the student. There is an additional point; if post-Christmas sale was open to one student it should by regulation have been opened to all.

A newly-appointed teacher, straight from the school of education, was given some post-Christmas students to pass. She couldn’t believe what was happening. Nothing at the school of education had prepared her for this. After tearfully approaching the principal he allocated the students to another teacher and it was all wrapped up in a week. In fact, the local newspaper proceeded to make local heroes of the students and teachers concerned.

But wait for it – unintended consequences? well hardly but apparently. Student numbers at universities dropped (wow! who could have guessed?), putting funding at risk so the universities set aside the legal minimum for university entrance and conjured up something called vice-chancellor’s discretion.

For the government, why put money into the school system to improve results when schools can and do manipulate results for that end on their own initiative? Look at Hekia laughing all the way to retirement on the backs of Maori and Pacific students.

Posted in NCEA | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

If Chris Hipkins can’t do it give it to Kelvin Davis Part 2

In many respects Kelvin Davis is more conservative than Chris Hipkins but Kelvin Davis listens and that is all we are asking.

[I want to make it clear these postings are entirely my initiative. If Kelvin asked me to stop I wouldn’t.

He first came to my attention many years ago when I was at Waitangi on Waitangi Day taking photographs for a social studies resource. The word spread like wildfire that Helen Clark had continued north to speak to a promising potential candidate by the name of Kelvin Davis.

In the last three years we have probably communicated three or four times. In a posting, I pushed him and Stuart Nash for leadership material, and that Christmas (after the election), in walking down to the lighthouse at Cape Reinga, I met him and his new secretary who had been taken north to meet his family and visit the electorate.

Since then we have communicated about four times, usually when he sought information about a school and principal he thought might be able to help. Please note: not to work together but to do what he could do from his position.

Kelvin Davis was decisive in protecting Opua School from the very bad behaviour of the education review office.

Two times, after reading my postings, and then ringing me, I could sense his deep concern about the bullying of two women principals.

The questions he asked were always direct and quite tough: summed up he didn’t want to be caught defending an incompetent. Kelvin is not someone to be trifled with.

I did ring him on one occasion, to do with his visit to a charter school in Whangarei. First of all he said he did not support charter schools, and I believed him, and so should you – Kelvin Davis does not tell lies.

The circumstances were that he was asked to visit the school for a special occasion by the principal, a close member of his whanau – that member had worked to start a school for Maori children, one she intended to have within the public system. That was the originating plan, but the ministry would have none of it, and insisted it be a charter school or nothing.

In the end Kelvin Davis decided to go serving one loyalty while transgressing another.

Kelvin Davis would disagree on a lot of things with me about education, I don’t care; he is a listener. I see him as a future prime minister.]

What follows is a sincere attempt to suggest some ideas for a system’s education change to put the spark, cohesion, and drive into Labour’s education plans for primary education.

At the moment Labour’s suggested policies are dragging the chain and just won’t do.

Below are some ideas for a changed education system – ideas which are consistent with Labour’s 1935 education policy of developing children’s ‘talents to the utmost’.

The Currie Commission (1962) was to underline the seriousness of this intent when it said that: ‘So far is this from being a mere pious platitude that the full acceptance of the principle will involve the reorientation of the education system.’

The term reorientation is one that suits my purposes exactly: Please note – my attention is to primary school education.

I know my suggestions for a manifesto have been posted – this is another expression in another mood, so some differences in emphasis (but only that).


I was mindful in the ideas that follow to set out a democratic and trust-based system which did not replace one set of certainties with another. Wittgenstein described the modern-day obsession with certainty as a superstition. In education, in a social democracy, there isn’t anyone who knows – at best we are talking about approximation. There certainly isn’t anyone who knows; who can be certain about what is right for all children, for all teachers, for all schools, for all societies, for all times. It should not be management by objectives (which is neoliberalism) but participation by variety, values, and aims (which is social democracy).

While the emphasis in the framework that follows is on aims, that doesn’t mean that schools can’t, if that is their decision, organise what they do to closely-set objectives of their own making – the important thing is that this judgement is left to schools. That is why variety in the suggested framework is more than something to be encouraged, it is its essence. Variety is especially mentioned in three key education areas: the external review process; a reconstituted advisory service; and initial teacher education.

The ideas that follow will only truly come alive if they are read as ‘far from being mere pious platitude’. An education system, for instance, built on truly valuing variety would have widespread and significant consequences from initial teacher education, to classroom functioning, to external reviewing, and on and on.

Chris Hipkins is not listening; I believe Kelvin Davis would listen.

It almost goes without saying that the clusters should be abolished: they are not worth their money relative to other needs and, even more importantly, under a National government (even a Labour one if Tomorrow’s Schools are anything to go by) they will be turned to deepening education’s neoliberal future – schools being conveniently organised for bureaucratic control and exploitation by private companies


Develop a partnership model for policy development

Develop an education system given direction by an agreed set of values

Develop an education system based on valuing variety

Develop a national curriculum organised by principles and aims

Develop an education system based on evaluation being inseparable from teaching (in other words, reducing the significance of outcomes-based assessment)

In the light of above: Develop an education system based on carefully considered metaphors

The Education Council is acting as an instrument of the ministry of education and adding another layer of bureaucracy: it should be abolished and replaced by an organisation controlled and paid for by teachers

Because John Hattie’s research contributes substantially to the theoretical basis for the current system and the academic justification for its policies, there should be an inquiry into the soundness of that research.

Comment: The term evidence-based research should examined and put into proportion to allow space for other ways knowledge is produced. ‘Assessment’ as a term, was absent from education literature before the 1970s and is inseparable from the industrial model introduced into education by neoliberalism. Teachers and their organisations should be structurally involved in policy initiation and making.

External reviews

Develop a process of external review undertaken in partnership (government, boards of trustees, teacher organisations, principals, teachers, and schools of education)

Develop a process of external review based on evaluation being inseparable from teaching (in other words what is happening in classrooms not on paper)

Develop a process of external review in accord with the principles and aims set for the system and the national curriculum.

Develop policies of transparency and acceptance of responsibility for the education review process.

Consider bringing the review office into the ministry structure for efficiency, to align policy and evaluation, and honesty of function and relationship.

Comment: Such an external review process would require reviewers to establish different relationships with schools and be of high status and experience. I suggest a partnership advisory board be set up in association with the administration of the review process.

National evaluation

Develop a national evaluation system based on sampling using rich evaluation activities.

Comment: This is a recommendation for system similar to NEMP, but even better resourced. I also suggest building relationships with other countries to establish an international approach, separate from right-wing and economics-focused organisations like the OECD, to evaluate across the curriculum using rich evaluation activities. The idea is replace narrowly focused and structured international evaluation processes like PISA with broadly based and structured evaluation processes like NEMP. The Educational Assessment Research Unit based at Otago should also be continued (though, refocused and comprising qualitative researchers as well).

Advisory service

Develop a relatively independent, government-funded advisory service based on valuing variety.

Comment: A relatively independent advisory service would provide an alternative to other sources of professional advice, other developers of knowledge, and other sources of curriculum memory. I think this is of particular importance.

Principal appointments (Primary)

Develop a system around the idea of principal appointments being made by a committee of two board of trustees, an NZEI representative, and a ministry representative as chair.

Comment: There are no perfect appointment processes, only less imperfect ones.

Specialist teaching

Develop a school staffing schedule that, without undermining the benefits of generalist class teaching, provides schools with the opportunity for some specialised teaching.

Comment: I suggest Maori, music, drama, the arts, and science as being particular beneficiaries of this policy.

Children and underachievement

Develop special policies for helping children who are underachieving

Advocate for, and contribute to, a national economic and social policy on underachievement that gives priority to the mitigation and elimination of child poverty

Develop policies for creating environments in schools to provide some compensation for social disadvantage

Develop a policy for including in school staffing schedules time allowances for community relationships, individual counselling, working with multi-agencies, running homework centres, and organising and funding healthy eating

Develop policies for providing extra classroom support for teachers, with special attention to increasing the number of support teachers to help in one-to-one or small group teaching

Develop policies that discourage schools from manipulating enrolment policies to the disadvantage of Maori and Polynesian children.

Comment: These must be a high priority.


Develop more programmes like Te Kotahitanga (and reintroduce Te Kotahitanga)

Develop holistic programmes developed by holistic teachers (Maori and others)

Develop a programme of appointing (using culturally appropriate procedures) Maori-speaking teachers to schools to teach and set up programmes throughout those schools (introduced initially by schools volunteering and then being selected).

Special needs

Develop a comprehensive funding policy for children with special needs as a way for schools to meet those children’s needs without detriment to the resources available to other children in the school.

Comment: Funding for special needs should be generous to the extent that the temptation to discourage the enrolment of special needs’ children is reduced.

National curriculum

Develop a national curriculum which, while giving an assured place to literacy and numeracy, provides children with rich learning opportunities in a broadly-based curriculum

Develop a national curriculum organised by aims (as against objectives)

Develop a national curriculum based, in the first place, on meeting the needs of children as they are (being the best way for preparing children for the future)

Develop a national curriculum that has knowing and the affective as its basis

Develop a national curriculum that ensures all children, no matter their ability, are involved in programmes that encourage creativity, imagination, and rigorous thinking

Develop a national curriculum that is based on evaluation and teaching being inseparable.

Comment: To reduce in importance particular parts of the curriculum on the erroneous justification of first attending to literacy and numeracy is to condemn certain children to a second-rate education. A curriculum based on aims provides more space for creativity and teacher initiative. It should be left to schools to decide on the nature and extent of objective setting. Many schools and teachers may well decide to transform what might have been objectives into criteria.


Develop a system that respects and is informed by both teacher and academic knowledge

Develop SKS (Successful Knowledge Syntheses) rather than BES (Best Evidence Syntheses).

Comment: Having an education system that respects and is informed by both teacher and academic knowledge would have significant implications for appointments to schools of education, the functioning of the PBRF (Performance-Based Research Fund), external reviewing, and curriculum development.

Schools of education

Develop courses for schools of education that respect and use teacher-developed knowledge

Develop courses for schools of education that give priority to the needs of children and not the status of universities

Develop criteria for appointments to schools of education and advancement that give priority to applicants’ suitability for preparing students for teaching in schools

Develop criteria for appointments to schools of education, and advancement that take account of academic ability but in a way more appropriate to the aims of teacher education than the current PBRF system

Develop programmes of work for schools of education that emphasise teaching and learning in schools but also give attention to theoretical and philosophical matters

Develop programmes of work for schools of education that value variety

Develop a policy that allows schools of education, within broad guidelines, to provide programmes that differ.

Comment: Such ideas may well go against the internationalisation of universities, if so, let that be a point of difference for our education system and, in schools, a win for teachers and children.

Computers in schools

Develop a policy that has computers in schools supporting curriculum development not driving it

Develop a new policy for computers in schools following consultation with curriculum experts and high ability classroom teachers

Develop a policy to have computer-use a curriculum subject and in that way take pressure of teachers to use computers inappropriately throughout the curriculum.

Comment: I know schools already have a considerable amount of independence in deciding computer purchasing and policy in their schools – what I’m guarding against here are large government gestures along the lines often suggested by Labour. There are far more important priorities for government funding (as instanced above). The use of computers in schools should not be dominated by computer experts but by curriculum ones – in that way, computers are more likely to end up serving the curriculum not driving it.

School architecture

Develop a policy that gives choice to schools in the matter of school architecture

Develop a policy that would allow schools to have a variety of architectural styles in a school.

The above are some ideas for a reorientation of the education system. In recent years, the Labour Party’s education policy has been one of incrementalism – in other words, by implication, an acceptance of the present system as satisfactory, requiring only occasional adjustment. But the present system with its increasing bureaucratisation and authoritarianism is not satisfactory. Incrementalism is all right if the system is on the right track, but it isn’t: it needs significant change, but judicious change. Some of the processes, techniques, and efficiencies developed from Tomorrow’s Schools should be retained but made to serve an education system more fitting for a social democracy.

Neoliberal academics have no hesitation in going back to the pre-war Austrian philosophers to reconfirm his philosophical rationale (in his case, Peter Drucker and management by objectives), so Labour politicians should have no hesitation in going back to the Fraser-Beeby era to reconfirm theirs.

A Beeby statement made following a meeting in 1942 with the South Canterbury NZEI management committee expresses clearly an idea fundamental to the reorientation suggested:

‘There seems to be a common desire on the part of teachers to ask the Department for detailed instructions regarding such things as the changes that are taking place in infant education rather than to embrace the freedom the Department has given and to participate co-operatively in the working out of up-date practice in the infant room.’

Please note that Beeby emphasised true freedom for curriculum expression. Such true freedom is in stark contrast to the nominal freedom for classroom activities that is currently allowed with centralised control being maintained through bureaucratically set and monitored objectives.

Beeby wrote:

‘It may well be that the Department, without slackening its programme on the more material side, can devote an increasing amount of effort to the task of professional leadership in the classroom … The introduction into primary of what has become to be known as the ‘new freedom’ makes it more than ever desirable that the Department, through the Inspectors, should develop to the utmost its function of professional leadership.’.

Labour should break the hold of neoliberalism. Take steps to develop an education system based on truly valuing variety, on truly valuing partnership; take steps to develop a system which boldly expresses our identity; take steps to develop an education system that is organised by aims not bureaucratically set and monitored objectives; take steps to develop an education system that respects and is informed by both teacher and academic knowledge; take steps to develop a system which is set up for children and curriculum not ease of bureaucratic control; and, in respect to the theme that introduced this posting, take steps to develop an education system truly addresses the issues surrounding children’s learning and poverty.

I leave it to two comments from Part 1 to sum it up.

  1. Auckland George says:

I just can’t feel any particular election momentum building for the opposition parties. They certainly need to mobilise some fire eaters in portfolios such as education and health – and in doing so try to bring Andrew Little up to speed as well.


  1. John H says: 

April 15, 2017 at 10:01 pm 

Your comments re Hipkins boxing himself in by endorsing Parata’s ‘successes’ are timely and astute Kelvin. NZEI too has painted itself an even brighter shade of beige by snuggling too close to Hipkins/Labour. It’s a case of desperate hand-holding in the dark that is likely to weaken the resolve of both organisations.

I believe the country is ready to listen to such a message and delivered by Kelvin Davis.

Posted in Education Policy, Political | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments