In which Pooh looks for a 21st Century Education Part 1 

From Kelvin’s Attack series that he completed just before he died.

In which Pooh looks for a 21st Century Education Part 1 

One day, when Christopher Robin and Winnie-the-Pooh and Piglet were all talking together, Christopher Robin finished the mouthful he was eating and said carelessly: ‘I saw a 21st Century Education to-day, Piglet.’

‘What was it doing?’ asked Piglet.

‘Just lumping along,’ said Christopher Robin. ‘I don’t think it saw me.’

‘I saw one once,’ said Piglet. ‘At least I think I did,’ he said. ‘Only perhaps it wasn’t.’

‘So did I,’ said Pooh wondering what a 21st Century Education was like.

‘You don’t often see them,’ said Christopher Robin matter-of-factly.

‘Not now,’ said Piglet.

‘Not at this time of year,’ said Pooh.

Just as they came to the Six Pine Trees, Pooh looked around to see that nobody else was listening, and said in a very solemn voice: ‘Piglet, I have decided something.’

‘What have you decided Pooh?’

‘I have decided to catch a 21st Century Education.’

Piglet asked, ‘But what does a 21st Century Education look like? Then continued thoughtfully: ‘Before looking for something, it is wise to ask someone what you are looking for before you begin looking for it.’

What follows is something I look at as a kind of written doodle thus subject to continual revision (contributed to by what you have to say). In such a matter it is difficult to be comprehensive or fair; if I tried strenuously to be so, I would probably never get going.

We are, it seems, getting ourselves tied in knots about something called 21st century education – before looking for it, as Piglet suggests, it might be wise to find out what we are looking for.

This could be done in respect to how it might differ from what went before, how it might be the same as what went before, how it might be worse than what went before, who is supposed to benefit from it, who is calling for it, does it exist, should it exist, what are its aims and, being education, how much is career- or self-serving bollocks.

I intend this posting to be a search for something called a 21st century education.

As part of that I declare my prior understandings about the concept – a concept because there has never been any discussion about something called 20th century education, it was never conceptualised in that way, so why for 21st century education? The formation and high usage of the concept label suggests powerful forces at work – forces, I suggest, taking control of the present to control the future. Those active in promoting the concept of 21st century education are mostly from political, technology, and business groupings, also some academics: the immediate future they envisage as an extension and intensification of their perception of society and education as they see it now. And in the immediate future, as well as the longer term one, they see computers at the heart of 21st century education, which is fair enough as long as the role of computers is kept in proportion as befits a tool, a gargantuanly important one, but still a tool.

Neoliberalism is dominant in current economic, political, and education thought so to understand what 21st century education advocacy is about, there is a need to recognise the nature of that philosophy. But because it is neoliberalism we are dealing with a complex of abstract and polysyllabic words that need to be uncovered to reveal their true reality, a control, market-oriented, and anti-democratic one. But it is a Russian doll. Those words do more than cover anti-democratic, control ends; they also express a colossal ignorance of our best education understandings about how children learn, which, however, is not irrational, because that ignorance is partly a self-serving slipped-into ignorance.  And the reference to our ‘best education understandings’ is a highly qualified one, because neoliberalism has been hard at work under Tomorrow’s Schools undermining our best understandings and replacing them with their own, meaning the number of people ‘our’ refers to is a dwindling one.

Children have no choice as to what century they reside in, 21 carries no more significance to how one should approach the education of children than 20. I believe that people in education, or around education, should stop looking over the top of children to look at those before them: the best way to prepare children for the future, no matter the century, is to meet their needs now. Those needs would be along the lines of empathy [of which reading should be seen as a key contributor], fairness, independence, collaboration, creativity and imagination, problem-solving, commitment to democratic principles, critical thinking, ways of thinking [for instance, for science, arts, drama, history, mathematics], key knowledge [everything in education or life is by definition value-laden but that doesn’t mean children should be denied access to culturally important and cohesive knowledge – computer advocates are for skills and spasmodic knowledge based on children’s often passing superficial interest which is paraded as some kind of 21st century transcendental insight].

School education is being pressured to inappropriate purposes by groups who claim a hold on the future and from that hold generate techno-panic to gain advantage in the present.

Another prior understanding is that the inappropriate use of computers for learning has contributed to the decline in primary school education (though well behind the contribution of national standards and the terrible education autocracy of the education review office). For all the talk of personalising learning, of building learning around the child, of individualising learning, the mandating question for 21st century education seems to be: how can we build the digital into learning instead of how can we best do the learning? And even further: how can we build schools for digital learning instead of what is best for children’s learning environment? Large open spaces are not the best environment for children’s learning, meaning that in combination with the heavy use of computers to make large open spaces ‘work’, a distinct problem is developing. Computers and large open spaces are being promoted by 21st century advocates as the two key ideas to carry us forward to the education for the 21st century.

In respect to computers, learning about them and using them is both necessary and inevitable, how could it be otherwise, but from that necessity and inevitability comes the responsibility to protect schools from their disassociating effects. The neoliberal advocates of a computer-laden future are putting at risk the potential of human thought, behaviour, and imagination. Their judgement, based on what computers can do, remains undisturbed, it seems, by any understanding of what the best of learning can be. Computers are going to be everywhere, beyond the imaginations of most of us; all the more important to appreciate the decisive contribution of learning beyond and apart from the computer and the need to challenge the social control that pervasive computer use brings to bear on school and beyond.

The use of computers should not become the defining characteristic of what is called 21st century education but it has, and an education and social tragedy is unfolding.  The defining characteristics of 21st century education should be the same as the defining characteristics of 20th century education (expressed above) before the neoliberal philosophy took hold.

In the following paragraphs I will refer to trends deriving from the greatly increased use of computers, also the effects of the neoliberal changes to the education system such as national standards, the narrowing of the curriculum, the fear-laden functioning of the education review office, and the government control of education knowledge.

The particular form of learning most associated with computers is inquiry learning. For all the talk of discovery, creativity, and thinking claimed for that approach precious little seems to be forthcoming. Inquiry learning is the main curriculum practice developed to suit computers and neoliberal education. No matter what a teacher does, if it is called inquiry learning, the teacher is safe; the use of any other name puts the teacher at risk – the system likes conformity, even more obedience, and throughout a teacher’s practice and records the authorities are looking for those little signs of deference that communicate the teacher has got in behind.

Despite a lot of cute tricks and manoeuvres, inquiry learning is simply swept up old-style projects using google and computers. It is considerably an empty shell – yes, children are often interested, but what is missing is the development of the vital ways of thinking particular to a curriculum area. An empty learning shell is a prime characteristic of 21st century education.

Another 21st century prime education characteristic is the priority of skills over knowledge – meaning for ends any knowledge will do.  As stated above ‘everything in education or life is by definition value-laden but that doesn’t mean children should be denied access to culturally important and cohesive knowledge – computer advocates are for skills and spasmodic knowledge based on children’s often passing superficial interest which is paraded as some kind of 21st century transcendental insight.’

Because the neoliberal education system puts a low value on the arts, drama, and dance there has been a diminution in their quality and quantity, also contributing to that diminution is the cramping effect of national standards which, admittedly, is just another expression of that lack of valuing. In open space schools, which in some respects one would think ideal for the arts, drama, and dance a further diminution derives from the pressure to avoid the noise and activity that typically comes from children’s participation in those activities. The shush factor of the newer open space schools is not as noticeable and inhibiting as in the older ones, but it is still there.  The absence of independent advisers throughout the curriculum is saddening but in the arts their absence is particularly painful. It was a team of art advisers dropping in at odd times that was the crucial stimulus to Elwyn Richardson – oh that they could come knocking again.

Open space schools lack the spontaneity available in conventional classrooms, for instance, allowing the varying of the timetable and being able to carry on with a programme, say for most of a day – a cherished part of the primary school tradition.

A heavy use of paper templates is common in schools today, with iPads providing digital ones, and exerting a decidedly deadening effect on learning. Another deadening effect is derived from an idea imported from America for use in open space classrooms in association with computers, but is also being used in some conventional classrooms as well. It is called ‘the wall’. Its purpose is to have children work independently on activities from a range of curriculum areas but especially the basics. Activities are displayed on ‘the wall’ and a place for the children to sign off when completed. In New Zealand, a direct duplication of the practice has largely been avoided but many classrooms especially open space ones, employ something like it. The crucial pedagogical point is that to avoid organisational confusion and a lot of demands on teachers, the activities provided are routine and a little below the level of challenge for children. If the activities are ability grouped, the activities for the top group are closer to being OK than the lower groups. The practice is unstimulating and limiting in all curriculum areas but especially in mathematics.

Twenty-first century education has also become associated with two harmful language practices – in reading, a trend to more phonics and words in isolation – oh champion; and in writing, on the basis, it seems, that primary children should be prepared for university from early juniors, the emphasis in writing has shifted to the expository and argument and away from children writing imaginatively and expressively. This combined with the use of templates and the asTTle emphasis on using adjectives and adverbs willy-nilly, is resulting in writing in New Zealand schools being smashed.

Another prime characteristic is the way the role of the teacher is defined. The role of the teacher as carried out in the past is first belittled, pouring water into bottles apparently while standing at the front holding forth (which seems quite a trick). And having established that, the 21st century teacher is then defined as being a facilitator (my hunch is that if that facilitator worked out from what to where and how, the facilitator would, in fact, be a teacher).

One of the substantial problems with computer use and learning is the way it encourages or allows teachers to forgo their responsibilities (as I see it) to deepen and extend children’s learning before they go out on their own (so to speak). Learning experiences need an introduction (with all sorts of open questions and activities), gaining of knowledge (interestingly and pertinently), use of that knowledge (with investigation or activities), and a conclusion (presentation and discussion). But the 21st century way is to quickly hand it over to computers and inquiry learning, with the teacher congratulating him or herself on the independence being encouraged.

The reason why the Treaty of Waitangi is hardly touched is because teachers are unwilling or unable to take children into such a topic, to build up the knowledge, to develop a feeling for what happened, and to identify the issues for the children to investigate from there. And a reason why teachers are so fixed on inquiry learning (leaving aside hierarchical insistence) is a lack of knowledge of alternatives. It is important for teachers to know, even if they don’t feel able to change, there are.

Where is the social studies thinking? that is, the comparative thinking based on the interaction of knowledge with the affective.

Twenty-first century social studies is children choosing their own topics or being asked to investigate large, abstract impersonal topics like communication. There is very rarely a true social studies challenge in a topic like that, or a source of empathetic development.

The social studies thinking will be absent.

Where is the science thinking? that is, thinking based on science investigation.

The question: The question that guides the investigation.

What I know now: The child records all he or she knows about the question. If the child already knows the answer, then there is no point in investigating it further. The teacher can also at this stage make a judgement as to whether it is possible for the child to investigate it in the time available. Many topics like volcanoes and dinosaurs lend themselves to study-skills rather than investigation processes.

What I did: This is the vital stage and what differentiates science from point-of-view? It is a step-by-step record of what actually happened; it can be in diary or note-taking form. It records the observing, testing, and trying out of the question. The failures as well as the successes are recorded. Others can read what went on and may suggest ways to revisit the investigation by another route. It may help show others not to go along that path. The child also includes references about those who helped and testing methods used.

And so on.

The science thinking will be revealed.

Where is the language way of thinking? that is, sincerity expressed in writing.

Imagine: the discussion, encouraging but not obtrusive to the child’s thinking; the child knowing how previous writing had been used and that imagination was valued; the art that had occurred or might follow; the urging to intensive observation and accurate expression that preceded the writing by the nine-year-old girl who decided to view the world through the grass not toward the grass:

Small balls of rain fall down and spit up in tiny streaks of white.

Leaves knotted by strings of weeds.

Leaves like cups hold blobs of water.

Drops of water trail down leaves and peak at the top.

Bird’s wings doubles as it flies.

Twigs uneven like a fork.

The dripping tap splits into tracks.

‘Did you find what you were looking for? asked Piglet.

‘Yes,’ said Pooh in muffled tones.

‘But I have decided something.’

‘What have you decided Pooh?’

‘This honey pot is a lot more interesting.’

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


Kelvin Smythe lost his battle against prostate cancer yesterday morning (Saturday 13th October NZ time). Funeral details yet to be decided.

Kelvin fought against neoliberalism in New Zealand primary school education, right from the outset of the euphemistic ‘tomorrow’s schools’ in 1990, with everything he had, and was a rebel to the end.

His death is a huge loss to primary education.

Allan Alach


Kelvin’s funeral will be held on Wednesday 24th of October at 1pm

Trinity St Paul’s Union Parish

Cnr Queen and Bryce Streets


Posted in Uncategorized | 20 Comments

Mindset is encompassed by the holistic and should be seen as commonsense given space: I give it a strong tick

The following by Kelvin Smythe:

This posting supports mindset as expressed by the American academics Jo Boaler and Carol Dweck. I perceive mindset as a strategy to encourage holistic ideas into mathematics, in particular, a curriculum much in need of being repaired from its fragmented and perilous condition.  

The historical problem of the teaching of school mathematics will be considered first. Then I comment on how Boaler and Dweck’s academic colleagues are turning mindset into a mess in that frenzied way we have come to expect North American academics to behave when an idea is presented that might be turned to professional advantage. American education has proved itself unworthy of mindset. A comparison will be made between two definitions from my File, and the nature of mindset as provided by Boaler and Dweck, which will demonstrate close similarities in the two ways of going about teaching and learning. Following that, using notes compiled by David McNair, formerly principal of Gordonton School, who visited Stanford University in 2017, I will set out in practical way the Boaler and Dweck principles of mindset.

Throughout much of the Western world, because of the way children are taught mathematics, there is a failure to make connection between the scatterings of mathematical ideas they are exposed to and the larger concepts able to give them coherence and meaning. Mathematics in classrooms is driven by specific objectives supposedly to end with something purposeful, but only spasmodically so – largely remaining a fragmentation as phonics is to reading. 

I looked through the general North American academic response to mindset, it was education capitalism at work, every academic for him – or herself, an exploitation of a new source of career profit, with no sincere consideration of the effect of their behaviour on children. Now we have quantitative academics citing their appalling research and calling mindset a failure. What makes it a comfortable for the academics to be callous and uncomprehending is that most have not moved past the fragmentation phase in their understanding of mathematics. But the motivation for quantitatives to call the holistic mindset a failure is because fragmented learning gives power to them and publishers; while holistic learning gives power to qualitative academics and teachers. The writing by so many American academics on mindset has been simplistic, a concentration on learning carried out in short dashes to unsatisfactory effect. 

For New Zealand, it would be advantageous, as a priority, if mindset was better ‘set’ in teacher’s minds before interpretation to children’s learning; and understood as a commonsense extension of the holistic.

There are four central components to mindset:

  • The pivotal stimulus in learning is having the children affectively involved. That this is central to discussion rather than being so blindingly obvious is a commentary in itself. The more the affective is engaged in learning, the further and deeper, the teacher can take the learning. But we have allowed syllabuses, the pressure of testing, and small bits learning to hurry teachers along and confuse their judgement
  • The interaction of knowledge with the affective is the key learning interaction: The two must act together in tight structural harmony
  • Allowing children plenty of time and space to learn. This component is clearly connected with the components above
  • Overcoming mathematics anxiety in children: many children, when facing anything other than routine mathematics, have the anxiety parts of the brain become agitated and the problem solving parts to close up. The way to solve this is set out in the components above. 

Two definitions from the File:

  1. ‘The holistic philosophy is about the interaction of the cognitive and the affective; the combination of knowledges – teacher and academic (also other); teaching and learning being organised by dynamic broad aims (assisted by criteria that can be seen as converted objectives); dynamic broad aims being an expression of the essence of curriculum areas; learning being meaningful, exploratory, and challenging (hence the attention to discovery learning and problem solving); learning experiences having shape extending from an introduction, to gaining information, to using that information flexibly, to a conclusion; learning being coherent and organic not fragmented and desultory; children having significant control over their learning; observational evaluation being central; and that philosophy being fundamental to school education in a democracy.’

The holistic, which is a philosophy of education as a system, is closely compatible with mindset and encompassing of it. The holistic philosophy is based on the interaction of the cognitive with the affective in inseparable union. The holistic requires a dynamic main aim for the system (which is about preparing children for life in a democracy and to support and protect it), and a single dynamic main aim for each curriculum area (each, of course, connected to the system main aim). In mathematics, which is the curriculum under attention, the main aim always incorporates ‘problem solving’. The holistic main aim features the need for children to have ample time and space within in their learning. To ensure that the cohesiveness of learning is achieved: learning experiences need to have shape extending from an introduction, to gaining information, to using that information flexibly, to a conclusion. All these parts are about providing space and time within learning. There are further characteristics that the holistic and mindset share: that learning be organic; children have significant control over their learning especially when and how long learning occurs; and observational evaluation being the main form of evaluation.

  1. ‘In whatever the curriculum activity, the aim should be to provide an education experience of the sort that transforms (or is intended eventually to transform) children intellectually, aesthetically, ethically, and reflectively. Such experience takes children back to two fundamental cultural breakthroughs – the way things are, are not necessarily the way things are or should be; and an individual’s place in it is not predetermined: and from that the realisation of ‘I am’ and the capacity to think, imagine, appreciate, and appraise. In a sense, the individual becomes of the world he or she lives in and a step beyond it. Leading to three questions continually to be asked, wrestled with, and answered but never concluded, they are: Who am I? Why are we living this way? How can we make things better? It is this process that puts all curriculum areas, and the digital, into context, a democratic one – transforming the main purposes of everything that occurs to prepare children for life in a democracy and to support and to protect it.’ 

This definition is at slightly higher philosophical level than the preceding definition. But teaching, the aim should always be, whether mathematics or drama, to make the learning experience transformational; to have the children see the world in a different way.

The strong link between the New Zealand’s holistic in mathematics and mindset is demonstrated in a holistic mathematics series in the File (Attacks! 15, 28, 29) and in the quote that follows. Dan Murphy, principal of Winchester School and former maths adviser, has taken his teachers on an holistic mathematics journey.

The principles followed were:

  • Dispensing with ability grouping
  • Dispensing with the levels and stages of the numeracy project
  • Reducing assessment procedures to a minimum
  • Basing programmes on problem solving
  • Using contexts for learning that are real
  • Having all children work on the same problem but in ways appropriate to them
  • Having children learn in a social setting to encourage reasoning and discussion
  • Paying close attention to the learning strategies of low achieving children
  • Avoiding breaking learning into small measurable steps
  • Basing programmes on a mix of commercial programmes and teacher developed mathematics units – the commercial programmes being, however, only a small part of the overall teaching programme, mainly serving as a model for the teacher.

The following parts are from the report brought back by David McNair from a presentation by Jo Boaler – my adaption of what David had to say:

The course opened with a discussion of organisational flexibility: Children talking in groups; sharing – no hands up; recording – take notes when they choose; time – working on problems for as long as they like.

Followed by mathematical openness: Different interpretations, methods, answers; seeing maths differently; being curious; valuing mistakes; posing questions, pursuing inquiries.

The role of the journal has grown in importance (from Kelvin: I have seen them in use in New Zealand classrooms and they are a real stimulus – the children had large sketch books in which thoughts were noted).

A journal can provide children with the opportunity to reflect on learnings; to record hunches; and to ponder frustrations and triumphs.

The American course listed the following about the use of journals: The journal was an important part of our camp (the use of journals originated and was developed at mindset camps); we wrote our thoughts and findings each night; teachers never wrote in them; comments and feedback were provided using post-it notes.

A key message we give our students is: ‘I am giving you this feedback because I believe in you.’

A principle: Brain differences at birth are eclipsed by many opportunities to grow and change brains.

With right teaching and messages, all students have the potential to study high level mathematics.

Jason Moser: Every time we make a mistake synapses fire.

Two possible synapses can occur: The first comes when we make a mistake; the second when we are aware we have made the mistake.

Less growth when answers are correct.

The next message is the need to dissociate mathematics from speed.

Laurent Schwartz Field’s Medal winning mathematician: ‘I am still just as slow … At the end of the eleventh grade, I took the measure of the situation and came to the conclusion that rapidity doesn’t have a precise relation to intelligence. What is important is to deeply understand things and their relation to each other. This is where intelligence lies. The fact of being quick or slow isn’t really isn’t relevant.’

The next key message is the need to move the orientation of mathematics from performing to learning. ‘Mathematics is too much answer time and not enough learning time.’ Mathematics tasks need to give students space to learn. What we tend to do is tell students the method before they have a go at solving it themselves.

Replace homework with reflection questions for journal: 

  • What was the big idea we worked on today?
  • What did I learn today?
  • What good idea did I have today?
  • Where could I use the knowledge I learned today?
  • What questions do I have about today’s work?
  • What new ideas did my work today make me think about?

Visualisation is really important because seeing an idea in different ways, different forms, and different representations makes the mind work – not the repetition of one approach and near identical questions.

When we calculate different ways, different areas of the brain light up, including two visual pathways – the ventral and dorsal (with the dorsal visual pathway representing the knowledge of quantity).

What happens when we make all of these changes?

  • From someone just doing maths … to someone of much higher potential
  • From speed and procedures … to depth and creativity
  • From one way, one answer … to multiplicity of ideas
  • From numbers and calculations …  to visualising and exploring
  • From performance culture …  to learning culture
  • From focus on correctness … to value struggle.

What does it mean to debrief a problem?

Another idea issuing from the journal is debriefing a problem. That is, sharing what you felt, what you found out about the problem, and yourself and what you learned

A significant challenge for many at the conference was that you do not have to provide an answer to a problem. This allowed us to continue thinking about how it might be answered. (I am still challenged by this, not surprising, I suppose, given the years of mathematics being about the right answer.)

We were presented with the following problem but asked to look at in a different way, in ways set out by Boaler earlier, especially to do with visualising.

We had time to think on our own, then came together with others to work on a possible answer. 

The problem

Rebecca went swimming yesterday. After a while she had covered one fifth of her intended distance. After swimming six more lengths of the pool, she had covered one quarter of her intended distance. How many lengths of the pool did she intend to complete?

We were then asked to construct this matrix and complete it with a variety of ways to present our understanding. 

The title of this and any other problem would go in the middle of the diamond.

This variety of approach was a particular challenge to those who only saw it as an algorithm. 

The next problem

Our next problem was of a type that is commonly referred to ‘Low Floor, High Ceiling’

‘Low Floor, High Ceiling’ problems are those that all children can access but can be extended to high levels. These problems are important because holistic classes are heterogeneous. ‘Low Threshold, High Ceiling’ problems are activities that everyone in a group can begin and then work on at their own level of engagement. But they also have lots of possibilities for the participants to do much more challenging mathematics.

The problem: Painted cube

The mindset mathematics people are artists on the use of the cube.

Imagine that we paint a 4 x4 x 4 cube blue on every side.

How many of the small cubes have 3 blue faces?

How many have 2 blue faces?

How many have 1 blue face?

How many have not been painted at all?

How many of the small cubes would have 3, 2, 1, and no faces painted in a cube? Think visually.

This kept the group going for about 40 minutes as we made, modelled, drew, and finally agreed on a quadratic equation that could be used to solve any cube size like this one.

It is one that I’ve tried with students and the discussion has been amazing. If students don’t know about an equation to solve this, you might at some point over the week introduce ideas around equations and see where they take it. You do not give the formula as doing this takes away the creative thinking.


  • How did you experience the freedom to discover?
  • How did you feel about uncertainty and mistakes?
  • How did you engage as a mathematics learner?
  • How did the role of the sceptic play out in your team?

Reflection and the journal are an important interacting characteristic of mindset. Note the reference to the role of the sceptic. This is the person who is assigned to asking questions and who must be convinced that the solutions make sense and are logical.

A further report on mindset may follow. Your comments on your experiences with mindset and other forms holistic mathematics are welcome.

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

Not ‘Getting it’ – and ‘Getting it’

When Tomorrow’s Schools was introduced, I immediately recognised we would be incapable of thinking ourselves out of the education failure we had allowed ourselves to be thought into (led by Treasury and a mesmerised David Lange) and predicted the next 25 years would be one of steady school failure. I also recognised the only possible way fundamental change might occur was through the shock of economic and social failure, but that way was unlikely to provide relief, because those in charge would be well prepared to reward themselves, as is the established neoliberal pattern, with an even more narrow, elitist, and autocratic way of proceeding. 

Following the 2017 election, in bungling the opportunity for something like genuine and cohesive democratic change, and in showing ourselves once again incapable of thinking ourselves out of education failure – I am predicting another 50 years of failure.

Fundamental education change does not come out of the moment, it comes out years of struggle, not from teachers passive and bewildered; and principals and organisations, children to the rear, playing a game of fawning to neoliberal authority, yes, occasionally opposing, but only for appearance’s sake.  The depth, willingness, and cohesiveness of the system to oppose and propose, whether from schools, organisations, universities, and bureaucracies is unyieldingly and pathetically Lilliputian. The metaphor that pervades my thinking is pigs round a swill. 

Where is the Ivan Snook of our time to change our metaphorical environment?

I use the term ‘neoliberal’ loosely when I apply it to neoliberal hangers on or dupes – that is those who use and act on neoliberal ideas even if they don’t know their origin. Teachers, are after all, professionals, and should know about the various competing ideologies. Ignorance of the prevailing ideology is no excuse. Our present system is significantly neoliberal.

Labour is willing to give jam to schools but not anything as uncomfortable as courageous and principled thinking representing fundamental education change. We are at the moment in a crisis of lack of quality in education, but the present government, to avoid placing itself in danger where the need to prepare children for life in a democracy, with all the fundamental changes that would require, becomes too blindingly obvious, refuses to spell out the problem.

A hastily-appointed, panic-driven, and evasively-directed 13-member Ministerial Advisory Group on the Curriculum, Progress and Achievement will report to the minister of education on new measures of student progress and achievement across years 1-10. 

Having announced that teachers and schools would have the freedom, assistance, and time within the official curriculum to develop teaching and evaluation programmes to replace the failed national standards programme, the minister succumbed to his own aridity of education thought and that of his secretary of education to begin preparations for measurement programmes, along newly suggested Australian policy lines – policy lines that might appear voluntary for teachers to undertake, but would ensure the need for an education review-type organisation to oversee. So over the top of all Chris Hipkins’ panels and advisory groups has been dropped a group whose purposes encompass everything.

Please note the complete title allocated to the Ministerial Advisory Group, it is, in effect, signalling a return to the grisly review office philosophy of the past: Curriculum, Progress and Achievement – the curriculum gets one word, measurement gets two, and that is the about ratio of disproportion measurement accrues in neoliberal practice. Also note the sickly, sweet nausea of the euphemistic and redundant tendencies in the final words. It should be Curriculum and Evaluation but in the neoliberal style runs scared to avoid anything to do with values or the affective (difficult to measure don’t you know?). Curriculum, Progress and Achievement, when you see it inserted, is a Mason’s sign of secret fraternity, though now, because we are the naïfs we are, its language corruption has been normalised by use. Indeed, our very intercourse has been made toxic by the ladenness of neoliberal vocabulary in our everyday talk. But the overwhelmingly salient point is that for the neoliberals – Curriculum, Progress and Achievement – has allowed them to turn the curriculum upside down – the title is made the beginning from which curriculum extends; for the holistics the curriculum is set out on the basis of the content and practice required for preparing children for living in a democracy – and the evaluation follows from that.

Let’s face it, the minister is a twit.

For the system it will be fifty years more of education failure, protected, and made the norm by propaganda of industrial proportions

And before you laugh me off, I challenge you to go through my 50 years of writing and find an error of prediction. 

The ranks of principals and teachers sufficiently informed and willing to speak out are already severely depleted. And as the years have gone by, the system power holders have become even more deeply entrenched; the education neoliberal futurists have claimed the future and, in doing so, the present as well; teachers have become drilled into teaching the template curriculum (they have known no other); system propaganda and its tight-as-two-coats-of-paint ally professional development form a corporate and bureaucratic hegemony; and breakouts from within the system are rarely contemplated let alone attempted. 

Following Labour’s election victory, Hipkins has stumbled around like an antipodean Macbeth (King of Education) on a foggy heath (is that a spurned Cordelia in the background?) providing a combination of education mush, a return to the same and beyond, lack of insight and courage, and a cataclysmic philosophical ignorance and ineptness. National will pounce in two or five years (is that Goneril looking remarkably like Nikki Kaye) in a way that will fix this country’s education destiny for generations. Labour treats education as a kind of family board game; National as Game of Thrones.

The children of the elite have the social capital to enable them to survive an impoverished education system, it is the children of the poor who will go under.

This posting will continue to examine:

  1. Not ‘Getting it’ 
  2. ‘Getting it’


  1. Not ‘Getting it’ 

An education system should be based on the nature of the curriculum as it is understood, and for New Zealand it should be a curriculum that prepares children for life in a democracy and, as such, is boundless and of infinite beauty and complexity. 

Having settled on that understanding, the question should then be, how can we build education structures on that curriculum from classroom to ministry. Such a construction based on such a curriculum would never have veered off course so disastrously as national standards did to serve the power holders, not the children.

And teachers, of course, given the shifting and boundless nature of the curriculum, would be seen as being in a prime position of interpretive advantage. 

The same principles apply to the secondary curriculum, but here I am mainly addressing primary and early childhood. On the whole, secondary education was left largely untouched by Tomorrow’s Schools and its prolonged aftermath, protected as it was by its examination-based curriculum (the knowledge therefore being far more settled); by the bureaucrats and politicians who understood secondary education better and took it more seriously so were loath to take risks with it; by the public which saw secondary as bearing more directly and sensitively on the futures of their children; and by its departmental structure, the size of the schools, more informed and energetic teachers organisation, and by far more of the bureaucrats and decision-makers involved in Tomorrow’s Schools coming from secondary. Society controls the secondary programme more than many of us appreciate, and parents, for one social group, have the expectation that secondary will play an important role in defining students’ vocational future and pathways. As a progressive idealist, I try to modify this, as a progressive realist, I accept that reality.

Deep down Hipkins supports a neoliberal education for New Zealand, this outcome brought together by a Judy Garland combination within him of Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion. To me Hipkins is fundamentally more Scarecrow, lacking an education brain, he just doesn’t ‘get it’, he is a technical thinker who likes things to be straight up and down, unable to handle the complexity of education, a sure candidate as a result to slip by default into the neoliberal camp. 

Then, In one lightning strike of illumination, while under pressure from media, we had him blurting out that if teachers got the curriculum right, they would get the ‘assessment’ right (I use apostrophes because ‘assessment’ carries the idea of measurement, while ‘evaluation’ the idea of meaning, the affective, and various ways of expressing it). If Hipkins had stuck with that illumination, and surrounded himself with the right people, he would have struck out on the journey of building an education system on the structure of an inspired view of the curriculum (which is our ideal – see above). The appointment of his Ministerial Advisory Group brought an abrupt ending to that moment of enlightenment.

If only Hipkins had a Dorothy and not Iona Holsted to tell him what to think and do. Iona Holsted, in the interests of the review office, has been aggressively promoting the case for more of the same but even more so, and been forming committees with splashy neoliberal elitist abundance (with the exception perhaps being the Tomorrow’s Schools’ panel) all with a membership spine of the existing dominant system group.

  • If Hipkins wants to know what neoliberalism in education is, it is the setting up of a specialised organisation, separate from administration and practice, to control the system through a curriculum organised to produce high stakes measurement, meaning an emphasis on skills, fragmentation, and narrowness, and a lack of attention to the interaction of the affective and the cognition 
  • Another criterion to note is the heavy emphasis within the system of administrators not professional educators.

National standards and national testing have both recently been found to have failed – testing in Australia through no improvement occurring; and standards in New Zealand through too much – the Dunedin Monitoring unit found standards were nicely graded by the schools to their own decile but inflated by between 10%-20% thus it is only mildly astonishing that New Zealand primary is now at the bottom of the Western world in international results when once we were at or near the top. 

In a subsequent posting I will examine the makeup of the panic-assembled Curriculum, Progress and Achievement Advisory Group members, many I have been assured by my ministry informant on the recommendation of the education review office and the hierarchy. Two-thirds of them have an expertise in the elitist form of ‘assessment’, with a strong tendency to technology, PaCT, and having an official position in the education system. To reform the failed standards system – the one that has failed hundreds of thousands of children, alienated thousands of teachers – Hipkins has called on much the same group of academics and bureaucrats, along with a few from the organisations, who were the adamant authors of that failure.

Let me sum it up here about one member, and how it promises to be a return to the past with knobs on: Mary Chamberlain is not only on the Ministerial Advisory Group, she is a co-chair, she is there with her first attribute baldly listed as a Director of Evaluation Associates, what a conflict of interest! Such groups were part of the hegemony established by the review office which was to bind New Zealand primary schools in fatefully destructive thrall for over 20 years, and here is this director, a co-chair to replicate indeed add to the role. 

Back in the late ‘90s, Mary Chamberlain was appointed by the ministry to bring the New Zealand Curriculum through to completion. It was a fragmented document that contributed substantially to the structure of the failed national standards programme. But no sooner had this New Zealand Curriculum been completed than calls were made to extend national standards beyond the 3Rs to the whole curriculum; while this was rejected then, is about to become the accepted now. Though Hipkins won’t know it, a standards testing programme is about to be introduced to the whole curriculum, ostensibly without the national, but with the national really being there in the form of the demands imposed by the external organisation set to monitor it (in other words, a review office-type organisation). The hope by the Ministerial Advisory Group is that the standards testing programme will also be extended to lower secondary. Having devastated primary school education for nearly twenty years, national standards in another form is about to be extended to lower secondary and for primary school, the whole curriculum.

It was a telling moment, over a hundred teachers from the Far North had assembled at Kawakawa to protest national standards. 

Kelvin Davis was there.

It was a stirring meeting, but Chamberlain was pitiable. She was called on late by the ministry, supposedly to defend the new document, but really to protect national standards. 

The meeting was over.

 I was to write:

‘But then I looked across the road to under the spreading oak and I felt a chill. The ministry delegation was clustered around their public service car in deep and serious discussion. I sensed then a different message leading to a different mood to be delivered to head office. It reminded me of the change of mood after the Springbok tour match at Hamilton – a change of mood from finding us mildly comical to one bordering on hatred. The body language of the ministry officials, Mary Chamberlain at the centre, was a signal – inevitable if our struggle was lifted to the real – that the New Year was going to be a terrible one in our education history with the education of a generation of children at stake, the professionalism of teachers, and the humanism of our system.’

A number of the principals at the meeting were to be hunted by the ministry and education review office for years. One principal was caught in a Whangarei school car park and harassed by Duncan Garner who had travelled all the way from Auckland on information provided. 

And here we go again on setting up a network of Australian David Gonski-John Hattie assessment tasks that will operate under an education review office-type regime, one even more destructive than national standards.

I can barely suppress my fury at the thought of putting the children and teachers through another generation of failure because a Labour government can’t get it right because it won’t listen to the right people preferring the comfort of the wrong people and avoiding having the right people recommending the awkwardness of fundamental change. 

It is impossible to have an external organisation, one separate from practice and administration, and to have a relatively free education system. So the choice for Labour is going with a neoliberal organisation and having it in control or, without a neoliberal organisation and having a shared system of control. But if the neoliberal organisation continues in control, the effects will fall differently for the different education sectors, if Labour insists on continuing with the farcical mishmash the NCEA group has handed down to secondary schools, that sector will set-up its own system and eventually win the battle for parental support and destroy the government; but that similar mishmash will continue for primary unimpeded, in this instance to continue further destruction.

Yet no-one in Labour seems to be listening.

Hipkins’ U-turn from his momentary progressive position on evaluation to a review office-type one is set to be decisive in where his education changes are heading. The U-turn represents an end to any hopes of education becoming focused on teaching and learning, meaning school education will continue to be controlled by ‘progress and achievement’, that is measurement, as labelled by academics and bureaucrats and set and administered by them. Children with high social and cultural capital will barely be touched by the continuation of the broken primary school education, but the children Labour says it particularly represents will be particularly damaged.

The notable thing about Labour’s education changes is the minister’s lack of articulation about how Labour’s policies will meet the prime minister’s stated aims of education becoming more imaginative and creative. There is a phantasmal feel about how Hipkins is working: a promise of huge change but in a vacuum; change that don’t seem real because Hipkins has failed to make clear why the change is needed. New Zealand primary school education is indeed broken, but while substantial change has been promised, the case for it has not been made. Part of the reason could be that Hipkins is from the Wellington education establishment, indeed from a family of the Wellington education establishment, and that establishment is profoundly averse to any reduction in establishment control.

With Labour we are ensnared by a powerful paradox: primary school education is in a dismal state, and Labour, in sensing that, has promised the greatest education change since Tomorrow’s Schools but, deep down their still prevails a crippling conservatism in Labour’s education mindset meaning Labour will steadily slide back to the status quo and beyond. The primary school education system has failed in New Zealand, a failure implied, but never made explicit, and set to be repeated. Hipkins refused to become involved because he didn’t want to foul even further the nest he knew he was bound to return to.

The etiolated, sly, jargon-strewn paper issued by Iona Holsted setting out the terms of reference for the Ministerial Advisory Group is evidence that Hipkins has failed to get control of his ministry, leaving the architects of the past, the ingloriously failed past, to be in control of the future.

Primary school education is once again to be run by politicians and bureaucrats fixing on the ideas of experts drawn from those experts’ deceptively-described, farcically-overblown, ‘evidence-based learning’; there will be an organisation like the review office focusing on that education euphemism of the neoliberal age ‘progress and achievement’ rather than the complexities and subtleties of actual teaching and learning; and that same organisation will be central to a hermetically sealed circle of one way Jose, linked to the ministry, to the universities, to privatised advisory services, and to principals who have attended far too many leadership courses and too few curriculum ones; there will still be the same misuse of computers, and use of another euphemism – ‘personalisation’ – which really means abandoning children to their own devices (in both meanings of the word); there will be even more fooling around with open spaces, programmes laden with Hattie-type testing even more intrusive than national standards, with some of that testing high stakes, therefore vulnerable to more intense mark corruption; and there will be even more ‘inquiry learning’, template and phonics overload, fragmented and step-like metaphors for learning, lack of attention to the affective in motivation, lack of cohesion in knowledge, and lack of attention to drama, dance, and the arts.

  1. ‘Getting it’

A good number of teachers will be disappointed that Labour intends to stay with the status quo, but a good number, perhaps a majority won’t , they won’t because they are feeling lost; lost because, while national standards have gone, national standards teaching hasn’t, and they don’t know how to find themselves in their teaching. If the Ministerial Advisory Group goes where it is set to go, those teachers will give a sigh of relief and settle comfortably back into their templates and ‘inquiry learning’. 

It will be many more decades of failure, of the same but worse. 

Neoliberals and their hangers on  (most hangers on don’t know they are) insist on building education structures from the pivotal neoliberal expression of ‘progress and achievement’, an expression developed by people who don’t ‘get it’ (see below) – ‘progress and achievement’ is really just ‘measurement’, but is an expression constructed from the top for the constriction of learning, the convenience of the system, and the preservation of control; they do this instead of building education structures based on the holistic curriculum developed by people who ‘get it’ (see below),  a curriculum that allows children to respond in infinite ways, and for the accompanying process of evaluation to help teachers (and children) to follow where their individual learning has taken them.

When I criticise Hipkins for his lack of intelligence, I always preface it with the adjective ‘education’: those with an ‘education intelligence’ or, as I put it’ who – ‘get it’, that is the ‘curriculum’, are understandably in the minority and are a special breed and, as such, need to be in key interpretive or control positions from the classrooms up. As for ministers of education, they need to surround themselves with such people. I have seen those who work to an admirable proximity of ‘getting it’, but the ones for whom it is inherent should become, as they develop, be recognised as our education geniuses. 

Understanding this section of the writing is very much about ‘getting it’ and ‘not getting it’.

I don’t want Labour members of parliament to be in any doubt, the work of this Ministerial Advisory Group will mean deeper failure for those children who are already failing – no extra money, or other kind of system change, will help those children, it’s the pits for them. But from a long memory I know you will do nothing, even though the remedy is quite simple, what needs to change is that which is taught, and how it is taught, if teachers get the teaching right, are freed and encouraged to get that right, the evaluation, if bureaucrats are kept out of it, will look after itself. Your minister said that, but succumbed to his ministry who happen to be prime hangovers from the previous government and system.

‘Getting it’, for instance, is dependent on ‘getting’ what follows.

Learning to be holistic needs a dynamic main aim, not only for learning as whole but a connecting one for each curriculum and the school education system as a whole. A holistic, dynamic main aim puts school education in the control of schools; an inert main aim, or the complete absence of one – as has been the case for the neoliberal education era under Tomorrow’s Schools, puts bureaucrats and quantitative academics in control.

The holistic philosophy is about the interaction of the cognitive and the affective; the combination of knowledges – teacher and academic (also other); teaching and learning being organised by dynamic broad aims (assisted by criteria that can be seen as converted objectives); dynamic broad aims being an expression of the essence of curriculum areas; learning being meaningful, exploratory, and challenging (hence the attention to discovery learning and problem solving); learning experiences having shape extending from an introduction, to gaining information, to using that information flexibly, to a conclusion; learning being coherent and organic not fragmented and desultory; children having significant control over their learning; observational evaluation being central; and that philosophy being fundamental to school education in a democracy.

If you look thorough the New Zealand curriculum document you will not find a main aim for the curriculum or school education. That omission means the politicians, education bureaucrats, and quantitative academics can interpret the curriculum, and have interpreted it, in ways that suit their education philosophy and vocational interests, and that way is always fragmented.

I have written a main aim for the curriculum and the education system, one that makes for a coherent, transparent, and balanced education system.

The holistic main aim for school education in a democracy is that school education should prepare children for life in a democracy and to support and to protect it. 

This main aim points to its basis in humanism which affirms the dignity of the individual and advocates democracy as a way of establishing and furthering that. It rejects authoritarian beliefs, emphasising individual freedom, responsibility, compassion, and the need for tolerance and co-operation. And it affirms that we must take responsibility for our own lives and the world in which we live.

Such a main aim is comprehensive and dynamic. The question then becomes: How do you prepare children for life in a democracy – this dynamic main aim leads to dynamic responses, requiring the children to be active in preparing themselves to live in a democracy and to support and protect it. The main aim in opposition to preparing children for life in democracy is preparing children in an unbalanced way for a technocratic, digitalist, vocational future. Indeed, the technocrats by taking control of the future are really taking control of the present. Preparing children for their technocratic future is subsuming preparing children for life in a democracy and is therefore anti-democratic. The opposite should be happening: children should be prepared for life in a democracy by that main aim subsuming the digital and all the disciplines and attending to them in a balanced and thoughtful way.  

The question to ask in an education system aimed at preparing children for life in a democracy is what learning is essential to learning to live in a democracy and to support and protect it?

Of course this would involve the arts, drama, history, geography, mathematics, reading, writing, and the digital.

And as a matter of urgency, Maori language should be made part of the regular and official curriculum. It should be ‘compulsory’, but to tactically assuage alarmed prejudices it could initially be introduced with appointments to larger schools of one teacher and smaller schools sharing a teacher, being done on a school-by-school ‘voluntary’ basis. There is no curriculum activity that would help prepare children better for democratic life in New Zealand and to support and protect it. It is a democratic right for all people who live in New Zealand (whether pakeha or Maori) in which one world view dominates, to have the Maori world view as a powerfully inherent part of the overall culture. There must appointments from outside the school but inside communities. The making of language compulsory should not be sold as a way to fix this or that social, economic, or educational ill – it should only be expressed as a right. Rights are inherent, that’s why they fix ills, but they are more than that, and why they should not be reduced in the explanation. 

As well, it might surprise some people to know that I don’t see the classroom so much as a microcosm of democratic society, as a preparation for it (of course a democratic classroom will be an essential part of it) – you can see much classroom democracy in my models but, for me, a classroom is a preparation for democracy implying sensitive but rigorous teaching and requiring a central role by the teacher, not a by-standing one. Twenty-first century education is characterised by something called ‘inquiry learning’ which, of course, sometimes, in association with computers, produces useful stuff, but often useless, unoriginal, sterile, flashy, culturally insensitive stuff, lacking in cohesion because of the absence of a dynamic main aim.

‘Getting me’ is also about ‘getting’ that the neoliberals want to reduce the affective in learning to make it more measurable so they pare it down. Nothing has been more pared down by neoliberals than skills. Skills are pared down in what they carry to diminish, divide, and fragment learning to allow the formation of measurement hierarchies so favoured by neoliberals. Skills by definition, can only be means not ends, if they are, indeed being used as ends, then leaving aside a few exceptions, the fault is in the ends. The matter is complex but that complexity can be resolved by the use of different vocabulary, vocabulary that is holistic, a bringing together rather than dividing. The label ‘skills’ can be dispensed with and replaced by ‘activities’, that is a combination of child-centred things children to achieve holistic ends. As well, below, I introduce the main aims of curriculum areas with the lead in: A willingness and ability to read independently … willingness encompasses children’s attitudes; and ability the means to carry out the various required activities.

Now back to ‘getting’ the dynamism and coherence provided by a main aim.

Each curriculum area would also work to a main aim, connected, of course, to the education system main aim. For instance, in reading the main aim would be: A willingness and ability to read independently (if teachers really had that as a main aim, a whole lot of practices, especially involving writing would be ditched, and drama, for instance, might be included); or in writing, the main aim would be two-fold for the two main kinds of writing: A willingness and ability to write sincerely; and a willingness and ability to write clearly and logically (if teachers really had those as main aims, teachers in both forms of writing would make sure the children were motivated to write and good use was made of what was written); or in mathematics the main aim would be: A willingness and ability to solve mathematical problems (if teachers had that as a main they would be real problems not ones from Math-Aids.Com templates posing a so-called problem like ‘Melanie had 805 pennies in her bank. She spent 471 of her pennies. How many pennies does she have now?’) A mathematics problem is not an old fashioned sum dressed up with words to be a ‘problem’ but a problem possessing complications requiring time and discussion to resolve; or in science the main aim would be: A willingness and ability to pursue an idea, observing and testing that idea, reaching conclusions that can reasonably be validated by the evidence of their investigations, and that can replicated by others (if teachers did that there would be a decisive move away from study skills projects); in arts dance, and drama the main aim would be a willingness and ability, using a range of art, dance, or drama forms, and grounded in the real life experiences of New Zealand children, both concrete and abstract, to participate in activities that can be described as an exploration and expression of a unique New Zealand identity (if teachers did that, the arts, dance, and drama would develop a sincerity, cohesion and immediacy for children). 

An overall intention in teaching and in any curriculum area is to work with children for that moment of transformation even transcendence.

No matter the curriculum means or practices, all curriculum activity, whether digital or not, should conform to the fundamental democratic aim of education: that aim is to provide an education experience of the sort that transforms (or is intended eventually to transform) children intellectually, aesthetically, ethically, and reflectively. Such experience takes children back to two fundamental cultural breakthroughs – the way things are, are not necessarily the way things are or should be; and an individual’s place in it is not predetermined, and from that, the realisation of ‘I am’ and the capacity to think, imagine, appreciate, and appraise. In a sense, the individual becomes of the world he or she lives in and a step beyond it. Leading to three questions continually to be asked, wrestled with, and answered, but never concluded, they are: Who am I? Why are we living this way? How can we make things better? It is this process that puts all curriculum areas, and the digital, into context, a democratic one – transforming the main purposes of everything that occurs to prepare children for life in a democracy and to support and to protect it.

I remember being in my friend’s Chris Horne’s room watching him take a drama event, and my eye caught the transcendence of a boy and the thought went through my mind: That boy will never be the same again, his way of looking at the world will be forever changed.

I had set up a y. 6 classroom teacher with pictures and text to take a social studies unit on the Treaty of Waitangi. They used a number of small activities that in combination helped build up a fair bit of knowledge, many of the activities were based on pictures, also on reading to children, as a way to provide the children with the knowledge which interacts with the affective and, on that happening, the children becoming affectively involved. All children, as New Zealanders, should have multiple experiences in exploring the meanings and implications of the Treaty of Waitangi – achieving that, carried out holistically, could indeed be transformational and enable children to see the world in a different and insightful way. In the 1990s, I produced a picture kit, accompanying notes, and activities. I had gone up to Waitangi and taken photos of Waitangi in action, also pictures of significant places in the years building up to the Treaty signing, the places around the country where the Treaty was taken for further signing and, of course, places where battles had taken place in the bitter aftermath and the battles in action (some of them photographs, others historical artwork collected from art galleries). The teacher was using that resource. Towards the end, the teacher then read excerpts (included in the kit) from the speeches chiefs made, she did not push for emotion – she just let the knowledge do the work – but a good number of the children were weeping – not an outcome necessarily sought but a sure sign the children were in. When I was watching the teacher take the Treaty of Waitangi topic the thought that kept going through my mind was that the teacher was taking the children where they had never been before – and they would, like the boy at drama, never be the same.

A problem that qualifies as a genuine problem for children has certain characteristics, for instance: it is a genuine problem – not one the children already know the answer to; it is a genuine problem – one that has considerable intellectual challenge; it is a genuine problem – one that requires some genuine thinking at the children’s level of thinking; it is a genuine problem – not one that can be downloaded at the click of a couple of keys; it is a genuine problem – one that has considerable affective challenge to it (in other words, stimulates children’s curiosity); it is a genuine problem – in that its richness readily lends itself to other lines of investigation. Problems can be explicit or implicit. In children working on explicit problems, the problem is usually best developed after the children have participated in a number of preliminary activities. Problems in other words, should be provided with time to emerge and be refined. Teachers often overlook the subtlety, honesty, and power of implicit problem solving. Being implicit the children are, of course, not made aware of the problem – that would interfere with the process and calculation of response. The problem would usually relate to the value-based main aim of a curriculum area and involve the children being moved to that main aim through a series of activities. The process could be seen as just another example of good teaching but in this case heightened by the likelihood of the teacher’s increased clarity and intensity of purpose.

Children can develop an affective relationship with the topic, a powerful attitude of mind, a deep curiosity – and in those ways reveal their intuitive recognition of the implicit problem and their degree of movement toward resolving it. The solving of the problem can be revealed in such things as the tone of voice of a child talking about the people and situations involved, to insightful responses to open-ended activities provided by the teacher, to expressions in drama and the various arts. Sometimes the teacher can observe a movement of sudden and wonderful comprehension in a child’s eyes. For the experience to be transformational, indeed, transcendent, it needs to be encompassing in implication, extending far beyond the specific focus of the topic. The experience can also be transformational for the teacher, deepening his or her understanding of children’s learning. An example from social studies of such an implicit problem is children being involved in a series of activities exploring the idea of the underlying similarity of all human behaviour as a means to coming to terms with, and appreciating, difference. It is an implicit problem, so the children are never told of the idea being explored or of the intended outcome, they are just exposed to a number of activities that could lead them to a satisfying resolution. The reward for teacher and child can be a wonderful shared experience: the child seeing the world in a different way; and the teacher, children.

‘But then I looked across the road to under the spreading oak and I felt a chill. The ministry delegation was clustered around their public service car in deep and serious discussion. I sensed then a different message leading to a different mood to be delivered to head office. It reminded me of the change of mood after the Springbok tour match at Hamilton – a change of mood from finding us mildly comical to one bordering on hatred. The body language of the ministry officials, Mary Chamberlain at the centre, was a signal – inevitable if our struggle was lifted to the real – that the New Year was going to be a terrible one in our education history with the education of a generation of children at stake, the professionalism of teachers, and the humanism of our system.

‘Get it?’

Let me know.

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Labour’s education dunce strikes again

When is Jacinda going to save children and teachers a lot of hurt and Labour a lot of embarrassment and take education away from its current resident education dunce?

The situation ‘Morning Report’, the interviewer Guyon, the topic charter schools – surely the dunce couldn’t flunk this one, but he does with feather-headed facility.

And he manages to putdown public schools in the process, leaving charter schools entirely untouched.

‘What are the differences between charter schools and public schools?’ begins Guyon.

‘Well’, as the dunce fumbled through his befuddled education mind.

‘Ah yes, teachers in public schools have to be registered.’

‘But, reportedly,’ intervenes Guyon, ‘charter schools are picking up children from public schools and being successful.’

And do you know what this education dunce does, he accepts this entirely unfounded proposition without challenge and, in triumphant tone as though having just outflanked the theory of relativity, says: ‘Ah, but that is about to change with our new policies for struggling children.’

Thereby, shifting to another entirely unfounded proposition.

So public schools with their registered teachers couldn’t help those struggling children but charter schools without them could.

He might have said:

  • There is no evidence that charter schools are attended by struggling children any more than attend neighbouring schools [such matters are complex to work out, but only self-serving hearsay is available]
  • There is no evidence overall that charter schools are helping those struggling children
  • The last nine years of the National government has been characterised by a war on children in public schools, struggling children in particular and their teachers, not helped by charter schools being used as a platform by conservative politicians to be hateful to teachers and a source of the biggest lie wielded within the system – you know what it is, no it is not about charter schools, it is a number
  • In the circumstances, it is the system failing struggling children, not schools
  • I have a member in my Labour team who against the circumstances rose magnificently against them
  • Neo-liberalism, of which charter schools along with ERO are classic education examples, is impenetrable to history.

He forgot to say that: 

  • Charter schools will have to follow the New Zealand Curriculum.

When asked what differences charter schools will face, he struggled, and said: ‘Ah, actually the children will hardly notice any difference at all.’

So having registered teachers, having to follow the New Zealand Curriculum, and changed external supervision, and all the wonderful changes coming in to help struggling children will not make any difference to the children.

In fact, given the dunce’s comments we’ll need to be on the lookout for schools being less successful.

The big problem with the dunce is that in education his brain in impenetrable to history: one wonders if he is in the wrong Party.

I will get a lot of unfavourable correspondence for this from charter school proponents. From a narrow perspective I can understand even admire their position, from a wider one, they are simply a flea on the public education bum.

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Tomorrow’s Schools’ wheel-a-go-round

The lack of attention to:

Leadership: you can have good leadership (no recent example in education comes to mind) and bad leadership (Hekia Parata) and no leadership (Chris Hipkins) – which constitutes an abdication to bad leadership

The way the present dominant education philosophy is almost impenetrable to historical experience 

The passivity to a foreign philosophy introduced through the Treasury via a prime minister in his sherry stage 

The passivity to history as if we were living through it in the present 

Our repugnance to the idea that life is chancy, preferring to see it as pretty much inevitable, therefore better to just go with the flow 

The rejection by the left to the idea of leadership, of the left preferring to see history as inevitable instead of seeing it as that which needn’t have been 

To the way the right in leadership just has to fall back on neoliberalism for its concepts but the left, with no such easy resort, has to come up with its own concepts – which it lacks the will or confidence to undertake 

The availability of a concept which is the answer to the leftist dilemma – it is called democracy – imagine a truly democratic education system, but we need leadership to take us there 

What the main aim for school education in a democracy should be: Preparing children for life in a democracy and to support and protect it 

That main aim should then guide all decisions 

The way such a main aim would help to provide a balanced approach to technology and the humanities and the arts 

The curriculum and teachers and children being at the centre (oh wow! if this was true how chasmically different things would be from the shambles unfolding)

Reducing bureaucratic control 

The need for more teacher curriculum freedom 

Removing constant fear, heavy-handed constraint, and playing it safe when teachers make choices about what and how they teach, and how they evaluate

The need for external supervision being mainly advisory, also accountable 

Principals knowing the real curriculum

The absolute need for Maori language to be introduced to all schools in a timely manner

There being no such thing as 21st century education, just a struggle for ideological control of the present 

National standards not being worth the paper they are written on 

NCEA, unless an exam, being very suspect 

The way the corruption of national standards means signals are not being sent about the low achievement of children at primary 

The way the corruption of NCEA means signals are not being sent about the low achievement of children coming from primary – yes, I mean primary – children are too far beyond the education 8-ball when they arrive at secondary 

The way the corruption of NCEA means signals are not being sent about the failure of NCEA to lift achievement 

The way pressures on universities to maintain enrolments means signals are not being sent about the low achievement of students coming from secondary 

Gold standard research that shows that only 20%-30% achievement is attributable to schools 

Teacher training not being about the real curriculum (a semi-independent institution is needed)

The need to increase intellectual challenge by making learning more affectively involving 

Recognising that schools are not businesses meaning BOTs and principals need to have their role fundamentally modified 

The need to debunk evidence-based learning 

Teacher knowledge which should be up there with all other knowledges such as academic and bureaucratic

The need for an advisory service free from financial and ideological pressures. The cycle of misunderstanding and mistreating of primary education about to recur 

Primary education is curriculum-based and fiercely knowledge fought-over and, if anyone had the courage to truly test and examine it, would find it broken. Secondary is limping along: mainly because primary school children arrive without sufficient coherent knowledge and motivation. And universities, under enrolment pressure to keep numbers up, fume but are chary of being direct.

On the whole, secondary education was left largely untouched by Tomorrow’s Schools and its prolonged aftermath, protected as it was by its examination-based curriculum (the knowledge therefore being far more settled); by the bureaucrats and politicians who understood secondary education better and took it more seriously so were loath to take risks with it; by the public which saw secondary as bearing more directly and sensitively on the futures of their children; and by its departmental structure, the size of the schools, more informed and energetic teachers organisation, and by far more of the bureaucrats and decision-makers involved in Tomorrow’s Schools coming from secondary.

Primary education in New Zealand receives 33 per cent of the OECD average, secondary education the OECD average. A gap that has appeared and widened in the Tomorrow’s Schools’ period.

The system combined to break primary, largely because it was viewed as a kind of junior version of secondary, and so, under the bureaucratic headings of administration, organisation, and governance, the two were treated the same, but the burden, as described above, was applied and fell, very differently – and, is about to happen again, slightly different in process, but the same in outcome. 

The consultation will be with principals who are the beneficiaries of the national standards administration, organisation, and governance changes; and with teachers who have never known anything else.

To understand primary you need to understand the curriculum, the real curriculum, and based on the real curriculum, develop structures which sustain it.

Early childhood was protected by its iconic and beautiful curriculum, Te Whariki, and that by its strong women both in the universities and in the system who guarded it like maternal warriors. They also fended off quantitative academics, politicians, and bureaucrats (note the beginning of knowledge wars, though, begun in the Listener by John Hattie and Ken Blaiklock, supported by Hekia Parata). Anyway, delving and experimenting with education policy in early childhood was not so emotionally, ideologically, and politically gratifying as doing so with primary school children.

The neoliberalism of the Treasury found its scope in primary and its instrument in David Lange to put primary education to the sword.

Labour has been little better than National, but Labour, in being the originator of the primary school neoliberal education tragedy labelled Tomorrow’s Schools – meant primary school teachers and children were stripped of their natural political ally and left bereft and isolated.

Tomorrow’s Schools was directly aimed at primary schools and it shows, one of the many pointers being the poor performance in the latest international tests when, at the beginning of Tomorrows Schools they were at or near the top. It is with primary education that politicians of both parties have played their games. The especial tragedy is that the primary school system, in comparison with other education systems, as a result of the education truths established by Clarence Beeby and Peter Fraser, had been the jewel in New Zealand’s education crown.

And so the cycle of misunderstanding and mistreating of primary education is about to recur to the devastation, a kind of silent devastation (because who has truly shown they have cared enough to pursue the truth no matter what), of another generation of children.Written in 1988 as I prepared to resign as a senior inspector of schools to go out on the road to mitigate the worst effects of the education harm that were bound to beset primary education 

1. For a democratic, participatory education system, production and validation of knowledge should be shared amongst a number of groups. One of the reasons why New Zealand primary school classrooms function as well as they have is because of the checks and balances inherent in the system. Those checks and balances derive from the relative co-operativeness in the way groups relate to one another. No group can carry out its functions without the support of a number of others, and no group can force its will on another. Ultimately, though, it must be acknowledged that what the government wants, the government gets, but what the government wants can be modified by those outside the government educating the public to influence the government – success in this being the measure of teacher organisations. In the absence of the inevitable conflict and control behaviours generated by a strict hierarchical system, these groups have been able to remain mindful of the need to negotiate in a spirit of goodwill to be able to proceed.

2. But that democratic, participatory education system, under the hold of positivism, is at risk. In a national education system, to argue against a substantial exertion of hierarchical control is a contradiction in terms. But because bureaucratic control begets bureaucratic control, a democratic education system needs a strong dispersal of power to schools and classrooms to help establish a finely graded system of checks and balances. It may not result in a system that meets the highest standards of efficiency for, say, an industrial product but is, it is suggested, the most efficient way for administering value-laden education systems. A paradox becomes apparent: reduced orthodox hierarchical efficiency can lead to enhanced pedagogical effectiveness.

3. Teachers are unsettled by the possibility of curriculum and administrative ideas being able to be passed quickly down the hierarchical chain without those ideas requiring teacher involvement at all stages of development. The best ideas for education come from teachers and those close to teachers. The part of the education system that is important to teachers is the part close to them. The part further away has the capacity to do much harm, but little capacity to do much good. The nature of the education system should protect teachers from hastily conceived ideas – no matter their potential benefits. Good ideas are only good if the process for their development has been good. The last thing teachers want is the kind of efficiency that has someone in the hierarchy having an idea and then using the chain of command to force it on them.

4. So we are talking about a collaborative education system. Collaboration occurs in system and institutional relationships when the opportunity for dominance is structurally reduced. It is not talking about collaboration to bring about collaboration. Indeed, the more conflict inherent in structures, the more collaboration, as a cover, is likely to feature in the talking. Collaboration only occurs over the long term when the structural realities encourage and enable it.

5. If teachers continue to be in a position of disadvantage in relation to knowledge, then they will continue to be at a disadvantage organisationally within the system. That is not good for teachers and children. What is the good of every other adult group in the system – including principals who identify more with the hierarchy – having a great time, when it is teachers who, in the end, deliver the goods?

6. As I prepare to travel around New Zealand campaigning for the holistic and democratic as against the positivist and hierarchical – where does this leave my message?

7. The neoliberal education arguments are not really about education but about the movement of power to the centre to impose laissez faire capitalist beliefs, with education a particular focus as a way to take control of the future and stifle education as a source of alternative ideas. In response, I intend to talk and write about a holistic education system, democratic values, and the importance of genuine power sharing and social equity. We can, as referred to, only get the kind of education system we want if there is the social context to match, so I will talk and write about that. And the kind of education system we should want is a holistic one built on variety, collaboration, and stretching children imaginatively and creatively. Politicians, bureaucrats, and academics tend to fear and reject the holistic because the dynamic and humanistic main aims characteristic of the holistic make all of the component parts of teaching and learning fall into place serving to give power to teachers. Politicians, bureaucrats, and academics, on the other hand, are fixated on complex arrays of objectives that can be measured and, in practice, often work against each other to intended subversive and control ends. It is about control: the holistic gives power to schools and teachers to work things through to children’s advantage; objectives with their fragmentation and measurement give power to politicians, bureaucrats, and academics to work things through to their own.

Considering the harshness of the current power structures and the self-serving arguments they are based on, I don’t expect the holistic and the democratic message to succeed in my time, but time, in the end wins, nothing is forever, events turn and crises come, and change becomes irresistible, change which can be for the better or the worse, who knows, so the idea is to get the message out there, it might be the time for all who have fought for a kinder, fairer society, and an education system to match, for their time to come. It is that which spurs me on.

Kelvin Smythe


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Treachery! Part 1: The Hipkins’ swift one and the satire

In what follows, I spell out briefly an astonishingly duplicitous U turn by Chris Hipkins that has horrid implications for education. These implications are examined in a further Attack! but I needed to get the message out quickly to encourage people of good conscience to have their say. I do this because I don’t consider the matter lost. 

This posting is being sent to all Coalition and Support party mps.

If I am new to any mps, I accept as accurate anything Tracey Martin says about me. (Not that she had anything, of course, to do with this explosion.)

If Chris Hipkin’s duplicity is allowed to proceed, all hell will break loose.


The minister’s actions reaffirm my belief that it is people like me not Nikki Kaye who are his main adversaries.

The bulk of this short posting is a satirical response in which I imagine Iona Holsted, under the influence of momentary of self-awareness, writing something close to the truth.

First, the background:

  • On April 20, a paper for cabinet paper, approvingly quoted by Chris Hipkins said a complex situation for evaluation was not needed: ‘What we need to do is strengthen the use of curricula in understanding and supporting all students’ progress and achievement.’

In that statement lay the hopes for the holistic and greater teacher control of teaching; in that way lay a future for all children, especially children struggling in their learning – but in that way lay difficulty for experts and education bureaucrats because in that way lay a need for them to know how to teach, what genuine learning was, genuine learning for children, and to have reduced control, to take on a different role.

  • But Chris Hipkins betrayed his promises to teachers and children, especially those teachers and children for whom Labour so often in education seems to weep crocodile tears.

‘Review group quietly appointed on replacing national standards’ was the heading in the Herald, June 10.

The 13-member Ministerial Advisory Group on the Curriculum, Progress and Achievement will report to Education Minister Chris Hipkins on new measures of student progress and achievement across Years 1 to 10 – two years beyond the old National Standards.’

‘The ministry of education launched an online survey seeking the views of parents and educators, but Chris Hipkins left ministry officials to announce it quietly on Friday, 8 June with the survey closing on Thursday, 28 June.’

This is treachery. 

And you should see who is on the Advisory Group and who went along with the deception and who have been reconstructed from the terrible national standards past.

Chris Hipkins has, of course, betrayed us, but I warned you, so there should be no surprise. 

Chris Hipkins’ U turn from his progressive position on evaluation to a review office-type one is set to be decisive in where his education changes are heading. The U turn represents an end to any hopes of education becoming focused on teaching and learning, meaning school education will continue to be controlled by progress and achievement, that is measurement, as labelled by academics and bureaucrats and set and administered by them. Children with high social and cultural capital will barely be touched by the continuation of the broken primary school education, but the children Labour says it particularly represents will be particularly damaged.

The chilling U turn to the seriously failed past, and from a very different promised future, is set out in horridly tangled review office bureaucratese.

 If the writer wasn’t hiding something, was wanting to be honest, and miraculous self-awareness had settled on her, the following could have been what was written:

Written under the influence of momentary self-awareness

In this document what is being instituted is a form of compulsory testing and, with that, a form of external control similar to that exercised by the existing review office; as well, classrooms will continue to concentrate on testing, that is some bits and pieces left over at the end of the teaching and learning process, not the extra degree of affective or cognitive complexity that is always present in teaching and learning. This is an unavoidable cost (amongst many it is acknowledged), that teachers and children will have to bear for the privilege of retaining a form of external control similar to the existing review office. This concentration on testing is significantly because it is a way for bureaucratic agencies to be able function and to build their necessary political, public, and media esteem, yes, at some cost to teachers and children (but for reasons explained above above). But where would teachers and children be (as has been suggested) if the external control was changed to a genuine collegial, advisory presence? (This communication, of course, serves the purpose of stamping all over the education territory belonging to the Tomorrow’s Schools panel.) In the present external control circumstances, representatives only rarely go into classrooms for genuine observation or at all (bear in mind the savings). A concentration on testing is a way for people with little or no particular experience in the teaching occurring to hold the education tiger by the testing tail and wave test results around in superior manner invariably accompanied by formulaic criticisms and suggestions (nothing like having potential organisational minds relatively educationally empty to be able to fill). Imposing testing procedures is very simple, one doesn’t need to know much about, or anything, about the teaching or learning; indeed, to make it simpler, the testing requires the teaching and learning to follow the testing which, in formal testing, is always narrower than the teaching and learning even when the teaching and learning has already been narrowed by the testing (makes it all that much easier for politicians, public, and media to understand).

This document means we have succeeded in turning the minister away from any disruptive change such as his original idea of putting the teaching and learning first with the effect of giving more control of classrooms to teachers (god forbid!) and let evaluation improvement flow from the improved teaching and learning, much of that improvement coming from (they say) central ideas evolved from their cultural past (which they are continually banging on about). Admittedly, it is a cultural past and its evolution that had New Zealand at or near the top in international tests amongst Western countries not at the bottom where it is now (but what nonsense, where does that leave 21st century education?) Anyway, what we are doing is copying the Australian Gonski report (David Gonski, an Australian businessman who has produced a kind of New Zealand Picot Report to replace the failed Australian national testing) with a web of Hattie tests and Hattie-like tests, based as we know on his research (yes, it is dodgy, but his idea of children learning in steps and his simplistic tests are just what the education bureaucrat orders). Yes, there is an irony in using Hattie again, given he was the architect of national standards (as stated by John Key) and supplied a good number of the tests that we recommended (read insisted on), but the beauty of the neoliberal philosophy we adhere to is that TINA (There Is No Other Way) and If It Works, Use It (IIWUI), means we don’t examine matters to extinction. The question, of course, is for whom does it work? And the answer, by serendipity I can assure you, is us, also the political Wellington establishment (of which we are an emblematic part), quantitative academics, and the children of the wealthy. The philosophy allows us, after the inevitable failure (as suffered by the losers), to act on TINA and IIWUI (eewooee) and repeat the same policies but more so, it works every time,

Thanks minister.

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There is another in the arrangement, so it is a bit crowded

Does the panel for Tomorrow’s Schools remain our only hope?

In the absence of providing his own sense of principled direction Chris Hipkins is acting through a disparate assembly of adult organisational educational needs and ideologies. Unable to see straight through to the needs of children and, of course, lacking clarity of advice, within the ministry, he is going about assembling it from his own piecemeal ideas and illogical forms of consultation.

The particular another I refer to in the heading is the weird priority Chris Hipkins is giving to making an education entente cordiale with the National Party in the form of Lockwood Smith and Nikki Kaye. Lockwood Smith, while being one of the best Parliamentary Speakers, was one of the worst ministers of education, and Nikki Kaye, while being a warm and likeable person, promised to be one of the harshest and most mean-spirited of ministers of education. An unrelenting neoliberalism drives National Party education policy and has done so ever since Merv Wellington – its leaders haven’t and never will give an inch. 

They are laughing at you Chris. 

Meeting the needs of children is being hopelessly compromised by your decision to try to  strike an education deal with National on the nature and purposes of school education. It is hard enough getting the needs of children attended to through the machinations of the various teacher organisations whose prime concern is always to meet the demands of teachers and principals without bringing Nikki Kaye on board. If children were the main concern, teacher organisations would have pressed for more teacher aide hours ahead of more pay for teacher aides, or more teacher aide hours ahead of setting up local bureaucracies to improve pay scales.

I was the only person who laid bare the reality that the official curriculum has no main for school education and now I am revealing that neither has Chris Hipkins.

Which is why he is wanting to lean to National for theirs.

When Chris Hipkins makes an effort to set out Labour’s purposes in school education he provides a mangled version of Peter Fraser’s dictum (‘… all persons, whatever their level of ability, whether they live in town or country, have a right as citizens to a free education of the kind for which they are best fitted and to the fullest extent of their powers’) and so on. But you see, that main aim for school education no longer cuts it. When Peter Fraser delivered that, school education was generally considered a good thing in itself, not something contestable and riven by ideology. 

Given the context of the times and the ideological state of education and the complexities of its control through academic positivism and political elitism, there can only be one main aim for progressive school education in a democracy and that is education helping children to live in a democracy and to support and protect it. The question then becomes: how can school education do that? the answer a wide democratic, humanistic one, not a narrow increasingly non-democratic, digitally futuristic one.

In seeking a cross-party education policy, Chris Hipkins is further crowding out consideration of children’s needs. National is laughing all the way to the right, displaying a slipperiness that lack of sincerity enables. No-one in National commits to their education policy being neoliberal-based because it lays bare what is truly awful to behold. Politicians of the right don’t even like their monetary policies being considered neoliberal justifying them rather as the only resort, there being no alternative, which in itself is core neoliberal thinking whether for economics or education. If reducing expenditure on public education and preparing children for a narrow capitalist future is seen as the only alternative then National’s education policies are, indeed, the only alternative. But why is Chris Hipkins buying into that? Many of us have spilt our guts out fighting and exposing the iniquities of the neoliberal pattern of education but, instead of pushing on with a progressive and democratic education system, along comes a milksop minister of education bleating about making a deal with the right, handing back what little ground we have made. For the National Party, economics and education are fused in indivisible ideology. Right-wing politicians go straight for it, almost instinctively, buttressed by a collective self-serving elitism. Labour education politicians waffle. For the Labour Party, education should be about preparing children to live in a democracy, to be able to support and protect it, not participating in a game of tiddly-winks. 

The way to make education change stick is to make it work; not to make an accommodation with what is wrong to ensure it won’t.

Chris Hipkins is near hopelessly confused in the education directions he is taking.

So Chris Hipkins gets rid of national standards which is a trend to the left but proceeds with his NCEA panel to make a mess of the education changes to secondary schools and ends up on the right. There is double trouble in that he has a panel studying Tomorrow’s Schools which is everything in education, but before it announces its findings, has a panel studying NCEA which is everything in secondary, so there is considerable overlap. This is compounded by the lack of direction provided by Chris Hipkins.

The NCEA panel comes up with a huge swing to the digital which, in the lack of balance to humanism is to the right; projects which in their general lack of cohesive knowledge and their emphasis on skills is to the right; and civics which is humanism when you are not having it, so to the right; literacy and numeracy given priority which is to the right in the sense of them being sure to be taken in a formal manner; and, to cap it off, referring again to projects, in being marked for NCEA, will not only have any residual value erased by that characteristic alone, but be both time demanding and wasting (which the panel was put there to reduce).

And, of course, nothing that can be transformational such as drama, art, music, dance, Maori or Samoan language. We can’t have them liking school.

A massive fail.

Much better if the panel for Tomorrow’s Schools, which is the senior panel, had been left to come out with its findings. 

As for the Summit bun fights and eight-person panel chaired by Andrew Becroft, that is just better put behind us. 

What Chris Hipkins should have done was recreated the Conferences held in great excitement around New Zealand in 1937. A panel of speakers should have been assembled representing where Chris Hipkins wanted education to go and, in that way, provided the sense of education direction so desperately wanted. 

The panel for Tomorrow’s Schools remains our hope. Its balance is tight but it might have just enough insight and inspiration to save Labour’s education direction and Chris Hipkins’ ministerial hide: the chair can be impatient but if in the right direction that could be an advantage; one member is switched-on and politically savvy but, nevertheless, could have depths to tap into; another could prove she is more than a one-issue person, even though that issue is a fundamental and must be acted on; another, for me, is terrific and for whom I have huge respect; and the final had an exchange of journal articles with me which were shattering in their naivety, but who, actually, I retain considerable faith in. 

This panel could do it.

Let me tell Chris Hipkins what our education future is if he fails. 

In Australia, national testing like national standards has proved to be a failure, all those years and all that money, and no movement, national standards, however, were actually worse because standards allowed mark adjustment which has left schools room to let that failure pass them by and for us now to have national standards without national standards and thereby little momentum for curriculum change. But for the neoliberal education right there is never a variation from testing children to an education standstill as a justification for even more testing. 

So, in Australia, a Mr David Gonski, an Australian businessman (remind you of anything?), in the light of the failure of national testing, was appointed to review Australian education and, amongst other changes, he has proposed dividing school learning into an enormous numbers of steps matched by an enormous number of measurement procedures – if it moves and is a child, measure it (remind you of anybody?). Yes, the ideas for those steps and measurements came from John Hattie. An academic whose research is demonstrably false but who thrives in the educationally shameful environment that prevails.

Chris Hipkins failed to communicate a sense of direness; to inspire; to give a sense of direction in policy ideals. Given the broken state of New Zealand education it was the most abysmally lacking political election performance possible to imagine. No exaggeration for extra political effect was required, but he failed to get his chin anywhere near the bar because, it seems, his head was awhirl with thoughts of an arrangement with National. He floated in on the momentum of the sustained protest efforts from amongst a smallish number of principals and teachers and the obviousness of the education failure that lay about him, and he failed the children and us. Chris Hipkins, get your ass into gear and, working to the main aim suggested, transform the education system. Though I have described a situation of near education hopelessness, if it was entirely hopeless I wouldn’t have bothered if I didn’t think there a chance you could actually do something, even though only a bolter’s.

Cross your fingers that the panel for Tomorrow’s Schools comes up with a comprehensive and progressive plan starting with teacher training being returned to the profession, and suggesting a permanent advisory committee housed between your office and the secretary’s.

We need someone to beat the drum for children. 

Perhaps, reading Gunter Grass could become a compulsory text at the new teachers colleges.

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I am asking you to stand by me on this one: The File

Dear reader

The File, my final publication, is now available for purchase.

It is a publication that, with care, can provide a lift to the primary education system and a surer sense of direction. Not because of what I have done on my own, but from the voices I have listened to over the years, and the voices recorded in the writing.

The answers to our system and curriculum problems lie in the book.

It is also a book that provides perspective and a sense of history.

The book is a beautiful object put together with love and care.

Because my heart lies in getting the book out to readers, it is being sold well below cost of production and postage, even more discounted for students and beginning teachers.

Please excuse me for being direct but I’m relying on all those who have been readers of mine over the years, who have agonised with me when things have gone wrong in education, and celebrated when things have taken a turn for the better – to buy The File and, if you are a principal, buy The File for your beginning teachers or senior teachers.

I’m asking you to stand by me on this one and, if The File impresses, to encourage others to purchase it as well.

The cost of The File is $50.00 which includes regular updates; and $30.00 for students and beginning teachers.

For further information or if you want to discuss a deal, my phone number is 027 2409092.

My email is

Very best wishes


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Chris Hipkins is Peter Fraser to our time, Iona Holsted and Katrina Casey are our Clarence Beeby (can you hear the gods laughing?)

This posting starts off in one direction, only to head in, perhaps lurch to might be more accurate, another. But it is held together (hopefully) by my judgement that Chris Hipkins lacks depth of feeling veering to milksop, and my having too much veering to ill-judged temper. This is not a balanced posting because (I excuse myself) of my continuing anger at injustices wrought and no hint of correction.

Primary teachers are close to being leaderless. I have never heard Chris say anything original, deep, powerful, or inspiring – at best we get a garbled version of Peter Fraser’s famous dictum. The leader of the principals association does rise to the inspirational occasion, but he is crowded out by the inanities of the NZEI leader. Our leaders, Whetu aside, are symbolically appropriate for our education system, that is, lacking in imagination, bewildered about what to do, captured by what is, and at a loss to know how to make that breakthrough in policy that makes a difference. 

Many teachers say to me along the lines of, ‘I can’t imagine how to teach without measurement being the goal, I know my teaching needs to be different but what that difference could be I’m at a loss to work out.’ A 2007 ministry document said New Zealand principals had lost touch with the curriculum; you can imagine how out of touch principals are a decade later. Principals have come to accept that being a principal is that which is gained from leadership courses when, instead, it is having an inspirational view of the curriculum, a main aim to make everything cohesive, and a drive to understand the practices and nuances that bring learning to light.

From Chris Hipkins we want inspiration based on how the system, schools, and classrooms should work together to creative and insightful purpose – it can’t just be fancy words, it must be words that have teachers and principals saying yes, I get it, that’s it, let’s go there.

But Chris Hipkins is a part-time minister of education when we need a fully committed one. And think on this, if Chris Hipkins is Peter Fraser to our time, Iona Holsted and Katrina Casey are our Clarence Beeby (can you hear the gods laughing?).

Whenever I observe an injustice, particularly in my life’s vocation, that is teachers and children, I feel a gnawing anger in my gut, an anger I have learnt to temper (mostly) and, all going well, turn into something productive (more-or-less) with my writing. The day I wake up without that potential anger will mean the education system has attained a miraculous stasis or it is time for me to stop writing. 

I feel that anger now about Chris Hipkin’s apparent lack of feeling to rectify past injustices when he is in a position to do so. At heart I don’t think he is a milksop but he is doing nothing to allay that growing conviction. 

Where I head now is the first lurch.

I speak of Redcliffs School, so terribly treated and about to be sacrificed for no rational reason.

It is being shifted from its present position to a flood-prone park.

The agony has been going on for years.

I see Redcliffs as a symbol of ministerial neurosis, for how Hekia Parata ran her ministry as a whole, and how she handled Christchurch in particular. And with Redcliffs, Chris Hipkins is continuing an injustice and madness from the Parata years. 

I have read the consultant’s report and some of the ministry papers and there is no case at all for shifting the school. Chris Hipkins has succumbed to the local ministry and to Holsted and Casey – this is a terrible signal that does not augur well for the fundamental change the broken education system so badly needs.

The decision to shift Redcliffs School to the neighbouring Redcliffs Park an outward expression of the workings of Hekia Parata’s mind.

It is an expression of a delight in exercising power, all the more satisfying if the victims of that power fight back.

It is a symbol of how schools were treated in Christchurch by the government and the Canterbury ministry.

The Christchurch rebuild injustice continues.

I knew Redcliffs’ fate was sealed when the prime minister John Key and the local National candidate visited the school. Hekia Parata, I knew, would particularly resent John Key’s interference.

I repeat, this is the Christchurch rebuild of schools all over again, and Labour is falling for it, participating in it – but Chris Hipkins just doesn’t feel it.

Rather than listen to the school, to independent consultants, it seems Chris Hipkins has committed a Labour government to an unnecessary $15 million rebuild, making it another school victim of the particular workings of the previous minister’s deviousness and the petty pride of a sycophantic ministry. This is another win for that saint-like servant of teachers and children Iona Holsted, continuing her laurel-strewn record from her years at the education review office; ably supported by that merriment-invested deputy secretary Katrina Casey. 

Get rid of them Chris – public service rules notwithstanding. They are all wrong for the right fundamental change. Peter Fraser had Beeby, you have Holsted and Casey: Casey knows nothing about teachers and classrooms, which is somewhat better than Holsted who thinks she does. The vibe is all wrong. I saw a picture of Holsted talking and it looked as if she was replying to The Scream.

And they have given you wrong advice on Redcliffs. 

Redcliffs School is a symbol of what is wrong with education: ministers not listening to schools and listening to the wrong people because the wrong people are in the right position.

Remember I was deeply involved, as an example from amongst many others, with the disgraceful behaviour inflicted on the principal of Rangiora School via Casey, behaviour found illegal but what do we have? the main culprits completely untouched, continuing merrily along replete with financial accoutrements, and you Chris have done nothing about it because, it seems, you don’t have a feeling for justice (I know you knew about all this Chris because your office rang me for a lead, but while I had to divert my life to this anguishing situation, you still aren’t doing anything); to Marlene Campbell at Salford School amongst many others, the victim of utterly corrupt behaviour; and what about the education review office’s vicious bullying of Opua School and not a hint of apology. 

Am I expected to forgive and forget the behaviour of top ministry officials and the review office? I was the one called on nearly every week to a situation as the last resort because there was no justice within the system and only hard people at the top; and I was to become tearful with anger at the injustice of it all. 

Deal with Redcliffs.

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