Education in Review: reflections on 2012

December 2012

 

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Education Review asks the sector to reflect on the twists and turns education has taken this year and their hopes and expectations for 2013.

A sense of lost opportunity

Stuart McCutcheon, Vice-Chancellor, The University of Auckland

This year has seendomestic and international student demand for places at our university grow, the largest research commercialisation deal in New Zealand university history (induction power technology, which is likely to become the gold standard for charging of electric vehicles without plugs), a 12 place rise to 161 in the italTimes Higher***rankings of universities, and the acquisition of a 5.2 ha former industrial site in Newmarket as the location of a major new campus.

Despite these achievements, which are important to the economic and social growth of Auckland and New Zealand, we are left with a sense of lost opportunity.The Government’s decision to increase the Student Achievement Component funding by an average of just 1.2 per cent (down from 2 per cent in previous years),together with the decision to hold domestic fee increases to 4 per cent, meant another funding cut of $6.6m in real terms. Although we are continually reducing costs in our administration and service functions, including through the loss of staff positions, we simply cannot recover cuts of that magnitude without reducing services.

Meanwhile, government funding of competitive research and the PBRF has remained unchanged in absolute terms, which is to say that it has declined in real terms. The decision to establish an Advanced Technology Institute (ATI) based on IRL is one that the universities are watching closely. If the ATI operates to build connections between SMEs and research institutions, it may have a lot to contribute to New Zealand’s economic growth, but it must not be allowed to get between us and our many commercial research partners.

It is well known internationally that leading research universities are critical to the economic, social, and environmental success of countries. New Zealand’s universities have much to offer this country, but as long as we are constrained to the lowest income and expenditure per student in the developed world, we will simply not be able to deliver to our potential.

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Student voice: ‘it is our futurethat you are meddling with’

Bailey Jewell, Year 8 student,Feilding Intermediate School

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2012 has been a rather controversial year. Withissues surrounding aspects of the educationsector such as teacher cuts, class sizes, charter schools, National Standards, and Christchurch school closures, this year certainly has been eventful.

Class sizes and teacher cuts have been a hot topic in recent months. This proposed move, heavily opposed by the public, was to cut technology teachers in primary and intermediate schools. Official estimations were that at least 1,100 technology teachers would have been forced into redundancy as a result of the new policies released earlier in the year. Therefore, the student to teacher ratio would increase dramatically in many schools, resulting in class sizes being driven up. This also would have resulted in children at intermediate age missing out on key life skills and experiences that technology classes offer. Thank goodness for a successful public protest.

The Christchurch earthquakes have resulted in a number of schools in the region being merged and closed by the Government. A total of 13 schools are to close and 18 to merge. This is a move that has been heavily opposed by manyparties. Three intermediate schools are to be closed, which signals an uncertain future for intermediates nationwide. Opposition is to be expected and is well justified.

Charter schools and National Standards continue to fuel heated debates.While both are potentially beneficial and injurious, these initiatives need to be carefully considered and managed. Charter schools have the potential to harm a child’s education, but theycould also provide children with flexible learning experiences. National Standards are a viable concept, but a consistent and reliable reporting system is required for them to be of any value.

Finally, a note to our politicians and policy makers: it is our future that you are meddling with, so be sure that the decisions you make are the right ones for us,the students of today, so we will stand in good stead to lead our country into the future.

Turbulent year for the school sector

Patrick Walsh, President, Secondary Principals Association of New Zealand

It has been a turbulent and controversial year for the school sector in New Zealand.Issues have included class size, National Standards, charter schools, performance pay, the restructure of education in Christchurch, and the introduction of a new payroll system,Novopay.

With the exception of Novopay, the issues have had some indirect benefits. The Governments u-turn on class size has led to the creation of Minister Parata’s cross sector forum, a vehicle for greater consultation and engagement with the sector.National Standards data confirmed that ‘poverty’ is the strongest determinant in student achievement and therefore creating more equity in New Zealand should be a government objective.

The other issues have sparked useful debate on how best to reward excellence in teaching, whether charter schools will add value for our priority learners and the importance of genuine consultation when you are proposing radical options of school closures and mergers.

My hope for 2013 is that as the Government pushes on with its political agenda for the education sector that it puts the interests of the student first and that it makes a genuine effort to consult those at the chalk face who will be responsible for implementing its policy initiatives.

My final plea is that in an effort to seek continuous improvement in our education sector that we also celebrate our world-class education system and acknowledge the outstanding teachers and principals within it who go the extra mile for students.

Aiming for the world's best teachers to empower our children

James Chapman, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Massey University's College of Education

Controversy over the merits of charter schools, national standards, and school closures in Christchurch have been headline grabbers for 2012 in New Zealand education.

At Massey University we take a keen interest and involvement in these debates that have an impact on teachers, students and, ultimately, the future of our country.

With the future in mind, we’ve been preparing to forge a new path with the launch of our Institute of Education in early 2013, a move we are confident will bring fresh impetus to the teaching profession.

What we are envisaging is a quiet revolution in the way we educate teachers in New Zealand, introducing changes that will bring us into line with some of the best education institutions in the world.

Next year we will focus all our teacher education at the graduate level and phase out teaching in our three-and four-year undergraduate degrees. We need to be attracting the very best students into teaching and offering them a challenging and life-long career path. Beginning teachers need to enter the workforce as critical thinkers and leaders who are well-prepared and expert in their subjects.

We know the theory underpinning practice experience is critical to improving student achievement. And a better educated population can deliver a stronger economy, help narrow the growing divide between rich and poor, and achieve better social wellbeing and cohesion.

Change cannot come quickly enough. New Zealand’s children are falling behind their counterparts in developed countries, in literacy and numeracy.

For Massey University to play a role in delivering what we see as a new New Zealand, we require a different approach to education and a different approach to how we teach education and professional development.

Global Education Reform Movement not the answer for New Zealand

Paul Drummond, President, New Zealand Principals’ Federation

Education reform in New Zealand has continued down the path of the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) this year, on the back of the argument that it is the answer to lifting achievement for those not yet experiencing success, including Māori and Pacific Island students.We have had the first nationwide national standards literacy and numeracy report with schools’ results made public both through the media and through the Ministry’s ‘Education Counts’ website.We also had the policy to increase class sizes to release funds for increasing teacher quality and qualifications.

Although increasing class sizes did not find favour with the public and was subsequently scuttled, the introduction of charter schools with no requirement to have teachers qualified contradicted the notion of qualified teachers being key to making a difference.

Current international and New Zealand research leads me to believe that GERM is not the direction to take if we want to lift achievement.

It is a nineteenth century notion that suggests competition between schools and teachers and privatising public schooling will get better results. That simply does not happen, as evidenced by countries that have already tried GERM and failed. New Zealand already has a world class system, a world class curriculum and world class teachers.

Some of the factors that will make a difference are already happening, as is evidenced by the most recent report showing that there has been a substantial increase in Māori and Pacific Island students gaining NCEA levels one, two, and three. The profession has been addressing learners who have special individual learning needs for years and more recently has introduced initiatives to address particular cultural needs, such as TeKotahitanga in secondary schools.

To transform more underachievers, we do not need to undo a highly successful system that works magnificently for the vast majority. We want to add to it through creating further support and programmes for students with learning difficulties and developing more culturally appropriate programmes, supported by accessible professional development. Add to these initiatives a truly twenty-first century, broad, rich curriculum through which children learn creativity, critical thinking, innovation, and entrepreneurial skills, and we have a recipe for further success. We will be creating a generation of New Zealanders well equipped to face their future.

Less theorising, more evidential sharing of good practice

Peter Coolbear, Director, Ako Aotearoa

From an Ako Aotearoa perspective, 2012 has been a year where the very reasonable challenge to demonstrate value for money in tertiary education has been a recurring theme.

So what do I wish for in 2013? Meaningful, practical progress in achieving parity of success for Māori, for Pasifika, for young people would be top of my list. By this I mean less theorising about the issues and more evidential sharing of the variety of good practice solutions that already exist within the system (and – dare I say it – a better understanding of the costs of equitable provision).

I would also love to see a much better articulated vision of what a high performing vocational education system for Aotearoa, New Zealand might look like in the future. Different aspects of this debate are bubbling away in different parts of the education system: about informed choices, about vocational pathways, about transitions, the future roles of ITOs and ITPs, the targeted review of qualifications, opportunities afforded by new technologies …the list goes on. We could tinker, we could indulge in rhetoric or we could have serious constructive debate. My vote is for option three.

Annus Horribilis’

Pat Newman, Principal, HoraHora School

If 1992 was the Queen’s “Annus Horribilis”, then 2012 is my “Annus Horribilis”. This is because, whileI still enjoy working as a principal, I now have no faith in the Ministry’s main purpose –to help us to help our students.

It is because, in my professional belief/experience, many of their directions being promoted to help students will, in fact, have the opposite effect.

It is because of the Ministry’s complete denigration publically of my profession, including rubbishing me and my colleagues’ experience, knowledge, and passion for our job.

It is because of the ongoingfiascos that are appearing almost on a weekly basis: Novopay, class sizes, Christchurch school closures. If I am supposedly accountable for my errors, where is the accountability for these “massive” muck-ups? If the Ministry’s advice is so poor on these areas, how can it be better in relation to what matters in education?

It is the “about face” on the publication of league tables and the National Standards saga.

Combine all this with the directions we know we are headed and it is no wonder many of us feel this way.

We used to accept that at times the Ministry would havedifferent requirements to us. However, we also knew that they had the interests of our students at heart. They served the public – in this case, the students – and not just the politicians. Generally, they had experience, knowledge, and practical common sense.

This year saw the final death of the partnership between Ministry and schools. Their role appears to be purely one of requirements, orders, and unilateral decision making, espoused often by people who have little knowledge and experience, and our role is to do as we are told!

Unfortunately, I see the next few years as being more “horribilis”.