Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Maximum Damage

Evidence? Why would I need evidence after accumulating 50 years of National Party prejudices? Education Minister, Anne Tolley, refuses to defend New Zealand's national curriculum or its national qualifications system. When confronted with Auckland Grammar's full-scale attack on the NCEA, her response was: "Where's the harm?"

HOW STUPID do they think we are? Do they really expect us to believe that the week in which tens of thousands of young New Zealanders received their NCEA certificates, the headmaster of Auckland Grammar just happened to announce that, in 2011, only his "weaker students" will be sitting the official New Zealand exam?

Come on! Doesn’t it make more sense that the announcement Auckland Grammar will be directing 90 percent of its pupils towards the Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) – a decision the school’s Board of Trustees made several months ago – was deliberately timed to inflict the maximum damage to the NCEA?

But, to what purpose? Who are these mysterious "they"? And what is it they’re hoping to achieve? Well, let’s answer those questions by making it very clear who "they" are not.

They are not experts in the field of education. The overwhelming consensus of expert opinion both here and overseas is that the NCEA examination is a highly effective educational response to the cultural and vocational challenges confronting young New Zealanders in the 21st Century.

They are also very far from being representative of the overwhelming majority of school principals and teachers who have worked tirelessly, alongside the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, to correct the inevitable malfunctions and address the (surprisingly few) conceptual and/or procedural shortcomings exposed during the introduction of the new system.

No, the NCEA is not being attacked on educational grounds. The objections "they" have with our national secondary school qualifications are entirely political.

There’s a certain type of New Zealander who views this country’s young people in the same way that a farmer views a mob of ewes and lambs. For these New Zealanders, our school qualifications regime is supposed to operate like the farmer’s drafting race. The kids are funnelled-in, and, as they pass through, the examination system slams the drafting-gate to the left or to the right, sorting out the sheep (to be returned to green pastures) from the lambs (to be sent to the works).

Except this educational sorting system is nowhere near as objective as the farmer’s. At least the cockey divides his flock according to an objective test: is this a sheep, or a lamb? The opponents of NCEA, however, aren’t interested in a system which sorts young New Zealanders according to their abilities. What they're after is one which sorts students according to the socio-economic status of their parents.

And how better to signal to your children’s prospective employers that they have been educated at a private school, or at one of the elite state secondary schools (like Auckland Grammar) than by substituting the CIE for the NCEA? After all, it’s only the very wealthy who can afford to pay the fees of the most prestigious private institutions. Just as it’s only the very wealthy who can afford to own a house in the highly-prized "Grammar Zone".

The CIE is certainly no better, and arguably a marginally less effective predictor of academic success, than the NCEA. But, of course, that’s not it’s purpose. Like the star on the belly of Dr Seuss’s infamous "Sneetches", the CIE qualification is supposed to signal that the bearer is "One of Us": a superior form of life; someone to be preferred over all those unfortunate, plain Sneetches with "none upon thars".

Now, you don’t have to be a genius to see where New Zealand’s going to end up if the CIE becomes associated with high social status, and the NCEA is reserved for "weaker students". In no time flat, this country’s education system will be driven almost entirely by considerations of class (and in New Zealand that all-too-often comes down to issues of race and ethnicity).

Since the 1930s, New Zealand’s education system has been driven by the determination that: "every person, whatever the level of his academic ability, whether he be rich or poor, whether he live in town or country, has a right, as a citizen, to a free education of the kind for which he is best fitted, and to the fullest extent of his powers."

The keepers of that promise: the guardians of educational equality in this country; have traditionally been New Zealand’s Ministers of Education. And that is why, when the headmaster of Auckland Grammar made his deeply offensive announcement, parents and teachers across New Zealand turned to National’s Anne Tolley. Surely, they reasoned, the Minister of Education will not stand back and watch the NCEA reduced to something only "weaker students" sit? Surely, she will instruct Auckland Grammar, as part of the state secondary system, to step back into line.

But that’s not what Anne Tolley did. The Minister of Education’s extraordinary response was: "Where’s the harm?"

Well, Minister, of one thing I’m certain. The harm unleashed by your unconscionable refusal to defend the NCEA will not be found in your neighbourhood.

This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 25 January 2011.


Robert Winter said...


Anonymous said...

The overwhelming consensus of expert opinion both here and overseas is that the NCEA examination is a highly effective educational response to the cultural and vocational challenges confronting young New Zealanders in the 21st Century.

For the Far Left, an educated and informed proletariat is, by definition, counter-revolutionary. An ignorant and uniformed population is far, far more susceptible to the agitprop Labour and the Greens wish to peddle.

This is why Labour and the Greens resist advances in technology (e.g., Helen Clark and Paul Swain's shabby little 2003 deal with Teresa Gattung to prohibit LLU) and why the Labour apparatchiks push NCEA.

Our children need education. Labour gives us indoctrination.

barry said...

One of the features of the pre NCEA system was that it did separate those from who could be rocket scientists from those who could be very good cabinet makers. Sure it wasnt perfect but it did pretty well. Early in adulthood one got the message about what one was good at and what one wasnt good at. It was a two tier sytem.

NCEA has its good points - but it doesnt actually help guide a youngster very well. With repeat testing and a veritable endless set of options to try and get the required credits in, then a youngster leaves school with - well often not much at all - except a belief that a course at university will lead to a job....and a bloody big loan. NCEA suffers from its inability to actually give average students the testing and filtering that they actually need as a form of guidance.

What the Cambridge system does better is to separate out in early years at school what a student is capable of doing well at and what the combinations are that will work later at university. With NCEA the average student doesnt find out until several years at university or polytech (and lets face it - anyone can into both of them - they just want your money).

Todays Schools were supposed to be all about filling the local communities needs - and I think it seems fair to say that Grammer is doing just that. OK - there maybe some politics involved - but that was pretty much all that NCEA was all about - the socialist belief that we must all be equal even though we aren't.

Unknown said...

While Anne Tolley gives every appearance of being a weak minister of Education her refusal to over-ride the decision of Auckland Grammar to determine the most appropriate examination system for their students is commendable.

What can be wrong with allowing our students to compete on a level playing field and to compare themselves with the 'best of the best'?

Kind regards

Former labour minister of education Russell Marshal instigated an education system where 'all must have prizes', and we live with the legacy of it today. To be fair National picked it up and ran with it as best they could.

Parents who care about their children's education are over the notion that 'the State knows best' when it comes to the education of their children.

We have an over regulated, ideologically driven education system that is the darling of the left.

Let's embrace the notion of educational meritocracy and give New Zealanders a chance to compete on the world stage once again.

Perhaps, just perhaps we might bridge the wage gap with Australia as a result.

Good on Auckland Grammar. Let's have more of it, and let the PPTA take the hindmost.


Jenmags said...

great post Chris, I agree this is an exercise aimed at differentiating the ruling class elite largely educated and produced via the private school system, from the rest of us. It seems that Anne Tolley's pro choice ideology does not extend to schools who, for sound educational reasons, reject National Standards. She should be ashamed but of course she won't be.

Anonymous said...

The right wingers need to admit what they truly want.

An education system where the 'bright' students are given all the oppurtunities, and the 'not so bright' are quietly shepherded out the back door into low wage jobs, the dole, or 'TOPS' courses.

Just like those who lavish praise on the British Tripartite system, without a thought of what would happen to those kids who 'failed' their 11 plus and got dumped in the secondary moderns.

People's concerns about the NCEA are probably legitamite, but Anne Tolley has effectively paved the way for a wholesale dumping of the NCEA by the wealtheir schools.

Anonymous said...

well said Barry.

I think some of this debate isn't so much CIE vs NCEA - it's the general change in education, which has concerned many parents.

The credit system in NCEA was a joke - it has been improved though, but I suspect as parents we're still concerned in yr 12 English kids wasting time learning how to make a video! when they have no basic grammar/vocab etc.

And also the whole concept that everyone has to "succeed" and go onto some tertiary instituition to be ripped off paying for some meaningless qualification eg media studies / training to be a film Director

It is the changed approach to education/career expectations which concernes many of us as parents. What's wrong with heading off to be a carpenter/plumber? no they're encouraged to pass year after year, stay on to yr 13 - it's the musical idol idea of life - don't worry about working hard in a band for years - just go on TV and it will all happen....

I'm feeling old.....

Anonymous said...

Please- can we all have CIE and dump the failed NCEA experiment? That would solve all the complaints over elitism. I have had children in the secondary system since 2003 and they have been nothing more than guinea pigs. I would happily detail all the problems with NCEA but I just don't have room here- frankly I could write a novel.However- I will mention the latest tweaking exercise that NZQA is going through.

The newest NCEA fail-to-be is the subject excellence endorsement coming in this year. On the face of it, a worthy attempt to reward students who excel in a particular subject. However, the requirement that 3 or more excellence credits out of a total of 14 have to be from internals is ridiculous. In senior subjects such as level 2 and 3 mathematics there is only one internal that is worth 3 or more credits. In level 2, the 3 credit internal isn't even pure maths, it is statistics.

My son got a merit in that statistics internal last year and every other credit he earned was an excellence credit. So in spite of having 19 excellence credits he would be denied an excellence endorsement in maths.

That NZQA could bring in this system without checking even at an elementary level that it is fair is just ludicrous, and says to me that they should in fact all be fired in that department.

BenLW said...

Good post Chris.

I was just wondering what/where you can find material examining the pros/cons of NCEA?

In regard to NCEA - I went through the system from 5th to 7th form. It prepared me, and most of my friends, for university work. It also allowed the lesser students to gain qualifications as well.

Anonymous said...

At a certain point you realise, that 98% of those who ever joined labour or the communist party are beyond redemption. This conclusion was reinforced by reading Hitch 22. True Hitch is an amusing racoenter, but it wears more and more as you realise that Chris supported the Falklands and Iraq for left wing reasons and like most of the left he is a self interested show off. Tolley is magnificent.In the cant of this diatribe Trotter shows why half the Australian population has opted for private education and the British electorate is going the same way. NCEA is suitable for trade qualifications and keeping dumb pupils occupied with simple repetitive tasks. Its dumbing down of Physics, chemistry and History it helps delude many eager females that they might be suitable for academic life and deludes them that the tripe that is offered by sociologists and educationalists might have a grain of truth. Cambridge is an easy enough exam, but it involves exams and tests: consistent standards and isn't totably rortable and reliant on project work, group work and good presentation.
Really these low grade males were only good for the freezing works and so many of the females need a lot of training in deportment, diet and grooming and etiquette to be suitable for sex or bar work. I don't mean legal but it is a variant in a way. At the Canterbury Law school of Christchurch in my bealted day, surrounded by the private school girls from Canterbury and the Bay I always though selection of the males was on a simply pedigree basis while for the females it was beauty. I didn't seen any Gatung or Ablett Kerr look alikes.

Anonymous said...

It interesting to reflect on the way the Grammar/Tech/Mod system of the l944 Education Act selected rocks stars.
Grammar-Lennon, McCarthy, Harrison, Jagger, Jones, Wyman, Townshend, Entwistle, Daltry.
Tech-Richards, Sandie Shaw.
Modern- Van Morrison, Moon, Stewart, Davies (2)
Private-Page,Plant, Jones, Bonham and in a way Grant who was at Charterhouse.

Barry said...

Well, things are getting interesting.
Today the NZ Principals Federation spokesman came out:
"Mr Simpson said today the NCEA qualification was under scrutiny as criticism of the system's ability to satisfy the learning requirements for boys had been voiced.
The debate raised the issue of NCEA being a choice of qualifications for secondary schools to offer, and not a compulsory programme of study, he said."

and the vice chancellor of Massey (what his name - Maharey I think - said that higher levels of performance than that acquired from NCEA has become a permanent thing now for acceptance to university. In other words one will need to perform AT ONES BEST to get in. Just getting 40 credits (or whatever it is) will no longer be good enough.
Sounds like the CIA system to me

Loz said...

"The opponents of NCEA, however, aren’t interested in a system which sorts young New Zealanders according to their abilities. What they're after is one which sorts students according to the socio-economic status of their parents." Thats a wide brush Chris!

Most parents want their kids to receive recognised qualifications that put them in good position for tertiary study. We know that NCEA has lost the confidence of parents (and employers over the past 10 years) - one survey suggested that two thirds of parents aren't convinced of the value of the qualification.

Cambridge International Examinations are internationally recognised, exam based and dont use internal assessment. From a school perspective, candidates grades are not limited on the basis of scaling or any other systems.

I think a lot of parents (and employers) would prefer to get their kids internationally recognised, examination based qualifications - precisely because they can clearly rank the performance of candidates without ambiguity. Thats a measure of performance not class.

Mr Burns said...

I've enjoyed the read. One suggestion for your site - get rid of the "anonymous" option. Make contributors give themselves a moniker so we can all follow individual threads.

I love the Libertards who seem to enjoy hanging out here, but I can't reply to them properly without a "name".

Somehow I don't think they're reading what you're actually saying tho... but it keeps them occupied I spose...keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

The US Marine Corps is now accepting only high school graduates as recruits. A friend's son was a trained rifleman in the RNZIR with an overseas deployment behind him. Sensing better prospects with the Marines and being of dual NZ/US citizenship he fronted up to where they sign on 'a few good men'.
Last I heard they reckoned his NCEA certificate didn't count for s***.
That says it all. You can't even get a job as a boothead with it.