Over the past ten years as Associate Dean at the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences (FMHS), Mark Barrow has played a pivotal role in the development of innovative models for the delivery of popular professional programmes such as medicine, nursing and pharmacy.

Next year, Barrow is leaving his “first job at the university” to lead another professional faculty within the university, where he can bring his valuable learnings and perspective to the table, this time as Dean of the Faculty of Education and Social Work. He will replace Professor Graeme Aitken, who will retire after 40 remarkable years in education.

As future leader of the largest and most comprehensive provider of education and social work programmes in New Zealand, Barrow is looking forward to his new role and likens it to “coming home”.

“I started life as a school teacher. I was a graduate of (what was then) the Auckland Teachers’ College and taught in secondary schools for 13 years. This feels like going back to my roots in education, which is what I know best and what I’ve been doing at FMHS but in quite a different environment,” he says.

Barrow graduated from the University of Auckland with bachelors and masters degrees in Science, a Diploma in Teaching and went as far as completing his Doctor of Education – the doctorate specifically designed for working professionals. He has taught and held senior appointments in Tangaroa College and Tamaki College, both low-decile schools, and then took on an academic development role at Unitec. He has also held a number of key national positions through the New Zealand Post Primary Teachers’ Association.

At FMHS Barrow has been involved with a highly successful inter-professional education (IPE) programme for their students, running for over ten years now. The programme gives students in the health professions opportunities to learn with, from and about each other and the professions that they are going into. The horizontal integration is seen in the health world as “extremely important in getting better practice happening in the big wide world,” and is an area that he has researched and published extensively on.

As well as fostering stronger connections between study and practice, Barrow is also passionate about strengthening connections across academic disciplines. And this fits in well with the Faculty of Education and Social Work, which aims for a more socially just and equitable society through its teaching and social services provision.

“The compulsory sector sits at the interface of all sorts of education and social issues. In the Faculty of Education and Social Work, we have the opportunity to educate teachers, social workers, counsellors and social and community innovators and leaders to really understand that interface better.”

“Having students who come together and learning about how the disciplines intersect and how their roles complement  each other will be an exciting value-add that isn’t happening anywhere else in New Zealand. Social workers and counsellors in schools are just one example of the important and complementary roles these professionals have in our communities.

“The opportunity for students to spend more time together learning about where they are sending their students to, or where their students are coming from is another thing we are hoping to build into the curriculum in the proposed redesign of Initial Teacher Education (ITE) programmes.

“Given the complexity of issues that New Zealand communities – Māori and Pacific in particular – face, our graduates need to be able to see those students within the whole span of the education system and not just those that they are dealing with. Being the largest tertiary education provider, the university gives us opportunities to create a really special sort of graduate, but I think we can take it to the next level.”

To Barrow, one of the biggest challenges in education today has to do with the changes in the way the education sector is organised through the setting up of Kāhui Ako or Communities of Learning (COLs).

“There is more of an opportunity now to have a greater degree of partnerships with COLs. At the ITE end, we have fantastic relationships with schools and groups of schools and the work that Dr Fiona Ell and her team have been doing builds on that. However, as a university, we must also get more hooked in with existing teachers in their education and work with them to do the things that their COLs are trying to address.

“The university has a lot of resources and evidenced ways of practising that they could bring to the table. We can leverage our research and supervision opportunities to work alongside teachers as they strive to improve practice within schools/centres and communities of learning. It is a long-term project and something that our faculty has started doing, so being part of that conversation with COLs is really important.

“In the Speech from the Throne, the Governor-General talked about a 30-year revolution in education; we are in a very interesting time. I think a faculty that is as highly ranked, full of very clever people who are doing cutting-edge research will have many opportunities in the next 5 to 10 years working with a new government to have an influence on policy formation. That’s where we need to be.”

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