While lecturing the UN about racism Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern failed to acknowledge that – in terms of statistical outcomes – we may well have the most racist education system in the developed world. And collectively we don’t care much more than a big rat’s backside about it. We barely lift a finger in protest and/or to seek change.

Equality of educational outcome for every individual is never a reasonable objective. Equality of opportunity, regardless of ethnicity or family income, is incredibly important and should be the foundation stone of our education system. While outcomes may differ for individuals, they should not differ for groups in accordance with ethnicity and wealth. That is why we have a public education system and every time a “teacher” uses those two demographics as an excuse for their teaching and/or school, they are a discredit to their profession.

The key qualification to bring about change in New Zealand is University Entrance. Our economy is basically split in two; highly qualified individuals and successful entrepreneurs earn high incomes and have vast life opportunities, and lowly qualified individuals are either supported by benefits or earn incomes not far above the minimum wage and are locked out of opportunities such as home ownership or travel. Statistics New Zealand tell us that on average those with degrees earn $1.4 million in a life-time above those without a degree.

Recent statistics and two important articles by the NZ Herald’s Kirsty Johnston show just how “racist” our system and structures currently are. Given that university study is so key  it makes University Entrance the key qualification – and most certainly not Level 2 NCEA as targeted by Hekia Parata. In 2017 in New Zealand our education system massively failed Maori and Pasifika young people. For Māori school leavers only 19% received UE, 22% of Pasifika students and 44% and 67% respectively for European and Asian students. Our teachers, schools and system failed this cohort and we have locked out many who needed further study. It is not only internal measures. In PISA scores NZ European and Asian students rank well above OECD averages while Māori and Pasifika students rank well below (and are barely represented at all in upper proficiency measures). It should also be sobering that the report on the last PISA results stated:

“Socio-economic advantage has a stronger impact on achievement in New Zealand than many OECD countries. There is a larger difference in achievement between students from advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds in New Zealand compared to the OECD average.”

The teacher unions in New Zealand have one job – to fight for the best income and conditions of their current members. When New Zealand had a truly world class system this was probably quite close to also fighting for the best outcomes for children and families. Now our outcomes are poor and all we are hearing is how difficult the job is, how horrible children are and how teachers need to earn a lot more money for the chores they do. None of what they are asking will bring in highly able, qualified, positive and passionate young people.

The government clearly knows that a significant pay rise may be merited by some teachers but that the unions claiming it will solve the recruitment problem is simply nonsense. The unions are looking at mid-late 20th century solutions and actions. The world of work has changed and they are in danger of killing the profession in New Zealand. Why would any young person take another year of unpaid study to become a secondary teacher? Why would any rational young person go into a position that would associate them will a group of “professionals” that can be seen day-in and day-out describing their jobs in terms akin to industrial revolution coal mining? Through their actions they are attempting to preserve a model that was ideal in the 1970s but is no longer fit for purpose.

Here are 10 potential solutions for New Zealand’s education system:

1) Completely scrap the typical New Zealand model of 6 years (primary), 2 years (intermediate), 5 years (secondary). During the very vulnerable Y7-10 phase is where so many trends are downward. High-quality middle-schooling can turn that around. And a dedicated three year qualifications programme is manageable for youth – many of whom are currently being completely bored and cynical after 4 – 5 years in the one high school.

2) Focus on genuine UE pathways for all young people – not dead end NCEA L2 goals.

3) Completely dispose of the “deficit theorising” in our society. Public schools are funded to be change agents – there are no excuses.

4) All decile 1-3 schools to have resourcing and organisation that has a standard 15 children in the class with differentiated learning/teaching models to match.

5) Promote significant programmes for “first in family” to tertiary study and redress the scholarship issues disclosed in this NZ Herald piece.

6) Admit the $2.5 billion free fees middle-class welfare mistake and have a targeted and holistic intervention programme for student fees, student living costs and debt management that allows a broad spectrum of families to understand the investment nature of tertiary study and breaks down the massive barriers.

7) Decile 1-3 schools should be financed a “Business Manager” (maybe across 2 – 3 schools) to take the resourcing/contracting/policy work off the Principals in these schools and allow them to get on with an exclusive focus on Academics.

8) All decile 1-3 schools should have a fully funded Community Liaison Manager to take the welfare work out of the hands of academic staff and engage families more effectively in the learning of their children.

9) Ditch the $359 million Communities of Learning. They are ineffective, a disguised means of paying some staff more and a financial gorilla on the education system’s back. Instead put in place direct equal year level partnerships for decile 10 – 1, decile 9 – 2, decile 3 – 8.

10) Genuinely enhance the teaching profession by lifting the entry standards into Primary training (all of them have to be able to teach Science, English and Maths) and making secondary training on the job and paid – the “Colleges of Education” and Education facilities in the Universities are dying anyway. Teachers also have to stop whinging about their wonderful jobs. It is embarrassing and brings the profession into disrepute. No one feels genuinely sorry for teachers and the silent majority of educators who are doing a great job don’t support the whinge-fest, which is why union membership is declining.


  1. Dear Mr Poole,

    While I do agree with some of your statements, and there is a genuine need to solve the problem of child poverty and a disaster of [racial] inequity, I do have to point out some inaccuracies in your statement.

    I know that the PPTA is stronger than it has been for quite some time, and while I do not have exact numbers, there is a movement towards greater union involvement, both in an industrial and professional sense. Our union is not just for whinging about stagnant incomes and under-funding of what-could-be an incredible public education system. Our union is about putting those very issues that you hold dear before the Minister and the Ministry. Our union is also about putting students first. If we have no teachers – or not enough teachers – we do our students even more of a disservice.

    I’m not a fan of being told I’m responsible for deficit theorising. To be honest, I don’t really hear this kind of insipid behaviour in the schools I have taught in – mostly I hear about it in the media, social media commentary or through political banter.

    But…just think what good we could do if public schools were able to provide smaller class sizes, and fund uniforms and school lunches or school transport or whatever else it is that students and their whanau need! Just think about the good that could be achieved if schools were removed from the competitive battle to ‘attract good students’. Imagine if we lived in a society where poverty had been eradicated and you wouldn’t have to scaremonger parents to get them to send their kids out of their communities for schooling.

    A lot of what you say we need is what our Union has been banging away at for some time. Perhaps it is time for people in the sector to come together more often, and listen to each other, instead of always assuming we are at odds with each other!


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