If we are to improve the quality of Education in Aotearoa New Zealand then we need to redesign the intended Education Hubs!  The particular emphasis on the development of educational hubs needs to be clarified since the concept itself is useful and could be an effective strategy. Other organisations, such as the Bank of New Zealand, found that business hubs could be effective. However for the Review of Tomorrow’s Schools (Review TS, or RTS), it is necessary to expand that label to be Education Administration Hubs (EAH) since most of the tasks seem to be administrative as they support the school Boards of Trustees.  To take a 21st century education perspective, it is necessary to develop a re-lensed view of these organisations as Education Catalysis Hubs (ECH), since that suggests the ability to purposefully re-develop education with a 21st Century perspective that takes advantage of the research, collects thinkers, and encourages innovation. For Aotearoa New Zealand education futures, it should lead to research-based objectives and enable Principal and teacher professional development.  Each Hub should be able to develop a specific set of objectives that are relevant to the schools in that focus grouping.

Adding Education (administrative) Hubs, as defined in the TS Review Report, seems to be returning to the time in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s when we had regional Ministry of Education offices, PLUS Education Department Offices that were responsible for maintenance and staff allocation. That system resulted in poor management of buildings and allocation of staff.  There were too many parallel administrative strands and response time was very slow. TS was needed for recovery of the maintenance programme and better management of resources. The Boards of Trustees (including my own as Chair of a Year 1-6 school) were able to respond more effectively and rapidly improved the standard of the physical resources and learning support through effective governance.

At this time (March 2019) there is no funding estimate for establishment and operational funding for Education Hubs, EAH.  The costs are unknown and could reduce school funding even further than it has been recently. That introduces the idea of New Zealand-wide inequity with no school able to be funded sufficiently. Financing the operation of Education Hubs simply adds another funding layer and diverts funds being given to schools for education of students. Simultaneously, the Education Hubs present opportunities for managers to empire-build and seek unreasonable rewards.

The Tomorrow’s Schools taskforce say competition has resulted in students bypassing their local schools and travelling to schools they perceive to be better, which has had negative consequences for the system as a whole.  That TS Taskforce comment seems to be very disruptive and unfair, since parents and students must have a right to the best opportunities available. The Education Hubs, EAH, may remove the individual special characters of schools that attract particular people in the wider area of the school. These special characters are important since they represent initiatives and hard work given by particular Boards of Trustees and teachers. The removal of these characters reduces the educational speciality of each school. Some schools offer special cultural, sporting and technological opportunities that these students may see as valuable to their future.  Schools within an ECH must be able to preserve and develop these special characters within the state system.

The taskforce found that unhealthy competition between schools hasn’t improved the quality of education – rather it has led to ‘decile drift’, where higher decile schools are left bursting at the seams and lower decile schools have capacity.  The writer maintains it is not the competition between schools that has restricted the improvement of quality education. More teacher professional learning and development, together with adequate recognition and time for preparation, development of pedagogical strategies and effective learning, teaching and assessment strategies are the essential criteria for improving the quality of education.  Comments from teachers such as “I signed up to teach knowledge and skills in a few areas in which I have expertise” and “I often feel relief when the kids go home for the day so I can finally get my work done” reflect the great need for structured teacher development and professional learning, together with better time allowances for personal educator development. The ECH structure should facilitate better professional development opportunities through more opportunities for reading, discussion and interactions.

Research into education administration in USA and Finland has shown that models such as NZ’s Education Hubs may lead to considerable inequity of funding between E-Hub regions and that it provides the opportunity for reductions in education funding by requiring funding to be a tri-partite responsibility between national, regional and local funding.  In some parts of USA this has caused considerable inequity between education areas. Further, in some areas, as reported by Matthew Lynch, August 2015, the local areas are contributing less per student even though there is an improving economy.

The re-lensed view using Education Catalysis Hubs (ECH) will encourage the view that differentiates between administrative tasks of the EAH and development functions of the ECH, imposed administration changes from an external EAH agency, compared to changes that are evolved through participation, ownership and leadership within the group of schools in a particular ECH.  The development of ECH, such as that in Whangarei this year, should enable schools to retain their special characters while collaborating with other local schools is a setting that connects several Centres of Learning.  This collaboration should lead to better identification of the major objectives required to support students, develop greater staff commitment and ownership of the challenges, and should lead to better educational outcomes for the whole group of schools in the ECH. In addition, the professional development that is given to Principals/tumuaki and teacher-educators/kaiako should be more specifically focused and aligned to the objectives in the ECH model.

The 2007 NZ Curriculum, while being of high quality, has allowed the emphasis to remain on subject-based learning. That is principally because the planned PLD programme for teachers never eventuated.  Again, there has been misinterpretation of cause and effect in the TS Review!  The NZ Curriculum has been
mis-interpreted and not implemented as intended in schools. The cause of decile drift and lower improvement in educational quality in lower decile schools may be contributed to by the lack of PLD available to include understanding of how Key Competencies can be implemented using Rich Tasks and Wicked Problems. There is considerable evidence, such as that from Susan Drake (Brock University, Canada), that these strategies will improve the teaching and learning.

Subject based learning and assessments based only on subject based learning have dominated the school environments. Many of our social and educational problems exist because there is a lack of knowledge and understanding in families of social, behavioural and educational developments and expectations.  The Education Catalysis Hubs may be able to contribute if they have the function of developing, staff and facilitating parent-family education.

It is extremely important to the education futures in Aotearoa New Zealand that we do not allow Education Hubs to focus on administration when there are several agencies available, such as the NZ School Trustees Association, to support the work of the School Boards. Improving the education futures of teachers and students must result from the catalytic action of teachers and school leaders in the
locally-combined educational setting.  These teacher-educators and school leaders must be supported with adequate resources, time and professional experiences that lead to student support, effective learning and authentic assessment.

4 COMMENTS

  1. It always annoys me when commentators choose to compare education in NZ with that in the USA or Finland etc. We are a separate country with our own uniqueness. Let’s not go copying the masses just because we can. The Ed Hubs deserve a chance, especially given the bias and manipulation that is often seen in some schools by senior management and their boards. Likewise, I think they are a good idea and would certainly benefit beginning teachers – who are often thrown around like footballs and after completing their 2 year advice and guidance program are often told to work another year before the school will put them forward for registration.

  2. While I certainly agree that we should not copy other countries, and that we should develop our own balanced education curriculum that leads, not follows, we must be willing to read, recognise and realize the significance of education research. That research comes from very reliable sources both internationally and in NZ. I have just read at least three new, relevant research papers from both NZ and overseas. The difficulty is to keep up with that pace of research findings.
    The issue of teacher registration in NZ is really important but staff need to support their colleagues to change those problems and ensure that the Ministry’s guidelines and processes are adhered to.
    Please let us make sure we do not mix issues so that we can use research and guidelines appropriately and correctly.

  3. Hi Graham. As an ex statistician I am well aware of how data and research studies can be manipulated to show the required results (from the design of questions and observation forms (qualitative studies are often extremely biased in their design and need to be backed up by quant research) to transformations of the final data sets). I was even forced to do it myself when I worked in research. Essentially educational research should only be taken as valid and genuine if the same results are produced many times over, and with both small and large samples of schools/students. Of course that research may be from NZ, Australia, the Pacific region, or from other countries.

    BTW I worked for the BNZ and subsequent ASB and Westpac during the days of business hubs. To be fair, they did have their positives and negatives. Taking certain processes out of the branches meant staff could focus more on customer service and sales. Building relationships with customers is extremely important in banking, not just for personal customers but for those running small businesses. Alternatively, any lending decisions were taken out of the branches and given to an analyst in an area centre who would make the judgement call and report back, when perhaps the bank manager and subordinate knew the customer and account better. So essentially removing those processes removed the risk. Nowadays they have more flexibility, and while the hubs still exist, an analyst together with a senior staff member in/from the branch now make the decision as a joint-one.

    If I can add one more thing, I personally don’t see a lot of difference between low decile and high decile schools. While low decile schools might need a little more financial backing from the government the only real difference between low and high deciles seems to be the social status of the students attending. Thirty odd years ago I attended both Decile 1 and Decile 10 high schools (because I grew up in different cities during my teenage years). I openly enjoyed my Decile 1 school much more than my Decile 10 school. At my Decile 1 school, building relationships was given a far higher priority than money or fancy buildings or equipment. We learnt skills that would get us through life as well as the subject knowledge we needed to progress at higher levels. It was a pretty run down school, our teachers weren’t any different to those in a Decile 10 school, but whatever we needed we fundraised for. At the Decile 10 school, the students couldn’t care less if they broke something, their parents were lawyers, accountants, and business owners often with more money than sense. Those warped, wealthy parents were also the ones on the BoT making, in some cases, appalling decisions to benefit their own children. Even today, I am embarrassed to tell people I went to that school.

    I suggest education is not just about moving everything into the future and being more innovative (a slogan that business has used for many years). Sometimes we forget that “the past” has many lessons to teach us and that we often forget or choose to ignore.

  4. I have certainly advocated for looking at the past and using that experience to learn lessons. Unfortunately, that past experience of Education Boards was not a good experience. That was one of the many reasons we needed TS.
    All the research I have seen and quoted is well grounded in experience, so I can assure readers that ideas have not been twisted to suit the situation. Susan Blake’s research papers quote evidence from many other sources so it is very valid and reliable. The difficulty we face is changing the attitudes of teachers and that will require professional learning and development, time and resources. At one time teachers were supported through CDU bulletins and booklets, teacher development days and subject support committees. Those generated enthusiasm and collegial support, leading to innovation and creative teaching and learning. Those experiences and grounded research will provide future focused learning, teaching and assessment directions, using a balanced curriculum that includes subject based learning, concept based investigations, together with improved and more diverse literacy and numeracy learning for students. Teachers need to insist they are given the opportunity to provide 21st century learning! Governance is not the direction needed! Teachers need time, resources and inspiration.

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