Charitable Attitudes

28 July 2011

The NZ Herald reports on Countdown winding up its sponsorship of the Red Cross scheme for school meals. According to one of their editorials, it was a complete PR disaster.

“I just think this is awful. I’m stunned about what it says about our society that MasterChef is more valuable than feeding children in decile 1 schools …” – Child Poverty Action Group researcher Donna Wynd

I agree it is disappointing that this programme is coming to an end. I think that it is wrong for  Countdown to be vilified. Charity is only charity when it’s a voluntary effort. If companies are always expected to support charity, then I would say it’s just another line on the PR expenses budget, and not true charitable giving.

Countdown didn’t have to support the Red Cross programme at all, but for whatever reasons, they did. If headlines like this are abound when they decide to do something else, then  companies may decide it’s not worth it to support any long term charitable projects.

The line should be, it’s a bit sad you’ve decided to end the scheme, but thanks for your support over the time you did.


Hmm, this is a lot like sixth form certificate

16 July 2011

Stuff observes that a ‘new’ marking scheme for NCEA seems like a return to the old days.

Specifically, makes it a lot more like sixth form certificate (SFC).

How so? We have nine possible grades. But SFC was moderated against the school’s School Certificate results last year for that cohort, one may argue. Well, actually there is benchmarking of how many pass or fail a standard. Under NCEA, profiles of expected performance (PEPs) are produced. If too many or too few got a certain grade, then NZQA would not accept this prima facie.

There is no need for a percentage grades alluded to in the article for a return to the old days. It looks like we may have SFC back, but with more of the grades deemed to be passing grades. Under SFC, the grades were 1 to 9, with a lower score being better. A four or perhaps five or better was considered to be a passing grade.


the word gay

16 July 2011

For some time there has been some controversy surround the use of the word ‘gay’ as a negative word. One teacher banned the use of it in his classroom. I disagree that using the word with a negative connation is in and of itself homophobic. (For an admittedly extreme example to contrast, the mere mention of the n-word automatically reeks of racism). This is the same word that once upon a time was a synonym for happy, bright, and had no connotations regarding sexuality at all. There is no doubt it is used to be offensive. But surely context and intent matters. Talking about a hooker is one thing when you’re thinking about the sport of rugby, and another thing when you’re not.

One student quoted  in the article explains

“It’s not good if someone is using it as an offensive word to someone … but if you’re just talking about if the teacher gives you extra homework, that shouldn’t be as bad.”

which is fairly succint.

The meanings and connotations of words change over time. They are not static. Perhaps we could observe the creation of another “euphemism treadmill”.


Exodus Around the World – What is the Cost?

21 February 2011

Recently it has been reported that New Zealanders in the thousands are seeking jobs in Australia and perhaps elsewhere. The question is being asked, what does New Zealand have to offer to job seekers? It’s not just happening here though, in Ireland the Guardian reports that Irish graduates may leave the country in droves as well.

The demographics reported in the stories aren’t exactly the same. But a lot of those kiwi job seekers would be graduates looking for a job (I am one of them). This situation does highlight one thing in my mind though – how successful tertiary students are as a lobby group. While the “golden age” of having “free” university is gone, we still subsidise a large proportion of fees. They have managed to secure things like interest-free student loans. But like every other lobby group – no amount of money would really make them shut up and go away.

Apparently 24% of New Zealand born graduates live overseas, according to Jim Hickey quoted in this article. I say students are very good lobbyists because somehow we say that it’s okay to subsidise the people who are probably better off to go to university, only for them to go overseas for some other country to reap the benefit!

Of course, talk of a “brain drain” is nothing new. But I don’t think many people have asked – are we funding this phenomenon ourselves, and if so, to what extent and why do we do it?


Tolley Backing Grammar – Nats going for Epsom?

22 January 2011

According to the NZ Herald, Tolley is backing Grammar in their NCEA rebellion. I am surprised by this move, I was expecting a few more slaps with a wet bus ticket for Auckland Grammar on this one.

Tolley has condoned a school rebelling against government policy. Auckland Grammar may not be technically breaking the law, but certainly in spirit and proudly so at that! The law supposedly says that NCEA must be offered in state schools, but I can’t seem to find any legislation with that wording. There was no mention of NCEA in the Education Act when I searched the legislation website. In fact, it only is mentioned in statutes around eligibility around benefits as far as I can tell.

She’s given plenty of ammunition to the likes of Kate Gainsford, saying that she’s inconsistent with her telling off her primary colleagues for rebelling against National Standards. As an aside, the letter written by Gainsford to me seems it was very much ‘leaked’ Sir Humphrey style.

Since nothing Tolley could say would placate teachers regarding National Standards, this could be a moot point. She may have decided that since nothing bar ditching the policy is going to make teachers happy, it’s not going to make any difference.

My stab in the dark guess is that National is trying earn brownie points in the Epsom electorate, with the plan of taking the seat instead of leaving it to Act.


Kelvin Davis Nonsensical with ‘Cambridge Exam National Standards’

18 January 2011

Kelvin Davis on Red Alert blogs that unless Cambridge exam national standards are developed, it proves that Cambridge is no better than NCEA. I find this post completely nonsensical. I will break down the post a paragraph or two at a time.

Anne Tolley inextricably linked success in National Standards to success in NCEA when she wrote in a letter to parents, “The standards have been designed so that a student who meets them is on track to succeed at NCEA Level 2.”

Okay. She has said something along those lines plenty of times.

National Standards have not been designed so that a student who meets them is on track to succeed at Cambridge Exams.

I agree. My understanding is that National Standards were designed as signposts against the New Zealand curriculum.

So what are primary school teachers who contribute pupils to Auckland Grammar going to use to ensure their boys are on track to pass Cambridge Exams?

Nothing. Why would primary school teachers make a different set of standards for signposting the Cambridge curriculum? Is Davis ignorant of the fact all primary teachers hate the National Standards for the New Zealand curriculum? Why would they create more work for themselves that is not required tacked on to a policy they don’t even like? Tolley hasn’t suggested this, I don’t understand the teachers would either.

Without Cambridge Exam National Standards teachers will not be able to tell parents in plain english reports whether their son is achieving at, above or below the level required to pass Cambridge Exams.

Quite irrelevant. The idea of National Standards is linked to New Zealand curriculum learning outcomes. Nobody has suggested otherwise.

If the Minister is consistent she will in the next few weeks develop a separate set of “Cambridge Exam National Standards” and impose them on all the teachers at Epsom Normal School, Mt Eden Normal and Auckland Normal Intermediate School,etc.

Consistent with what? Is Tolley supposed to tell AGS off or not? They would expect National to take strong action against AGS if this were the case. The use of word “consistent” seems to imply that Labour thinks they shouldn’t remain committed to NCEA. Labour can’t have the argument both ways.

It has been reported in the NZ Herald that Labour have been questioning National’s commitment to NCEA as the national high school qualification. If they are committed to NCEA, why would they make these nonsensical “Cambridge National Standards”?

“Anne Tolley’s unwillingness to defend the NCEA system against the might of Auckland Grammar School shows she has no faith in the system at all,” Mr Davis said.

To be fair to Davis, he got a decent quote in the article.

These ‘Cambridge Exam National Standards’ are necessary because according to John Morris, Principal of Auckland Grammar School, NCEA would be provided for his weaker students.

Why would you need ‘Cambridge Exam National Standards’ for students sitting NCEA?

The implication is Cambridge exams are harder than NCEA therefore achievement above the regular National Standards expectation is not a guarantee that a student is on track to achieve above the level expected to pass a Cambridge Exam. If the Minister does not create ‘Cambridge Exam National Standards’ designed so that a student who meets them is on track to succeed at Cambridge Exams, all the arguments she applied to justify the imposition of National Standards can be thrown back in her face.

Davis has spent an entire post building a straw man argument. He barely touched on an issue of real substance – the posturing of Cambridge for smart students and NCEA for dumb kids. The failure to address such posturing undermines the public credibility of the NCEA qualification. I am surprised that he hasn’t used this in an argument about Tolley’s apparent lack of commitment to NCEA. Neither did he attempt to capitalise on the lack of a response as a cause quoted in the Herald.

If she says the regular National Standards will suffice, then we have proof that Cambridge Exams are no better than NCEA.

If this were true, this would actually help Tolley…then there wouldn’t be any need for these nonsensical ‘Cambridge Exam National Standards’.


NCEA and Auckland Grammar

17 January 2011

So Auckland Grammar School (AGS) has decided to do “officially” do away with NCEA for its Year 11 (5th form) students, as reported in the NZ Herald. I love how the greengrocer’s apostrophe appears in error in the article’s title, one with educational standards as a theme.

What does this actually mean? It is well known that AGS has not been a fan of NCEA for various reasons, and has pushed the Cambridge exams (what we call the IGCSEs and International A-Levels in New Zealand) for its students ever since the introduction of NCEA. This is not a radical step for them, merely an extension of what they have been doing for a long time.

Of course as a state school, it must offer the state qualification NCEA. Anne Tolley, in reaction to this announcement so far only has only released a slap with a wet bus ticket statement in response.

Trevor Mallard has blogged about this on Red Alert trying to put the heat on Tolley, attempting to link this snub of official educational policy by the school to that relating to National Standards for primary schools. I think he should be far more worried about statements like this from the article:

but the school could allow “some exceptions” with weaker students to have a “backup” plan and allow them to sit NCEA maths and English.

These sorts of statements posture Cambridge exams for the smart students, and NCEA as a poor relation for the dumb kids. This posturing has been a key disadvantage of the NCEA qualification since its introduction. Because some schools were strongly dissatisfied by it, they sought alternatives like the Cambridge examinations or the International Baccalaureate (IB).

This posturing increases the negative discrimination based on what school one went to. Simply put, under the old system, a 70% mark in Bursary history from Aorere College was just as good as the same from AGS. That is not the case now. A two-tier system has been created in our schools.

Mallard has made a subtle error in making the link to National Standards. National Standards are more popular with parents, and less popular (in fact not popular at all!) with teachers. NCEA is less popular with parents and more popular with teachers.

One thing to note is that NCEA is a lightning rod for education issues. What this means is that NCEA gets the blame for the perceived ills of New Zealand’s education system, even for issues that have nothing to do with the exam format or qualification structure.

Also, it is important to realise AGS is not a typical state school at all.

Some accuse schools using Cambridge exams as a marketing tool. AGS doesn’t need to market itself at all. It spends thousands of dollars every year trying to keep students out – it costs the school a lot to combat enrolment fraud.

I would go far enough to say it’s a de facto private school with full state funding. It asks for a very large (probably the biggest) “donation” in the country, which most parents pay. Even disregarding the donation, if one does not already live inside the school zone, it’s arguably more expensive to send your son to AGS than a private school. Only the well off can access real estate in the “Grammar Zone”, which commands a big house price premium.

I also can’t think of anywhere else in the world where having a prison in your own backyard doesn’t dampen the demand for real estate.


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