Taking the Lead - in which direction, whose direction, and how?
Taking the lead involves setting a direction that variously connects, reconnects, and disconnects policies and practices of the past and the present, while looking to the future. The past is recalled by a diminishing few. The present is all too familiar. The future is uncertain. Taking the lead involves giving certainty to direction, but this begs questions of which direction, whose direction, and how that direction is secured. Lester Flockton touches on some of the key issues and challenges that confront those would take the lead.
Flockton played a prominent part in the development and introduction of the New Zealand Curriculum and was one of the designers of the National Education Monitoring Project. He established the Project's Māori Immersion Education Advisory Committee and the Māori Reference Group to guide assessment for Māori students.
This talk was a part of Taking the Lead - Celebrating the Curricula in Wellington on 9, March, 2018
As you watch the presentations, think about these questions:
- How do we get this right for our children?
- How will we enable all children to be ‘confident, connected, actively involved’ lifelong learners?
- How will we uphold the values and principles of a world leading curriculum, in the best interests of our children and our society?
- How will this start, from today?
You can also download these questions as a discussion sheet to use as a group. (Word doc, 0.15MB)
Lester Flockton: I was in a school here in Wellington yesterday and a teacher for whom I’ve got a lot of respect, a great teacher said to me: Lester, National Standards have gone, but what are we going to do now?
A teacher said last week in response to something I’d written about standardised normative tests and so on: But we need these otherwise how do we know that children have actually reached the level that they need to reach?
There are about a hundred or so people here today, there are 26,000 plus teachers out there, so leading the way is a huge task, a complex task, to shift the thinking that’s been sort of drummed down into teachers over the last almost decade.
So we’ve been experiencing a period of the weight, force and drive of top down political machinery with scant regard or respect for the response and the positions of the great non-aligned of which I am one, proudly to say. Yet, it has none the less been quite popular with many of the great unwashed.
Now there’s something we have to think about. How we communicate the significance of the New Zealand curriculum and all it stands for and means. In ‘Alice in Wonderland’ she says: “which way should I go?” And the cat says: “that depends on which way you are going.” (Alice:) But I don’t know which way I’m going.” (The Cat:) “Then it doesn’t matter which way you are going.” Well, taking the lead actually begs big questions about in which direction. It’s not as uncomplicated as we might like to sing at this forum. And whose direction? Who is actually going to be taking the lead this time? Because as you’ll see in some of my models, it is not being you people by and large when it comes to the greater curricula terrain, and how is that lead going to take place?
When we consider these sort of questions we have to consider the contexts I believe, of the past as well as the present in contemplating what the future might be.
The video displays a timeline of curriculum development from 1990 to 2010.
So here is a timeline of curriculum development over the years – blue for National, red for Labour – Tomorrow’s schools really signalled a huge shift in how schools work in this country. Lange said it was about the administration in schools, but he was followed hard on the heels by a National government who changed what the agenda would be about.
Prior to Tomorrow’s schools curriculum was pretty haphazard in the way it was actually done but it was quite consistent a lot of it, with the ideals that we have today. Then of course, change of government, and it’s all about sort of snakes and leaders really. We go up, we come down, and here I am borrowing one of Tom Scott’s… the title of one of Tom Scott’s books.
The video displays the photographs of previous Education Ministers.
Here are the leaders over the years. Prior to David Lange, - we’d had Merv Wellington up there you know, the flag man – there wasn’t a great deal of politicisation in terms of curricula in this country. It really came very much from then the Department of Education. But then things changed. Along came for example, Lockwood Smith, a great quizmaster, remember? Lockwood Smith who introduced his achievement initiative. His achievement initiative led to these things called Level Achievement Objectives, assessment and above all, accountability.
Flockton holds up a book of curriculum statements.
And these were developed, these curriculum statements, by groups of contractors according to a formulaic recipe provided by the Ministry of Education.
Flockton holds up a number of other curriculum documents.
Look at the size of that one. This is what was actually before it, and a very, very good maths curriculum like this. Now I hold these up because, substantially if you do the analysis, a lot of what is in this [Flockton refers to the Curriculum statements], has been carried across into this [Flockton refers to the current version of the NZ Curriculum]. I’ll elaborate on that further on.
Politicians and politics. They work on the principle that you’ll forget.
The video displays an image of former Prime Minister Jenny Shipley.
Look at that one there for example: By 2005, every child turning nine will be able to read, write and so on. Now that’s what the public hears and the public likes those messages, and whatever the government comes up with there’s a formula for addressing that, the public says: “National Standards, what’s wrong with National Standards?” And I must just poke in there, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with standards. It’s a particular system, particular criteria and other things that are at fault.
The video displays an image of Anne Tolley.
Then I asked the first minister with this particular government, what her vision was for a good primary education for New Zealand’s children. And she quickly bounced up and said: “our focus must be on the basics and by this I mean a clear focus on literacy and numeracy.” I can still remember vividly her almost chastising me at this Queenstown conference I was speaking at. So what happened was the New Zealand Curriculum got pushed into the background as we all know.
The video displays a matrix of ‘innovation and localisation’ vs. ‘prescription’.
The promise of innovation and localisation which I think were quite high on this matrix, were overridden by the prescriptive nature of National Standards. What we’ve ended up with is what I’ve called a fixation of theorised, jargonised, idealised, fanaticised view of what curriculum should be all about, and I think of a lot of other words that could go with that, but that’s enough for now.
This has particularly interested me because I’ve heard a lot of discussions about the demise of National Standards and so I often like to use this to remind people that this should be the reference point about the worth of National Standards especially for those who love them.
John Key said amongst other things, he’s concerned that one in five children were failing and he went on to say: that is why the National led Government is introducing National Standards in all Years 1 to 8 schools. That was the reason for National Standards according to the Prime Minister of the time. That was the reason, let’s not go past that.
The video displays a graph showing the National Standards Results from 2011 – 2016 in Reading, Mathematics, and Writing.
And this is what was the result when you look at the graph. Looks like a fence line doesn’t it. In fact you can put a level on it.
The video displays a cartoon level placed on the lines of the graph. Audience laughs.
Then what happened when the Labour Government said: “we’re going to get rid of National Standards,” we get a narrative change from Bill English. In ‘Morning Report’ he said: “we need National Standards, parents want them to know how their children are doing.” So it’s basically, they’re about achievement so now there’s a big shift from the one in five, it never worked, that had never been admitted to, to: no, people want these because they want to know whether their child is achieving, and the great unwashed will agree with that. This is a political discourse that fires up the view of education and what it should be about, out there, outside this room of a hundred and so people.
In my view Governments – Politicians - have three major responsibilities: One, they’ve got a right to establish equitable policies in service to their citizens. They’ve got that right as part of the democratic system. I also believe that they’ve got responsibility to attend to grounded, objective advice when forming and deciding their policies, and I also believe that they’ve got a duty to be open and close friends of the truth.
Flockton pauses for emphasis.
But then you get this sort of talk from the belated acting interim Prime Minister: This Government has the capacity to make its own distinctions between good advice and bad advice. Advice we disagree with is bad advice; advice we agree with is good advice. A nice quote from Martin Thrupp’s book.
So policy consequences: What have been the consequences of policy over time? This is what it was in my day because it wasn’t mentioned, but I was also a teacher once upon a time.
The video displays a diagram containing coloured circles, clustered into groups, and connected with multiple arrows to demonstrate a networked structure.
We had these sort of what I call Networks of Curriculum Communities and we had them for all of the different learning areas: we had social studies, science, PE, art and music – quite separate in those days – and suchlike.
We had them in the Department of Education with the curriculum development unit, some marvellous people in there who were the great connectors, the leaders of bringing together the discourse around the country.
We had the colleges of Education people who were staffed by successful practitioners who had a real thing about science, or a real thing about maths or music. They’d proven themselves to be great educators.
We had subject associations around the country. I was a member of a number of them and the NZEI had curriculum advisory committees as well, I was a member of their Arts one. A National Advisory Committee.
So what has happened?
The video displays the diagram mentioned above, removing the coloured circles and arrows one by one, replaced with a singular downwards facing arrow.
Pop, pop, pop, pop... they’ve all gone, even the networks of arrows have all gone. We’ve been left with one arrow and now it’s like this. Fundamentally we’ve got sort of closed shops, closed doors, all those sorts of things, leave your cellphone and computer outside the room when you come to this meeting about what we’re going to be doing for the system. And the drive-down is going to be Reading, Writing and Maths. I should have put Technology there as well.
Very quickly, what is taken the interest of me over the recent two or three weeks really, is there’s been quite a lot of media commentary about what is starting to happen in Education.
The video displays a number of newspaper clippings related to education.
And this concerns me because it’s frequently ill-informed, frequently unbalanced giving one-sided messages and I’ve put these slides in here because to me this is one of the areas we’ve got to lead. We’ve got to lead, take out voice out into a wider public forum. We’ve got to help to educate the public.
So, taking the lead: Data, Evidence, Measurement, Assessment. All these sorts of things. This is what we’ve basically had.
The video displays to photographs. The first is Bill English above the word ‘achievement’. The second is Chris Hipkins above the work ‘progress’.
Right through the election campaign one was really all the time pointing towards achievement. Here’s the man; a teacher who taught his children told me that he wanted to know why they couldn’t tell him the children’s place in the class. Primary School children when his kids were at Primary School up in the Hutt there at a school.
And Chris Hipkins has been constantly talking about progress. Now I could actually spend the rest of the day talking about the issues of making distinctions between achievement and progress which I believe belong together – you can’t measure progress without measuring achievement but it’s how you actually locate what it’s on about.
The video displays a newspaper clipping tilted “Letting Teachers Teach.”
So in this Editorial from the Otago Daily Times, New Zealand’s last national daily newspaper that’s privately owned: “Schools will continue to report to parents twice a year about the progress their children have made in all areas of the curriculum, not just reading, writing and maths” Already there’s some prescription coming in here. I anticipate that will probably come through in the NAGs. And then this is from the indictable John Hattie: “We are moving down in maths, reading and writing and now we need to worry about our students’ resilience. It’s not just the below average going down, we are also moving backwards for those above average – it is a slide for all.” He said: “schools needed to have higher expectations.”
How many years have I heard this being said?
Higher expectations for all their pupils and measure how much each pupil has progressed each year, not just how many achievement standards. He said: “New Zealand is going through an angst over national standards and maybe it was not the best way to achieve them. I was a fan of them” – I could tell you a lot more about John Hattie’s role with National Standards, and yet he is one of the gurus in this country.
Going down. Again, this is a huge topic and I know I have strong reservations about some of the international tests but it’s shown through NYMPSA and NEMP, that our trajectory is like this in maths.
The video displays a graph of Trends in New Zealand Year 5 mathematics achievement from 1994 to 2011. The graph line peaks in 2002, showing a decline from 2002 to 2011.
So we need to ask why. The New Zealand Herald said: “The fact that it is such a significant decline is something that we should really wake up and pay attention to.” Now when the matter of progress came up I reflected back on a group that I was involved with, with Rosemary and John Hattie and company – they put together a group of people with quite different views and we had to come away with the same view so it was quite an interesting task – and ’Assessment for directions in assessment in New Zealand’ was the name of this paper that we had to prepare and it was being ostensibly prepared to help guide national policy on assessment in the New Zealand education system.
It says: “we advocate the development of rich descriptions of progress over time (progressions) and clearly defined indicators of achievement relative to different stages of learning.” And I said: “that’s not currently in our curriculum”, and John Hattie said: “well, the curriculum is rubbish” - I can still remember him saying that – “if it can’t do that”. But it won’t do that, it can’t do it. So all this talk about progressions, there’s not actually a stairway to doing that within this document. And that is one of the big issues that has to be faced.
So we admitted in this report: “Given the shortage of good examples of progressions (local or international) exactly what making progress means for different areas of the curriculum needs to be determined through research and professional deliberations of teachers and school leaders.” That’s a big job. And it’s going to take more than three years to do it well. We need to think beyond three-yearly blocks. But that’s one of the challenges.
The video displays a newspaper clipping tilted “Schools no longer need report standards data.”
This was a great celebratory photograph in the Otago Daily Times of a Principal dumping the National Standards, but in this article the ministry spokesperson said: “schools will still be required to report to parents at least twice a year on their child’s progress and achievement especially in the foundational areas of maths, reading and writing.” Somehow we’ve got to get a shift in culture from the top. A new way of thinking, a wider way of thinking. So some of those people at the top, it’s time for them to move aside. To the Ministry of Fisheries or somewhere like that.
In the Herald the Whanganui Principal who many of us know, Charles Oliver, a good man said: “they were never national or standardised but we need to know what will replace them.” And I think I might have even heard this, this morning. And I’m wondering why people are saying this. What do you mean by replacing them? There’s something wrong in the thinking. There was so much good that was going on that we need to have resurrection.
But there are academics, measurement people, measurement specialists – they’re called experts, who are developing modelling like ‘visible learning’. You know who the visible learning man is? Yes, John Hattie’s work.
I quite like John, he’s a good guy to go in a taxi with, talk about cricket.
And here they are now modelling ways that schools can use, they’ve got a class role down the side there and how you can put a matrix of how much progress they’re making in relation to their achievement.
As Broadfoot, an English academic, a wonderful person said: “an obsession with ‘measurement’ not only dominates the means we choose to achieve our ends, but it is increasingly becoming the end in itself. A world in which what cannot be measured in a systematic way is deemed not to exist.” I can’t say it any better than that.
James Popham, an American: “Data inclines most educators to think good thoughts laced with notions of evidence, science and rigour. But data shouldn’t elicit automatic obeisance from right-thinking educators. Indeed we should spurn some data.”
I like to put everything into contexts of learning. A friend and colleague of mine Prof. Jeff Smith at Otago said: “you know, if a college programme was just entirely based on theories of learning, about what learning is all about and we really got that into teachers’ heads, it might really make a huge difference to how we think.”
The video displays a list of 10 points under the heading “What do we know about learning?”
This is a lovely straightforward statement – there’s always ten points in lists – of ten things about learning which I think is everyman’s guide to theory of learning. And they say in here amongst other things: it is diverse and different for every individual. I mean this is the sort of thinking that’s really got to find concretion in how we approach curriculum. Learning is linear and erratic.
And here we are. Learning is different and diverse for each learner. This is something that really strikes me when I go around the country, about how different kids are. I mean that is the reality. One size will not fit all. Some kids might need to be in an ability group.
And then there’s this notion of linearity. Measuring progress and achievement is founded on assumptions of linearity. And you know the great antagonist of linearity is the Ted Talk man – Ken Robinson. I mean, learning progressions – up we go – but in reality it’s like that.
The video displays an image of learning progressions between Year 4 and Year 8, with multiple arrows depicting a non-linear progression.
That is the truth. As a teacher I thought: these kids have got it. Next week…it’s gone. I mean, it’s fundamental things like go into a school and look at their long-term plan and they have the numeracy stuff and then they’re going to do some geometry in Week 5 of Term 1 and again in Week 1 of Term 4. That’s it. All the learning in Week 5 of Term 1 goes out there. It is overlooking fundamentals of learning theory which involve practise, repetition, all that sort of thing.
We had a wonderful international symposium in Queenstown a few years ago and the members of the symposium then went to Dunedin and had a working group. A collection of international specialists, experts, in assessment, and spent about a morning coming up with a definition of assessment for learning. And this is a definition that they came up with: “Assessment for Learning is part of everyday practice by students, teachers and peers that seeks, reflects upon, and responds to information from dialogue, demonstration and observation in ways that enhance ongoing learning.”
I can read that to you in five seconds more or less. For teachers to understand what this means in practice, it’s going to require a big, big paradigm shift. We’ve got to have confidence in this. When I go to the Doctor, he doesn’t need to weigh me to see if I’m overweight, he doesn’t need to do a test on me to find out if I’ve got a cold or the ‘flu. Teachers need to be able to reach the same point because you know your children so well through your ongoing interaction, that you’ve got the information. I think the OTJ is a wonderful, wonderful construct for assessment but it requires a lot of professional development.
Many of you have seen my ideal of the healthy assessment pyramid. I’m not saying get rid of standardised tests altogether, there is a place for them.
Taking the lead. Schools no longer need to report National Standards. The New Zealand Principals Federation President said in this article here: “our broad, world-class curriculum.” The President of the NZEI in this article in the Herald said: our world-leading curriculum. I’ve asked many people: why is it classified as world-leading? Because I’ve looked at lots of curricula documents in different countries and they’ve got things like key competencies in there as well, so we have to say: well what is it that can justify us calling this. Is this just us being antipodean, insular little educators again, a small community in a small fishpond or is it a statement of bold truth, of reality?
Well when we were developing the curriculum we had to try to define what its direction would be all about and this is what it is.
The video displays a slide of the NZC Direction.
The Ministry when I showed them this once, said: “Where’d you get that from”? And I said: “From your working papers remember?” “Oh that’s right.” They had to go and find them.
It was about rationalising learning outcomes – what learning? How much? It’s not the same learning for all kids, it’s not the same amount of learning for all kids. It’s about quality teaching and school ownership localisation. These things have been said before time and time and time again.
Education Development Conferences that were held back in the 70s, great collaborative nationwide sets of forums and the report from that says: “we need a balanced curriculum, we need to provide a framework, we need to ensure that student progress is monitored – progress, progress – and ensure that there is freedom within the guidelines, that it’s real and not illusory.”
Now you can read this on the website, there’s a move, there’s a shift internationally: Bye-bye core subjects, Hello rounded education. It’s not just in New Zealand.
The curriculum review of Mr Marshall who was Minister of Education for a while said: “Each school will need to plan its own curriculum to conform with the national common curriculum in ways that are appropriate for its own students and community.” So it’s been out there for a long time. We’ve got to pick it up and make it real.
Even the OECD has said: “Give schools more freedom.” We’ve got to be very professional about this. We’ve got to be quite rigorous about it.
On TV last week – Newshub – we saw an example of what I’ve called: Localisation in terms of a context for learning. Predator control. Did anybody see that snip? I thought it was wonderful what the kids were doing. They’re developing knowledge, skills, insights, there’s a lot of the key competencies were at play in this, what I think is a wonderful exercise.
And then there’s also Content of Learning – Localising and Rationalising. I did a study with some Principals, a research thing on asTTle for a conference and I said to one of the teachers interviewing: “how are you treating this data?” And she said: “I’ll tell you how I treat it. My kids are not scoring very well on this and this when I do the analysis but I’m not worried about that because that’s not what these kids need” But it has affected their score. So those scores are always vulnerable to those sorts of decisions. She was a very, very good teacher. She was localising it within her classroom according to those kids priority needs.
Just take a look at our curriculum. All of these achievement objectives that we have. There are heaps of them. Some people have counted them.
Then we’ve got the standards. If you read these, for example, for a Year 8 writer and reader, you have to say I haven’t seen many of those kids around. Some of my post-graduate students were not shining in respect to some of these Year 8 things. And that is part of the problem. The definition of what the particular criteria are for kids for their learning.
The levels. I think theoretically, this is a superb depiction of what it’s about. Superb. And I notice by the way, the Ministry took it off the curriculum version on their website a few years ago. They removed it and put in blocks in line with the National Standards. But it’s not satisfying us very well because parents by and large, do want to know where their kids are at. And the levels, they do not understand them. We’ve got to try and fix that. I mean look at the nonsense achievement objectives. One example: Level 1 Language features. They use some oral, written and visual language features to create meaning and effect. Level 2, they use oral, written and visual language features to create meaning and effect. So you take the word ‘some’ out. OK. I bet they only use some. I bet they’re only at Level 1. Level 3, use oral, written and visual language features to create meaning and effect and engage interest. Don’t engage interest in Level 1. This is nonsensical. These achievement objectives are nonsensical, when this was published I said they should be stapled shut. Well today I’m going to be more dramatic – they should be ripped out and thrown away!
Flockton tears the Achievement Objectives out of the Curriculum.
This is the part we’ve got to progress on. I could give you a lot more examples.
‘A level can only be regarded as an in adequate assignment of an inaccurate judgement by a biased and variable judge of the extent to which a student has attained an undefined amount of mastery on an unknown proportion of an indefinite amount of material’.
But what we’ve found what has happened in the teaching world is that knitting industries have been created. I’ve seen them everywhere. Knitting up long lists, check lists, assessment lists, data lists. We’ve got to get rid of the knitters and the head knitters in particular. I know of a school here in Wellington where the head knitter is a DP, that’s all she does is works on data. And all the teachers have to knit to her pattern. One size fits all.
To sum up, I think that we need to seriously work very hard to work out how we can get a paradigm shift in respect to curriculum. Currently this seems to be the paradigm.
The video displays a hierarchal diagram from Government to Practitioners.
We’ve got the Minister. We’ve got the Minister’s minions, agents, gate keepers, door holders, contractors, controllers, spinners and weavers. We’ve got favoured on-song theorists, academics and researchers. Favoured ones. The same names pop up all the time. And yet there are some other great names around this country that I’d like to see in there. And some of them are sitting in this room right now.
And then you’ve got the practitioners sitting down below. It should be shifting from this to this.
The hierarchal diagram changes to put Practitioners at the top.
That’s where we’ve got to get the focus.
So, in summing up: Taking the lead, some starters.
Changing the Guard: Lead the reinstatement of curriculum and assessment leadership to hands and heads that are properly knowledgeable, experienced, visionary, grounded and balanced. Much of the present guard – National Standards, Numeracy Project and Literacy Progressions, is now the old guard and should be confined to the barracks.
Networks of Curricular Communities: Lead the resurrection of networks of curricular communities that are owned by the teaching profession and respected by system workers.
When I showed this to some teachers they said: we’ve got that in the CoLs. We have not. The CoLs are not going to achieve what the Minister claimed they were going to achieve. But that is another half hour talk. If you want some really good, hard, strong thinking on that go to the Teachers’ Council website and look at their Think Papers and in particular one that was written by Jane Gilbert. It’s absolutely superb, it’s only four pages long but read it five times.
Teachers as the Curriculum Literaté: Lead initiatives that significantly strengthen and empower every principal and teacher to be fully NZ Curriculum literate. Because I have to tell you that over the years I’ve been around a lot of schools in a lot of places, I actually think the level of curriculum literacy is quite low. That’s my assessment, it’s quite low, it’s very surface level. It’s got to be more than a celebration, we’ve got to get right back to what are the ingredients that we’re going to cook up for the party.
Front up – Back off: (I’ve demonstrated that) Lead the adamant determination to hold the front section as it is and replace the back section with learning goals that are uncomplicated, jargon free, realistic, few for each year level and unambiguous in distinguishing progression from one year level to the next. I think that is a very important challenge for us. A big challenge but one that’s got to be done because the others have not worked. They’re very confusing.
Assessment for Learning: Lead a resolute swing away from the industry of summative measures and the data driven improvement mythology towards genuine practices of assessment for learning. Somebody said: “you’re far too emotive in the way you’re putting these together.” You’ve got to be emotive, it’s part of the persuasive technique.
Resistance: Lead persistent resistance to any hint of return to the manufacture of wads of assessment checklists, data files etc and any approbation, endorsement or encouragement of these corruptive, corrosive and time-robbing practices by Government agents. That should not be tolerated.
And very importantly, Media Messaging: Lead from the front in proactively communicating to and reassuring the general public about the direction of the NZC and its power for helping prepare children to learn, live and prosper in an ever changing and very challenging world.
We’ve got to do this in order to avoid the snakes and leaders of swings and roundabouts from the political sphere.
Something like this. We’ve got to start to learn to lead together to come into the same thinking space and not be led from those other …
So what is there to celebrate today? Well, from my view, basically it’s opportunity. It’s not celebrating the curriculum as such. We did that celebration over a bottle of wine when it was printed. We’ve got to celebrate now that we’ve got opportunity again. This opportunity. And above all we have to remember that all of this is about children. Hence, I showed you that slide of different children before. I’ve worked on many advisory committees over the years and sometimes I’ve felt like saying: “Hey look, it’s time we went outside and looked at children.” Children. They have a very short space - I believe passionately in this – a very short space in their whole lifespan of actually being children and I think that it’s our role, our moral responsibility to allow them to have and enjoy childhood. Childhood.
More from this series
How do we take the opportunity to uphold the values and principles of our world-leading curricula, in the best interests of our children and our society? Curricula experts share their expertise in working with all the New Zealand curricula in Taking the Lead - Celebrating our Curricula.