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Insights 19: 1 June 2018
Latest report: Smoke & Vapour, the changing world of tobacco harm reduction
Katharine Birbalsingh speaks to Radio New Zealand about the UK's strictest school
Latest interview: Jenesa Jeram discusses how NZ can become smokefree on RadioLive

Revolutionary common sense
Dr Oliver Hartwich | Executive Director |
The counterrevolution started in Auckland last night. That is when the Initiative hosted British educator Katharine Birbalsingh for a dinner lecture in front of an audience of almost 300 teachers, school trustees, business leaders and politicians.

What made this event revolutionary was the fact that Birbalsingh re-introduced some much-needed common sense into New Zealand’s strange education debate.

Auckland-born Birbalsingh is a thoroughly modern woman who believes in equal education opportunities for all students regardless of gender, race or social background. But she does not confuse such modernity with following the education fads of our time.

At London’s Michaela Community School, which she founded and leads, children are treated to an education which is refreshingly old-fashioned. It revolves around the three core values of knowledge, discipline and kindness.

Birbalsingh and her staff maintain that it is the teacher that teaches the students. It sounds like a truism but sadly it is not anymore.

In many schools today, teachers have lost their traditional roles. Rather than being fountains of knowledge, they have mutated into facilitators of learning. By putting themselves on the same level as their students, they have removed themselves from direct instruction as a method.

That all sounds nice and fuzzy. The problem is that it does not work.

As Birbalsingh explained last night, it is ludicrous to pretend that teenage kids know as much as their much older, more experienced and educated teachers. Restoring the authority of the teacher is therefore central to her education philosophy.

In a similar way, Birbalsingh believes that many of our schools have given up on any semblance of discipline. Students are allowed to behave as they please. Again, this may sound progressive but it is not.

When children misbehave, they rob themselves and others of valuable time. That time is no longer available to do what school should be about: learning. So, at Michaela School, teachers ensure that nothing distracts children from this purpose.

Finally, Birbalsingh maintains that school should teach children values for life, and first among them is kindness. Michaela School’s students show appreciation for others, and they are guided in expressing it.

Knowledge, discipline and kindness: It is this trinity that defines Birbalsingh’s education philosophy.

Not long ago, this would have been common sense and practiced in most of our schools.

It should still be common sense today. That is what our enthusiastic audience concluded at the end of a memorable evening.

Decile - a misinterpretation?
Joel Hernandez | Policy Analyst |
Choosing the best school for your child is an important decision. The best school, whether it is primary or secondary, can have a big impact on your child’s wellbeing and success in school. At least, that is what we currently believe. So far there has been no evidence to prove this or otherwise.

For most parents this decision comes down to where they live, local word of mouth and what they’ve inferred from a school’s decile ranking. In many cases, parents use decile as a proxy for school quality, where the general attitude is, the higher the decile, the higher the quality.

For some parents the decision on where to live is – in part – determined by what schools are available within a zone. Real estate agencies have acknowledged this and often include school zones and the decile rankings of nearby schools when listing new homes on the market.

However, the decile system was not designed to indicate the quality of a school. It was designed for school funding to help reduce barriers to learning faced by children from lower socioeconomic communities.

The problem arises when schools of different deciles are compared using average NCEA pass rates. School compositions can vary significantly, both across deciles and within the same decile.

Students from the lowest decile schools have on average, parents with less income and less education than students from the highest decile schools.

The comparison of schools with students from different socioeconomic backgrounds is unfair.

So how do you know which school to send your children to? Is decile a good proxy for school quality? Reports from the Education Review Office (ERO) can be helpful, but you almost need specialised training to understand how different schools are performing.

The New Zealand Initiative’s solution is utilising the vast amounts of microdata in the Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI). The IDI is New Zealand’s largest research database, containing data from a wide range of government agencies, including the Ministries of Education (MoE), Health (MoH), and Social Development (MSD).

By merging education data with socioeconomic background data available in the IDI, we will be able to estimate the value a school adds to its students controlling for every student’s socioeconomic background.

We expect that NCEA league tables overstate the differences across schools, because they do not adjust for the differences in the students each school teaches. But the data will tell us, and you, how big the differences in outcomes across schools really are.

Sky high regulation
Ben Craven | Project Coordinator |
“You New Zealanders don’t know how lucky you are,” said virtually every Australian I met at the recent Friedman Conference in Sydney.

New Zealand, they pointed out, had a better tax system with GST across the board rather than at different rates on different products.

Our country’s finances were in much better shape.

And hunters and shooters I met remarked that our firearm laws were far more sensible than those over the ditch.

It wasn’t until I came back to rain-drenched windy Wellington that I realised they had overlooked a very serious problem here in New Zealand.

It’s our politicians.

Now, Australian politicians are no saints. They’re brash, combative, and prone to a few scandals of their own.

We all remember Tony Abbott saying he wanted to “shirtfront” the Russian president.

But instead of wee diplomatic spats, our politicians often find themselves falling foul of the laws for which they are responsible.

Just last week we saw Minister of Transport, Phil Twyford stripped of his responsibility for the Civil Aviation Authority.

His crime?

Talking on the phone while the plane was readying for takeoff.

When you take a flight in New Zealand, there are all sorts of rules and regulations you can unwittingly transgress, let alone social norms and flying etiquette.

Taking a quick call is nothing compared to some of the flying faux pas Mr Twyford could have committed.

I mean, it wasn’t as though he was busted hogging both armrests.

As far as I am aware he didn’t spend the entire flight talking to the person next to him.

Nor did he commit one of the worst flying offences – repacking hand luggage in the aisle.

He wasn’t caught out playing Nickelback loudly through his earphones.

And it sounds like he wasn’t one of those people who carry on luggage that is physically impossible to get into the overhead containers.

Faux pas aside, it never ceases to amaze me that using a phone on an aircraft seems to be fine up until the point where the doors are closed. But then conversely it’s no big deal to use your phone when the plane is taxiing to the arrival gate.

If there is one area New Zealand needs to really work on, it’s regulatory quality.

I can’t help thinking back to the conversations in Australia.

Do we Kiwis know how lucky we are?

Absolutely. But there’s always room for improvement.

On The Record
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  • What the 4% of Americans who believe in lizard people can teach us about conspiracy theories.
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