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Challenge for educational transformation: Achieving the aim of 'thinking and acting locally, nationally and globally' in a devolved education system

Robyn Baker

This paper uses the assessment and qualification reforms in the senior secondary school as a case study of change. To provide the context of the paper the first section presents an overview of the New Zealand secondary school sector and the educational reforms of the 1990s. This is followed by a brief outline of the ideas that led to the development of the National Qualifications Framework NQF; a description of NQF; and a review of the associated development of assessment regimes for senior secondary school qualifications.

Paper presented at the International Forum on Education Reforms in the Asia-Pacific Region: Globalisation, Localisation and Individualisation for the Future. The Hong Kong Institute of Education, HKSAR, Hong Kong, 14-16 February 2001.


The 1990s was a time of unprecedented change in New Zealand schools. Responsibility for the administration of schools was devolved to the local level, the central agencies responsible for education were restructured, a national school curriculum was introduced and there were significant developments in the areas of assessment and qualifications. This paper will use the assessment and qualification reforms in the senior secondary school as a case study of change in this new environment. To provide the context for the paper the first section presents an overview of the New Zealand secondary school sector and the educational reforms of the 1990s. This is followed by a brief outline of the ideas that led to the development of the National Qualifications Framework; a description of the characteristics of the Framework; and a review of the associated development of assessment regimes for senior secondary school qualifications. The diversity of ideas about these developments is described and some of the subsequent decisions and conflicting pressures facing school communities are outlined. The national initiative to reform qualifications, set within a model of autonomous schools, offered new challenges to schools and teachers. The range of views about the position of teachers in this environment is detailed. The discussion surrounding the development of a new qualification regime in the senior secondary school is used to illustrate the complexity of effective educational change in the current climate. It is argued that, while it can be claimed that a decentralised system is more likely to meet local needs, any reform process requires not only political leadership but also strong intellectual leadership. Without such leadership devolution may be at the cost of a nationally shared view of what constitutes effective schooling for the future.

New Zealand secondary school sector - a brief overview

While schooling is compulsory for students aged six to sixteen, almost all children begin school on their fifth birthday. Years 1 to 8 are undertaken in the primary school sector, and Years 9 to 13 in the secondary sector. At 1 July 1999 there were 320 state and 15 private secondary schools (Years 9-13). There were also 69 state schools, one correspondence school (which offered courses by distance throughout the country) and 43 private schools offering education from Year 7 to Year 13. In addition, there were 59 Kura Kaupapa Māori. Kura kaupapa are state schools in which Māori language, culture and values predominate. They provide education through the medium of Māori language, which is the language of the indigenous people of New Zealand. While legislation provides for kura to offer education from Year 1 to Year 13, currently only about five kura offer secondary schooling.

In 1999 the average roll size of New Zealand secondary schools was 717 with 25% of schools having fewer than 404 students. The maximum roll size in 1999 was 2304. Secondary student numbers were relatively stable in the 1990s but the numbers are now increasing and are predicted to do so until about 2007. Māori students represent 20% of all students attending school, Pacific Nations students 7.6% and Asian students 5.9%. Two notable features of the New Zealand school system are the relatively large number of schools per capita, and the high number of schools (one-third of state schools) in rural localities which cater for one in 10 students.

The State is the main funder of schooling and the resourcing includes school staffing, school operating grants, school transport, special needs support, capital expenditure on property, and curriculum materials and support. Funding for education has increasingly shifted from common services accessible by schools and higher staffing allocations for schools in disadvantaged areas, to schools receiving a set amount per student based on some formulae. This strategy reflects the belief that those within schools are best placed to make allocation decisions. The funds provided are influenced by an analysis of the socio-economic status of the school community and the subsequent allocation of a decile ranking for each school (with schools drawing from the lowest socio-economic groups being closest to decile one and schools drawing from the highest socio-economic groups being closest to decile ten, Ministry of Education, 1997a). Schools are also provided with additional targeted funding to support, for example, English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), senior secondary students, students with special needs and subsidised school transport. While schools are entitled to a specified number of teachers and these salaries are paid by the government, schools do have the capacity to employ other teachers through the use of the overall operations grants. That is, the operations grant is not tagged for particular spending purposes.

Recent educational reforms

As part of the sweeping economic and social reforms which took place in New Zealand during the late 1980s, education administration was decentralised to individual schools in 1989. Responsibility for the administration of schools shifted from the Department of Education and regional education boards to individual Boards of Trustees. At the same time the Department of Education was dis-established and a number of government agencies were established including the Ministry of Education and New Zealand Qualifications Authority. The Ministry of Education's role was to allocate resources on a transparent basis, tender policy advice and monitor existing polices and services rather than provide educational services itself (McKenzie, 1999). At the same time the Qualifications Authority, established in July 1990, was charged with, amongst other responsibilities, the development of a framework of national qualifications in secondary and post-secondary education and training.

Under the new regime each school is governed by an elected Board of Trustees charged with responsibility for the effective management of the school. The board generally includes three to seven parent representatives elected by the school's current parents, the school principal, a staff representative elected by school staff, and, in secondary schools, a student representative. The responsibility of the board involves meeting the legal requirements of the Education Act (1989) and the associated National Education Guidelines. In effect, this means the Board of Trustees is the employer and is ultimately responsible for managing teacher performance, the effective implementation of the curriculum, the finances and school property. The Education Review Office (ERO), established under the Education Act (1989), has the responsibility for evaluating school-based education through reviewing and reporting on the performance of the managers and professional staff of New Zealand schools.

The decentralisation of the administration of schools was intended to 'result in more immediate delivery of resources to schools, more parental and community involvement, and greater teacher responsibility. It will lead to improved learning opportunities for the children of this country' (Department of Education, 1988: iv). The administrative reforms were accompanied by significant policy developments in curriculum and assessment. The Education Act (1989) laid the foundation for a national curriculum. This was realised in the form of The New Zealand Curriculum Framework: Te Anga Mätauranga o Aotearoa, published by the Ministry of Education in 1993. The framework sets out the overall policy direction for the school curriculum. It includes the principles which underpin the curriculum and describes seven essential learning areas, eight sets of essential skills and the commonly held attitudes and values which should be developed and reinforced through the school based curriculum. National curriculum statements that detail what students are expected to learn in years 1-13 were progressively introduced through the 1990s. Currently Mathematics, Science, English, Technology and Social Studies are mandatory for students in Years 1-10. Health and Physical Education is due for full implementation in 2001 and the Arts in 2003. The curriculum statements have been developed in English and also in te reo Māori for use in Māori medium education.

In the senior secondary school, the curriculum is used as the basis for assessment for national qualifications. Currently, in Year 11 there is the School Certificate examination, in Year 12 Sixth Form Certificate and in Year 13 University Bursary. While Sixth Form Certificate is internally assessed (and moderated by the results of the Year 11 examination), the other two qualifications are largely assessed through examination although many subjects have a component that is internally assessed (for example, a practical investigation in biology and research project in history). During the 1990s, concurrent with the revision of the national curriculum, assessment for qualifications was also under the spotlight. The New Zealand Qualifications Authority was charged with developing a system that would integrate the qualifications of all New Zealand educational institutions, including schools, into a single framework. As issues of assessment, evaluation and standards have been among the most keenly contested areas of New Zealand educational policy for much of the 20th century, perhaps it was predictable that the development of a National Qualifications Framework (NQF) for educational qualifications in New Zealand would be fraught with controversy (Roberts, 1997). While much of the critique of the proposed Framework centred on its implications for university based education and teacher education (see Hall 1994; Roberts, 1997), there has also been considerable debate about its suitability for school qualifications. It is the secondary school sector that provides the focus for this paper.

The New Zealand Qualifications Framework - in development

In 1997 the secondary teachers union, the Post Primary Teachers' Association (PPTA), commissioned an enquiry into the qualification framework to inform debate on what was becoming a controversial matter. The resulting report, Te Tiro Hou: report of the Qualifications Framework Inquiry, identified key themes which subsequently informed the development of the Framework. Firstly, there was a need to obtain international competitive advantage through a skilled and knowledgeable workforce. The contention was that the traditional norm-referenced examination systems perpetuated a narrow base of academic knowledge and that the future lay in promoting vocational subjects as being of equal importance to academic subjects. Secondly, there was a need to increase the participation of the 15-19 age group in education, and again the existing qualifications system was seen as limiting this opportunity for many students. Thirdly, there was a need to motivate students and to provide for students at risk. It was argued that the introduction of more vocationally orientated subjects, and greater co-operation between schools and tertiary institutions would help engage the interest, and meet the needs, of a wider range of students. The official argument was that:

The main reason for low participation and the lack of qualifications in the workforce (lie) within the school system - namely the emphasis on a narrow academic curriculum and on external examinations with high in-built failure rates. Those practices have repeatedly signalled to a high proportion of the population that higher levels of education are for them irrelevant, inappropriate and unattainable. Those practices may have been justified in the past. They are no longer justifiable either in economic or social terms (Hood, 1992:2).

These themes were set within the on-going educational debate about assessment and qualifications reform. A constant in the debate from the 1970s to 1990s had been dissatisfaction with external examinations, particularly the Year 11 School Certificate examination (PPTA, 1997; Lennox, 1995). For example, strong support for qualification reform by secondary school staff and Boards of Trustees was described in a 1997-1998 study that sought to elicit the cumulative impact of education reform over the past decade (Thrupp, Harold, Mansell, & Hawksworth, 2000). The reasons given for supporting the reforms included the need for updating, concerns about the School Certificate and other examinations, the moderation system used for Sixth Form Certificate, and the large number of students leaving schools with no qualifications (Thrupp et al., 2000). The focus of the assessment component of this debate was largely on the inadequacy of a single examination to measure the full scope of a student's understanding of a subject area and the limitations of a norm-referenced regime for supporting, and then reporting upon, learning. During the 1980s there was considerable advocacy for greater use of internal assessment although 'the exact nature of proposed assessment instruments and consideration of how to moderate between schools was not often addressed. The simple conviction was widespread that if assessment was carried out by teachers then more flexible and relevant education could be provided and more detailed and accurate information about students could be reported' (Lennox, 1995:9). It was believed that internal assessment by teachers would ensure a closer link between curriculum and assessment and more effectively link teaching, learning and assessment. Similarly, the idea of standards based assessment appeared attractive, as, unlike norm-referenced forms of assessment, it did not promote the failure of a set proportion of learners. It was also argued that standards based assessment, with its pre-determined, clearly stated and well defined standards of achievement, provided a more transparent mechanism for establishing the knowledge and skill achieved by students.

A further significant influence on the nature of the Framework development - and the subsequent debate - was the fact that New Zealand education has been characterised since 1943 by a desire to provide equal educational opportunities based on individual merit and interest (Wylie, 2000). It could be argued that the Framework structure gave a new perspective on this aim by abandoning the traditional distinction between 'academic' and 'vocational' courses in favour of a more integrated and seamless approach. In this way, all senior school students would have the opportunity to participate in a wide range of courses within the school and, where relevant, in the tertiary sector. At this point it needs to be noted that at the same time as the Framework was being proposed, the school administration reforms were in their infancy and the rationale for education itself was being restructured as a private commodity subject to market conditions (Olssen & Morris Matthews, 1997). Thus in other spheres the central issue of equality of opportunity was being replaced with ideas of 'efficiency', 'choice', 'competition' and 'accountability' (Olssen & Morris Matthews, 1997). In turn, critics were demonstrating how this new ideology of 'choice' was being achieved at the expense of equity (Gordon, 1997; Lauder, Hughes & Watson, 1999).

The first task of the new Qualifications Authority was to release the National Qualifications Framework for public consultation. Even at this early stage (1990), there was some disquiet about the nature of consultation in the 'new' environment as key policy decisions, such as the decision to only use standards based approach, had already been decided (Haggerty, 1993). The Framework was launched in September 1991 and was organised in eight levels, with Levels 1-3 approximating the same standard of senior secondary education and basic trades training. The Framework was designed to provide a consistent and logical application of the nomenclature for qualifications; to enable learning to be recognised in a consistent way; and to give recognition to the importance of generic and portable, transferable skills (Fitzsimons, 1997). Schools were charged with the responsibility of exploring 'the vision that is inherent in the Qualifications Framework and to understand the potential it offers' (Martin, 1993:13). That is, schools were being guided to make locally based decisions that would met the needs of their students and those of the community, including parents and potential employers.

The implementation of the new qualification system required all qualifications to be composed of registered unit standards - statements that describe what a learner knows or can do. In the same way that examination prescriptions in the past have been written from curriculum or syllabus documents, the unit standards - at least for the 'conventional' school subjects - were written from the national curriculum documents. The standards form a competency-based internal assessment regime where students' learning is evaluated against these prescribed standards. Consistency amongst assessors is gained through nationally organised moderation systems. This may involve the moderation of selected assessment activities before they are used with students, the moderation of assessed work and moderator visits to schools. In recent times the external moderation has been accompanied by internal moderation audit visits undertaken by personnel from the Qualifications Authority. The purpose of this audit is to review the internal school processes for ensuring assessment materials are valid, fair and at a nationally consistent standard. The audit process is consistent with the self-review processes schools are required to complete as part of the accountability procedures within the self-managing school regime.

The New Zealand Qualifications Framework - in practice

While the prevailing view of people involved and interested in the secondary school sector appeared to support reform of the senior school qualifications, there was a mixed response to the new regime in practice. The emerging concerns can be considered under two broad categories: conceptual issues underlying principles of the Framework; and issues of implementation centering on operation and structural matters that arose out of the trials to implement unit standards in a range of subject areas (PPTA, 1997). In the first place, critics censured the designers for adhering to a reductionist and atomistic philosophy in which all knowledge and skill domains became translated into predetermined sets of assessable competencies (Lee & Lee, 2000). While there was some agreement that assessment by unit standards was appropriate for practical, skill-based subjects there was considerable scepticism about the ability of the standards to adequately reflect academic subjects that contain large bodies of knowledge (see Hall 1994; Codd, 1997). The argument of these and other critics was that unit standards, as they apply to higher and academic learning, are not able to easily specify precise standards for much of what is learnt in academic education (PPTA, 1997).

There was also criticism from teachers, principals and academics that the competency based model did not allow for the recognition of excellence. Their view was encapsulated by Peddie who argued that 'as a nation we should not only promote more extensive learning and set clear goals which the majority can achieve, but we should also be striving to raise standards by setting challenging targets and promoting excellence' (1995: 23). This argument had particular appeal to many parents who believed that the allocation of a range of grades would give their higher achieving children a competitive advantage in restricted entry tertiary courses and within the decreasing job market.

Finally, the workload associated with developing assessment regimes using unit standards appeared unacceptably high and unrealistic to many teachers. It is difficult to quantify the actual work load implications as many of the teachers involved were also introducing new curriculum at this time and attempting to deal with new administrative requirements from the Education Review Office. In addition, the schools that participated in trials in conventional school subjects were required to implement dual assessment regimes as the students wanted the opportunity to gain the existing traditional qualifications as well.

The apparent lack of acceptance of unit standards as the only form of assessment for the future led to a decision by the Government in 1996 to 'broaden' the framework to allow non unit standards-based qualifications and degrees to be registered. This was followed by the release in 1997 of a Ministry of Education discussion paper on the future of the National Qualifications Framework, which invited comment and submission. In this document the government acknowledged the criticism of a unit standards approach and endorsed a decision taken earlier by NZQA that a new National Certificate in Educational Achievement (NCEA) should be the senior school qualification of the future. The paper also supported the idea of existing national secondary school examinations being credited towards the new certificate. This would mean, that 'where options were available, secondary students could choose how they wished to be assessed - whether through examinations, internal assessment, or some combination of assessment methods' (Ministry of Education, 1997b:27).

In late 1998 the Government announced its new qualification policy for schools. Subsequently, the new Labour Government proposed a one-year delay in implementing this policy to allow additional resources to be developed and trialed, and further professional development to occur. This means that the new system (NCEA) will now be implemented in 2002 for Year 11 students, in 2003 for Year 12 students and in 2004 for Year 13 students. The policy retained the notion of a single qualification, the National Certificate of Educational Achievement, and a standards based approach to assessment. Credits for the NCEA will be accumulated over several years as students demonstrate that they have met pre-defined outcome standards. These credits may be gained through assessment in vocationally related unit standards or via the attainment of the newly developed achievement standards that have been written for all conventional school subjects. Unlike unit standards, students can achieve credit, merit or excellence levels for assessment standards and at least a half of the qualifications credits from achievement standards must be obtainable by external assessment. Further, the assessment standards are described in broader outcomes than the unit standards and, as such are less likely to be criticised for potentially 'atomising' learning.

In contrast to the initial development of the Framework, secondary teachers, and particularly their representative organisation, the PPTA, were actively involved in the development of the NCEA. In the early days of the education reforms there were limitations placed on the participation of teachers and professional educators in the policy-making process as it was argued, based upon the economic theory that was one of the reform drivers, that the advice of such people tended to reflect self interest rather than the needs of learners or the interests of consumers (Codd, 1999). In addition, the consultative process for the development of the NCEA included the expansion of an earlier advisory group, the Principals' Lead Group, to form a Secondary Leaders' Forum. A number of members of this forum took an active role in the regionally based meetings that enabled personnel from every secondary school to gain direct information about the development and to debate issues of concern. The involvement of PPTA served to ease some teachers' fears about the implications of the qualification reform, though in a recent ballot only 65% of respondents gave their support for the continued implementation of NCEA and 82% indicated that they did not believe there were adequate policies, procedures and resources in place for its introduction in 2002 (PPTA, 2000). There was also support for the idea of retaining unit standards for vocationally oriented subjects but questions have been raised about the potential for achievement standards in the conventional school subjects being viewed as first-rate and the unit standards as second-rate (Pountney, 1998). It has been pointed out that:

it is worth recalling that an original goal of the qualifications framework was to design a single structure which did not distinguish in assessment methodology between so-called academic and vocational subjects. The rationale for this is that in a technologically advanced economy, practical and academic subjects are equally important. … The shift away from a single assessment model to one which combines, unit standards, achievement standards and examinations obliterates the authority's goal for indistinguishable assessment methodology. Whilst this may be appropriate insofar as assessment is concerned, it signals an entrenchment of a hierarchy of subjects which the single framework structure was designed to avoid (Millar, 1999).

and that:

most of the pressure to maintain a two-tier system has come from principals of more affluent schools. They perpetuate their own status through their students' success in dominating the existing examinations system - which tests a limited range of skills and knowledge common to those who hold power at the moment, and which is readily accessible to their own children, but not to those from different social or cultural backgrounds (Pountney, 1998).

Critics have also questioned the potential for reliable and valid assessment of achievement standards when each standard is to be assessed separately (Hall, 1999). Others have argued that the NCEA is just another blind alley and:

it has been motivated by the search for a political compromise, seeks the elusive 'one-best' system for assessment and certification of all school-based learning, and has been encouraged by the current fixation with educational frameworks. It sought to offer all things to all people but in fact offers a very restricted system littered with contradictions and unidentified problem areas. Moreover, it ignores substantial research that has been undertaken in New Zealand and elsewhere into forms of standards-based assessment (Irwin, 1999:93).

Overall, there is an air of caution about the new qualification, which will begin implementation in one year's time. Most schools appear to see it as a workable option for them and their students. However, there are already a number of schools in New Zealand which seem committed to retaining an examination based system and so are looking in the international arena for options for their students. Currently there are a few secondary schools in New Zealand involved in the International Baccalaureate and 'if the NCEA is judged to somehow be failing then we can expect to see a significant increase in the number of New Zealand students entering the English A-level and Cambridge University Entrance examinations, for example (Lee & Lee, 2000:30). The schools currently making the decisions to offer alternative qualifications are both private and public schools and are commonly located in high socio-economic areas. In making the decision to offer their students an alternative qualification the schools argue that they are responding to the needs of their students and the requirements of the parents.

Significantly, this is the same argument that was put by schools who wanted to retain unit standards because they had opted for a diverse range of vocationally oriented courses to meet the needs of their student community. While this position has been incorporated into the NCEA qualification the use of international examinations has not. The locally based decisions to pursue a different qualification pathway are inconsistent with the commonly articulated national view that there should be a nationally co-ordinated and coherent qualification policy with a single qualification pathway. This was a recommendation of the PPTA Inquiry of 1997, was subsequently re-endorsed by the Government's NCEA policy, and was supported by the group of secondary principals who are members of the NZQA Secondary Leaders' Forum.

A case for a multiple qualifications system, that takes account of the increasingly diverse student population by having three pathways - academic, technical and vocational, was presented by Irwin (1994) but was never seriously entertained by policy makers and educators. It was proposed that each pathway would interconnect by a common core of subjects comprising English, mathematics, science, Māori or a classical or modern language, the social sciences and careers guidance, and occupy at least 50 percent of students' time (Irwin, 1994). While Irwin predicted that the introduction of a common core along these lines would help to minimise the undesirable social distinctions by allowing movement between the three pathways the explicit notion of a tiered qualifications system did not withstand the scrutiny of New Zealander's widely held egalitarian views of education - still firmly held despite a decade of reforms based on the ideology that the benefits of education are largely reaped by the individual rather than the state, at least in the post compulsory sector.

Educational change in a devolved education system

The purpose of detailing the story of a decade of qualification and assessment reform in New Zealand has been to provide a case study of change in a 'new' environment. It illustrates some of the complexity of the reform process and the compromises that often need to be made to effect change. Compromise has always been a component of the policy making process but the current environment placed different pressures on the process and it has yet to be seen if the revised system will actually deliver what was initially intended. In the final analysis, it is students, parents, teachers and employers who will ultimately determine the success or otherwise of any qualifications policy (Lee & Lee, 2000). This point was made by Dr Beeby, a former Director of Education (1940-1960) who observed:

Whatever purposes politicians and administrators might have had for education, their plans could be deflected when ambitious parents acting individually but in unspoken accord decided they wanted the school to do something different for their children … there is always some tension between the controllers and the consumers of education and, in the long run, the consumers' purposes usually prevail (Beeby, 1982 cited in Lee & Lee, 2000 pp 30).

The essential difference between the past and the present is that now the 'consumers' can exercise much more direct influence through their local school. School self-management means that 'a school's prime focus must be its own survival and well being, and not the impact its decisions might have on other schools, or on student opportunities across the region or country' (Wylie, 2000: 281). It should be noted that many reforms - equity-minded reforms in particular - are not necessarily in the short-term interests of those in privileged positions (Fullan, 1999) and so perhaps it was predictable that schools would take different positions. This does leave a number of questions that have yet to be answered. Should the belief in equality of opportunity for all students be paramount and so all schools be required to offer the one nationally endorsed qualification or should schools be free to make individual choices? If the decision is different in one school from another does this matter and how is a school to decide upon the balance of meeting local needs and national ideals? What qualification system might best support a quality education for all New Zealand students?

Equally important as the autonomy of schools is the complexity of the 'new' environment. In their review of the educational reforms, Thrupp et al. (1999) argued that:

the reforms had vastly under estimated the complexity of schooling. To begin with, there were criticisms of all the central agencies, but especially the NZQA, as being out of touch and even hostile to the needs of schools. Those interviewed often gave examples where the reforms might be good in theory but did not fit the reality of their own school'(1999: 208).

The criticisms of the proposed qualification and assessment reforms not only illustrate the diversity of views held by many school communities but the fact that people are now prepared to question and challenge the assumptions of any proposed changes. It is no longer the world of the sixties where there was much perceived agreement about the ends of education and where most people speaking to the issues were of the same opinion and therefore it was thought that the opinion must be right (Renwick, 1986). Now the voices are more varied, more diverse and within this new environment, more able to be heard, at least at the local level. Conflicting opinions can be quite unsettling and potentially undermining of any one policy position. It is also possible to learn from dissonance, although this may serve to slow down any reform process which can be viewed as problematic in the current political environment.

Learning from experience

The final section of this paper will describe what might be learnt from the development of the National Qualifications Framework as it is apparent that the 'new' environment requires new ways for managing change. While it was believed that the National Qualifications Framework had 'the potential to change the culture of New Zealand' (Hood, 1994: 137) mandating change does not necessary result in change. Graeme Macann, President of the Post Primary Teachers' Association, suggests that:

an overwhelming priority for the secondary sector is for us - the practitioners, and the Ministry (of Education) and the Qualifications Authority especially - to develop a consensus around an assessment and qualifications policy for the senior part of our secondary schools. It is unfortunate that the territory is so poisoned now by the mistakes, missed opportunities and failures of the last decade (Macann, 2000).

However, questions remain as to how this 'consensus' might be achieved in today's environment and what there might need to be consensus about?

In this case study there was consensus about the need for qualifications reform. There was also general sympathy for a standards based approach and the PPTA Inquiry into the Framework concluded that:

standards-based assessment is more desirable on educational grounds than norm-based assessment. The Inquiry therefore believes that New Zealand's qualifications system should place prime emphasis on assessment against standards: standards, which are defined as clearly as possible (PPTA, 1997: 101-102).

The valuing of a standards-based approach has mirrored an international trend. Some countries, for example, have introduced a 'standards' type approach in the vocational education and training area and others have adopted standards-based procedures in the area of compulsory schooling. New Zealand's approach however, was somewhat more ambitious and was 'unique in attempting to implement a unitary qualifications framework, that is one which embraces all national qualifications within a single framework' (Philips, 1998:2).

However, in managing change in the New Zealand newly devolved context firstly there was a failure to conceptualise the issue into a practical theory that was sufficiently convincing. Secondly, there was a failure to take sufficient account of the locally autonomous environment in which schools are now operating which resulted in schools viewing local and national ideals and interests in different ways. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, there was a failure to develop a collaborative model with teachers, and their representative union, and so for too long the practioners were essentially onlookers in a reform that relied on their knowledge and will for its implementation.

The restructuring and resulting fragmentation of the education sector, in particular the separation of curriculum development, which was led by the Ministry of Education and assessment reform, which was the responsibility of NZQA, combined with the deliberate strategy to separate policy development from policy implementation and the exclusion of teaching professionals from the policy making process, all contributed to the failure to conceptualise the issues of qualifications and assessment reform into a convincing practical theory in action. As a consequence the Qualifications Authority was unable to establish the 'authority' to effectively lead change. Fullan argues that:

leaders at all levels from the classroom to the state house need to conceptualise and continue to construct ever more sophisticated practical theories of action. These theories will enable them: to understand the critical importance of incorporating all three forces - the intellectual, the political, and the spiritual - in their thinking and action; to constantly work at connections across these forces and across people; and to build the local and external designs and infrastructures for interaction and fusion of energy. … Fusion depends on 'capturing the public imagination' and the only way to do that is to get out there and engage communities in the debate about ideas, power and purpose (1999: 83).

It can be said that there was a particular a lack of leadership or rigorous analysis at the conceptual level from the officials responsible for developing the qualifications and assessment reform process. Instead official views appeared to be based on a largely uncritiqued ideology which made the reforms all the more vulnerable to criticism from teachers, academics, the media and the general public. The various arguments for a single or dual system were outlined in the PPTA Inquiry document (1997) and the work of an independent group gave a rationale for alternative systems (see Irwin, 1994). However, the reasons for promoting a single qualification pathway were not explicitly articulated in the official documentation associated with the NCEA development. While the official documentation did give a rationale for a new qualification the principles that were to underpin it were merely listed. These principles were coherence between curriculum and qualifications; fair, valid and consistent assessment; transparency and portability; motivating and inclusive; and manageability (Ministry of Education, 1998). It is difficult to disagree with these principles, but the official documentation does not provide access to the thinking that led to the development of such principles.

The necessity of clearly articulating the thinking underpinning developments such as these reforms is even more critical in a devolved system. This is not to ensure that every school has the same view or makes the same decision. In fact, school were being encouraged 'to offer innovative programmes that embrace both the New Zealand Curriculum and a range of other options beyond school' (Ministry of Education, 1998). However, it was important to explicitly articulate the arguments that led to the selection of the principles of the new single qualification pathway. This would have given principals and teachers greater confidence when they were attempting to identify the national interest arguments when dealing with the detail of implementation and with vocal critics in their local community. It is true that much of the criticism helped to resolve some of the problematic areas, but without a deeply understood shared view of the guiding principles it has been much more difficult to gain public support for the proposed reforms.

The success of any reform relies on the confidence not only of the public but also of teachers. Although there had been a great deal of criticism about the use of unit standards in the conventional school subject, it was largely the response of teachers, particularly as articulated in the Inquiry they commissioned, that moved the Government to 'broaden' the Framework. In the early days of the devolution, however, the voice of teachers was largely absent. There is now a considerable literature about the impact on teachers of many of the international reform agendas (see Apple, 1995, Hargreaves & Goodson, 1996). These and other writers have viewed this 'new professionalism' as a myth which hides the extent to which teachers have been controlled through the mandating of imposed curriculum and assessment regimes and an intensification of their work. Codd argues that the advocates of the reforms had a techno-reductionist view of teachers, which promoted the notion of the skilled technician rather than the intrinsically motivated, committed professional (1997). It was common in this environment to brand teachers as resistant to change. However, teachers did embrace unit standards in vocationally orientated subjects as they said that the standards provided new opportunities for the increasingly diverse population of students in the senior secondary school. Further the ambivalence that many were expressing about the reforms:

reflected richly grounded understanding of the difficulties of bringing change in schools, as well as widespread discomfort with what was occurring in schools as a result as the reforms. … most teachers and others in schools were not simply hostile to change as they are sometimes painted: they were usually willing to acknowledge some strengths in the reforms but were equally clear that aspects were not working or were unlikely to work in the manner intended by proposers of the reforms (Thrupp et al., 1999: 209).

The revised reform agenda, known as the NCEA, has adopted an implementation strategy that has been much more inclusive of teachers to the extent that many teachers are leading the professional development workshops that are being offered to all teachers. The new Labour Coalition government is also in the process of establishing an Education Council with the view that the Council 'will provide a new professional forum for teachers. It will play a major role in maintaining and developing the capacity of the teaching professional' (Mallard, 2000). There is certainly the 'potential for the Education Council to be to some extent independent of the government of the day, with accountability to a partnership between government, teachers, parents, community and employers' (Aikin & Mansell, 2000). Perhaps this will provide an avenue for teachers to contribute more effectively to the leadership of the on-going development of education, particularly at the initial stages of policy development, ensuring they are no longer relegated to the position of the 'outside' critic.


This case study of one qualification and assessment reform clearly illustrates that education reform needs to be informed by, and responsive to, the views of the whole community of interest, but particularly those actually working with the system in practice. It also highlights the need for new models of 'leadership' within a devolved school setting. What is needed are leaders who understand actual concerns at a deep level and the possible conflict for schools between the meeting of local and national interests. Such leaders must also have the courage to make decisions which are theoretically underpinned, practically realistic, clearly articulated, and responsive to critical feedback so that people can have confidence in the system and its future.


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Robyn Baker