Some aspects of the New Zealand education system are a massive mess. It is also pretty much stating the obvious that the Bali Haque report on changing the "system" and imposing more bureaucracy, centralised control and limits on parental choice will fix things in the same way that punching a hole on the starboard side of a boat to balance a gash on the port side - so that the ship sinks equitably - is a "fix".

Here is an important point. The Government is not responsible for your child's outcomes. Schools are there to help, and we should have high expectations of them. However, if you are a parent, how your child does through his or her education is your responsibility.

The resolution every New Zealand child needs is that their parents, if they have not already, make the decision to be fully informed and involved in their child's education.


In her fabulous book, The Smartest Kids in the World, Amanda Ripley taps into the research to show that our country is the one nation in the Western world in which parents reading to their children has the greatest developmental significance. Your child's literacy is your responsibility. Children need their mums and dads reading to them and need to see their parents reading.

One of the best news items I have read this summer was the huge increase in the number of New Zealand-authored books sold as Christmas presents. Our Villa Education Trust schools have a 10-book challenge over the break and we also have a key aim in 2019 of having every one of our 500 families fully informed and involved in the day-to-day.

Your child's numeracy is also your responsibility. Children need to see and hear their parents positive about maths and willing to learn and support even if they find it difficult themselves. In this subject attitude is a significant factor.

Parents need to be active and to ensure their children are too. Limit screen time to half an hour a day (an hour tops). The same key features of growing up that made the "good old days" good still exist and are not expensive - beaches, trees, bicycles, clubs.

Parents need to be an active part of the school day. Help organise your child/teenager the night before and get them off to school positively in the morning. Take the organisational stress off their shoulders to set them up to learn. Get to know all of their teachers and make yourself known. Understand what the school is trying to help your child achieve - from Year 1 to University Entrance (the goal the vast majority of our students should be aiming at). Feedback between teachers, students and families is one of the key success factors. Actively seek out feedback, often.

Talk to your child at the end of the school day. Be specific in asking about their experiences and learning for the day. Don't accept a grunt for an answer. Look at their books. It might be formulaic but ask for five positives before listening to the whinge. Ask how you can help.

Great parenting is a choice and it is rarely dependent on what you have or don't have. It is up to parents to turn around the education statistics - including the socioeconomic and ethnic differentials. Great parenting is primarily about love, boundaries and active attention. Plenty of active attention. It is about role-modelling the things you would like your children to believe are of high value. The opportunity to be a great parent has not been negated by high-tech society, sometimes the choices simply need to be more clearly, actively and consistently made.

Make the resolution and follow through. Don't leave the life opportunities of your young ones up to schools or bureaucracy - they might try but only you have the tools. It might not seem like it every day but your children will love you deeply for caring about their minds and their progress.

Alwyn Poole runs the Villa Education Trust.