Water: how much and how clean

Where the Manuherekia joins the Clutha.

Water is a major issue for Otago.

With most of the population living on the coast, there is little awareness of human impact on water in our favourite recreational areas.

For most of us water is where we recreate. We ignore the effects of sewerage, of stormwater. We do not understand what infrastructure brings water to our household taps, until it breaks down. It is the invisible essential.

Our ignorance of water has contributed to its steady degradation and growing scarcity. I write this looking out to the heads of Otago Harbour.

The issue of clean rivers and enough water for the health of our rivers is one facing the Otago region. There have been a range of attempts to manage land and water use over the years but this management has become urgent.

Sometimes the urgency is manifest in unwelcome algae growing in lakes, that can harm our pets and our skin. And while there might be some short term solutions, we must always look to what has happened on the land surrounding the lake. Have there been subdivisions, with consequent soil erosion and disturbance, which can cause the flow of sediment into lakes? That sediment might carry unwelcome chemicals such as phosphorus.

In those new subdivisions is there an infrastructure for sewerage, for stormwater. Or do we rely on septic tanks? Do they leak into the lakes? For so long we have regarded it as our right for that solo bach or crib. We have valued the independence of being free of rules …but those rules are to protect the balance between humans and the eco-system.

When it comes to rivers..well. Some argue the water is wasted if we let it flow out to the sea. We want to take some out of the river for human water use, for agriculture…watering the soil. The question is how much do we take from the river? How much does the natural life in the river need?

And just like the lakes….what is happening along the banks of the river. If water is taken from the river, when it returns as run-off from those fields, what else is being added to the river such as sediment and natural waste from animals, and residue from the products added to the soil?

This is what has been concerning me since the beginning of 2020. I have walked around Lake Hayes. I have visited a range of sites in the Manuherekia catchment. I have listened to the opposing views of irrigators and ecologists. We have some very difficult decisions to make in the coming weeks on the Otago Regional Council.

And then there are rabbits, and wilding pines, and dirty air in our Ports, and our campaign to get people out of cars and on to public or active transport.

To Bike the talk, I have bought an electric bike. And on my second day I fell off while waiting at the lights!! But now to the workshop to fix the bike, so as I can get back on it.

My first ride!

climate change, Uncategorized, water quality

Back in the Saddle

Much has happened since I last posted in 2015.

On the personal level I nursed my partner until his death in November 2016. And it has taken since then to regain some equilibrium…but many experiences have helped along the way!!

From my “Hobbitlearning” title, it will be understood that education is a driving force in my life. I loved teaching. I loved being a school principal just as much: same but different and equally creative. So I was thrilled to be asked by current Minister of Education to serve on the Guardians of the Education Conversation for the last two years. new Zealanders as users of the education system needed to share their reaction to what they experienced and it has been my delight to hear, watch, read all those reactions and then to check that the reforms proposed meet and measure up to those conversations. The reforms will take a while to settle in, but the work has been begun.

One of the sad things to observe has been the mistrust between public and government, such as teachers wanting to retain the competitive model because they did not want to cede power to a collaborative system where state agencies might have a role. Rebuilding trust in a  collaborative state system , rather than a competitive system is going to be an enormous task.

But in these intervening years, I have had two more grandchildren born, and my commitment to environmental improvement has become more urgent. So I stood for the Otago Regional Council, and won a seat and then was elected Chair of the Council. And now my work begins. I want to improve public transportation so as we reduce carbon emissions. I must work to clean up our lakes and rivers and restore wetlands. I want to restore and protect our biodiversity in Otago, New Zealand. There are other goals, but these are my main ones for the next three years.

I will try to blog on here weekly over the next three years to share what we as a Council have accomplished, the problems we face, and ask for ways ahead. So this is a move from major comment on education to local response to climate change, to water and to biodiversity.

I will welcome comment.


No one has claimed that reducing classroom size is a magic potion, but…..

No one has claimed that New Zealand Labour’s commitment to reduce class sizes over the next three years will automatically lift student progress.

The Labour Party was quick to link reduction in class sizes with a range of other plans to support the training and continuing professional growth of all teachers, such as the building of a school advisory service and a College of School Leadership.

What class size reduction does do is reduce the workload for all teachers and increase the teacher contact for the students.  I keep hearing National Party spokespeople talking of multi-teacher classrooms….but the student work still has to be marked by one teacher. In these multi-class rooms, there is still one teacher responsible for a group of children. If I were back with a load of six classes, this reduction would result in an overall reduction of 18 “books” to mark over each week…and that is three hours saved. And marking is just one aspect….18 fewer reports to write and I could go on.

A classroom with 29 eleven year olds is often very squashed to get around: 26 students is easier to move around and be able to spend that much more time with each student.

What has happened to our schools in this mad campaign to prove progress has been unbelievable pressure on teachers. Labour’s commitment is a commitment to reduce that pressure. It is not a walk away from improving student learning: it is the reverse. The fear of the present emphasis is a constraint against risk taking to try different approaches with different students. Labour commits to reducing the pressure while working with teachers to support change and development.

One part of rebuilding that self-belief in teachers  is this commitment to reduce class sizes. Well Done!


climate change, climate change refugees, Uncategorized

So…climate change! Where do we begin?

Last night I went to a meeting in Dunedin where people gathered to discuss whether we should be agreeing to the exploration of our waters for oil and gas.

We did focus a little on the risks from exploration and later from the actual wells.

But something troubled me.

We seemed to be missing the basic question. Why are we actually looking for more hydrocarbons?

Why is not our focus on replacement of these hydrocarbons. Let’s manage this replacement as quickly as possible.

The only Green MP in England, Caroline Lucas has made a similar comment, but hers is on fracking.

“For Lucas, the big problem with fracking has nothing to do with the risk that it will cause earthquakes, contaminate the water table or pollute the soil. In fact, she thinks it possible that stringent regulations could minimise those risks. “It’s not that fracking itself is necessarily worse than ordinary gas extraction. It’s the fact that we’re just about to put into place a whole new infrastructure for a whole new fossil-fuel industry, at exactly the time when we need to be reducing our emissions.” The problem, in other words, is climate change”

In New Zealand, our households and industry are mostly powered by renewable energy, although we should be growing that percentage much much faster.

But it is our transport that is fuelled by oil and gas. Where is the research on alternative fuels? Why are we not harnessing the methane produced by hour livestock? What about the use of algae?

I want a clear statement from political parties on the way forward to reduce our dependence on oil and gas and the timeline in which we are going to do this.


Further to Charter Schools…..

…….and why they distract and take from the many to support a few.

I have rarely ever met a teacher who does not want to change and improve either what is happening in their classroom, or school, or system.

And yet as TV3 presented its saga on Charter Schools last night, it made it look as though the system was deliberately not responding to the needs of certain students and that the only way through was to set up a free school and offer something different.

As I tried to show in my last blog, it is possible to do that within the system. The old way of an existing school sponsoring an experiment,  meant it could happen without endangering students in existing schools. But even then extra resources were needed. And that would need strong justification in today’s tight budgeting.

The best way is to support an existing school to change to meet the needs of its students. Or for a group of schools to combine resources to promote some specialised curriculum or environment for the students. A simple example is how schools combine to staff an outdoor education centre to provide what would be too costly for one school to do alone.

With fewer resources and a narrower curriculum, dominated by National Standards, this provision for the whole range of students is even less likely to happen.

That is what is enraging teachers. They get condemned for not meeting needs and yet see money siphoned away from their schools to support charter schools.

Kia kaha, PPTA! You are working hard for the many, for a better way of providing for all the different needs of our students.



Thank you, Mister Robinson!

This week in New Zealand we have farewelled a servant of public broadcasting . Geoff Robinson presented the Morning Report news programme for forty years and today he stood down and headed into the new shores of retirement.

Many listeners have sent messages of thanks to Geoff for his service to the public, always being there during really hard times such as the Christchurch earthquake. He really was an anchor for the public. But it was far more than his long service that listeners appreciated. They loved his calmness and his ability to get answers without being belligerent.

For me, Geoff represented the face/voice of public broadcasting in New Zealand. He was there to serve the listening public. He was a public servant and served our country and its democracy with pride.

Thank you so much, Geoff. As politicians we used to pray outside the studio doors that we would get you, and not your partner…but I learnt that with your quiet manner you often got closer to the real argument or issue. You were not ever impressed with pretension. Nor did you treat us as royalty: we were and are human beings.

Public broadcasting is about keeping the community informed; about serving the community and meeting its diverse needs. It is not about making a profit for shareholders, or obeying the leader of the country, or pleasing certain sections of the audience at the expense of others.

For those of you reading this from England, I am tempted into that old cliche, that you may not realise how lucky you are with the BBC. While New Zealanders do still have a public broadcasting radio service, it does not have a public broadcasting television service. TVNZ is still owned by the government. It is , however a state-owned enterprise and is expected to return a profit. So it advertises around its programmes, and with that, the notion of service to the public takes back seat to winning an audience for specific advertisers and their products.

This sorry state of affairs began with the freezing of the television licence fee. And that immediately led to cuts and to looking at other ways to fund the service. The licence fee was finally abolished by the National Government in 1999.

So, to UK readers, does this sound familiar? the Tory backbenchers are always attacking BBC and urging that the Licence fee be abolished. And I think it has already been frozen which has seen the inevitable cuts to BBC programmes/stations.

Back in NZ,funding was allocated to a body, known as NZ On Air instead of directly to TVNZ. This body was to use the funds to ensure that  New Zealand programmes were made. And although that is so very important, as was the agreement to play 25% NZ music on all radio stations, it is not the only focus of what public broadcasting is.

The exception was Radio New Zealand which did receive money directly to provide not just for programmes but for the running of two nation-wide stations.

Apart from Radio New Zealand,  we the public of New Zealand are not served well by our publicly owned media. They do not provide objective analysis. The television is celebrity driven. There is no equivalent of Newsnight or the Channel 4 news.

So please do not ever be persuaded to look for funding for public broadcasting that is dependent on a government to provide or advertisers to pay for.

And to future Ministers of Broadcasting in NZ….I know that media has changed ( here am I writing a blog)…but maybe someone will get the urge to rebuild a real public service television channel…just one..and keep on funding Radio New Zealand.


Support for caution re. Leadership proposals

This morning as I was struggling on my get-fit regime, I was so heartened to hear the news that NZEI (a teacher union in NZ) was working with their members on the proposals announced by the Government on school leadership. They were not just rolling over with hands outstretched for the money.

I have some real doubts on the model proposed. Because there seems to be an implicit decision to have an executive principal working with up to ten other schools. That was me doing the sums in the original announcement.

So who are these executive principals?

Are the other schools to be worked with to have any choice in the matter? If I had been asked to work with a Principal whose education values I strongly opposed, I might well have resigned.

In the group do we all have the same issues?

I tried to do something similar in Northampton three years ago. It only took off when the heads chose who would be members of the group. When I, as a Council adviser, tried to put the schools together, two school heads walked and went to other schools. But the school initiated grouping has taken off. And they have managed to stay away from being academised or taken over. I understand that similar things are happening in Birmingham.

Teachers know who they can work with. They want to see constant improvement. They want to work together…but like all other places of work they do not want to be forced to collaborate: it is an oxymoron!

Note to readers: I am planning to do more responses that are shorter as well as my more detailed essays. In planning is a response to the paper by John Morris and Rose Patterson.

My nervousness about the direction of New Zealand education is increasing. The Morris/Patterson report introduces performance pay.

Then there is a report that ERO are using a school’s national standards score as an indicator of success.

And yesterday the news that charter schools are exempt from the obligation to have trained teachers.

All these strands build into a floodtide pushing NZ down the way of worst examples from USA and UK.

New Zealand does not need this. Yes  improvement is a must on the agenda of every teacher and school.

And dear readers, any hints as to layout or topics would be greatly appreciated. I seek improvement in using this new tool.