Letters to the Editor

The wealth of experience Every year, NZEI Te Riu Roa sees a number of its members retire from the  educaton service. They take with them a wealth of knowledge, experience…

The wealth of experience

Every year, NZEI Te Riu Roa sees a number of its members retire from the  educaton service. They take with them a wealth of knowledge, experience and a continuing interest in the New Zealand education system. In retirement they gain time to reflect, take action and to meet with the general public in a wide range of groups. Most members of these wider groups are not ex educators but are parents, grandparents and even great grandparents who have an interest in the changes in education and the effect this has on their families.

Five years ago REGAL, with the support of the Auckland Area Council and the Auckland Regional Office, was started in Auckland in order to maintain retirees’ interest and knowledge and to encourage its members to advocate for  high quality public education when and where ever they were able.

Following a meeting held each term with usually a guest speaker, action has included letters and articles to the media, speaking at various community groups they attend, contributions to submissions, visits to MPs and much discussion.

We would encourage all Area Councils to utilise this human resource and for all retired members to continue their involvement in this positive and rewarding initiative.

Margaret Ready (on behalf of Retired Educators Group Auckland Link, REGAL)


Wi-fi health risks

A tidal wave of wireless technology is sweeping into classrooms throughout New Zealand and there is a general assumption that it is completely safe.

I would like teachers and parents to be aware of the current international debate about possible adverse health effects caused by microwave radiation from wireless devices and routers.  Many peer-reviewed, scientific studies published in reputable journals have reported adverse biological effects including impairment of cellular repair mechanisms, clumping of blood cells, and sperm cell damage – among many others.

Many teachers and children are subject to 6 hours a day of exposure to radiation emitted by routers in their classrooms, as well as the microwaves from dozens of wireless devices.

According to our own Ministry of Health, it’s all hunky-dory.  As long as the radiation level is not high enough to harm your tissue by heating, you will be fine. However, an ever-increasing body of international research strongly suggests that biological damage can occur at much lower levels. Yet the Safety Standards in New Zealand are based upon thermal (heating) effects and are not protective against the possibility of biological effects occurring at cellular level.

Countries such as France, Austria, Italy, Hungary and Israel have Safety Standards hundreds or thousands times lower than New Zealand’s.  I strongly encourage teachers and parents to review the independent (not industry-funded) research on this topic.

Michael Vaughan Registered Psychologist

Watch the ABCTV documentary Wi-Fried? On YouTube

Support for reading together

Amongst the many first rate articles you publish in Education Aotearoa I was particularly impressed with the one you penned on the Uncertain Future of the Reading Together Programme.

I was working closely with Jeanne Biddulph in Christchurch when she undertook her thesis on the Reading Together Project, and was impressed with its impact in that study.

The notion of helping parents to help their own children with a series of workshops was a delightfully new approach to a long-standing problem, but many were sceptical about whether parents would come, whether they would stay the course and whether they would have the patience to implement the suggestions made.

Thankfully the critics were proved unduly pessimistic, and the continuing success of the programme, during the period when the Biddulphs were funding it themselves and after Pita Sharples saw its potential, and gave it the thumbs up for Government funding, was a well-justified reward for Jeanne’s insight and admirable efforts.

Your tracing of the history of the programme  in your article was well done and many people do share your concern about its future when the enthusiasm and care that John Good brought to the programme ceased.

If there is one strategy that could be described as “Best Practice” for the NZEI’s negotiations with Government over the future of IES this is one best practice that has been frequently evaluated in a wide variety of contexts and found very effective in helping struggling readers to catch up. John’s numerous reports, and teachers’ positive comments amply justify the work and funding that has been put into the  programme. They seem to point a way to the Minister of one dependable way of reducing the size of the achievement gaps.

This morning’s Herald has an editorial which has some sensible things to say about homework in primary schools – make it brief and interesting and ensure that parents can help without “doing the project for them”. Reading Together is a fine example that fits such recommendations very well.  Keep up the good work Jane. There are many teachers out there who surely agree with what you wrote.

Warwick Elley

Emeritus Professor of Education, Auckland

Grave doubts

Enjoyed reading your article on Reading Together.  I have been following the progress of the implementation of the strategy ever since supervising Jeanne’s masters dissertation.

Initially I was somewhat sceptical of the impact of the programme, but after seeing the outcomes of Jeanne’s initial evaluation, which was a very robust design, and talking with teachers involved over the years I concluded that it has numerous positive outcomes.  The two most important being the improvement in children’s reading comprehension and enjoyment from reading, and the structured way it involves the parents in a productive relationship with teachers.

These conclusions were further reinforced by an evaluation of the introduction of RT at Liz Horgan’s school, that I undertook for the MoE.  Again, positive shifts in children’s reading and parents and teachers cooperating in a productive fashion.  The programme empowered parents and teachers.

I have grave doubts about the notion of self sustaining as promulgated by the MoE in your article.  I well remember the commitment and leadership of Marie Clay in Reading Recovery.  Without that commitment and the development of leadership in others RR would have folded quickly.

Bryan Tuck, Auckland


I would just like to take this opportunity to say that I very much enjoyed your article on the Uncertain Future of the Reading Together Programme which was recently published in EA.

As with you, I am very concerned at the future of this highly effective programme, now that no national coordination is being provided by the Ministry. John Good’s departure is a great, great shame and in my opinion, a very short sighted move by the Ministry.

Just last year, I was lucky enough to meet John and the Biddulph family as part of a principal sabbatical that I was part of titled How Can Schools Better Support Effective Parenting in their Communities?  Reading Together featured very heavily in my research. Our school has used Reading Together for about 4 years now and we are also part of the Early Reading Together project too through our involvement with the Parenting Hub, which was set up on school grounds to supporting parenting in our community.

My research clearly shows that parents have as immense impact on the educational outcomes of their children. Some NZ research I looked at, suggested that this impact could be as high as 65% of student outcomes attributed directly to parenting. One English author I looked at suggested out of school factors could account for almost 80% of how well a child does at school.

To be part of this programme has been such an honour. It is a brilliant programme and parents find it very, very helpful. At our school, our Reading National Standards are the highest of the three core subjects and I am convinced that our participation in Reading Together has a large part to play in this.

It seems to me that after 10 years of being a Principal, the biggest problem facing our education system is not what school are or aren’t doing, but really what parents are or aren’t doing. The number of ill prepared children entering our schools is just astounding. I see now that the education of parents is just as important, if not more important than the education of their children.

To this end, Reading Together and Early Reading Together are two outstanding tools in our toolbox to do this.  If there is anyway that I could support your work in lobbying the MOE to reinstate a coordination role for these projects and to widen the delivery of the Early Reading Together project, please do not hesitate to contact me.  I feel very deeply about this project. It works, how much more evidence does one need?

Adam Rivett, principal, Waimate

Eat to learn

While teaching for International Schools Group of Saudi Arabia, an eight-year-old student was added to my class of five-year-olds. Jeremy had spent the previous three years in the corridor or receiving counselling in the principal’s office. He couldn’t read and after one momentous day, I approached his mother Faith in the office with the books ‘Fed Up’and ‘Failsafe’ – both written by Australian psychologist Sue Dengate.

I told Faith, who had adopted this boy after both his parents had died of heroin overdoses, that I had some ideas that could help.  The next day, Faith walked in looking very tired. She finished the books at 3 am and Jeremy was off all fruit juice from that day (too much salicylate). By this time I had phoned Dr. Jerry Chunn of the Allergy Clinic Parnell in Auckland, New Zealand, and asked him if half tsp baking soda in a glass of water could be given to keep Jeremy calm so that he could learn. Dr. Chunn told me that 5 doses a day would not cause any problems.

With the help of the British school nurse, Jeremy had half tsp baking soda in a glass of water before school, at 9:20am,at 11:20 am, at 1:20pm and after school. While Jeremy and his family were working out what foods caused him behaviour problems the ‘drinks kept him calm for about 2 hours’. The other children would quietly suggest that Jeremy needed his drink and he would leave the classroom and take himself down to Sick Bay.

By the end of week one, Jeremy was able to concentrate for most of the day. Over the weeks that followed the family realized that Jeremy’s problems were junk food.

Back in New Zealand, I gave Dr. Debbie Fewtrell a photo of Jeremy and she thought that  problems with dairy were involved.  Jeremy’s paediatrician back in Texas was absolutely  amazed at the changes in Jeremy but decided that he also needed a little antihistamine every day. After Christmas that year, Jeremy walked into the classroom and announced that he didn’t need his drinks any more. And he didn’t until one Saturday morning (first day of the school week in Saudi Arabia) he came in and had to spend the rest of the week on his old drinks. There were no further incidents after this but on a trip to an Arab feast, the principal helped me rush in and remove a bottle of coke just in time. Junk food is addictive. By the end of that school year, Jeremy had a reading age that matched his chronological age.  By this time the School Nurse was getting requests from international schools  all over Saudi Arabia. All ex-pats knew about Jeremy. The school ordered hundreds of copies of the International Reading Association’s ‘Good Nutrition Leads to Better Learning’. I was sent to NESA conferences in Istanbul and Bangkok to give presentations.

The Brain Food team of Kerikeri have a new website, Brain Food | A Guide To Food For Better Learning. With the help of Dr. Patricia Holborow and Dr. Jenny Scott, I have written a parent nutrition brochure available to all schools for a postage of $10. I have helped many pupils in New Zealand and around the world with a diet/behaviour approach and now urge schools to try a 5-day/forever additive free trial.

My stories about other children can be even more eventful than this one, but all of them are success stories.

Julienne S. Law, Kerikeri 0230, 0064 9 4077146