I"m not sure how many other kiwis there are on the board, but this is my impressoins of NZ education - I am a third year secondary english teacher.
Within our schools there is social promotion that happens. There are no set testing until the students are 15yo or Year 11. They get moved up with the rest of the cohort. What I discover as a teacher is that my year 9 and 10 students - some of them have reading ages of a 5/6yo, yet they are mainstremed into classes aimed at 13yo's. It is very scary how easily they slip through the cracks.
However, there are many programmes in place to help with it, it just depends on the school itself how well these are implemented. We rank schools on a socio-economic scale (SES) based on the local area and the type of people in that area. For a well to do are, likely the local schools are decile 8 - 10 (highest is 10). For a low SES the local schools are likely to be decile 3 and below. I have taught at a decile 1A school (ie decile 0, but we can't call it that because of the PC brigade) and their programmes and teachers are so dedicated to student achievement. It is wonderful.
We have a system here called NCEA (National Certificate in Educational Achievement - or something like that anyways) which starts when students reach year 11. We have internal and external examinations as a part of that. We grade the papers and award them one of three marks. Achieved, Merit or Excellence. Each "paper" is worth a set amonut of credits, and the amount of credits you recieve for passing with Achieved or Excellence is the same. So where is the student motivation to work harder? NZ loves to push mediocrity.
The descriptors for the differences between the levels is really fluffy. What I've learnt is that we all have this internal thing within us, as teachers, which we use to figure out the A, M, E scores. So, in terms of "lying about student test scores on state exams" it does happen.
Our national newspaper "The NZ Herald" takes great pleasure in publishing the "scandalous" results for NCEA based on school. These are just normal papers that come around the schools showing where they are in terms of other local schools... but the Herald just likes to create sensation. A few years ago when NCEA was being implemented the people at Fraser High School in Hamilton were giving out credits for stupid things like picking up rubbish, because they found a standard about caring for your environment. So the way we implement the standards is pretty free - but in saying so, most schools want to work well and will use the exemplar standards on tki. ([url="http://www.tki.govt.nz"]www.tki.govt.nz[/url])
For the most part - I like teaching in NZ. It is a great lifestyle. I teach in Pukekohe, middle of the market garden area. Cheap vegis. Great friends. Some of the kids at school are a pita, but for the most part this year I seem to be handling them better (I had an evil HOD for the last two years who made my life a living hell) And the best thing about my school is the low expectations. As a teacher they seem to expect me to do badly. So I push my kids and they do well and everyone seems happy with that.
I'd say of all of NZ it is pretty relaxed. My friend Sam came over from the UK and he was saying how shocked he was that the PE department turned up in shorts and jandals (thongs/flip flops) to teach in and how he could get away with no tie and jeans and a t-shirt.
In NZ the "rule of thumb" is that you are never more than 30 mins away from a great beach or thick native bush. For me, my "shitty week" treat is to go out to Kariotahi and grab some fish and chips and eat it on the beach while watching the locals play with their quads in the sand. Its just such an awesome relaxed lifestyle.
My big thing with student achievement was adjusting my internal "push" radar. As a high school student, I went to one of the best high schools, lived in a pretty good area, had parents who pushed me, friends who pushed me - we argued constantly amongst ourselves to see where in the top three we would be - heaps of internal drive to achieve. I didn't know this wasn't normal. So over the last six months I adjusted my radar. One of my psychs said "mediocre in this class is actually excellent" and that has been my "motto" ever since. Because of that I am working better. It may be that you guys figured that out long ago... but I seriously went into school expecting every student to be there pushing themselves to the limit how I did. I guess its a new teacher thing.
If you want to find out more, or look at the standards and exemplars, check out:
[url="http://www.nzqa.govt.nz"]www.nzqa.govt.nz[/url] (New Zealand Qualifications Authority)
[url="http://www.tki.govt.nz"]www.tki.govt.nz[/url] (Te Kete Ipurangi (The basket of knowledge))
And for jobs, every job in NZ has to be gazetted. If it says "regarded" it means it is already taken. If one takes your fancy - just send in your CV and see what happens, it beats going through an agency.
Good luck. Hope the above was helpful. Feel free to contact me if you want to know anything more. I have to admit I'm a pretty strong advocate for NZ. I love it here. So there is possibly a little bias about the country above :P