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Moe mai e te Rangatira Martin: Grieving the loss of highly respected education and policy leader

12 January 2024

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Professor Martin Thrupp receiving an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Turku, Finland in 2022.

Renowned New Zealand education leadership and policy leader, Professor Martin Thrupp, has passed away at the age of 59.

A distinguished career spanning over 25 years at the University of Waikato, Martin was a pivotal leader in Te Kura Toi Tangata School of Education.

He was diagnosed with cancer in January 2022 and passed away last week in hospice care. A private funeral was held earlier this week with family and friends and a memorial service will also be held at the Te Whare Tāpere Iti, Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts on 1 February, 4-6pm. Please register below.

Described by his colleagues as a kind and generous supporter of students and colleagues, Martin was a mentor to his students and emerging academics, empowering those around him with constant wisdom, guidance, and support.

He was also an inspiration and well-respected colleague and friend to many in the academic world, demonstrating the strength and courage to challenge policies that may result in any form of inequality.

Head of Education, Professor Sally Peters says since the beginning of Martin’s career, he focused on research that makes a difference and has provided informed comment on educational reforms, policy and practice in New Zealand and internationally.

Martin had a keen interest in developing more socially and politically contextualised approaches to education leadership, the influence of social class on school processes and the nature and impact of school reforms in New Zealand and England.

“His insights, knowledge, experience, opinions and gentle good humour will be greatly missed,” says Professor Peters.

The early days

Martin’s teaching career as a secondary school teacher began in Levin and Porirua before he joined the University in 1995 as a Lecturer and then Senior Lecturer in Education Studies in the School of Education.

Emeritus Professor Noeline Alcorn, who appointed him as a Lecturer and continued to work with him up until her own retirement, describes Martin as a gifted academic with a strong sense of social justice.

“His high-level policy analysis was grounded in empirical research and genuine engagement with schools and teachers,” Noeline says.

“He was a constructive and generous colleague whose wit, initiative and contributions to public debate on issues of inequality in education will be sorely missed.”

Martin moved to the United Kingdom in the early 2000s, working as a Reader in Education Policy at King’s College London and Senior Lecturer in Education Management and Leadership at the University College London.

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A memorial service will be held for Martin at the Te Whare Tāpere Iti, Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts on 1 February, 4-6pm.

Waikato legacy

He returned to the University of Waikato in 2006 and held Professorial roles in the Wilf Malcolm Institute of Educational Research and then in Faculty of Education where he chaired the Policy, Cultural & Social Studies Department, and later was Head of School for Te Whiringa School of Educational Leadership and Policy.

Waikato PhD student and Teaching Fellow, Jade Wrathall followed Martin’s legacy for years, admitting she was excited to meet him in 2019.

Martin became Jade’s supervisor and supported her through publishing, marking and teaching, and both tutorial and lecture presentations.

“He always advocated for me and is most likely one of the reasons why I am working as a Teaching Fellow at the University,” says Jade.

“While Martin was many things to many people, he will always be a taonga, a special treasure that was taken far too soon. Kua hinga te tōtara o Te Waonui a Tāne; moe mai rā, e te rangatira.”

Beyond academia

Martin’s influence extended beyond academia, Martin gained recognition among New Zealand school principals as the author of ‘The Search for Better Educational Standards – A Cautionary Tale’, a critique of the National Standards policy.

Associate Dean of Research for the School of Education, Professor Bronwen Cowie says Martin also co-authored works on Finnish education, including 'Finland’s Famous Education System - Unvarnished Insights into Finnish Schooling' and ‘The Professional Practice of Teaching in New Zealand’, with colleagues from around New Zealand.

He also edited collections about New Zealand education policy, published in 1999, 2010 and 2017.

"Researchers at the University of Waikato and nationally have benefited from his mentoring and encouragement,” she says.

Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Alister Jones says Martin was an excellent teacher and researcher but also was a person who connected with the profession and communicated his research outcomes to policymakers and practitioners to make an impact with school leaders and teachers.

“He was a regular commentator on key issues affecting education policy nationally and internationally.”

Projects and accolades

Martin led national and international research projects, including his significant role as co-director in a five-nation EU-funded project. His latest research won the RAINS (Research, Analysis and Insight into National Standards) project contract, to study the impact of National Standards in six primary schools.

In 2016, Martin was awarded the McKenzie Award from the New Zealand Association of Research Excellence and in 2022, Martin was presented an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Turku, Finland.

He was lauded by the New Zealand Tertiary Education Union for promoting academic freedom and was a columnist for the principal magazine of the New Zealand Principal’s Federation.

Martin was a person of great wit, integrity and humility. He has left an important legacy to education in this country, and he will be greatly missed by everyone in Te Kura Toi Tangata and across the University.

Please register for Martin's memorial here.


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