Give me a SCHOOL! Give me a COOL! Give me a COL!

We live in interesting times. Take a SCHOOL, remove the s..h and you have a COOL. Take a COOL, remove the O and you have a Col.

The recent introduction into our schooling system of both COOLs and COLs is an interesting development. The first is about a different educational entity in the system which will challenge the conventional school while the second is about relationships between schools that will lead to greater effectiveness achieved through grouping schools in a region or, in some areas, through bringing together a faith-based group or a group of high decile schools which is also a faith-based group in a kind of way.

These developments point to two things – that the Government wishes to loosen the grip conventional schools have on schooling by creating COOLs – schools of choice for students who wish to pursue their schooling in ways that allow them to use their time differently. They can access school learning on-line at times that suit them rather than those of the regimented school bell system in the School Office. This will suit those whose talents are such that they wish to pursue a future in music, sports, and other areas of endeavour which are best pursued in daylight.

If you look at developments since 2009 there is a theme that emerges and that is a realization that the one-way approach that New Zealand had fallen into over the previous thirty years was being challenged. Staying in a conventional comprehensive high school for five years was not the best choice for all and it was becoming clearer that it had contributed to significant disengagement and static achievement outcomes.

Soon after the MIT Tertiary High School broke the mould and achieved the necessary changes to the Education Act, trades academies came along. Again, that theme – students got the message that some of your time in school could with profit be used elsewhere. Later, Youth Guarantee places in ITPs were offered and challenged the monopoly that the school system had in the area of free education. It had long been wrong that students could stay in school and pass or fail without question but a student who wished to leave school at the legal school leaving age had to start paying for that education. NZ was the only country in the OECD that had this quirky anomaly.

Around this time, a book was published in Canada called “The Comprehensive School is Dead!”. This was a slightly optimistic assertion but the prevailing wind was suggesting that an education system characterized by choice, flexibility and multiple pathways was more like to be a system that would meet their needs of a wider group of students. It has taken a long time to get out of the comprehensive rut but pleasing signs are developing that working differently produces different results. You don’t have to be Einstein to know this a – although it was Einstein who warned us – if we do the same we will get the same.

It will be interesting to see what develops but the COLs are seemingly well under way and, despite the rhetoric of the past 40 years which saw schools compete with each other one way or another, it is encouraging that schools are discovering that there are some clear advantages in cooperating.

Collaboration is tastier of course when sweetened with a little dash of cash! But more importantly it is encouraging relationships across the Berlin Walls that are called sectors (and both in Berlin, during the cold war, and in Education). There are two COLs that I am aware of that include primary, secondary, and tertiary providers.

I am told that approximately 17,200 secondary school students are doing some and, in at least one institution, all of their secondary schooling in a place other than a school. It is a little early to be welcoming the dawning of a new era but we should recognize that the signs are positive.

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