Does size matter?

Many studies have found that students who attend small schools outperform those in large schools on most measure of academic success. There are claims that they are also less likely to dropout and more likely to go on to tertiary. And research points to a greater feeling of connectedness in smaller schools.

The weekend paper tells me that there are 28 schools in New Zealand that have fewer than 10 students. Now that’s really small and I guess that the discussion that hinged on the government’s reported planned move to include consideration of schools of 4,500 students by the 2040s will not consider that group as being threatened by these suggestions.

There is bound to be some hysteria surrounding the proposal to build mega-schools and that will not  be very sensible. The issue is not the size of a school, but rather the quality of the school’s programmes, the levels of student success, the choices and options promoted by the programmes, the variety of sports, music, arts, languages, and so on. Of course, it is quite feasible for a small school to have a specialist programme in some of the above and indeed that is seen in other countries. But New Zealand has developed something of an obsession with being “good” at everything when it comes to assessing the quality of a school in terms of the standard general curriculum.

Let’s pause for a moment and consider some of these issues. Most New Zealand secondary schools do not have strong approaches in preparing students for life beyond schooling. This is compensated in some schools through collaboration with the 26 providers of trades academies programmes the Secondary / Tertiary Programmes to around over 7,000 students. This level of adding to the “size” of the options and choices for students does not require adding to the footprint of the school. This is a win-win for students who access a wider choice of pathways without adding to the “size” of the school.

Many other countries overseas have a greater degree of specialism in their operation and students have the opportunity to attend these specialist schools which cater for interests such as, all the technical areas, the arts and so on. If “small” means greater focus on specialist areas then let’s have some small schools. If “big” results in access to specialist equipment and facilities then a big school or two might fulfil gaps in the offerings.

But this would require educators to accept that the general school curriculum does not suit all students. It is a triumph of hope over experience that the view that standard programming will suit the young of New Zealand over the 13 years they attend our schools.

The statistics of retention, attendance, progression and success should be enough to trigger action to diversify the curriculum, the settings in which those diversified programmes are offered, and the spread of expertise and skill among those who teach. If the creation of “big schools” is designed to deal with a demographic issue, an opportunity would be lost. It would simply be the “intermediate intervention” all over again. 

But first some things would have to change.

First might be a serious investigation of the notion and worth of education sectors which seem to me to have outlived their usefulness. Apart from the difficulties of the transitions they create, readiness through academic preparation for moving on is in no way reflected other than in lock-step movement of groups of students who might or might not have met the requisite level to do so. Students should be able to proceed at a pace that engages them. Some students spend too long working slowly through material that should be completed faster. Others respond to a more measured pace. The great promise in the late 1980s  that time served would be dead evaporated early on – it is as alive as ever.

If the government is serious about creating big schools it should forget about 2043 or whatever its predicted year for introduction is and set about designing an education system that engages all students, rethinks the pathways through education and training, and starts to serve the nation by ensuring that students pursue a pathway that will see them in secure education that provides a family-sustaining income. This is urgent and New Zealand deserves no less.

Groans and Moans about the Zones

The system of “enrolment schemes” is rather more scheming than simply enrolments! More commonly known as “school zones” which serve as the golden key to the coveted entrance for out-of-zone students. They carry the power of Grand Arbiter to a Better School in the minds to parents and caregivers who dismiss the local school as “not up to scratch” (this does not require any evidence) and applications usually paint a picture of “you would be lucky to have XYZ here” which is much the same as what the school is thinking.

As a Justice of the Peace I assist the gathering of evidence required by schools that stops short only at a blood test. Breaking the school zone barrier is certainly not a high trust exercise as a fistful of certified papers and evidence is amassed to get the required result. About 20% of New Zealand’s school-aged citizens have gone and will go, through this process successfully.

There are consequences to all this. In Auckland it is marked most annoyingly by the increase in vehicles (often humping great SUVs, but sometimes a bus) from the fleet that carts students to the schools of choice (well their parents choice to be honest and quite a number in addition to the zone-hoppers are seriously pursuing a faith choice). All Auckland knows when the school holidays are on simply by the quieter roads between 8.15 am and 9.30 am.

A review has been suggested. But if this simply concerns the mechanics of the process and suggests a role for central authorities and perhaps more automated clerical procedures, an opportunity will have been lost to consider the extent to which school zones serve the students and the country to best advantage. Is it time we took a serious look at the Scandinavian education systems?

Now granted, New Zealand is not Scandanavia which has on the whole rather less demarcated social differences than New Zealand. But Pasi Sahlberg, known to New Zealand, has constantly argued that Finland does so well because of a single factor and that is equality. Each classroom will have a balance of students from across social backgrounds. This is a constant theme in research on effectiveness of school systems.

There are other lessons to be learnt from Finland: teachers are more central in the schools, teachers and teaching are highly valued, they are a bit more traditional than NZ teachers. But there are no national tests. But, and this might be the key, no child is left behind – students underperforming have access to resources and especially to increased teacher time.

Has New Zealand dropped the ball on the development of a society characterised by equity and access? Perhaps the haves and have-not social clusters become embedded and while governments talk about addressing rich and poor it is really only talk and not action. I suggest that we have given up, it is just too hard it seems.

So how will fiddling around with school zoning make differences that matter? New Zealand has for a long time had a bi-polar schooling system that at the top of school success is as good as anywhere in the world, but at other end and with different students, is as bad as it gets. Our education statistics stubbornly refuse to show improvement and numbers of students deserting the system continue to grow.

We need a serious consideration of equity in and access to quality schooling and to pathways for success in life as social beings and contributors which reflects the rich and diverse society that could be New Zealand but is too often hidden by ways of proceeding that have failed.

Tinkering with rather than thinking about NCEA

The NCEA Review tells us (again and again) that “we are making improvements.” But they cannot explain why a qualification that is working well for a wide range of students needs to be changed. Usually the students who will suffer are again the ones that were left behind by previous systems of assessment.

If NCEA needs seriously new forms of calibration and content then why does the growth of evidence seem to show that NCEA has features that commend it over the old tired methods of assessment. NCEA is a qualification that does not have, nor does it need, the complex and mysterious machinations that were unintelligible to parents and caregivers. The key stakeholders – parents, caregivers and students –  were shut out of understanding previous systems of awarding success and how success was rationed. Why do so many back-room educators strive to return to those days? If these people were to get out among the students they would learn that NCEA works largely because the students know what they need to do to succeed.

Recently released statistics for trades academies which are based entirely on NCEA, showed Manukau Institute of Technology, which has been offering trades academies for as long as they have existed, had success rates in 2019 for students gaining 80% of the credits they entered that were pleasing:  Pakeha 93.1%, Pacific 81.4% and Maori 78.2%. The Trades Academies at MIT are mature and well-tuned to maximising the advantages of NCEA.

Research shows that students in trade academies will say, slightly over-egging the situation, that NCEA is better because you always know what you are supposed to do, and you get credit when you successfully show that you can do it. On the other hand they characterise their schooling, in fairness not quite doing justice to the programme, that in school they seldom know what to do and why they are doing it, they do it because they are told to.

But there is more to this. Students through the applied learning use of NCEA develop early a sense of purpose and along the seamless pathway can get a line of sight to employment.

Why cannot the review deal with the real issues that resulted from the difficult birth that NCEA had?

  • There is no need to have multiple levels of pass in standards- based system. The mantra of Achieved, Merit, and Excellence drafting gates were a sop to conservative opinion of some members of the Principals Lead Group in the early 1990s. It greased the path to introducing a new award that replaced the old.
  • Why must students waste time and lose traction by only doing NCEA Level 1 in Year 11, NCEA Level 2 in Year 12, and NCEA Level 3 in Year 13? Students can easily work at their own pace and under-takework across sevealr levels simultaneously. There are isolated instances of this in some institutions.
  • Why must changes be made to Level 3 which are not based on the needs of most students who exit after Level 3? The University of Auckland will this year it is reported, not base entrance to university on NCEA to the extent that it has in the past. They might find that their own methods of assessing students’ academic preparation better and more appropriate!
  • What is the rationale behind considering a move to separate Literacy and Numeracy from the subject oriented credits? Literacy and Numeracy require real substance-based around real intellectual activity. Literacy and Numeracy are terms that describe fluency in clusters of cognitive activity that happen to be called language and mathematics. Experience tells us that students who are steeped in cognitive activity across a wide range of subjects have no difficulty in reaching NCEA literacy and numeracy targets.

Now, there are four issues that a review might grapple with and in doing so actually improve NCEA.

How NCEA changed a nation

I remember the torrential rain one morning at breakfast in the Cook Islands as we discussed a proposal that I thought would appeal to the Cook Island education officials. I suggested that Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) would develop a Certificate of Technical Skills based on the New Zealand Qualifications Framework which the Cook Islands as a realm country shared.

On the one hand it would be based at Levels 1-2 and on the other would build into a programme the key characteristics of the secondary / tertiaryprogrammes that were showing good promise with asset of key principles:

  • Giving students options to experience technical grades at an earlier age;
  • Accelerating students who had weaknesses in learning skills through the completion more quickly – a key factor in successful remediation;
  • Having a strong element of mandated engagement;
  • Developing a clear line of site to a vocational pathway;
  • Using trades as the pathway of increased engagement in schooling generally;
  • Ensuring that basic skills were cemented well and truly as a sound basis.

At this time, the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) were developing a proposal for Partnership Programmes –providers across a range of business activities showing interest in such a way of working. MIT knew that it had a good proposal based on taking the trades to the secondary schools of the Pacific and was subsequently successful in its application. Meanwhile, for such applications take some time to reach a conclusion – MIT had continued to work with the Pacific Nations.

Finally, an agreement was in place, between MIT and MFAT and MIT was in a position we were in a to take the proposal out to the Pacific with Tonga absolutely keen to start straight away rather than wait and so started a remarkable story of the power of applied education to engage the disengagers and the possibilities that flow from teaching trades in an island nation.

Tonga has been totally positive and over the past few years the programme has been introduced into 14 schools. Students are introduced to four trades over two years and are awarded with Level 1 and Level 2 Certificates in Vocational and Technical Students. Since the NZ and Tongan Qualification Frameworks are aligned, students are potentially able to come into a programme at a New Zealand provider. But that has not proved to be the strongest pathway. As a result of the CVTS, enrolments of school leavers at the Tonga Institute of Science and Technology have grown as large numbers of the successful graduates of the CVTS (350 students graduate each year) enrol at their local tertiary provider – enrolments have doubled year on year.

MIT had supported TIST with significant staff development, equipment and generally with the delivery of this most important programme, now in its ninth year with MFAT support. NCEA and programmes flexibly based on it have been the fundamental basis of this Pacific success story. Lives are changed as young people overcome the difficulty of studying in a harsh environment. It is not too large a claim to say that in this instance, NCEA has changed a nation swell certainly it has had an impact!

Well done Minister! You’ve done it again!

Those struggling to conclude the review of NCEA have been shown the way by Minister Hipkins who has an practical and student oriented understanding of the way NCEA works and the value that it brings in its current shape to many students.

For too long, New Zealand education and especially the senior secondary school, has been bedevilled by the anxiety felt by University administrators in having little confidence in the NCEA system to select the stream of students who were worthy to tread the path to academia. Well, that has been solved with Auckland University declaring that students can enter the 2021 academic year without a complete NCEA Level 3 set of results characterised by a number of the requisite Excellence awards.

We have always known that NCEA was not the kind of qualification that related well or even closely to the requirements of a university programme. The last 20 years have been largely wasted discussion being distracted by the insistence of the universities, supported by a small group of schools (they know who they are), that their needs must be met first and the rest of the school system could trail along.

It was hard for the universities to grasp standards-based approaches to assessment and the fact that at the beginning levels of learning, a body of knowledge could be presented as a set of standards that expressed a curriculum in ways that students could work to achieve those standards and in doing so develop an expertise at various levels.

In the 1990s I attended a number of meetings where there was a palpable tension around such matters. One famous meeting at which the Vice-Chancellors spread themselves across the front row so as to have maximum impact on Prime Minister and Minister of Education, Rt.Hon. David Lange. After hearing NCEA being described as “intellectual finger food’ and a range of other barbs the PM assured the Vice Chancellors that he wasn’t afraid of them – ‘you’re just a gang of bikies in suits” he bellowed. Neither side contributed very helpfully on that occasion! And one of the University team declared it to be the rudest meeting he had attended in his life!

Those who would wish to argue for complicated mechanisms for the conduct of the NCEA assessment system need to understand some simple truths. No-one will operate on a human being to correct a brain injury or even tackle open heart surgery solely on the basis of having attained NCEA (with Merit).

NCEA is what provides those first steps that will place students onto a pathway, it starts early (NZ leaves it a bit late in my view) and by taking a series of small but connected steps, the student discovers their potential to head towards a destination that is worthwhile. The accumulation of credits contributes to a package of knowledge that has credibility. Think about the driver’s licence as an example of standards based assessment. Many aspiring drivers present themselves for assessment of a wide range of skills which collective add up to being a proficient driver – the skills are in themselves of different importance and the decision to grant a license is made on the basis of an overall assessment of the driver/driving overall – not on the basis of one skill.

Sometimes a student realises that the direction they are taking is not one they wish to pursue. As a result, a horizontal shift is required across to a different direction. Level 1 and Level 2 serve a useful role in the development of a young person’s progress. That is why are usefully flexible and have a range of credits that can be transferred. Level 3 is where decisions become more serious and that is the point for electing to take a clear vocational pathway. It’s where students not headed to university should be on a clear vocational track.

The success Trades Academies and other secondary tertiary programmes show a clear appetite for STP students to transfer in L3 vocational programmes rather than the  general school programmes at Level 3.

The Minister in his decision to keep students moving forward through the system and trusting the judgement of the instructors and teacher through the award of additional credits. The balance of the overall programme is retained and common-sense greatly benefits the student. Well done Minister!

(Next week:  How NZ’s NCEA has changed a nation.)

Oops! An Unintended Reform

I have been sorting papers to accommodate the move from the luxury of an office to the cosy reality of the open-space work room. When clearing out, you stop from time to time to reacquaint yourself with this paper or that book! That is how I came across a paper that has influenced me for the past 15 years – a book review that dealt with reform versus evolution in education. In these CoVIT-Panacademic times there has been some positive promotion and commendation of online learning and the weight of support seems to be swinging a little more in its acceptance. About time I hear you say!

I was reminded by this of the 1997 book which was the subject of the review, Tinkering Towards Utopia (Tyack and Cuban, 1997),  a time when reform seemed to consistently fail much to the inevitable despair of educators. Would the much vaunted reforms ever see result? The reform movement was huge, truckloads of resources were being thrown into wholesale reform  that had little impact – “So much reform: So little change” was Charles Payne’s summary. And especially in the area of online learning the future was slow in coming.

The book reviewer commented on the tension between change and reform and the mechanisms schools practised to resist change and left me with a feeling that perhaps the battle was swinging away from the traditional classroom. In some areas it seems quite clear and online learning was one area. This was largely because “…….the school exerts less influence on what children do with home computers, and as the number of these reaches significant levels, we are beginning to observe changes in the relationship between teachers and students brought about not by a reform, but by the fact that the students have acquired a new kind of sophistication but about ways to learn and methods of research.”

Come forward to the current swirl and add to it the imperative of the pandemic lock-downs. To to use an appropriate (some might say inappropriate) figure of speech, it could be that the DNA of schools as institutions is strong enough to rebuff the challenge of an attack on conventional practice but retain an immunity to change. The pressure to work differently during these times is overpowering. Seemingly there are no vaccines against attacks on the status quo in education and places called schools were quick to reclaim their children back into the places called a school, being there at times when schooling was prescribed, and re-establishing rituals of delivery.  Parents and their children who had perhaps discovered a new and different connection with learning, saw the whole palaver of the less relevant institutional mores such as assemblies, homilies from form-teachers, the wearing of a common uniform, bell ringing, and all that jazz – return into their lives much to the despair of some and the delight of others.

But to get back to on-line learning in educational institutions – will the new normal, which will never be the old normal, allow it to emerge and grow stronger in its new level of penetration into schooling and to bring with it a different balance of power between students, parents and schools or will it succumb to a pressure to return to the well-established, trusted ways-of-working with their mixed bag of outcomes.

As the reviewer said: when a school sets out to change its approaches, in the end the school changes the reform [and goes on to say that] one may at first blush see a tautology in using this proposition to explain failures of reform. But to say that School changes the reform is very different from simply saying that School resists or rejects the reform. It resists the reform in a particular way – by appropriating or assimilating it to its own structures. By doing so, it defuses the reformers and sometimes manages to take in something of what they are proposing.” So, will bits of our lessons from the pandemic shine through or will it be “back to business as usual?” And I am frustrated by having lost the name of this reviewer!

It was the Heading that Caught my Eye!

“Low Level courses not helping young Maori” headed a single NZ Herald column report on the soft underbelly of secondary and post-secondary programmes. The research being discussed had found that “a disproportionate number of rangatahi leave school after completing NCEA Level 2 to go on to level 3 certificates at PTEs [private training institutions]” and concludes that “They would have been better staying at school for Year 13.” Well, would they have been?” Taking a wider lens to the issue has to start with the stubbornly robust statistics which tell us that:

  • 20% of young students have left school by the school leaving age of 16-years;
  • There is significant disengagement from age 14-years on;
  • Young people who complete Level 3 would be encouraged to consider that they were successful (and they are!) but there is a missing element that is a goal of schooling;
  • 76,000 school students are absent from school on any given day.

Starting with the obvious, schools cannot hope to reach those who are not at school. Why are they not at school? That is not a mystery – they have disengaged and end up in the ranks of the NEETs.

The issue that the research stresses is that the Level 3 qualifications simply do not constitute a pathway that leads to employment pathways that provide a sustaining income. Yes, the students appear to be on a successful pathway until they reach the decision point – employment. They are led astray by being tempted to go to programmes that are disconnected both to their past education and to those critical pathways that constitute careers. Level 3 does not constitute a take-off point for employment. And a pathway is not a pathway unless if engages at an early point hand gives a line of sight to the future.

But all is not lost, there is a different pathway that has opened up.

The Maori and Pasifika Trades Training Programmes have matured and now constitute settings in which Maori and Pasifika students are supported, have a clear focus on employment, access to free tools, and a setting which has the promise of continuing not only on to further qualifications after Level 3 but also to employment.

But the real development that is proving itself is the array of Trades Academy Programmes that have grown out of the pioneering Secondary/Tertiary Programmes, particularly the development which instituted the Tertiary High School for students who have disengaged or are likely to disengage – a very successful intervention that has been beneficial to over 1,000 students.

The key to the success of both the Trades Academies and the Tertiary High School is that they firmly embed students into a career pathway in the trades, they are unashamedly focussed on employment.  In 2019, Manukau Institute of Technology achieved creditable levels of success – 74.5% gained NCEA Level 2 and over 80% met the assessments for the credits offered.

The MIT Tertiary High School has a pathway that proceeds through NCEA Levels 1 and 2 (with students simultaneously working at both levels and at a speed they set targets for rather than the lock-step pace on the conventional school programme) and on to Level 3 and higher but rather than take NCEA route from level 3 they start on MIT qualifications that are employment focussed.

But they differ in their choices after that. Only a few (with higher “academic” aspirations) take NCEA Level 3 a large number opt for choices that are take-off points on a career pathway. Having experiences a range of trades earlier, they have a sound basis for choosing chosen pathways that they understand and for which they have an appetite. And from there they continue onward and upward through study at levels up to Level 7 – a surprising number have successfully reached Level 7. Levels 4-6 are by and large exit levels.

But….. Don’t forget that the trades lead to early and substantial earnings. A recent study showed that the institution which produced the highest earners five year after graduation was a vocational and technical tertiary education organisation. Who was that? Oh all right I will mention it, MIT topped the list!

Some might argue that this focus is a narrow and limiting approach. Well, that is simply wrong, the secondary tertiary programmes focus on basic skills, on understanding applied technical education. Of course this has focused on specific trades for the Trades Academies and Tertiary High School students will have experienced four different trades prior to making their choice of a career pathway. Because of the focus on trades students have a purpose for learning rather than the become lost in the murky fog of conventional “education for no obvious reason” in which many struggle with and from which so many simply give up.

The Chore that keeps on Giving

I shared some ideas about children learning to read in my last blog and promised to ask the question: When does learning to read finish?

The quick answer to this is that it doesn’t. Certainly young people usually grasp the process, the mechanics of reading that enables them to convert marks on the page to meaning. The faster they can do this the more pleasure will follow. If they slow their development down before “getting up to speed” they might be adults who don’t read for pleasure and who are operating at a level well below what they are capable of. And simply being asked to “bark at print” won’t work! All ages get meaning from print by bringing meaning to print.

So why does there seem to so little emphasis on continuing to learn to read and on raising the levels  of competence among adults other than, seemingly, in prisons! Tertiary institutions are on the whole a little remiss in not including substantial language components in most of their courses.

Reading is generally driven by both necessity and opportunity. Around the 1970’s, a pattern of courses and books that were based on the use of language in different occupations and polytechnics were attracted to such courses. “English for Secretaries” and “Language and Science” cashed in on the movement coming out of the United Kingdom under the title of “Language Across the Curriculum.”  This was a breakthough movement that gave language the importance it needs if learning is to proceed.

The fuel for language is vocabulary – the words you know and can use. Many studies have shown that the size of a person’s vocabulary will asign then to various lecels of reading competence. Some words look easy but have multiple meanings. But highly specialist word are easy to use, it is those faux amis that catch you out. Some words are simple (bark,nails, jam, pool, mine etc.), others are slightly more difficult (bolt, season, novel, draft, squash etc.) while others could be thought of as hard (buckle, current, harbour, hatch, racket) and so on. This is because they each have multiple meaning and are capable of being used in different ways. This can be a trap for learners at every level and is a difficulty that learners of a language that is a second language find initially something of a barrier.

In technical subjects, words can be deceptively easy but obscure in the meaning given to them (belt, family, gall, lisp, patch, and shear etc.) It is not possible to rote learn all these ambiguities and shared meanings, which brings me to my last point – you learn to read by reading! Nothing else will substitute for this.

You might think that mention should be made of “writing”. No need to, you learn to write by reading!

PS   Get a good dictionary (i.e. Oxford Concise English Dictionary) can’t be beaten, keep it no more that arms length away, and use it!

Reading Ability Falls the NZ Herald Tells US

A very enjoyable part of my journey as a teacher was a very wide and intensive engagement with language and especially reading. I was teaching at a school with a student population that was struggling with English language. It was required in a New Zealand school setting but was anew language for many of the students, certainly the formal brand required indoors. They had quite adequate vernacular outdoors. English was not a mother tongue for most of them.

Already I have mentioned two key principles without being specific – first, “reading” is a subset of “language” and secondly, success in reading relies heavily on success with language. The language-poor simply do not have the currency to cash in as a reader. So, what do we do about this as children come through school?

Above all, if students for whom English is a second language and for others who struggle, the only hope of real success in reading is to ensure that these wonderfully potentially gifted speakers of another language are not in a position of ever using these assets. In short, get cracking at teaching the first/mother languages of the students – those are the language systems their DNA holds captive until unleashed by good teaching and appropriate environments.

Next is the important principle that “students get meaning from print because they bring meaning to print”. If the materials they are using to learn how language works are alien to the things they hear, the interactions they indulge in, and the nuances and tones do not carry the music of their tunes rather than the sounds and accents of foreign voices, they struggle.

The miracle of watching little ones learn to read is the relatively small period when “the penny drops” – they understand what it is to read. They have skills now at determining how words sound in ways that mean things and as this facility becomes more secure, they get faster and that is the key. They have the appetite to learn to read. Many children do not get the meaning of the material they are using because it is a languorously plodding and slow and boring chore.

Of course, schools then placed barriers in the way. In my childhood they were reading books like the Janet and John series (based on the American Alice and Jerry readers), and then later stories about Daddy flying to Wellington on the Viscount! They were greeted with a vacant stare.

Reading is about connecting words discover worlds that are able to be related to world inhabited by people like the reader.  Adults not being seen to read are not serving young ones well. And learning language skills appropriate to levels higher than the relatively beginning levels I have skipped over in this blog will be the subject of the next blog.

The Power of Purpose

When Trades Academies were established in 2011, the target group of students were not those headed to university or tertiary programmes which are both appropriate and attainable. If a student has the skills and aptitude for the heavily academic setting of a university programme and can be assured of making the cut, they should do just that. They have a pathway.

But there is a significantly large group of students who run the risk of being left behind because pathways have not opened up. There is therefore a significant group who are starting at about Year 9 to show weaknesses in the academic journey and to start the process of disengagement. This exhibits itself in haphazard attendance patterns, and when they are at school there are signs of a niggly relationship between them and their teachers accompanied by wilful gaps in their work. They are the ones that will be left behind as teachers maintain a momentum for those who cooperate with their effort and who do the mahi!

These Year 9 and 10 disengagers are on the way to being incipient dropouts. The statistics on this are a woeful indication of the simple truth that a diet of conventional schooling does not suit all learners. The disengagers that are well down the track to full disengagement have few choices. They can end up being destined for the NEETs group which is a difficult situation to get into and a worse one to get out of. The conventional solution is to get them back into school. But school is where they dropped out of and which subsequently holds little attraction for them. A very small numberhave been able to access the Tertiary High School model in the 10 years it has been operating with success in terms of pathway outcomes for a high proportion of them.

But all is not lost. It is becoming apparent that the Trades Academies, a programme in which school students undertake either one full school day (Level 2) or two school days (Level 3) in a tertiary programme delivered by an Institute of technology / polytechnic institution at the tertiary institution. The evidence suggests that the programmes are encouraging secondary students to develop a frame of mind where pathway in the technical and vocational areas, especially the trades careers. It is a bonus that these programmes also encourage students to maintain better attendance patterns and more willing interest in the rest of their school programme resulting in.

Remember that the Trades Academy students are unlikely to pursue heavily academic pathways. The performance of the Trades Academy students in 2019 continuing improvement in gaining the relevant NCEA credits. Manukau Institute of Technology, a large provider of Trades academies recorded an 83.9% of students successfully completing Level 2 and this was even across student groups – Maori 78.2%, Pacific 81.4% and Pakeha 93.1%.

There is an explanation for this. These students have in those proportions found purpose in learning. Research shows that the applied nature of learning when hand help heads and vice versa is a powerful attraction for adolescent learners. Pathways to employment are a real possibility when learners discover the meaning of learning and accept their role and responsibility responding positive in the more mandated engagement environment of trades academies. A key element in this is played by the NCEA qualification which in the trades academies is playing the role intended – it must not be tampered with, but more of that later!

(Dr Stuart Middleton is Specialist Advisor to the Chief Executive, Manukau Institute of Technology)