Looking over the Shoulder for Those Being Left Behind

It isn’t perhaps generally understood that the development in the late-2000s of Secondary Tertiary programmes – the Tertiary High School Model, Trades Academies, Youth Guarantee places and so on – were essentially developed in response to the growth of disengagement in the secondary schools. On the one hand the fall-out / rate was running collectively at about 15% – 20% for a students under the school leaving age of 16-years. The growth of NEETs numbers seemed to be resistant to any intervention and continued to grow inexorably.

I wonder if it is known that there are about 6,000 young benefit-dependent people in South Auckland at a lifetime costs of $239K per person and the cumulative cost of unemployment is $1.4 billion. 50% of Māori and Pasifika school leavers choose not to pursue a formal tertiary qualification.

I spent a lot of time in the USA on a Fulbright award working with a team of scholars on the issue of equity, access and success in further and higher education. I concluded that the issue was shared both between further and higher education (in terms of completion rates) and the secondary schools.

Along the way I started to understand the process of “disengagement”, a more accurate description of a process than the Americans’ use of the inaccurate term “drop-out”. Disengagement was a process over time and not an event in time. In short, it ought to be possible to construct an intervention that provided for those in danger of being left behind to have a pathway to success.

The proposal I placed before the Ministry of Education was for a secondary tertiary high school. It would specially target Year 10 students who were either on the point of or even through the process of disengagement. The principles were clear: students would be not taken out school they would be in school but not at school; the transitions into tertiary, NCEA, and higher TVET qualifications were to be seamless, there would be early exposure to TVET post-secondary qualifications; and a clear focus on employment as an outcome.

The NZ Education Act made significant changes to the law which enabled this to be developed and started in 2010.

Currently there is a timeliness of reminding ourselves and others of the role for secondary programmes in supporting students in danger in disengagement and who find a prolonged absence from school almost impossible to overcome. If the seeds of disengagement were sprouting or even about to prior to Covit, the Covit-19 Lockdowns will in many cases have an unintended consequence of directing onto a pathway that does not include a return to school – disengaging students seldom recover an appetite for conventional secondary schooling – this is in part an explanation of the failure of well-intentioned attempts to re-direct students ssuch as truants, back into the very same education structures and approaches that they have rejected. Pathway that are a U-turn back into school is for a disengaging students no pathway at all.

The secondary-tertiary approaches – tertiary high school, trades academies, Youth Guarantee – are proven successes and offer hope to those being left behind.

These opportunities must be offered to what is a significant group of students to see them safely through this trying time and facing a solid future.

The Perverse Divide

I don’t think I hold a grudge, it happened a long time ago. It was 1958 and my brother and I were due to go to high school from intermediate school and had been enrolled at Hamilton Technical College – the sort of high school that ITPs replaced. My mother had been there in 1928, our brothers had been students in the 1950s. There was no reason why our going to “Tech” was not the obvious pathway.

That was until the Intermediate School Principal intervened and asked to meet with our mother. We were perplexed. But the meeting took place and she was told that “the boys shouldn’t be going to Tech.” When asked why he replied “Because they are academic.?”

We had no idea what that meant and the Principal was asked “Well what school should they be going to?” He answered “Hamilton Boys High School.” “They are not going there, they are too little!” was the reply.

So we went to a new secondary school which had all the courses and discovered that being academic meant that you got to do feast of French and Latin. Our results were poor largely because we were out of our depth, had few academic skills and were quite new to the idea that one “studied”. But we survived by the skin of our teeth.

The classic mistake had been made. The teacher knew best. Trade courses were not for us  for we were “better” than that.

The perverse divide still continues. Academics being directed one way and the rest take the other way remains an almost automatic response. I am thinking about these things largely because we have been having a new kitchen installed leading to a stream of qualified trades people through the place. They each have exhibited high level skills, followed complex plans and navigated current routes for water pipes and electrical cords. These Hi-Vis-clad experts each had wonderful person skills, a sense of humour and a capability that was obvious  and, of course, rewarded well.

Charge out rates for these experts were very high indeed. No wonder that a New Zealand survey a little while ago showed that five years after graduation the top earners were graduates of MIT above all other tertiary institutions including universities. I did not begrudge the tradies one little bit when I considered the assets that they dealt with. All of this added up to my seeing them as applied activity academics. That survey result  would have been comprised of qualified academic trade graduates along with other academics who brought skills in business, digital technology, nursing, and probably with a smattering of chefs, professional engineers and others.

It is a good thing that so many will benefit from the Government’s policy of fees free to learn a trade. The timing is right, the targeted nature of the policy is right and many people will go on to work well and to earn well.

All of this no surprise. When it comes to learning, if the hands are involved the head really gets going. And it works not only for the younger ones in the trades academies but also for the graduate level student. It is sad that too many learners fail for no reason other than that half the skills they have are unable to be utilised as they are march across what is for them a barren academic landscape. The track that we took through school did us no harm thankfully. And I confess that the study of Latin was not wasted : In rivo imperfectum manet dum confectum erit as I often say.

Did you hear the one about…

Did you hear the one about the lighthouse keeper, the NZ Diplomat abroad, and the remote sheep station owner?

No, this is not the opening to a music hall joke some time in the last century or indeed any time right through to today. This unlikely trio would have been seeing their children receive a sound education for one of New Zealand’s education’s educational jewels – the New Zealand Correspondence School still working 90 years later to provide educational services for learners without a school nearby.

Of course, for much of its history the children were characterised by living in a remote setting – at a distance that defeated any easy reach of a school and a teacher. But over the decades the Correspondence School was required to fill gaps developed by changes in the widening of gaps and the  bnreadth of the student cohort  which was required to go to school or, and this was a major area of growth, those who in this atmosphere of universal education were not able to go the school.

The tyranny of physical distance was over time supplemented by the various “distances” between young people and the schooling system that left behind increasing numbers of young people. Those groups included for example those who were excluded / stood down from school, those with conditions which made conventional school settings difficult in a number of ways, those who had talents that placed them at elite levels where flexibility in use of time was critical (typically these are young people with extraordinary skills in music, theatre, sport etc). In addition to these groups the school was required to fill in the gaps caused by shortages of teachers both generally and in specialist subjects.

Physical distance is still a category of enrolment of students but it now lines up with over 20 further categories that entitle students to enrol in Te Aho o te Kura Pounamu (the name of The NZ Correspondence School these days). And delivery, once centralised in Wellington is now delivered from all parts of the country by a regional system of teacher groups and an innovative mix of face-to-face and on-line delivery. It still has a paper-based capability but this is minor compared to its on-line activity and the nation-wide system of “advisories” which gives students access to teachers who are based through out the regions. Te Kura is inarguably New Zealand largest school in outreach and numbers of students. Another key element marks it as a (the?) leading school in its innovative online presence.

This school would be the only place in New Zealand that can deliver the total school curriculum – early childhood education, primary schooling and secondary education – online covering Years 1 -13 curricula with stunning resources and with full assessment capability and proctoring.

Just as well this is so for when Covid-19 arrived the Ministry of Education was able to take the entire output of the Te Kura on-line developments and put them to use in generating an on-line capability for schools.

Nearly 100 years of working in an innovative way saw Te Kura emerge not only to support those left behind but to also take a part in helping New Zealand’s schools move ahead.

Stuart Middleton declares his interest in Te Kura as a member of the board for 7 years which has enabled him to develop an understanding of and delight in the progressive work the school undertakes especially as a provider of supported online programmes for all New Zealand students. It has been a grandstand seat for witnessing wonderful transformational developments.

Swapping Bad Habits for Good

There is little doubt that much of what we do is habitual – a string of habits whose origins have been lost in a murky and distant past and for which justifications have a hollow ring to them. If there is good to be had in the current Covid-19 crisis it might be in the consideration of  some of those habitual elements in our lives.

Winston Churchill is credited with saying “You never let a serious crisis go to waste!”  And Charles Duhigg in a most engaging book entitled The Power of Habit (1) has this to say:

During turmoil, organisational habits become malleable enough to both assign responsibility and create a more equitable balance of power. Crises are so valuable, in fact, it’s worth stirring up a sense of looming catastrophe rather than letting it die down sometimes.”

I hasten to add that he makes this comment largely in relation to a serious medical crisis. But our habits generally are ones confined to a much more constrained physical setting and with outcomes that can be serious enough but usually not on the scale of a pandemic. Nevertheless, there are learnings (as we say these days rather than lessons) to be had from Convid-19. Charles Duhigg states in referring to a comparable medical crisis in Rhode Island that once the crisis gripped, everyone became more open to change. Such could be the case with NZ Education at this time.

Working from home. Now here is something that has struggled in time of normality to develop a wholly positive reputation. There was an element of nudge, nudge, wink, wink about it. But now, by fiat, everyone is potentially able to “work from home” largely because the argument on who shall have the ability, the right, and the levels of ethical and responsible behaviour have been side-lined to be replaced by a discussion  on questions such as how it is best achieved and a consideration of which activities can be delivered with quality in this way.

Technology has stepped up in a big way and TEAMs and ZOOMs and Skype for Business whichare all delivering invitations for getting together to meet on a whole variety of purposes. Institutions at all levels have replaced lip-service with action and found ways to wrap students of all ages into the Education bubble.  On-line learning is another example. Yes, there are issues. The provision of equitable access to the online materials through appropriate devices is challenging.  The pattern of pairs of parents committed to be out at work rather than at home, some out of necessity, some out of choice, creates a set of issues that caregivers need to solve. The skills learners need to “work at home” is not necessarily embedded in learners used to having their time managed by others and their work in large measure orchestrated by the mysteries of the curriculum and the experience of the teacher.

Attendance is another. Does authentic learning require attendance in a place called a school? Does ever learner from 2-years-old to 18-years need to be at school all day every day. The levels of observing the requirements of attendance that is ostensibly compulsory suggests that the habit for many is anything but!(roughly 20% of 16-year-old students are no longer at school, about 76,000 students are absent each day, and around 50% of school leavers in some areas do not have a pathway to further education). So what’s the lesson in this? It is that attendance is not a measure of the value to each student of an education, the critical measure is what students actually learn and can do. Perhaps students are learning more by being engaged in learning at home rather than being at school? Or benefit from a blend of the two?

Being at school to learn, being in a room for a meeting, being there every day might simply be habits based on assumptions. If they are habits, then habits can be changed. But we do have another habit in education – knowing what needs to be done but failing to act on it. Talking about the need for change but not changing. As Charles Payne says: “So much reform, so little change.”

For that would show only that we have learned little from the experience and that would be a very high price to pay. School students have tasted on-line learning, working with parents, flexibility in where and when learning tasks are engaged and having varying degrees of shared responsibility for their learning. Adults in education have learnt to engage with each other in a different way that is more economical in terms of meetings and especially time spent travelling. And have learnt perhaps to trust others, parents for example as authentic partners in their children’s learning and when their gaze cannot reach the student!

The challenge of coming out of lockdowns must not be to make up for lost time. Rather it should be to ensure that the return to a normal is not a return to the same practices that prevailed pre-Covid-19.


[1] Random House (2012), New York

Not OUT of school, AT School, but not IN School

EdTalkNZ is back! After a gap in postings EdTalkNZ has returned to start all those conversations that arise from matters educational. Engage, support, challenge are the hallmarks of a strong education environment.

Not OUT of school, AT School, but not IN School

Has there ever been a time in New Zealand’s recent history that the whole nation acts in unison for a single purpose? Well perhaps not within our memories but reacting to an event as tragic as an epidemic or a pandemic it is not new to New Zealand nor is it new to our schools.

Endemics and pandemics have floated across our horisons with some regularity inflicting varying degrees of damage to people of all ages and to some more than to others.

I looked up the dates and they spread across a range – 1890 -94, 1872, 1899, 1915, 1916, 1918, 1948, 1952, 1955, 1956, 1957, 2009, 1912, and, of course, 2020. The nature of these periods of epidemic varied also: Influenza, Smallpox, Incephalitis, Polio, Asian ‘flu, SARs, and Covit-19. The number of deaths varied from the largest tragedy (9,000 in 1918) across numbers in the 800 – 1,000 range in the fifties, down to the extraordinarily low number of NZ deaths in 2020 (as of yesterday). Kia maia, kia manawanui, kia kaha!

They haven’t all resulted in school closures. The whole system was shut down in 1918,  primary schools were closed in the 1950 for a period and in 2020 schools were shut and are now being re-opened in a measured and staggered fashion. At other times groups of schools have been shut down.

The big difference between 2020 and the rest is the extent to which technology plays a critical part – enabling scientists and those responsible for assisting  public health to access data quickly and in a form that has been massaged to a sophisticated level. And who would have thought that schools could tool themselves to respond to the challenge of teaching students in large numbers and at a distance and in a hurry? Of course paper still has a role and always did – documents tell the tales of piles of paper being circulated to schools in pretty well all the closures over the years.

To what extent will the wider use of on-line teaching currently influence the direction curriculum delivery takes in the near future or will the structures and the artefacts that fuel such strategies meet resistance as schools and institutions return to their “tried and true”? Could this be a reform without a change? And the question of who the teachers are and where learning takes place might arise and challenge a century or more of practice.

There are reports of children and their caregivers enjoying the home delivery of lessons. But there is also a group of parents that express their feelings in statements such as “I really worry about my children missing their learning” and “I would like my children to get back to learning”. Such views might expose a section of the community that has less confidence and perhaps a degree of ignorance as to what to do when it comes to learning. For an equitable use of parents and technology there needs to empowerment not disenfranchisement. There is a truckload of evidence that parents with help can be effective first teachers. The home-schooling movement has generally shown that parents with help are excellent teachers. Parents as first teachers has proven itself for those up to 3 years but the community has not had the opportunities opened up to them to have real responsibility across the system.

Both the schooling system and the tertiary education sector will discover that when we “return to normal” we will find that “normal” is not what it used to be. Education has received clear messages – learners can learn without teachers, the home environment is a good learning environment for some but it is also an uneven place for others, teachers are required to guide learners through the complex pathways of education and so on.

Can we move on from the lessons of Covid-19 to a place where we make effective and equitable use of technology as powerful instruments of teaching and learning? Can we bring all parents into the mystical circle that education has become? Perhaps the question is: Do we want education to be different?

Whimpers and limp papers

If Eliot’s world ended in a whimper then the NCEA changes resulting from the recent review are something of a limp omelette made from the Curate’s egg.

The “change package” is something less than a package with its smattering of adjustments and changes, several good but many more not so. In its efforts to make NCEA more accessible the most significant and sensible change is proposed – NCEA fees and those for NZ Scholrship are to be abolished. This is beyond a doubt the most sensible  item in whole package. It has always been an inequitous feature of the qualification procedures and, when schools failed to record credits because students hadn’t paid, was  simply shameful.

Māori pressed for changes and by and large received some that will strengthen NCEA for many students as the wider potential of ākonga Māori is recognised along with the development of new assessment materials. This confirmation of appropriate pedagogy will result in increased      success, finally captured as credit on the NZQF – diversity at the point of the education system that once was characterised by an arrogant and racist set of practices.

It is sad that the literacy and numeracy standards have been given a role on their own – a classic case which could lead to the teaching and learning of literacy for no obvious reason. To suggest that Literacy and Numeracy are co-requisites for the learning of skills and knowledge misses the point. Without something to be literate and numerate about, literacy and numeracy cease to have existence. Meaning and the ability to share it is literacy, and to be able to do so is to be literate.

“Bigger is better” is the cry for fewer standards. Those reviewing NCEA either lost the plot at this point or were determined to change the script into a dark and nasty tale. This section to large measure destroys the flexibility the characterises NCEA. A 50:50 split between internal and external assessment, integrating achievement standards, unit standards and associated materials (whatever they are), narrows the scope for different approaches. But I must say it was good to see the Reform of Vocational Education (RoVE) recognised. Secondary Tertiary Programmes were excluded from that Vocational Education review for a reason. (A forthcoming blog will discuss the role of NCEA in Vocational Education and Training.)

The great victory for those who work across a wide range of students is the retention of NCEA Level 1 despite the call for it to be removed. The 10% of students for whom this will be the highest level reached are only part of a wider group for whom Level 1 is valuable. It is the first step to success, it is the foundation for Level 2 which leads to Level 3 and the wide posibilities offered by Level 3 programmes in schools, in secondary / tertiary programmes and in tertiary institutions. Without Levels 1 and 2 there is no Level 3 and success.

There is an odd suggestion that Level 1 could be done at age 7. A suggestion such as this surely can only mean that the review had run out of steam.

 

 

Arriving back at the beginning not knowing where we have been!

Stuart Middleton

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started 
And know the place for the first time.”

                               (T S Eliot  “Little Gidding”)

The direction in which the discussion about NCEA has drifted is most disappointing. Instead of engaging in key issues of Educational Achievement it has got bogged down in a nostalgic dragging up of all the old features of the examination system that was replaced by NCEA, the issues that finally brought the examinations system down and an attempt to re-engineer them fit into a new reconstruction of the assessment of student achievement.

We see this in a quest for large blocks of credits (something already able to be done), in the need to squeeze credits into recognisable conventional subjects, in the innocently raise questions about statistical modification. (Do people not recall the “dirty little secrets” of scaling, of group mean referencing, of the mindless application of the Bell Curve to mark distribution, which finally led to enough calls for change, that change came?)

With the increased proportion of the youth population staying at secondary school longer we needed a system that could reflect a much greater range of achievements than a stack of conventional examinations of conventional subjects.  Do you remember the rites of passage around celebrating reaching 15years of age by leaving school – and often on the actual birthday? We badly needed a system that could reflect achievement across a far wider range of achievement than ever the examinations could manage? The enlarged cohorts of students being retained in secondary schools demanded and enlarged set of curriculum pathways.

Furthermore, the shift to a standards-based assessment regime meant that a student had to demonstrate the learning of specific skills and knowledge, and would actually receive the credit as they achieved it, rather than simple get the blessing of an exam mark generated by a distribution and shifted around through group means referencing.

It should not be forgotten that change to the secondary school external assessment system gained momentum after the ruling of the Human Rights Commission that students had a right to have their marked exam scripts returned to them. The cover was blown.

Perhaps expectations were too extensive, perhaps people were looking to a new assessment system to solve the issues of NEETs – it helps but is no solution. Perhaps they thought the growing youth unemployment would slow down – it hasn’t. We still search for new ways of working – there is irony in the fact that we ignore new way that emerge!

NCEA is only what it sets out to be – a system for assessing demonstrated learning and achieved outcomes. And in that respect it works. But it is a qualification only in as much it is based on a record of learning, a record of outcomes at the lowest levels of the journey to become a qualified in a career which will help lead towards employment and the benefit that it brings.

No-one is going to base a career only on NCEA but they will need NCEA as their record of achievement at a general levels in those starting early stages, and those foundations for careers will increasingly be based within a set of career skills in applied, practical fields of learning.

The process of starting those journeys requires (‘demands’ is not too strong a word) the availability of learning that can attempted in small chunks with rapid rewards. So much of the latest discussion underlines the sad truth that NCEA is either misunderstood or wilfully misrepresented. After all these years too many simply arrive at the point of understanding from where we started out on the journey seeming to not understand it even for the first time let alone bring to it improvements that one could expect from a review. The discussions have been a muddle.

NCEA must not be distorted!

So NCEA is to undergo a major review and guess what, the end point of all this fuss will look more like the past than the future! For instance, there is to be a renewed focus on subjects.

I was not aware that there had not been any diminished focus on subjects. That is the main issue in relating school programmes to anything other than preparation for university where study is largely subject based but not exclusively so, and certainly, they have introduced subjects that are multidisciplinary in their focus. Something that schools have found to be difficult because of the tyranny of subjects in their pigeon holes. The close collaboration between schools and tertiary education providers is well-advanced. An estimated 100,000 school students have in the past decade studied in secondary/tertiary programmes at tertiary providers.

This was made possible by the introduction of NCEA and will be threatened by the intended changes. The important connection between a standards-based secondary school qualification and the standards-based qualification of the tertiary sector should be understood, valued and supported. The insistence of the review on a 50:50 split between external and internal assessment is simply nonsense. It will be the final dose of glue that cements the NCEA Levels into the senior school years.

It was never intended that NCEA Level 1 should be the curriculum for Year 11, that NCEA Level 2 should be the diet for Year 12 and that NCEA Level 3 should be the final Year 13 at school. People have short memories and the reasons underpinning the development of a modern standards-based qualification for schooling was in large measure a reaction to the iniquitous practices of scaling and the elegant but questionable statistical manipulations that increasingly controlled the outcomes. The cry for 50% external assessment will see over time the same thing happening again.

First freeze programmes into conventional and tradition subjects and then see that the perceived “hard” subjects are rewarded at the expense of the “easy subjects”. This is a classical instance of what happens to education reform – it is not what reform does to schools but rather what schools do to reform as they work to socialise reform changes into patterns, structures and processes that reflect the way they have always worked. And the time-served year/level pattern should have been challenged by the review.

There are programmes that do challenge this. The Tertiary High School at Manukau Institute of Technology has students working in programmes that generate multiple levels of credit, where achieving a level is not an end-of-year ritual and there is wide progression from NCEA into well-regarded qualifications at each higher level up to Level 7 for some (a first degree). It can be done!

It is necessary to do this when the programmes require a skill set that involves a range of educational areas rather than just one subject. Technical areas often require literacy, numeracy, mathematics, science, knowledge of materials and of machinery and so on. These skills need to be demonstrated not one at a time but when being used in an integrated manner to progress a process. Also, some students require their initial learning to be measured out in smaller pieces initially.

Learning is an incremental process and to provide a gentle slope at the beginning  level of education brings with it the aggregation of success. The awarding of differentiated levels – the University Entrance Award and the Vocational Entrance Award – is well-meaning but misleading. Both pathways suggested by the awards are in fact vocational – one achieved through university study and the other through a different applied educational pathway.

The lack of parity of esteem between these pathways is a matter that the professionals and the general community need to come to terms with. The one is not better than the other. A recent study of first degree graduates five years after graduation showed that the vocational awards were outstripping the so-call academic awards. The struggle for NCEA to first gain acceptance, then to be understood by teachers, employers and caregivers, has been an effort.

The Review seems to suggest that much of this work be discarded for a return to ways that are the discredited ways of the past.

The essence of change is speed

There was always a problem in thinking that tertiary institutions could behave like oil companies and in the endless pursuit of selling their wares take each other on in the market place. On one side of the road there will a Shell service station, opposite that a Caltex and a little further down the road a BPO one. Market share is all.

The huge number of tertiary providers in Auckland – all the big players from throughout New Zealand seem to have a building in Queen St – seems to be evidence that something has gone well awry. The dollars spent marketing tertiary education as if it were a commodity raises doubts about the common sense of the directio in which things have gone. Perhaps the educations review had got rid of what the Treasury papers for the incoming Labour government in 1987 called “the slack in tertiary education” and simply replaced it with wastage of another kind. So it was inevitable that at some point someone had to take a look at tertiatry education and raise questions about much that was happening.

I should perhaps have said at the start of this post that I wrote the above in 2001 (NZ Education Review, “Last Page” Column). It was at that time that the Tertiary Education Advisory Group (TEAC) was busily reshaping the tertiary sector and were writing visionary reports – never mind the detail, sense the excitement. The reports, as I wrote at the time “were to tertiary education what Basil Spence’s table napkin was to public architecture!”

We were going to have “steering mechanisms,” and “improved policy instruments.” Institutions were to have “profiles” – an interesting word used in construction to mean the boundaries of a structure and to ensure all was fair and square. In general use it was akin perhaps to a “side-on view with not much detail” and “dark silhouettes, see the shape but not the detail. TEAC’s fourth report held for me the most important message.

Entitled “The Distictive Contributions of Tertiary Education Organisations” it spelt out out a range of options for Universities, Institutions of Technology and Polytechnics, Colleges of Education, Wananga, Private Tertiary Entities, Industry Training Organisations and Other Tertiary Proividers. Each was to have its place, contributing in a unique and complementary way to a rich and strong tertiary sector.

There need not be any surprise in the fact we in 2019 we are still trying to complete the design of the tertiary sector with the cutrent VET Sector review which grapples with the respective roles of the ITOs and ITPs made clear in 2004. Back then the role of ITOs was detailed as in the following way “ITOs set standards for, and fund, workplace-oriented industry training and development. They must not provide training themselves or through subsidiaries and joint ventures, but rather manage and fund the delivery for their industries by others and have responsibility for the monitoring of trainees.” TEC (2004), The Distinctive Contributions of Tertiary Organisations. Wellington, TEC.)

It is the underlined statement that seems to be the target of the proposals. This is another example of how difficult education when, faced with implementation of a reform, fails to complete the job. Tomorrow’s Schools was a flawed implementation with key elements. Service Centres and Community Education Forums were two of the clear examples of elements of reform simply ignored. The Tertiary Education Advisory Committee reforms of 200-2004 ended up being flawed in terms of both the distinctive contributions of different types of Tertiary Institutions and the funding system that failed quickly but limped along for another fifteen years or so.

Why does this happen? Over the years various theories have been put forward that have included the vast power of educational institutions to resist change. Charles Payne was led to lament in a book title – “So much reform, so little change.” Another commentator conluded that “it is not what reform does to educational institutions but rather what educational institutions do to reform.” And slow implementation is the enemy of change. The capacity of educators to socialise new ways of working into previous and comfortable old ways of doing things is robust and proven to have worked for them innumerable times.

If you are in a reforming mood, why stop short? Making space for Secondary / Tertiary Programmes.

The latest in a succession of reviews in NZ education, the Review of Vocational Education and Training, was released recently and one of the surprises was the realignment of the relationship between Institutes of Technology and Industry Training Organisations. In brief the report proposed that Industry Training Organisations cease to be training providers to focus on supporting a leadership role with industry. Their current roles of supporting workplace learning and assessment would transfer to the proposed New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology (the working title!). These changes being debated and discussed through the current consultation period.

Such a proposal could enhance the pathways for those school students who benefit from an early exposure to vocational education and training. Currently this is possible through Trades Academies (at Levels 2 and 3), Youth Guarantee places at Level 3+, the MIT Tertiary High School model from level 1 through to Level 7. The Review might see that their proposala could lead to another destination for this group of secondary students more accessible from a single point of departure which would enrich the possibilities.

Since the introduction of Secondary / Tertiary Programmes (which is the heading under which they are clustered) almost 100,000 students have taken advantage of these pathways. Most of it is in collaboration with senior secondary school programmes. What is more, the results are very good and the quality of outcomes for students and for the participating schools are enhanced.

This raises two challenges to current reviews.

For the Review of NCEA the message is “Don’t tinker with NCEA.” It is working well for students at Level 1 and Level 2 and Level 3 in secondary / tertiary programmes because the credit-based achievement approach has an easly articulation with post-secondary vocational education and training. These are the students who are often left behind by conventional school approaches. NCEA crosses boundaries and transitions which so often are hurdles and handicaps for students who do not manage the transitions successfully.

A serious period of reform would find that the time is right for consideration to be given to replicating the Tertiary High School Programme (or at least using its principles for other instantiations), and spreading the success that it has had in Manukau to other parts of Auckland and New Zealand.

There are a number of factors that support this: the MIT Tertiary High School is proven in terms of bringing success to at-risk secondary students and Trades Academies are achieving very promising levels of progression into further education and training. Furthermore, there are no impediments to such developments – the policy settings are there, a funding model is available and schools have proven to themselves and the others that scheduling and managing delivery of programmes through collaboration between the school and a tertiary provider is possible.

The current Review of Vocational Education and Training should be including scrutiny of Secondary Tertiary Programmes as a successful creation of pathways from schooling into post-schooling education and training – it is a classic example of a managed pathway.

Also the Government might develop an appetite to introduce into the review mix a Review of Alternative Education. It should do so because New Zealand does struggle to find a successful model for Alternative Education which currently seems often to be little other than a holding pattern until the student’s entitlement (and/or patience) expires.

Think of the richness that would be introduced into our education at seondary and tertiary levels if the Secondary / Tertiary Pathway was built in as a normal pathway based on a set of worthy principles:  targetting students at risk of disengagement for one reason or another (Retention);  placing a clear focus on the creation of meaningful pathways and the management of transitions (Multiple Pathways and Managed Transitions);  built around a seamless progression from NCEA through to employment (Seamlessness); a new and exciting approach through the use of acceleration for students facing issues in a conventional school settings ( Early Access to CTE programmes and Acceleration rather than retardation and the withdrawal of opportunity).

These are educational initiatives which are as effective as they are simple, interventions which support the view that “every great advance replaces traditional complexities by a new simplicity.” That’s the trouble with reform proposals – they don’t go far enough and often miss the connections. Where is the whole of system approach in the current flurry?