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ThinkEd: The silent shot from the Aurora

Stuart Middleton
9 December 2010

A day might be a long time in politics but a year is a mere flick of the eyelid in education systems where change proceed at a pace that makes glaciers look like films on fast forward.

At the end of 2009 the New Zealand Government passed into law some provisions that enabled a radical new intervention for students likely to disengage to be introduced.

This Tertiary High School was to take 15 year old students identified as likely to disengage for education and rather than see them progress into the conventional secondary school programme, hit the wall of disengagement and leave as failures and drop-outs with few or no qualifications, they would enrol at the Tertiary High School, a programme inside a large polytechnic.

In the Tertiary High School the students would work within an integrated programme to complete their secondary school leaving qualifications (the National Certificate in Educational Achievement) as well as complete a two year technical qualification.

The key changes that were passed into law at that time were to allow students under the legal school leaving age of 16 years to attend a tertiary institution rather than a “school”. It diod this by legitimising full dual enrolment in both the secondary school they were leaving and the tertiary institution. The responsibilities of governance for these students were passed to the tertiary institution working on behalf of the school for those students still under the leaving age.

Dual enrolment was essential in making clear the shared nature of responsibility that we must have for students – it is bizarre that a Christmas Holiday (on this side of the world) see responsibility shift from Brand A provider to Brand B provider. At risk students and potential disengagers often slip through this shoddy structural defect in our system.

Dual enrolment also allows for funding from both the compulsory sector and the tertiary sector to be applied to the education of a student for whom that funding is in fact an entitlement. The device of placing the funding under the control of institutions and giving students access to it only on their terms is both quaint and long past its useful shelf-life.

But most importantly the changes to the law legitimised a new kind of programme – one that is both secondary and tertiary and they removed the legal impediments to allow a more flexible transition from secondary into tertiary. In this regard the changes were signalling the way of the future.

One year later. There has been much discussion in New Zealand in the past twelve months about secondary tertiary programmes and their manifestation in trades academies, service academies and so on.

And one year later the Education Ammendment Bill No. 2 nears the end of its passage into New Zealand law and puts into the NZ Education Act provision for a structurally new way of working – the secondary-tertiary programme.

Such a programme is defined by this law as a full-time programme which consists of both a secondary component and a tertiary component and is co-ordinated by a provider group or a lead provider. This is of critical importance in allowing education to be delivered in ways that start to challenge the walled cities of the sectors. No longer will “secondary” end one side of Christmas and “tertiary” start on the other. No longer will a student be considered to be the property of one sector rather than another. No longer will funding on the one hand be frozen into the rigidities of the way schools are resourced on while on the other be wrapped into a tertiary funding regime in which a student needs to borrow money in order to use their entitlement.

The law allows for a provider group to co-ordinate a secondary-tertiary programme by agreement with the Ministry of Education that makes a proper provision for the elements that you would expect to be managed to a high level of excellence. These include organisation and operation, curriculum, courses and qualifications. The selection of students to participate in it can be agreed to and the provision for the welfare and educational performance and the pastoral care and career guidance for participating students is covered in this agreement. Matters such as funding and the way it is sliced for the programme and the maximum number of students that may participate in it are also agreed to in the agreement.

“There it’s done, that didn’t hurt now did it?” as the dentist might say. This piece of legislation will somewhere in the future be seen as the moment when New Zealand put into words something that in the 1980’s was described as a need for a “jagged edge” and in the 1990’s given expression in terms such as “seamless education”.

The Tertiary High School might have opened the curtain a little on a different future for some young people. The latest passage into law of the provisions outlined above now open doors with a guarantee to youth that the future will be one of multiple pathways, not a choice between the high road to success and the low road to failure.

Published inEducation

One Comment

  1. Ian Douthwaite Ian Douthwaite

    Good to see you are still beating this particular tambourine, Stewart.

    And to see that finally some real progress is being made to dissolve artificial and unhepful barriers. Perhaps the next such useless barrier to look at might be that of the ownership of teriary providers?

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