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Pathways-ED: Ranging across the jagged edge


It has long interested me that in education ideas come and go and some come and go again until the time is right or the soil is fertile and the context has become more compelling. This is the first in a series that will look such ideas that have come and gone and for which the time is now right to give serious consideration to those ideas.

Ranging across the jagged edge

In 1986, the late Phil Capper wrote a paper to the executive of the PPTA which he called The Jagged Edge. In this he surveyed a number of developments that had sought to respond to the changing conditions and demands of secondary education. He noted as important the then current curriculum and assessment reform, the development of transition education, the introduction of ACCESS (which he described as “the son of STEPS and the granddaughter of YPTP, parent of ……”), link programmes, education outside the classroom, the focus on bicultural education and lifelong learning.

Capper was making a simple point. Each of these developments constitutes a challenge to secondary education and there is a clear willingness to respond to those as they arise – usually by clipping something on to the system. But overall he sees these responses as ignoring a truth – that ”these developments make increasingly blurred (or jagged) the boundary between secondary education and things beyond secondary education.” He was to go on later in the paper to challenge the notion of secondary education as an entity.

He rightly characterised secondary schools as being in an invidious position – they fail to respond and in so doing miss the opportunities or they do respond then they have to make room “for a wide range of alternative methods of delivery, including such things as off-campus locations, courses with elements located partially in tertiary institutions, classes extending beyond the normal school day, increasing participation of adult students and units of instruction delivered by non-teacher specialists.”

Remember, this was written in 1986, 27 years ago.

He correctly linked the development of alternative approaches, usually shaped and funded as a special initiative such as ACCESS to “the disadvantaged and unemployed school leaver….. which is warning enough in itself.”

He got on the front foot on this issue and expressed a view that could find little support in 1986 and which is still resisted 27 years later.

“We can none of us be comfortable with the fact that there is no substantial training industry based on the raw material of alienated young people who hated and dete­sted their schooling.” (Capper’s emphases). “Even more disturbing, is that a good proportion of these respond positively to what is currently offered to them by tertiary providers.”

Capper painted a picture of the way forward as he saw it. In his future that included a jagged edge, the blurring of the boundaries between secondary and tertiary. He took an interesting tack – “It seems to me that the central assumption …of policies is that there is something called a seconday school in which people called secondary teachers impart something called secondary education to people called secondary pupils during a period known as the school day, term or year. When we encounter a person, activity, place or period of time which does not fit neatly into one of these packages, we spend a lot of time agonising, and then we may or may not develop a special case.” He argued that despite the willingness of schools to consider such “special cases”, he called for the need to consider a new policy setting that allows for working differently and concludes that such a setting would allow secondary education to “restate” their principles in ways that would make it possible to embrace special responses within these principles, rather than constantly making them [i.e. the responses] be seen as something beyond the norm and therefore rather dubious.”

Capper returned to these ideas in 1992 largely because other emphases had “swamped” the points he had raised in 1986 and he questioned the continued “validity of regarding the secondary service as a fixed and discrete entity.” He added another principle to his argument – the trends he was providing commentary on were “international trends.” He saw a consistent pattern in confusion that existed internationally and went on to put this into a context that sounds very much like a paradigm as outlined by Thomas Kuhn. He noted later that the “confusion is worst in the Anglo-Saxon countries.”

He spotted an important shift – age 16 years used to be the point of selection for further education and training but now, he asserted, “it is the point at which a diagnostic appraisal takes place to determine the most appropriate post-compulsory track.” He then outlined a future in which we could learn from the experience of others and spent time untangling further the central themes of his two papers – the secondary / tertiary divide.

His comments in this second paper which he described as an “issues-raising paper” was a discussion, that turned to thoughts of a future schooling delivered differently, in a new kind of space. He wondered with some optimism whether “the Picot reforms may prove to have been based on a disappearing model of what a school and its community actually is and therefore further administrative reform of a major nature may be required in 5-10 years’ time.”

The issues Capper raised are still there and the solutions and responses continue to be stubbornly elusive.



Capper P H, (1986)    Jagged Edge, NZPPTA, Wellington

Capper P H, (1992)    Jagged Edge Revisited: Part the First** – the Secondary Tertiary                                        Boundary, NZPPTA, Wellington.

** Capper wrote at the start of this paper that “Part the Second, to follow, will consider the primary-secondary boundary”


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