They say that cows are warned about earthquakes for they occur by a sense that something is changing, that something is about to happen. This might be true. Although I have no bovine features, I too have a sense that something is about to happen.
I sense that after a number of years, for me about eight years and for the education system perhaps five, I see signs that critical shifts are about to happen in the schooling system in New Zealand.
Back in 2008 and 2009 when I argued for legislative changes that would allow MIT to start its Tertiary High School I was motivated by a sense that the changes were not just about that programme but were in fact changes that would lead to side developments that would be in the interest of students who were underserved by the education system.
The changes to the law (which allowed for many other changes) were specifically made to allow the Tertiary High School at Manukau Institute of Technology to go ahead. But the next year, in the 2010 Education Amendment Bill, those changes were expanded to allow for other secondary / tertiary programmes to be introduced. By then the Trades Academies were starting to get a policy around them and a shape to what they might look like. Youth Guarantee had morphed from a couple of words in an election campaign into a policy setting.
Increasingly the discourse was using words such as “multiple pathways” and “transitions” and “partnerships”. Of course there was resistance as the tired and well-discredited cries of “give schools the resources – they can do the job”. But that was simply code for “give us the money and we will do the same old thing for the same old results.”
It is now not hard to find excellent examples of……
Trades academies, which are giving students the experience of trades, oriented disciplines in Years 12 and 13. And this in no way resembles a return to the old technical streams. These programmes are taught in ways that give students an experience of the kinds of training that will, would, get, should they make a decision to follow that pathway. The work they are doing is real and done in the same setting as others being trained for the trades. There is an authenticity about it that goes well beyond the school-based technical stream programmes which could certainly produce highly skilled craftspeople in the metal and wood crafts, outstandingly skilled and clever, but it isnot trades as we know them in this iteration.
The trades academies are conservative in that they are restricted to Years 12 and 13 typically and they pose little challenge to the structures of the schools with their simple one day a week out of class approach. But they are a great start.
Partnerships. There are examples of sophisticated relationships and partnerships between schools of different levels. Intermediate schools show that they can work with contributing primary school in the one direction and with high schools in the other. Again, this is conservative but it is a start. Excellent partnerships can lead to managed transitions more easily than a bunch of slightly hostile folk sitting down together to initiate them.
Some schools are forging great relationships with community. This is clearly evident in much of the work being done by wharekura and there are examples where such schools are outperforming many high decile schools that pride themselves on their results.
While this is something of a revelation to some, to those who have promoted such developments, it has always been a clear and confident expectation. Students who have access to vocational and technical education earlier, who can work in different ways, who can see themselves in what they do, who are culturally respectful simply perform better than they would have. In fact they perform to stunningly high levels.
The relationship between tertiary and secondary has developed in some instances with remarkable speed to find ways of working together.
And there is starting to develop a view that 14 years to 18 years is where the action must be concentrated. And not just for “low performing students” or for those who disengage from the education system. Changes have started that have wide implications for the future, implications that suggest we could start to perform in ways that match the education systems we envy. It is dangerous to be not doing well at school at the age of fourteen in New Zealand.
High performing students in the UK are being given the opportunity to start university level STEM qualifications at the age of 14 years and are then ready to pursue postgraduate study or to go into highly skilled technical employment at age 18 years. Lord Baker who is a key force in this development explains they they “start at age 14 because 15 is too late to specialize and they finish at age 18 because 17 is to early to start employment.”
Just as cows might sense an impending earthquake, I sense that a shake-up of another kind is on the way! But this one while causing distress to some will by and large be wholly to be welcomed.