There is a lovely story hidden in among the NCEA results and commentary (NZ Herald, April 9, 2015).
At first glance the appearance of Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) seems to be a mistake – what role does a tertiary education institution have in a list of NCEA results? And the results themselves seem remarkable: Level 1 – 100%, Level 2 – 91.8% and Level 3 – 83.3%.
In 2010, MIT opened the School of Secondary Tertiary Studies (Faculty of Education and Social Sciences) , also known as the Tertiary High School, the first of its kind in New Zealand. This programme provides a pathway to success and employment for students who in Year 10 (age 14, Form 4) faced the prospect of little or no success.
A focus on the essential skills required in education and training is placed in a context where students simultaneously undertake their schooling (NCEA) and tertiary education focusing on career and professional qualifications across a wide range of disciplines. The claim is that the MIT Tertiary High School “does not take students out of school, it keeps them in school but they will not be at school.”
The results speak for themselves. Students in their second year of secondary schooling who faced failure and the risk of dropping out have a future in this different pathway characterised by success academically, gaining industry-recognised vocational qualifications and leaving with a high prospect of employment.
The New Zealand education system has unacceptable levels of disengaged students bringing great disadvantage to individuals, families and communities, and with a compounding negative impact on economic development and growth. There are no winners in this scenario.
Getting different results requires school systems to work in different ways and programmes such as the MIT Tertiary High School lead the way.
Earlier access to vocational education and training has been shown in many studies to be an effective means of re-engaging the students heading towards the point of dropping-out.
The world has changed and with it the nature of economies, the capacity of employers to take on unformed novice workers, and the demands of employment. Where once doing not so well in school was able to be compensated for by early employment with sympathetic employers, failing in school now is highly dangerous.
The education system has to pick up a challenge now that, despite the rhetoric, it has never faced in the past. It must now prepare each and every student to make a meaningful contribution to their family, their community and the country and young people who are employable.
Currently we fall well short of this and will continue to do so while we resist the reality that in order to get different results, the education system will have to work in different ways.
Not all students will succeed in a school. There should therefore be multiple pathways that open up for them to continue their education as distinct from their schooling in different settings.
The MIT Tertiary High School is one example of a pathway that takes students who have little hope of reaching high levels of achievement in the school pathway. It is not a better pathway per se but it is a different pathway and for those who succeed because of it, a far better pathway.
Opening the Tertiary High School in 2010 required legislative changes for students to be enrolled at both a school and a tertiary institution, for funding from both sectors to be used, for the duty of care to be shared between providers, and for students under the age of 16 to be educated in a place that is not designated as a school.
There is now no impediment to creating new pathways for students who do not feature in the NCEA success rates.
The NCEA results of the MIT Tertiary High School form one piece of evidence that working differently can bring different results. Failure to accept this is simply to deny the opportunities and the results that come from working differently to young people who face becoming yet another grim statistic of failure.
Stuart Middleton is Director of the Centre for Studies in Multiple Pathways at Manukau Institute of Technology.