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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?

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