Looking over the Shoulder for Those Being Left Behind

It isn’t perhaps generally understood that the development in the late-2000s of Secondary Tertiary programmes – the Tertiary High School Model, Trades Academies, Youth Guarantee places and so on – were essentially developed in response to the growth of disengagement in the secondary schools. On the one hand the fall-out / rate was running collectively at about 15% – 20% for a students under the school leaving age of 16-years. The growth of NEETs numbers seemed to be resistant to any intervention and continued to grow inexorably.

I wonder if it is known that there are about 6,000 young benefit-dependent people in South Auckland at a lifetime costs of $239K per person and the cumulative cost of unemployment is $1.4 billion. 50% of Māori and Pasifika school leavers choose not to pursue a formal tertiary qualification.

I spent a lot of time in the USA on a Fulbright award working with a team of scholars on the issue of equity, access and success in further and higher education. I concluded that the issue was shared both between further and higher education (in terms of completion rates) and the secondary schools.

Along the way I started to understand the process of “disengagement”, a more accurate description of a process than the Americans’ use of the inaccurate term “drop-out”. Disengagement was a process over time and not an event in time. In short, it ought to be possible to construct an intervention that provided for those in danger of being left behind to have a pathway to success.

The proposal I placed before the Ministry of Education was for a secondary tertiary high school. It would specially target Year 10 students who were either on the point of or even through the process of disengagement. The principles were clear: students would be not taken out school they would be in school but not at school; the transitions into tertiary, NCEA, and higher TVET qualifications were to be seamless, there would be early exposure to TVET post-secondary qualifications; and a clear focus on employment as an outcome.

The NZ Education Act made significant changes to the law which enabled this to be developed and started in 2010.

Currently there is a timeliness of reminding ourselves and others of the role for secondary programmes in supporting students in danger in disengagement and who find a prolonged absence from school almost impossible to overcome. If the seeds of disengagement were sprouting or even about to prior to Covit, the Covit-19 Lockdowns will in many cases have an unintended consequence of directing onto a pathway that does not include a return to school – disengaging students seldom recover an appetite for conventional secondary schooling – this is in part an explanation of the failure of well-intentioned attempts to re-direct students ssuch as truants, back into the very same education structures and approaches that they have rejected. Pathway that are a U-turn back into school is for a disengaging students no pathway at all.

The secondary-tertiary approaches – tertiary high school, trades academies, Youth Guarantee – are proven successes and offer hope to those being left behind.

These opportunities must be offered to what is a significant group of students to see them safely through this trying time and facing a solid future.

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