It was the Heading that Caught my Eye!

“Low Level courses not helping young Maori” headed a single NZ Herald column report on the soft underbelly of secondary and post-secondary programmes. The research being discussed had found that “a disproportionate number of rangatahi leave school after completing NCEA Level 2 to go on to level 3 certificates at PTEs [private training institutions]” and concludes that “They would have been better staying at school for Year 13.” Well, would they have been?” Taking a wider lens to the issue has to start with the stubbornly robust statistics which tell us that:

  • 20% of young students have left school by the school leaving age of 16-years;
  • There is significant disengagement from age 14-years on;
  • Young people who complete Level 3 would be encouraged to consider that they were successful (and they are!) but there is a missing element that is a goal of schooling;
  • 76,000 school students are absent from school on any given day.

Starting with the obvious, schools cannot hope to reach those who are not at school. Why are they not at school? That is not a mystery – they have disengaged and end up in the ranks of the NEETs.

The issue that the research stresses is that the Level 3 qualifications simply do not constitute a pathway that leads to employment pathways that provide a sustaining income. Yes, the students appear to be on a successful pathway until they reach the decision point – employment. They are led astray by being tempted to go to programmes that are disconnected both to their past education and to those critical pathways that constitute careers. Level 3 does not constitute a take-off point for employment. And a pathway is not a pathway unless if engages at an early point hand gives a line of sight to the future.

But all is not lost, there is a different pathway that has opened up.

The Maori and Pasifika Trades Training Programmes have matured and now constitute settings in which Maori and Pasifika students are supported, have a clear focus on employment, access to free tools, and a setting which has the promise of continuing not only on to further qualifications after Level 3 but also to employment.

But the real development that is proving itself is the array of Trades Academy Programmes that have grown out of the pioneering Secondary/Tertiary Programmes, particularly the development which instituted the Tertiary High School for students who have disengaged or are likely to disengage – a very successful intervention that has been beneficial to over 1,000 students.

The key to the success of both the Trades Academies and the Tertiary High School is that they firmly embed students into a career pathway in the trades, they are unashamedly focussed on employment.  In 2019, Manukau Institute of Technology achieved creditable levels of success – 74.5% gained NCEA Level 2 and over 80% met the assessments for the credits offered.

The MIT Tertiary High School has a pathway that proceeds through NCEA Levels 1 and 2 (with students simultaneously working at both levels and at a speed they set targets for rather than the lock-step pace on the conventional school programme) and on to Level 3 and higher but rather than take NCEA route from level 3 they start on MIT qualifications that are employment focussed.

But they differ in their choices after that. Only a few (with higher “academic” aspirations) take NCEA Level 3 a large number opt for choices that are take-off points on a career pathway. Having experiences a range of trades earlier, they have a sound basis for choosing chosen pathways that they understand and for which they have an appetite. And from there they continue onward and upward through study at levels up to Level 7 – a surprising number have successfully reached Level 7. Levels 4-6 are by and large exit levels.

But….. Don’t forget that the trades lead to early and substantial earnings. A recent study showed that the institution which produced the highest earners five year after graduation was a vocational and technical tertiary education organisation. Who was that? Oh all right I will mention it, MIT topped the list!

Some might argue that this focus is a narrow and limiting approach. Well, that is simply wrong, the secondary tertiary programmes focus on basic skills, on understanding applied technical education. Of course this has focused on specific trades for the Trades Academies and Tertiary High School students will have experienced four different trades prior to making their choice of a career pathway. Because of the focus on trades students have a purpose for learning rather than the become lost in the murky fog of conventional “education for no obvious reason” in which many struggle with and from which so many simply give up.

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  1. Susan Hassall says:

    Good morning Stuart
    Your comments ignore the reality that many secondary schools run well organised, well researched programmes at Year 13 for students who wish to follow a Trades future. Students are able to remain at school, working in subjects with a clear pre-employment focus, retaining the ability to finish their school career well, and successfully. Both pathways have genuine positives, but remaining at school, with the support and care given to individuals as they become young adults, can often be the better option.

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