When Trades Academies were established in 2011, the target group of students were not those headed to university or tertiary programmes which are both appropriate and attainable. If a student has the skills and aptitude for the heavily academic setting of a university programme and can be assured of making the cut, they should do just that. They have a pathway.
But there is a significantly large group of students who run the risk of being left behind because pathways have not opened up. There is therefore a significant group who are starting at about Year 9 to show weaknesses in the academic journey and to start the process of disengagement. This exhibits itself in haphazard attendance patterns, and when they are at school there are signs of a niggly relationship between them and their teachers accompanied by wilful gaps in their work. They are the ones that will be left behind as teachers maintain a momentum for those who cooperate with their effort and who do the mahi!
These Year 9 and 10 disengagers are on the way to being incipient dropouts. The statistics on this are a woeful indication of the simple truth that a diet of conventional schooling does not suit all learners. The disengagers that are well down the track to full disengagement have few choices. They can end up being destined for the NEETs group which is a difficult situation to get into and a worse one to get out of. The conventional solution is to get them back into school. But school is where they dropped out of and which subsequently holds little attraction for them. A very small numberhave been able to access the Tertiary High School model in the 10 years it has been operating with success in terms of pathway outcomes for a high proportion of them.
But all is not lost. It is becoming apparent that the Trades Academies, a programme in which school students undertake either one full school day (Level 2) or two school days (Level 3) in a tertiary programme delivered by an Institute of technology / polytechnic institution at the tertiary institution. The evidence suggests that the programmes are encouraging secondary students to develop a frame of mind where pathway in the technical and vocational areas, especially the trades careers. It is a bonus that these programmes also encourage students to maintain better attendance patterns and more willing interest in the rest of their school programme resulting in.
Remember that the Trades Academy students are unlikely to pursue heavily academic pathways. The performance of the Trades Academy students in 2019 continuing improvement in gaining the relevant NCEA credits. Manukau Institute of Technology, a large provider of Trades academies recorded an 83.9% of students successfully completing Level 2 and this was even across student groups – Maori 78.2%, Pacific 81.4% and Pakeha 93.1%.
There is an explanation for this. These students have in those proportions found purpose in learning. Research shows that the applied nature of learning when hand help heads and vice versa is a powerful attraction for adolescent learners. Pathways to employment are a real possibility when learners discover the meaning of learning and accept their role and responsibility responding positive in the more mandated engagement environment of trades academies. A key element in this is played by the NCEA qualification which in the trades academies is playing the role intended – it must not be tampered with, but more of that later!
(Dr Stuart Middleton is Specialist Advisor to the Chief Executive, Manukau Institute of Technology)