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Month: May 2022

It’s time to give secondary students something to induce a return to school!

Nancy Hoffman, long-time CEO of the Boston based Jobs for the Future Foundation and a central figure in the development of Early College High Schools. These schools now stretch across the USA. Several years ago, she stated that Career and Technical Education (CTE) had become the “next best thing in high school reform.” She is clear about what a CTE landscape should look like.
So should we be clear about the interface of secondary schools and the imminent and significant impact of the new responsibility of Te Pūkenga in the creation on 1 July 2022 that Te Pūkenga will have for all Career and Technical Education that up until now has been spread across 16 tertiary providers – the Institutes and Polytechnics and some other providers that have come out of the ROVE restructure of the post-secondary career and technical.
I heard some one comment the other that “nothing will change.” I replied that it had better change or New Zealand will have lost a golden opportunity to reshape the senior secondary school which needs new direction. The Early College High Schools of the USA working with high school graduates has highlighted the opportunity for there to a “be an improvement in the match between what high school graduates know and the skills employers need.”
The next biggest reform that has to happen in New Zealand is to expand the operation of New Zealand’s only Tertiary High School. If students drop out of secondary schools in New Zealand the process has started before Year 11 and will have finished at the end of Year 12. At the MIT Tertiary High School over more that 9000 students have found success by getting into an environment that is both secondary and tertiary – Te Pūkenga need not cast around for a model – it is there ready to be replicated – the legal framework I has been in place since 2010, secondary schools , especially in the Southern Auckland region, have demonstrated a need to complement their programmes with these options that are so successful with those who are left behind. Early runs on the board for Te Pūkenga .
Another area where developments could move quickly exists. When I succeeded in having the in 2009 to get the Education Act changed in order to legitimate the Tertiary High School for the students who would be both secondary and tertiary in age, curriculum studied and legal school leaving age (this one might not matter anymore!) I also had in mind the development of trades academies which we were also proposing. And so this proved to be. The legislation that enabled the Tertiary High School to come into existence became generalised into the Secondary Tertiary Programmes and were an easy fit.
In essence, the trades academies are Tertiary/ Secondary – Lite programmes. Students are at the Trades Academies for two days each week and at their Secondary School for the remaining three days. Students like the mix of activities. Schools like the opportunity to have trades NCEA courses credited to them. Since the introduction of Trades Academies in 2003 over 50.000 students have undertaken a Trades Academy programme. Easy pickings for Te Pūkenga. These are all great stories all of which have been polytechnic built and driven with support from the Ministry of Education.
But as the saying goes – Wait!! There’s more! On the 25th May this year, the South Auckland Career and Technical community gathers to announce the start of a set of PTech Secondary school – students in the those schools will programmes. These programmes have grown out of a mix of Secondary Schools involvement, the engaging of business, industry, and commerce, and the opening up of postsecondary courses at an age earlier than the conventional age. In fact the clue to this is in the last three letters of the acronym: “PTech:” Early College High School!
South Auckland schools and those who join them are at the forefront of quality appropriate education. The challenge for Te Pūkenga is to take advantage of these proven models of education. What’s more – the increased opportunities for more and more students who are given these Career and Technical education do what they do best – provide conventional courses to students seeking traditional academic pathways.

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New Zealand education has a cute capacity for explaining some ugly features. The latest is to blame COVID/OMICRON for the failure of students to return to school after the lockdowns and disruption of the past several years. It sounds convincing but face facts – declining school attendance has been a feature for quite some time. It’s not new! We have known this but declined to accept it.

In the first decade of this millennium, I used to make speeches that included warning that students were dropping out of secondary school at rates approaching 20% of each cohort and over time this had become a stubborn statistic. It was a growing feature of secondary schools but was not unknown in primary levels – it appears now to hav seeped well across the whole system and 20% has increased to 40% – the compulsory sector has become optional!

By the 2020’s, levels of absenteeism were increasing at all levels with schools and the government were challenged to find ways of arresting this. Recent reports showed that regular student attendance declined to 58%, down 6 percentage points following a brief period of stability in 2018 (64%). This means that around 40% of all students did not attend more than 90% of their available class time.

A lack of attention to managing transitions across levels was resulting in gaps in academic preparation and training. It was becoming more and more problematic as increasing numbers of students were presenting themselves ill-prepared and well behind in their academic development, They were ill-prepared for successive transitions. This was a recurring issue for students starting at both secondary school and when starting a post-secondary qualification.

The number of NEETs (Not in Education, Employment or Training) continued to creep up on educators. A new realisation was dawning that the growth of NEETs was an outcome of the performance of the schooling systems and their increasing inability to teach the full range of students. To be fair, some of this was exacerbated by social factors added to the load for schools.

Secondary students were staying longer at school. The old Turn-16-and-Celebrate-by-Getting-a-Job was no longer the custom. This was despite the evidence that extending the length of compulsory schooling and encouraging students to stay longer in conventional schools, repeatedly failed to have impact on outcomes.

The culmination of these factors – absenteeism, failure to manage transitions, the growth of NEETs, staying at school longer regardless of outcomes – has created a significant problem triggered to an inescapable level by a pandemic. But this mix of factors has seen a pattern of an increase in the number of dropouts which might have become hard-wired into the educational and skill landscape.

Analysis of school leavers’ destinations in Auckland, just before the pandemic, showed that “going nowhere” constituted the largest group of secondary school leavers. It could be that schools will have somewhat radically altered the way they work as it might not be that case that returning to school is unpalatable. Rather, what galls students faced with going back to school might be the programmes that they had faced, the ways learning was structured, and the general culture of NZ high schools. The gap and its enforced time out of school might just have been enough to encourage the reported trend among some students to not return but to seek employment.

This might not be only the encouragement of parent but a signal that they feel ready prepared to make this move. The system might be wise to consider this and their response to it. It could be that significant numbers of learners are sending the message that they are having to stay at school past the point where school seems useful and perhaps even bearable.

Now, the issues of primary school absenteeism is a different kettle of fish entirely.

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