Skip to content

Category: Disengagement

Success in Education – The Only Lifetime Guarantee that Matters!

So Youth Guarantee is not working according to those TV experts (TV1, Sunday, 18 September 2016), a view supported by some political statements, refuted by others, and brought to the attention of the education community by Ed Insider (19 September 2016).

The TV story was a mishmash of confusion between Youth Guarantee as a policy, the Youth Guarantee Fees Free Policy and the Trades Academies that are separate from the Fees Free places but are under the Youth Guarantee Policy setting

A key reason for giving young people the opportunity to continue their education and training up to the age of 19 years without cost to them is one of providing an equitable opportunity for them to have positive outcomes. It was always wrong that students could stay in a school up to the age of 19 years and fail elegantly for free while a decision to leave at 16 years (when they legally can) to pursue their education and training in a place other than a school would cost them a great deal.

Why should schools have a monopoly on free education up to the age of 19 years?

Then there is the clear truth that many 16 year olds are ready to leave school and get on with a career especially if they perceive that their chances of scholastic success in a school setting are not strong. So many of the Youth Guarantee students who pick up the opportunity to continue at an ITP might not be the strongest group of students, but many will discover strength as a learner when they are immersed in an applied educational setting.

The whole point of understanding a multiple pathways approach to education is to see the value in students’ being able to match the pathways to their needs, their aspirations and their views of where they are headed.

The TV News reporter and others have complained that “they do not stay in the course”. A simple enquiry would have enlightened the commentators to the fact that one of the key outcomes for YG places is to see them undertake study at a higher level and that is usually not a YG fees free place. The fees free place is a point of entry. Actually the successful outcomes, while they do vary somewhat between providers, are in many instances above 75% of students and Māori and Pasifika close to these levels. These are typically students not likely to achieve these results in a school setting.

The outcomes for trades academies should be viewed a little differently as many students undertake a trades academy programme at Year 12 and return to school for Year 13 with renewed engagement – a positive outcome. Nationally students in trades academies are out-performing comparable students in the schools.

The growth of secondary / tertiary programmes is an important channel through to employment but it is an even stronger weapon in the fight against the western education systems’ ugly statistic – those who drop out completely – and join the group called NEETs (Not in Employment Education or Training). It will take a raft of initiatives to first stem the flow of young people into that group and then undertake the huge task of moving those already in the NEETs group on into productive employment and a better life.

The Youth Guarantee policy setting is not a panacea for the considerable issues education faces, nor is it on its own going to meet the BPS goals. But it is working for a considerable number of students who do not deserve to have such opportunities denied them because of the ideological whims of others who have benefitted from a sound education.

Giving young New Zealanders a guarantee that their education will prepare them for a satisfying life, a family sustaining wage and an opportunity to make a useful contribution seems the least we can do.



The Tertiary ICT Conference theme for this year is  Bring IT On which focuses on identifying and sharing the key issues and opportunities for ICT in secondary and tertiary education, now and into the future.  A must for those in ICT Management, Teaching personnel and Service delivery teams.

For more information and to register, please go to: 

Leave a Comment

The results of collaboration are starting to have impact


The NCEA Level 2 struggle continues and while the newspapers report the incremental progress towards the BPS target of 85% of all 18 year old’s with NCEA Level 2 by the end of next year, it’s all been tougher then it should have been.

The secondary system by and large has had to make a huge effort to understand that the targets were never achievable if it was left to the schools themselves, it never was and while existing approaches to senior secondary schooling persist, never will be.

For a start there is a significant number of 18 year old’s who as 16 year-old young people had quit education, they were not even in the system. This statistic is stubborn and progress in reducing it is slow. The reason is not that schools get it wrong but that school is not right for many of that group. In other words it was the lack of flexibility that created over 30 years that situation and it will be flexibility that is our best change of addressing the issue.

But the focus remains solidly on those in the system and even among that group there are the disengaged. I have long promoted a view of disengagement that describes the traditional “drop-outs” as “physical disengagement“– they are not there.

There is also a group who is still in school that can be described as being the victims of “virtual disengagement.” They relatively consistently, have the appearance of doing all the right things, are not too much trouble, but for whom nothing much is happening. I know they are there because teachers tell me that they are.

Finally there are those who do all they are asked, achieve moderately well, who might even cobble together Level 1 and 2 in NCEA. However due to “unintended disengagement” the fruits of their labours have been a mess of academic potage that does not represent a basis of moving forward. Harvesting credits will achieve the BPS but it will not in itself create pathways.

I have raised the disengagement aspects of school performance because that is where ten years ago I started to work for change by first proposing, then developing and implementing New Zealand’s first Tertiary High School. This eased the way for the creation of trades academies, for the umbrella policy of Youth Guarantee and the relatively quick growth in the numbers of students who now rely not solely on schools for their outcomes but are lucky to be in schools that see that by working on collaboration with tertiary providers their students get better results both in terms of quality but also in terms of quantity. Their line of sight is extended through many of the programmes to real futures.

Last year the Manukau Institute of Technology gave opportunities for secondary students to gain in excess of 46,000 NCEA credits. This is not insignificant as a contribution to the BPS targets nor is it insignificant to the futures of young people.

More importantly, many of the students have through the experiences discovered that they can learn, that they want to learn and that school does provide an opportunity to do just that. The early access to applied education unleashes the brain in some learners to tackle more effectively the demands of what some persist in calling academic work. But the close to 4,000 secondary school students that MIT worked with last year were the lucky ones who go to schools where management sees opportunities where others see only risk to the roll numbers, management that puts the student at the forefront of planning rather than being blinkered by arguments about the budget, the staffing levels and so on.

One Principal who subscribes with energy to all the opportunities collaboration between secondary and tertiary now openly attributes the substantial growth of senior school numbers to that collaboration.

In the end, all the opportunities of secondary tertiary programmes are good for students, good for schools and good for the taxpayer.



Te Ara Whakamana is New Zealand’s largest forum dedicated to education and employment pathways and transitions.  Now in its sixth year, this event brings together educators from both secondary and tertiary sectors, industry representatives, policymakers, and researchers to share good ideas and practices, and to be challenged by different perspectives.

Earlybird registrations are open now.

Go to: 

Leave a Comment

Communities clean up after the storm

Such were the headlines in the newspapers over the past few days. But I was safely tucked away from it all in Dunedin which was relatively untouched. I was helping out at a Community Forum related to youth and the issues of employment and education. So in a way it was a case of a community cleaning up after a different kind of storm

There is a mood for change emerging in New Zealand. Communities of different kinds are getting together to work through the key community issue as they see it – the needless destruction of a proportion of a generation of young people through unsatisfactory educational outcomes and the subsequent disruption to the traditional pathway in New Zealand that saw young people succeed in education to various levels that at various points led to an exit to a fulfilling future – jobs, higher qualifications, wages that were low but with a prospect of getting higher, and so on.

The generations of my parents and grandparents were born into and lived through times of great pressures and troubles – depression (financial not personal), world wars, Spanish ‘flu, and so on. Our generation (the baby boomers) was born into a time of plenty, of opportunity and of peace. And the gloomy thought occurs that the next generation will not benefit – quite simply the growing numbers of NEETs, of disengaging younger people, of youth who are unemployed and the large numbers who exhibit mental health issues at an age when we would barely have known that such conditions existed, is such that if that growth is not arrested quite quickly the negative elements of society will outweigh the positive gains.

Have the Baby Boomers bombed on this one?

Has the best opportunity to fulfill the great Kiwi Dream, a universal education that offers an appropriate pathway for all to the fullest extent of each and everyone’s potential, been squandered?

Communities are meeting and showing a great willingness to combine expertise and effort across the community to get the young people moving. It is a pleasure for me that I get to go to such gatherings and to lend a hand. An amazing array of people who have the tools and the desire to change the future for the young ones seriously and openly share their hopes, their capabilities to contribute and their commitment to doing what they can.

Somewhat AWOL from these gatherings is the education community. Not entirely absent but to a noticeable extent. It is as if there is still to develop among the education community an awareness that poor educational outcomes are central to the issues that are troubling their communities and into which communities are committing resources and people both of which could be used for things other than attending to the failures of the education system. True, there are some who for reasons beyond the institution that is a school are stalled in their lives but the inescapable fact is that too many would not be where they are today making these demands on the community had their performance and achievement at school been better.

In a nutshell the issues are clustered around the fact that too many young people get themselves into a dark place seemingly without drawing the attention of education institutions. Disengagement is not an event, it is not something that students do to themselves, it is not simply a fact of life. It is a system failure in which a student progressively disconnects from the process of being at school to move into darkening places in which motivation start to decrease, habits change, traditional authority (with a small “a”) chains lose their strength both at home and in school and, perhaps the worst scenario, the engagement that we rely on so much to maintain education transfers to far less but seemingly seductive other activities – substance abuse, drugs, alcohol, youth gangs, petty crime and suchlike for some. For others doing nothing seems a better way to pass the days than continuing in education.

But are they doing nothing? I come across many such disengaged and NEET people and given a choice and below the bravado they would swap where they are for success quite quickly. They want to have a satisfying future which involves work, having money, sustaining a family and so on. But the thought of returning to the kind of institution in which they have so comprehensively failed fills them with dread and doing nothing gains in strength as a desired option. The big message that emerges from the community forums confirms my belief that each and every individual can learn and can succeed when opportunity and process match the individual’s needs and goals. So greater flexibility is called for – there has never been one way of doing things nor is one silver bullet likely to emerge.

There is great energy, skill and willingness out there in the communities – the challenge for education is to match it and work with it.

Weather’s improving as I head north again but blue skies will not in themselves make for a happy fulfilled lives for many. There are dark clouds every day for the dispirited and the disengaged.

Leave a Comment

The learning shower from PISA


I  despair sometimes and yesterday was one of those days.

The latest PISA results were released and it wasn’t good news for New Zealand – our 15 year olds had slipped back and our performance poorer than in the previous PISA round in 2009. In addition to that we have been overtaken by a bunch of countries whose performance is on the rise. A combination of these two factors sees our international rating heading downwards.

Well that is how it is.

What I despair over is the response of the various sectors and the low quality of debate around it.

First, it was the grossest stupidity that we have seen for quite some time for various spokespeople to attempt to blame the current Minister of Education, Hon Hekia Parata, for the PISA decline.

The students in the PISA cohort have been in our education system for ten years before undertaking the assessment. The decline in the results didn’t happen in the last 2 years but are  the result of a declining trajectory of performance over all of those ten years. This is a very powerful argument for achievement tracking through systems such as National Standards and if not those particular ones then some better ones but the sector seems not able to suggest anything.

There has been evidence that we were slipping back in various system assessments made over the past ten years.

Finally, while the results over time are presented as a linear decline (or rise) the picture is actually more complex than this. Each result is an assessment of a ten year period of schooling for the cohort in each assessment. While the assessment itself is a slice in time, the result is actually a long time in the making. Early Childhood provision, basic skill teaching in the first ten years of schooling, the articulation between primary and secondary schooling are all factors in that result. It is a system issue!

Secondly, it was at worst duplicitous and at best only ignorant to suggest that this came as a great surprise. The media shock horror coverage of the issue simply is evidence of the babble that passes for public debate of educational issues.

Commentators have been warning of the direction the system was headed for some time. Regular readers of this blog and my earlier columns in Education Review will recall that I have frequently written about the demographic pressures on the system, about the indicators that were not promising and about the increasing disengagement from education – all of which have contributed to this result. I have frequently drawn attention to the ugliness of a system in which achievement results cut were mapped over equity outcomes.

Andreas Schleicher, in commenting on the New Zealand results, spoke of the pressure on our performance of our bipolar success in achievement and failure in equity. His comment “Coping with the socio-economic factors is the new normal.” reflects comments made by many and rejected by most over recent times. Sector spokespeople have been aggressive in denying that there was any issue basking instead in the glory of our “world class education system” that today seems a little less world class than we would not only like it to be but also need it to be.

Thirdly, we like to think that this is an assessment of the 15 year old cohort overall when in fact it is not. It is actually an assessment of the 15 year old cohort in schools. We know that 21% of 16 year olds are no longer in school but I don’t know just how many 15 year olds are not in school. But let’s be charitable, and indeed there is some justification in being so, and noting that the curve of numbers disengaging from schooling is exponential, claim that about 10% of 15 year olds are no longer in school. That’s just a guess (a benevolent guess). The point I am making is that if all of the 15 year olds were in school our results may even have been lower.

Disengagement from schooling remains a bigger challenge than the PISA results on their own. Our system will not be meeting its claimed objectives until it retains all students in school and gets better system performance in such measures as PISA. Those of us who work with disengaged students know that at the point of disengagement they typically have poor basic skills and, more importantly, have lost hope in education as a pathway to a rewarding future.

 The PISA results are a diagnosis. The underlying factors that produce them need to be the real target of our discussion and action. Having said that, the PISA results, the continuing ignoring of the demographics responsibilities that the education system faces and our disgraceful disengagement (the US would call it drop-out) rate all constitute what many have been calling a ‘wake-up call’.

But it is only a wakeup call for those who have been asleep. It is time for leaders of teacher unions and education peak bodies to start showing some acquaintance with reality. We have known this was coming down the track. We know what to do. The mantra of “trust us, we know what we are doing” just doesn’t cut it with the community any longer. Nor do the attacks on the Minister reflect any credit on us as a profession.

Leave a Comment