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Tag: 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.



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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.



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Trades Academies, research and reflection

A recent report on Trades Academies is pretty luke warm in its assessment of their success in terms of retention and progression.  A key methodological feature is the comparison between the group of participants and a comparison group of students which are matched to them.

I have a hesitation about one aspect of the matching and that is the use of “disengaged” with its particular definition. In my view, you cannot be a “little bit disengaged” – not any more than a US student can “drop out of school a little bit”.

In New Zealand the word “disengaged” has become our way of describing what the educators in the USA call “drop-outs”, the Pacific calls “early school leavers”, the French call “abandonnant l’école, the Finnish “avhopp från skolanand the Chinese “. Everyone knows what it means and agrees that it is a bad thing!

To have matched those in the research on the basis of “disengagement” is, I think, a risk. That risk might be acceptable but the meaning attributed to the term is not. It is quite clear that this means:

“School engagement: whether had one or more instances of disengagement from school or not (stand-down, suspension, serious truancy)”

If we accept that “disengagement” has come to mean what “drop-out” means in the USA, to start using it to include such episodes as stand-downs and suspensions and truancy is to water it down and this is a great pity because “disengagement” in the sense of having disconnected from a school is a very serious and damaging thing.

I have developed and use a taxonomy of disengagement that notes three kinds of disengagement.

Physical Disengagement:
The student is no longer at school

Virtual Disengagement:
The student is at school but nothing to speak of is happening in terms of learning – poor or no positive outcomes are likely.

Unintended Disengagement:
In this category, disengagement is delayed and occurs when a learner achieves to some degree but has a basket of credits that are not robust enough (or perhaps even the right credits) to sustain further study.

But none of these categories admit those who are stood down / suspended in themselves or even serious truants on the grounds that many well-behaved and, indeed, capable and successful students are likely to be and are included in each of these categories. Selective truancy is  a deliberate tactic used by many students especially in the senior years and might best be described as tactical attendance. One hopes that the other matching criteria dulled the impact of engagement as a matching tool.

The other issue I have with the report is not the fault of the researcher. To include the MIT Tertiary High School into the group generically described as “trades academies” is misleading and inaccurate – it just doesn’t fit there. Yes, it is a secondary / tertiary programme but there are key differences that mark it as unlike any of the trades academies. Its target student group is distinctive. The merged nature of secondary and tertiary curricula is totally different in that secondary and tertiary programme components are not consigned to different days nor to different locations both of which are features of the traditional trades academy model. The location of the programme is completely and wholly in a tertiary setting – the students are expected to act as tertiary students, all day every day. Finally, The MIT Tertiary School is a four-year programme and not the 38 day programme that Trades Academies are able to offer within the time allocation given to trades academies.

And there is another difference – this targeted group of students achieve both high levels of NCEA and technical qualifications within the programme that can take them into many higher level qualifications including degree level study. NZQA reports the 2014 NCEA results as Level 1 – 100%, Level 2 – 91.8%, Level 3 – 83.3%. What a pity that such stunning success is not reflected in a study of trades academies.

Hon Steven Joyce got it right when, in response to the report, he noted that it was early days and that it was difficult to get good data.

Make no mistake about it, trades academies are already demonstrating an ability to excite students about learning and to open up for many, pathways to success that the conventional school programme is unable to do. Time will show that early access to technical and vocational programmes is a key to success for a significant proportion of students. This research report does show an emerging trend towards increased retention despite its rather coy conclusions and there can be confidence that an impact on successful outcomes will follow.


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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.

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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.

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Pathways-ED: Get out the compass, we know where we are going!

Stuart Middleton
28 June 2012


Is peace is breaking out in education?

The Minister of Education has announced the formation of a “Minister’s Forum” that will address the key goal confirmed last Monday in the Better Public Services goals: that by 2017, 85% of all 18 year olds in New Zealand will have NCEA Level 2 or its equivalent.

The Forum contains possibly the widest representation of education ever put together in one room. All major groups associated with pre-school, primary and secondary schools are there. So too are various governance groups such as trustees. There are some tertiary people also.

Chaired by the Minister, this group might be the best chance yet to effect the step change that will take achievement for all students up to levels that are competitive internationally and which will see increased contribution into the wealth of New Zealand.

The goal is that all 18 year olds will get there, not just a cosy percentage but a challenging one, And not only the Asian and European students but also Maori, Pasifika and other priority groups – it is 85% of each of these groups. No longer can our disparate performance be hidden in global percentages.

This is all good news. Yes the timeframe seems tight but the goal is beyond dispute. It represents something of true north for us to stroke some direction into the system. And what a great time of the year to set our eyes on a new star.

I say our eyes because a step change of this kind requires effort from everybody.

The foundations of education are constructed in family and early childhood education, well quality early childhood education. (A further Better Public Service goal calls for 98% participation in quality ECE). This then must lead to a primary schooling that focuses clearly and effectively on the foundational skills of education. We can no longer afford the luxury of having young people present themselves to the secondary school after 8 years of primary education still carrying weaknesses in basic skill areas, especially literacy and numeracy.

In an education system that is keen to boast that we are a “world class system” it makes no sense that students can slip through untouched by the teaching of these skills.

Then the secondary school takes over and faces several issues – keeping students in education and keeping them moving forward. Actually keeping students in education is also becoming a concern for senior primary levels. Progressions from secondary on to further education and training are also a challenge. Why are the transitions such an issue in our system?

The challenge for the secondary schools is on a number of educational fronts and seems to me to be clustered around the following:


  •           the development of pathways that clearly relate to further education, training or employment;
  •           a return to increased opportunities for some learners to respond to the challenges of learning in applied settings;
  •           closer co-operation between schools and tertiary providers both in the interests of increasing pathway options but also to re-introduce the rich opportunities for technical, career, and vocational education that once available to young people.


It seems to me that the 85% challenge will require us to bring new success into the educational lives of about 10,000 students, But the bigger challenge is that if the 85% target is to apply equitably to groups of priority learners, over 3,500 of this group must be Maori and over 1,000 Pasifika.

People from overseas, when I talk about such matters, are amused not by the gravity of the challenge but rather by its scale. With numbers such as those above, surely, they argue, you can get in there and “knock it off”. They come from systems in which the same issues have almost reach a scale of despairing numbers. In the US, a student drops out of High School every 9 minutes and 1.4 million a year are excluded.

World class? Of course we can be. Not just in measures of overall achievement (that after all is simply a league table!) but in our capacity to show that we recognise inequality of outcome and were prepared to do something about. To not achieve or get close to this target would be shameful.


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Talk-ED: A new year, a new response?


Stuart Middleton
23 January 2012

It’s that time again when all over the country students set off to start another calendar year of schooling, education and training. Some of those students will be the first batch of the 30,000 or so who will start school for the first time having reached that magic day, their fifth birthday. What a wonderful thing it is that we retain this tradition rather than do the bulk lot thing that they do in other systems (the Feb or Sept start).

The social contract is clear. Students are required to attend school regularly starting at the appropriate age, do what is asked of them, develop appropriate social behaviours and wear correct uniform. For their part, schools are required to teach a specific curriculum to a set of specific standards. If each party meets its obligations a young person should be able to face a secure future with knowledge, skills and aspirations that will take them into adulthood and able to earn a family sustaining age.

Well, that is all very well and good in theory. Increasingly schooling in schools is not enough and a postsecondary qualification is essential. So that brings into play another set of complexities – tertiary education. The young one’s starting school do not realise the extent to which that will present challenges that they are not often able to control.

So all of these little ones and their bigger brothers and sisters setting off to school at the moment in their new polo shirts of primary colours and sun hats big enough to camp under, face a treacherous pathway ahead. Actually they would have walked to school once upon a time but now an armoured division of SUVs will see them safely to school in many suburbs while in others parents will walk to school with them.

Do they know what their chances are?

I did a little study – what a real statistician would call a quick and dirty job – of a cohort of 100 New Zealand babies, right numbers of different ethnicities and so on, and applied what we know to be the success/failure trajectories of each group. I concluded that of those 100 babies born last year, only 29 would achieve a postsecondary qualification on the current performance of the education system, 71 would not. And I do not mean a degree qualification. I mean anything from a postsecondary certificate up. So about one in three will reach the minimum level of qualifications required.

That aligns with what we know to be the picture of disengagement and I do not see evidence that suggests that there is a trend of improvement. The increase in disengagement is stubbornly resistant to the efforts of educators.

One reason is that the demographics are working against us – the groups of students we teach well and to internationally stunning levels are getting smaller while the groups that struggle (and have for longer than we care to admit) are getting bigger.

Add to that the steady placement of vocational education options at increasingly older entry levels along with a blind belief that the comprehensive secondary school might meet the needs of all students (it never has in the past why should it now?) and that figure of 29% successfully competing a postsecondary qualification looks to be a stretch in 30 or 40 years.

Change in the education system is urgently needed and that is up to the grown ups not the little ones. So here is an agenda for professional concerns in 2012:

First, all jurisdictions want accountability one way or another so get over it and move on. If National Standards are right then change them but work constructively in the system rather than continue to bamboozle the community by staunchly rejecting standards – well that is how it seems to an outsider.

Secondly, seriously question whether we have been pulling the wool over the community’s eyes on the question of what schools can actually do. Less is more in curriculum design so sorting out what matters and doing that will make all the other stuff easy to do. If someone can read well they can do anything. Equitable access to technology is more important than more programmes (admit it, you got a gadget for Xmas and gave it to your grandchild to show you how to get it going).

Let’s be adamant about what schools can do and then ensure that we do that stuff so well that each and every student will receive a brilliant start in life through education.

Thirdly, get purpose into the lives of young people at school. Why they are there is the most important factor – if I ask a child in school the question “Why are you doing that?” and they cannot answer I seriously question the quality of the teaching.

Related to this is that focus on the end game of education. Forty years ago when everything seemed to be working and most people were in fact working, a central goal of education was to equip people to work. Is that such a bad thing? Sanitising education so that it is not tainted by vocational goals is crazy. Actually the universities know this and are blatantly vocational under the guise of being the critics and conscious of other people.

Having a strong focus on employability in real jobs need not in any way jeopardise the attainment of a liberal education which is in fact one which liberates and what could be more liberating to those imprisoned by educational failure to have such a quality education?

None of this seems very difficult really. It is just that it is urgent! Those little fellows starting the journey over the next 10 days or so need to be assured that it is worthwhile. The results in the school success statistics in 2025 will not be some disembodied set of figures, they will in fact be each and every one of these little ones.


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Talk-ED: Who needs to grow up?

Stuart Middleton
3 October 2011

It seems a slight reach and is perhaps a bit removed from the actual study, but I was amused and surprised at a piece in The Australian[1] last week that claimed that the increased interest in proceeding to postsecondary education and training was prolonging the transition into adulthood. It seems that those who interpret the report believe that getting into the labour market is the marker of adulthood. This equation of lengthening pathways from school into the workforce with reaching adulthood seems to me to be quaint, misguided and in defiance of the evidence.

It is quaint because there has never been an association between work and adulthood although adulthood is generally more characterised by work rather than being at school. But if we are to say that the full flowering of adulthood requires a spot in the labour force we run a danger of disregarding the large proportions of young people in both Australia and New Zealand who never complete their secondary schooling let alone get into the business of postsecondary education and training nor ever get into the workforce.

To all the pressures that are placed on this group we now seemingly are going to add prolonged-childhood. Well, it is a pretty bizarre view of the actualities of the lives led by these disengagers – it is not one of blissful innocence spent in some enchanted garden. Rather it is too often a harsh and brutal existence fought out in the toughest and most unforgiving adult environments – tough living conditions, crime, drugs, abuse and so on. It is also a bizarre view of many postsecondary students!

It is misguided because it fails to recognise the wasted potential of both groups, the disengaged and the engaged. If young people are to be sent into some zone of immaturity and therefore not seen for the potential contribution they could make, we simply add to the social and economic problems that already cluster around them.

It defies the evidence – the actual lives of young people of many kinds live (see above), the responsibilities they have (many disengagers are young parents with responsibilities that are greatly in advance of those who are allegedly prolonging their childhood at university) and these disengaged students are almost certainly required to show personal skills of self-sufficiency, toughness and resilience that might well eclipse the skills-sets required to remain in education and training. Furthermore, the evidence suggests that young people are maturing more quickly and are continuing the secular trend that has characterised the development of young people for several centuries.

What this report of the report is saying is that we see prolonging education and training as prolonging the childhood / adolescent status of young people and this is possibly important to how we develop justifications of the ways in which we treat young adults in educational settings. As a secondary school principal once upon a time, it was a case of trying to identify increased ways in which the adulthood of the student can be nourished and respected and reflected in what we did.

Perhaps there is even a need for us to see young people as non-adults in order to justify our treating them as non-adults. The attempt to put young adults of 18 and 19 years of age into a uniform is paralleled only in the armed services of most countries. The lack of freedoms to be at school when they need to be there and to make good use of their time when they are not lags well beyond that realities of young peoples’ maturity.

There was recently a suggestion by one commentator in the USA that there was emerging a fifth stage in young peoples’ lives – infanthood, childhood and adolescence was then followed by a clear post-adolescence that was a precursor to adulthood. Well, this tells us more about the adults and the commentators than it tells us about the young people.

Adolescence is in some respects is a middle class indulgence invented in the USA in the post-Second World War era. Now those adolescents are parents and in the USA there is the emergence of the hover-parent, the parent who just can’t let go. When I spent some time at UC Berkeley is was obvious that even though the students had left home to go to college the home was dead intent on following them.

This then might be behind the reading of the Longitudinal Survey of Australian Youth briefing paper that The Australian made of it.

It just doesn’t make sense. Who needs to grow up?

[1] The Australian, Friday, 30 September 2011

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Talk-ED: Nec Tamen Comsumebatur – Rooting out the Causes of Failure

Stuart Middleton
15 August 2011

Years ago I bought some land that had a lot of gorse on it. Some of it was huge with trunks 5”-6” in diameter. I sprayed it and burned it and it came back. I slashed it and burned it and it came back. In the end I realised that if I didn’t get the roots I was doomed to an inevitable defeat at the hand of this prickly nuisance.

Cutting off the growth above the ground and pouring a little creosote on the exposed stump did the trick. The next year I was able to walk around and pull by hand the stumps out of the ground. It never came back.

I think that this is a parable that governments might wish to heed when addressing the issues of youth benefit dependency. The announcement that youths on benefits are to have their control of money withdrawn could be a good thing and it could be a bad thing.

If it is simply slash and cut and burn it is doomed to fail. If it is the start of a careful system of tracking and monitoring and intervention such as those in Scandanavia then it could be a good thing.

Think Lisbeth Salander in Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Of course Nils Bjurman was a bad bastard in every way, but the Scandinavians have careful tracking and monitoring and supervision systems and placing someone under complete supervision with control over their money is the most severe intervention. But that level of intervention doesn’t sit there on its own. All Scandinavian young people are tracked and supervised in an attempt to ensure positive outcomes and there is a series of graduated interventions before the complete “ward of state” response.

A recent report from Sweden details the concern because truancy rates in some areas are approaching 2% – we dream of reducing ours to that! Young people have options in education and training. Someone is responsible for educational failure, someone has the job of tracking students to minimise failure and negative outcomes.

It should also be pointed out that to promote an intervention with only this group ignores that there is in operation a pipeline that effectively delivers many more failing young people to that NEETS group. Even if the announced intervention works very well, it will not make a difference as many more youths take their place – without a balanced set of interventions I see a bureaucratic backlog growing at great expense.

What is needed is a complete package and the government has made a good start with this. The Youth Guarantee package is starting to show signs of being a comprehensive set of interventions and new ways of working. It will lead to multiple pathways for young people that will lead them to increased success in education and training, will lead them to qualifications and finally lead them to employment. Trades academies, service academies, fees free places in tertiary, vocational pathways, tracking and monitoring students and effective careers advice and guidance – this is where resources should be directed.

Dealing with the very group that has been targeted in this announcement requires attention to the three dots – access to early childhood education, successfully attaining NCEA Level 2 (and that is the biggest challenge in all this and requires a huge rethink on the part of primary and secondary schools) and the successful attaining of a postsecondary qualification.

The youths on benefits have been created by the failure to address these three issues and by our watching increased levels of behaviour develop that lead to unprecedented levels of dropping out of a positive future. When statistics that point to a creeping upwards of various participation figures are trotted out, they simply fail to acknowledge that we are seeing the development of unprecedented failure among young people.

The recent New Zealand Institute report, Fewer Snakes, More Ladders, is clear – “there are no signs of trends for improvement”.

It is good to see action but tinkering with the major issue of our time will not cut it, just as I did not get a result with the gorse when I tried naively to cut it.

Young people on benefits are a symptom, they are the part of the gorse bush that is above the ground. It is no good dealing to that which is highly visible without also paying attention to that which is hidden but is the root cause.

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Talk-ED: The Rosy Glow of Shangri La or the Yellow Brick Road?

Stuart Middleton
4 April 2011

 I have just returned from the centennial celebration of my primary school, Frankton Primary School. I was invited to speak as a “past pupil” and that was a great honour as my Uncles had been foundation students, my Mother had started in 1915 and the four Middleton boys had been there throughout the 1940s and 1950s.

 I commented on the simplicity of the focus in earlier times. We went to school to learn to read and write and do our sums (and learn about the British Empire I had added) and we were blissfully unaware of educational failure is it existed in the school. This observation lead to many comments from others over lunch that I had captured something that rang a bell for them. As one former pupil said to me “”It might have been simpler then but we had so many more options about our schooling.”

 I thought about that as we drove home – there was an element of truth in what he had said. Despite an intention to provide young people with more options we had actually narrowed the possibilities through creating a one-pathway-for-all approach premised on the belief that a “highly educated” community required us to lift academic skills and keep students in school longer. What we know now is that it isn’t working and we are moving steadily towards historically high levels of educational failure partly explained by increasing access to education but this is distorted by the numbers of students who should be in education but who are not in employment, education or training.

 So the old-timer’s observation about “so many more opportunities back then” has an ironic touch to it when we consider the growing emphasis placed internationally on “multiple pathways”. Put simply this means a movement back towards “a multiyear comprehensive high school programme of integrated academic and technical study that is organised around a broad theme, interest area, or industry sector.” [1] This sees a focus on increasing the opportunities in Years 7 to 13 for career exploration and placing a huge emphasis on seamless education between career and technical education in high schools and instruction in post-secondary programmes. This requires a new and serious involvement of business and industry in relationships with educational delivery of career and technical education.

 A clear shift between what happened in the old days and the goal of today is the involvement of high schools in the development. Back then students simply left high school at age 15 and went into the opportunities that existed – workplace training both informal and formal, night classes and more recently polytechnic programmes. To this there were widespread opportunities to take up apprenticeships that were significantly work-based.

 Of course we now look down our educated noses at low-skilled and unskilled employment but for many young people this was always a first step into the world of post-school employment and was not always an ultimate destination.

 The irony is that career and technical pathways were removed from our schools largely to direct most students towards “academic” pathways where, it was thought, the knowledge wave would sweep all young people towards high-tech, “academic” futures. In the event it educationally drowned quite a number. Now there is growing evidence that career and technical education pathways can prepare students for post-secondary success in academic pathways at least as effectively.

 It could take universities quite some time to understand this as the old paradigm of “academic” on the one hand and “technical/vocational” on the other will prove to be hard to shift. Mutliple pathways require us to see that academic and vocational or academic and technical are not mutually exclusive terms.

 Some countries (Germany, Scandinavia for instance) provide a range of pathways that allow students to focus their learning on goals that are heading towards a future that is academic (usually a university course) or technical (trades etc) and have little difficulty in allowing students to move between pathways as aspirations change or aptitudes become more apparent. This is made easier by the continuation of a core set of studies in language, mathematics, civics, and digital skills Perhaps the issue in countries that are now in strife (the English-speaking five) is that they combined the dominant restrictive academic pathway with specialisation that was simply too early. And to some extent this was exacerbated by the level of literacy and mathematic skills that students brought with them into the high school.

 So there is much talk about “multiple pathways” and we are starting to focus in New Zealand on the provision of such a set of varied options for young people. The development of trades academies, service academies, programmes that combine school and workplace, or school and tertiary collaborative programmes, new developments such as tertiary high schools and suchlike are all first steps towards a new future for students.

And will it be worth it? It is early days but results from one multiple pathway programme that started last year suggest that it will. National NCEA 2010 pass rates were announced this week and showed that 75% of Year 11 students who sat NCEA, passed Level 1. Comparing these national results to the NCEA results for this multiple pathways programme is salutary. Students were selected for the programme on the basis that they, their caregivers and their school agreed that they were unlikely to get success were they to continue, possibly even disengaging from education completely.

In this multiple pathways programme, 70% of Year 11 students passed (compared with 75% nationally). But this multiple pathways programme achieved a Level 1 pass rate of 80% for Maori students (compared to 61% nationally) and a pass rate of 71% for Pasifika students (compared to 54%).

In addition to these results, the multiple pathways students were not lock-stepped into the equation that locks NCEA levels into school years. Of those gaining NCEA Level 1 in the multiple pathways programme, 66% also gained additional Level 2 credits (range 2-24) and 95% gained additional Level 3 credits (range 4-8).

In addition to these stunning successes, 25% of the students who gained NCEA Level 1 qualified as well to enter an industry-recognised diploma programme in their second year across a range of career and technical disciplines.

 This is what a multiple pathways approach is all about – different routes to student success.

1. Multiple Pathways to Student Success, California Department of Education, Sacramento, 2010

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