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Tag: NEETs

Talk-ED: Success should be compulsory


The 2013 OECD Yearbook is a good read and it was interesting to note the piece by Andreas Schleicher, Deputy Director for Education and Special Advisor to the Secretary General. In it he makes a simple point:

Countries that are unable to mitigate the impact of socio-economic background on student performance during compulsory education are unlikely to solve that problem in Higher Education.

Schleicher is visiting New Zealand this week and it would be good to see if he expands on this comment because it is an issue that has high relevance in New Zealand. The OECD is high in its praise for the top of the New Zealand education system and generous in attributing this to the quality of the work done by teachers. But it is equally clear in its picture of New Zealand’s long tail of low achievement. It is clear also in its analysis of the ethnicities of that tail.

There are some good points to come out of this. His comment supports the structure of the Better Public Service Goals with its focus on Early Childhood Education, on the achievement of the “School Leaving Diploma” (NCEA Level 2) and finally engagement with Level 4+ qualifications. Each goal is necessary but not in itself sufficient for students to be successful.

And without success in compulsory education little will happen. (Why can’t we wrap ECE into the compulsory sector and be done with it!)

The significant number who disengage from learning before completion of compulsory education are destined to join the tail. We need therefore to stem that flow, to turn performance of the lower ends of the school student group around. Every other way of approaching the issues is harder and more expensive.

There is a view that everyone we know about second chance education tells us that the first chance would have been better. Dropping out of compulsory schooling, joining the NEETs and then trying to make a come- back as a student is the hardest route in education. Second chance is hard to start, difficult to maintain and a very big ask to complete.

If we can stem the flow (and it will take more than STEM) we can then turn our attention to re-engagement of the NEETs. How many are out there? It is hard to get an accurate picture of this – the categories of “NEET” and “Beneficiary” and “Unemployed” and so on overlap and make opaque the picture of what is really happening but if we accept that, with the exception of some beneficiaries, most of those included in these categories would benefit from a process that re-engages them into education and training, the numbers could be startlingly high.

And I think that we would be surprised at the proportion that would want to be re-engaged.  It is little more than bourgeois to make the claim that most of them don’t want to work – there is no hard evidence that this is so. The feedback I receive from those working in the field is that there is interest when the options are put to people who have been sidelined but that access to programmes is not immediately possible, is not relevant, is not at the appropriate level, is not presented as a clear pathway to an understandable future and is not clearly a pathway where they can start immediately on crafting a new future.

That is a challenge for providers. Yes, we will argue that “first they have to ……” and that “they do not have the skills to enter this programme…” and “we can’t just start programmes when it suits them” and……

Having not succeeded with this group once does really put the onus on us to succeed the second time around. But like everything else in education, different results will require different ways of working. Time, course organisation, assessment and other structures will have to be re-thought as we meet these challenges.

Unlike love, education and training might not automatically be lovelier the second time around. Most strategic planning days start with the big picture. We have got some of the elements right – the BPS Goals, a workable qualifications framework, a curriculum that is flexible and a growing awareness that the situation demands our attention.

This last point is crucial. Denial is not a good basis for positive action.


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Pathways-ED: Wagging students reach 29,000

Stuart Middleton
13 April 2012


For some time I have listed the level of truancy in New Zealand schools as being 30,000 students truanting every day. I knew this to be true even though such a revelation would be often greeted with incredulity. But it is official now!

The weekend paper screams its headline “WAGGING SCHOOL THE DAILY DEAL FOR 29,000”.  This is an official 10% of the New Zealand school roll. Or as the paper put it, the equivalent of the population of Blenheim fails to go to school each day!

How did we achieve the fall of 1,000 between the older figure of 30k and the latest result, 29k? Well it appears that $4million dollars was paid out over the past two years to tackle the issue and the figures have dropped by about one thousand, a 3% reduction for $4 million! Or put another way – for $4,000 we can get one truant back to school. So if we put up another $116 million, could we lick the problem of truancy? I think not. 

I wonder if it occurs to anyone that truancy is but a symptom of an education system that is simply not working. To think that the answers lie in the schools is about as silly and thinking that the answer to alcoholism will be found inside a pub.

Schools as they are currently constituted have never catered for a diverse population over a thirteen year time span. The comprehensive nature of the schools as they have developed compounds the issue, keeping students in school long past the point at which they are learning exacerbates it and throwing money and trying to get “truants” back into the school is, without significant changes, simply wasted.

The reasons given by students for being truant as reported make for grim reading. They were “hungover” and “stoned”. School was “boring” “dumb” and they were “bored”. This is so depressing but only slightly less so than the description of this group by a school leader – “Children are staying home to look after siblings or do housework and other activities in the home.”  Baking scones and doing needlework as well perhaps.

Get real!  We have a growing crisis in New Zealand with our young people. We mope around grizzling about youth unemployment when the fact is that we have a bigger problem with unemployable youth. The group that truants is the group that become NEETs, the group that feeds the youth justice system, the group that forever and a day will be a drag on the wealth of the community and the country and its citizens.

I cannot accept the Minister’s seeing the solution as being predominantly in the community. True, the community has to play its part, generally the 90% of students who do not truant reflect that the community is doing just that and I meet parents of some of the other 10% who wish for nothing more than that their sons and daughters would want to go to school.

The truth in these kinds of issues is always in the middle. The Minister notes in her quoted statement that Principals and boards are responsible for offering an “engaging programme.”

It is no good battling truancy, being able to monitor attendance electronically or prosecuting parents unless we address the issue of what constitutes an “engaging programme”. This should not be difficult and here goes:

An engaging programme is one in which:

  •   students are successfully taught the basic skills of literacy, numeracy and digital schools
  •   students are taught the skills of employment, develop social skills, demonstrate work skills and relate easily to others in diverse settings
  •   students have a sense of purpose in their education where they see connection between what they are doing and where they are headed (students who see no purpose see no point in being at school); 
  •    where schools demonstrate an interest in all students and give them a vested interest in engaging with the school programme.

There is too much failure in primary schools and too great a lack of purpose in secondary schools for our education system to be free of truancy. How long will we continue to be spectators of the trends without heeding what they are telling us?


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Talk-ED: The Great Big Smouldering Issue!

Stuart Middleton
22  August 2012

It’s funny how you can be busily engaged in something at home and yet you can smell the pot starting to burn on the stove. You only hope that it is not too late and that neither the veges or the pot are beyond retrieval.

I instinctively feel that I can smell an educational pot starting to burn – the issue of youth unemployment, youth disengagement from school and teenage parents.

Increasingly you read reports and studies that have titles such as The Silent Epidemic and The Forgotten Half. Such titles capture pretty well the nature of this building crisis. It is reaching proportions where half of youth between 15 and 24 years are caught up in youth unemployment and/ or disengagement and it has crept up on us. This is at least worrying and at worst disastrous.

In twenty or so years time this considerable part of a generation will be aged between 35 and 44 years old, be parents, and be a critical segment of a New Zealand economy. Can we maintain our standard of living if this group has little potential to create wealth? Can we expect their children to succeed where they have failed? Can we expect this large group not to be a charge against the state?

I have written plenty about disengagement and policies such as the current Youth Guarantee set of initiatives that will help. But more fundamental changes are required in our schools. Multiple pathways through which young people have a range of options that lead them through to university and polytechnics, through to real qualifications that will ease their entry into the workforce, bring incomes (both to them through wages and to us through the tax they pay) and provide them with the wherewithal to support their families well through education.

So we need to keep on working on those areas but with greater urgency, wider reach and more marked impact.

I read in the newspapers that the Irish are to supply some of the labour required for the reconstruction of Christchurch. I can accept that we could be short on middle level experience – just as a basketball coach cannot teach height, an education provider cannot teach experience. But when it comes to raw grunt that is qualified to entry level, those jobs should go to New Zealanders and young New Zealanders at that.

This might require the Government to create jobs. But we are dealing with crisis here, both in post-quake Christchurch and in the slowly awakening education community. It would be my guess that we could easily train 5,000 young people to enter the workforce in Christchurch to work under supervision within 6 months and to maintain a supply after that. We did it after World War II, why not again now? Polytechnics could be challenged to meet these deadlines and to put into place an ongoing training capability in Christchurch. What about reinventing the “night school”? Drawing a workforce for Christchurch from across the youth of New Zealand has the advantage of returning qualified and experienced workers to many parts of New Zealand when the task is done.

What a golden opportunity we could make out of the unfortunate events. Construction, infrastructure, plumbing, painting, concrete workers, structural engineers and many more – we are here presented with real work to put alongside real training and real qualifications.

I can imagine that all this would not be greeted with joy by those managing the construction contracts but surely some additional support could be given to them to get this major training endeavour under way.

It is said that the needs of Christchurch in terms of rebuilding will take 10 or more years to complete so the timeframes here could change a whole generation and be the step change required if we are to return to an education system that will set most young people off on the pathways to prosperity. An approach like this could take the shape of a NZ Trades Corp.

Teen parents also require a special effort. There are it seems 28,000 young parents who were they not young parents, would be included in the statistics for NEETS (those not in employment, education or training). It seems crazy to simply accept that this group should be inactive (granted there is the not underestimated activity of parenthood) and special programs could easily be put into place for them surely. The great success over many years of units for teen mums would encourage us to set our sights high for the larger group.

There is an urgency about our seeking responses to the unsustainable size of the half of our young people who are dropping out of education and training and possibly out of sight. Bill Gates used to say that we should do something about all this because it is hurting them. He now says we should do something because it is hurting us!

Do I smell a pot burning or is it Rome?

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Pathway-ED: NEETs or Not NEETs?

Stuart Middleton
19 August 2011


Sometimes the media is capable of inventing differences in opinion and arguments where none exist. Such was the case when yesterday a television journalist, pursuing a story about unemployed youth, interviewed the Prime Minister and was given a figure of 16,000 and from the Minister of Social Development a figure of 58,000.

Shock horror! Who is telling porkies? Government in disarray? All the usual beat up as the journalist sought to show that the Government was confused beyond comprehension.

In fact it was the journalist who was confused and had little comprehension of what she was being told.

 The Prime Minister was speaking about Unemployed Youth and gave a figure of 16,000 while the Minister was talking about NEET Youth (those Not in Employment, Education or Training) and gave a figure of 58,000. There is a difference between the two groups. In addition, the Prime Minister was speaking about 15 – 19 year olds while the Minister was using the convention used in labour market descriptions of defining “youth” as 15 – 24 year olds.

Unemployed youth are exactly what it suggests – those youth who have been in the labour force but who are now out of work. Up to June this year the youth unemployment rate was 17.3% which was almost three times that of the general unemployment rate. The recession impacts on this area.

But the group which should concern educators is the NEET group – those not in employment, education or training. These are the disengaged, the ones who are simply doing nothing – it does not include those engaged in activity that could potentially benefit them such as travel, are between short periods of employment, taking a break from study etc. More recently it has not included those “engaged” in care-giving.

What do we know about this NEET group?

  •  Most are there because they have disengaged from education and have no useful qualifications.
  • There are more males than females in the group with the male group increasing and the female numbers falling – school attainment patterns are the thought to be the cause of this pattern and of course young mothers at home are now excluded from these calculations.
  • There are more Maori NEETs than any other group – 17% of Maori aged 15-24 are NEETS compared to 14% of Pasifika youths and 8% of European youths.
  •  The proportion of NEETS peaks at 11% around the age of 18 and 19 years quite dramatically as a result of those who fail to make the transition from school to work or postsecondary education or training. It then remains constant at around 8% until age 24 years, the upper limit for this group. Presumably NEETs then graduate into the general unemployment, benefit dependent statistics.
  • The rate of those joining the group of NEETs is constant and in some areas (male, Maori, Pasifika) is increasing subsequently frustrating any progress in reducing the overall group. The only reduction achieved has been through removing caregivers from the calculation.

This is not a pretty picture given the demographic profiles of the different groups, the relatively greater proportion of young people are Maori and Pasifika,  and the increasing numbers of males are becoming NEETs.

It is also a cause for concern that youth caregivers have now been excluded from these calculations since it is also known that youth parents (especially teen mums and dads) tend to have lower levels of educational achievement if they have any. They have low levels of visibility as a group. The prognosis for their futures when they are free of the duties of care is not good. Excluding this group from NEET calculations has reduced the total NEETs figures – is there a message here of the educational preparedness of young people for parenthood in this?  There are nearly 28,000 young people in this category!

Again this NEET phenomenon is one we share with other English-speaking countries. We might despair of the size and seeming intractability of the issue in New Zealand but we still have scale on our side compared to those other countries.  How long will we be able to say this.

Tinkering around with the pocket money of a small group within this larger issue won’t have any impact beyond a possible populist appeal to those who believe that NEETs and other like them should be “dealt with”.  A more rational approach would demand a plan to tackle the issue of NEETs and to get the pipeline working on qualifications and educational success at school. While that work is going on others need to be developing a labour market more benign to youth employment and that includes the creation of many more jobs.

So who was right, the Prime Minister or the Minister of Social Development? Both were. They were talking about different groups. It doesn’t help when journalists add to the confusion.

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