Tag Archive for pathways

Success most schools would die for!

There is a lovely story hidden in among the NCEA results and commentary (NZ Herald, April 9, 2015).

At first glance the appearance of Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) seems to be a mistake – what role does a tertiary education institution have in a list of NCEA results? And the results themselves seem remarkable: Level 1 – 100%, Level 2 – 91.8% and Level 3 – 83.3%.

In 2010, MIT opened the School of Secondary Tertiary Studies (Faculty of Education and Social Sciences) , also known as the Tertiary High School, the first of its kind in New Zealand.  This programme provides a pathway to success and employment for students who in Year 10 (age 14, Form 4) faced the prospect of little or no success.

A focus on the essential skills required in education and training is placed in a context where students simultaneously undertake their schooling (NCEA) and tertiary education focusing on career and professional qualifications across a wide range of disciplines. The claim is that the MIT Tertiary High School “does not take students out of school, it keeps them in school but they will not be at school.”

The results speak for themselves. Students in their second year of secondary schooling who faced failure and the risk of dropping out have a future in this different pathway characterised by success academically, gaining industry-recognised vocational qualifications and leaving with a high prospect of employment.

The New Zealand education system has unacceptable levels of disengaged students bringing great disadvantage to individuals, families and communities, and with a compounding negative impact on economic development and growth. There are no winners in this scenario.

Getting different results requires school systems to work in different ways and programmes such as the MIT Tertiary High School lead the way.

Earlier access to vocational education and training has been shown in many studies to be an effective means of re-engaging the students heading towards the point of dropping-out.

The world has changed and with it the nature of economies, the capacity of employers to take on unformed novice workers, and the demands of employment. Where once doing not so well in school was able to be compensated for by early employment with sympathetic employers, failing in school now is highly dangerous.

The education system has to pick up a challenge now that, despite the rhetoric, it has never faced in the past. It must now prepare each and every student to make a meaningful contribution to their family, their community and the country and young people who are employable.

Currently we fall well short of this and will continue to do so while we resist the reality that in order to get different results, the education system will have to work in different ways.

Not all students will succeed in a school. There should therefore be multiple pathways that open up for them to continue their education as distinct from their schooling in different settings.

The MIT Tertiary High School is one example of a pathway that takes students who have little hope of reaching high levels of achievement in the school pathway. It is not a better pathway per se but it is a different pathway and for those who succeed because of it, a far better pathway.

Opening the Tertiary High School in 2010 required legislative changes for students to be enrolled at both a school and a tertiary institution, for funding from both sectors to be used, for the duty of care to be shared between providers, and for students under the age of 16 to be educated in a place that is not designated as a school.

There is now no impediment to creating new pathways for students who do not feature in the NCEA success rates.

The NCEA results of the MIT Tertiary High School form one piece of evidence that working differently can bring different results. Failure to accept this is simply to deny the opportunities and the results that come from working differently to young people who face becoming yet another grim statistic of failure.

Stuart Middleton is Director of the Centre for Studies in Multiple Pathways at Manukau Institute of Technology.

 

 

“…For the loser now will be later to win…”

Just back from Australia and it is interesting how such a visit brings perspective to issues and topics of interest.

I have been feeling for some time now that things are about to change, especially in the Anglo-Saxon countries which for 50 years have by and large got a lot wrong in education.

Three connected themes are emerging:

·         earlier access to quality career and technical education which brings about improvements in educational outcomes;

 ·         the questioning of the absolute dominance of the university-bound “academic” pathway both for its appropriateness for many students and for its insatiable appetite to absorb funding;

 ·         the need for reconsideration of current sector organization models of the education systems which are increasingly seen as a troubling block to lifting achievement.

Each of the Anglo-Saxon educations systems is now seeing an increase in the numbers of students gaining earlier access to career and technical education. The pathways schools in Canada, the university technical colleges in the UK, many academy / charter schools in the USA, initiatives in Australia and, of course, the youth guarantee stable of secondary/tertiary programmes in New Zealand are each examples of how the integration of sound and continuing academic preparation can not only be combined with but is in fact enhanced by a closer focus on postsecondary qualifications in career and technical areas at a younger age.

The Anglo-Saxons simply have to come clean – the experiment of comprehensive high schools proved to be neither comprehensive nor very successful. The result was a set of educational and employment outcomes that were inferior to those achieved by the schools they replaced. I think I want to reject the view that the development of the comprehensive high schools were essentially based on snobbery – Germany had a dual system of both academic and technical tracks, we beat them in the war, so the American Dream was born – college for all, equity of access to top universities and so on. Well it never happened. Schools lost their variety, pathways disappeared and the so-called academic university-bound track became dominant. Good for those it suited and always had, disastrous for the rest.

But it is not simply a return to what used to be offered to students in a diverse set of schooling options – academic, general, technical, commercial and other tracks which defined outcomes at the outset of secondary education. The new and refreshed approach is one of multiple pathways that are both academic and vocational, which have flexibility, which provide a clear direction with different people delivering programmes in different places and with multiple purposes for learning. So talking the old industrial arts facilities and programmes and organisation out of mothballs won’t be sufficient.

This development in no way undervalues the university-bound pathway – this pathway is also both academic and vocational for many. There is though likely to be a competition for resources as the performance of the education system encourages funders to see that a more equitable spread of funding is a good and necessary investment. This emerged a little in Australia last week. In working to “real identifiable work” the schools will be required to find a new level of flexibility.

“Our kids need to know trades and training are first class career options just like university – they shouldn’t be made to feel like they’re playing on the ‘B Team’ “ says Aussie Federal Asst Minister for Education Sussan Ley. She also sees the need for schools to be more flexible in programme delivery allowing for “real work experience” – the challenge as to what constitutes “being at school” and the “school day” are in the wings and yet to come.

That leads to the third issue – the challenges to the sector organization of schooling. The Catholic education system in Australia is getting ready to shift Year 7 (the equivalent of our Year 8) up to secondary schools in order to provide for a transition that comes at a better spot in the students’ pathway, allowing for a more coherent “junior” high school and therefore opening the way for increased flexibility in the “senior” secondary school.

It is still my view that New Zealand should be seriously discussing the benefits and issues of placing the senior high school (i.e. Years 11-13) into the tertiary sector – now there’s a big topic. Such a shift would allow New Zealand to consider the features of education systems that we admire and give to them a New Zealand flavor.

Are the times a’changin’? If they are then lets hope for more than hugs and bean bags this time round.

 

There might be more than meets the eye!

 

I have been criticized plenty of times for suggesting that a key purpose of an education is to get a job. I have plenty of times put up with arguments about the higher purposes of schooling. I have even been told, with great seriousness, by the VC of a prestigious university that “We don’t train people, we educate them!”

Then dark clouds rolled in – we had a skills shortage, we had a mismatch between the labour market and the supply line from education providers. We had a growing sense of unease at the indicators that pointed to something of a perfect storm where Salt’s demographic faultline rumbled at the same time as the GFC (i.e. a recession for those not into TLAs) took hold.

There then developed a set of sideshows that risked turning education into something akin to a vaudeville show. Student / teacher ratios led the charge, then there was Novopay, then there was push back in Christchurch at offers of support to look at working in other ways that some other parts of the country might have welcomed (without, of course, the earthquakes that provoked them).

Meanwhile, without a fuss, the world had started to change. New programmes appeared that were more closely aligned to employment. Students started to move into these programmes at a younger age. No longer was a 15-19 year old faced with a single choice – stay in school – but was able to consider pathways through different kinds of institutions and face having not just what used to be thought of as a school leaving qualification (NCEA) but with a set of qualifications, NCEA and a technical qualification, employment ready at about the time the rest were heading off to university to start the journey.

In short, we are at a time when the education scene is changing for 15 – 19 year olds and the conventional senior secondary school is slowly being moved sideways to take its place alongside other pathways. Some of the developments are highly visible (the Tertiary High school, Youth Guarantee fees free places) while others are less obvious retaining a little of the look of school (trades academies for instance).

I am told that by 2015, there will be about 17,500 young people (15-19 year olds) who will be pursuing their education in a place other than a school – ITPs, wananga, PTEs would account for most of them I imagine. This is something of a silent revolution. Imagine the size of a group of 17,000 students would look like in the one place! It is quite a few empty classrooms.

That this is happening is not an argument against schools, it is simply affirmation that some young people have their life chances enhanced by continuing their schooling somethere other than a school. Don’t you love the US habit of referring to “school” for pretty well all levels? One fellow said to me recently I am going back to school next semester – that was to Harvard to do a Masters degree!

So imagine my surprise when on Labour Day (consider the irony of this) I heard two news reports on the radio both urging the authorities to see that education institutions be measured by their success in getting people into employment. And they both were teacher organisations, one here in New Zealand and the other in Australia.

We have just had the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment issue a RFP calling for proposals that bring together community connection and involvement, quality trades training, involvement of ITOs in the process of moving the student through to employment, the provision of tools – this all sounds like a commitment to seamlessness, it sounds like a carefully constructed pathway. And it is interesting that the TEC and MBIE are involved with each contributing what they do best.

Is there enough happening to claim that a paradigm shift is under way? Possibly, the signs are there that we are moving away from a set of practices that have been fairly constant for thirty years. Next will come the uncertainty and then the emergence of a new way of working.

But let me put this forward as an idea. Education was pretty constant in the way it worked for a hundred years until the late 1960s and 1970s when much change happened. Tracking / streaming was bad – out it went. Industrial arts were a reflection of an age now gone – out they went. The government employed 80% of the apprentices but they sold off the industrial and service agencies that employed them – out they went. Polytechnics were invented and training shifted both in the institutions and into daylight – out went learning on the job.

It could be that the big paradigm shift really started back then, went through a time of great uncertainty (the 1990s and the 2000s) and what is happening now is the emergence of a new way of working. Now that would be exciting.

 

Talk-ED: In Praise of level 1 and level 2

One of the real strengths of the current Better Public Service Goals is that the target for 18 Year olds is expressed with some flexibility. To pin the target at “NCEA Level 2 or equivalent qualification” is both sensible and essential for a variety of reasons.

It will be a very long time before all 18 year olds will be achieving this target through the conventional approaches of the secondary school. NCEA Level 2 does not function as an effective school leaving target for all simply because the secondary school-based pathway is not one that is attractive to or effective for all students.

This is recognised in other school systems. In the United States the High School Diploma is the standard “school leaving qualification”.  But many do not achieve this so an option is offered through the community college system in two ways. Study for other awards at the level of the diploma is recognised in the associate degree qualification or, where that study has been in general education subjects, often remediation courses, the qualification awarded is a General Education Diploma. This is “an equivalent qualification”.

When a student has not found success in the pathway through a school the appropriate response will neither be in a school nor will the appropriate qualification be one that is seen as a “school” qualification. A multiple pathways response will see the foundation level study wrapped onto other postsecondary programmes and the student who finds renewed interest and energy in different pathways will subsequently be successful not because of the Better Public Service Goal but because they have a line of sight to other postsecondary qualifications and the employment that goes with them. Achieving the Level 2 goal will merely be a station their train passes through on that journey.

Our education system has been dogged by two things in its history – the lack of connection between school and what comes after for a significant group of students and the fixation with a school-based qualification that has little connection with the qualification required beyond the gates.

The Qualifications Framework was a mechanism that would allow equivalence to be struck between different programmes and qualifications. “Equivalence” is not “sameness” and judgment is required in striking equivalence between dissimilar programmes and qualifications at the same level. Trying to bundle everything at Level 1 or Level 2 into a package is at best pointless and might even be counterproductive.

The Tertiary Education Commission insists only that programmes “offered through Youth Guarantee must be linked to level 1-3 qualifications on the New Zealand Qualifications Framework”  and notes that “achieving level 2 qualifications should be the starting point for the learner, with tertiary education organisations encouraging and supporting Youth Guarantee learners to progress to higher levels of education” (see www.tec.govt.nz).  This reinforces the principles of difference and equivalence. It also importantly reflects the importance of the Minister’s recent announcement that Youth Guarantee would apply to 19 year olds allowing level 3 programmes to become a realistic goal within a Youth Guarantee supported pathway.

Level 3 is important in that at that level entry into other industry-recognised qualifications becomes more realistic and suggests that level 2 is an important stage – essential but not sufficient for a secure future. And that is an important point.

The Ministry of Education (www.moe.govt.nz) notes that “foundation education at levels 1 and 2 on the New Zealand Qualifications Framework provides people of all ages who left school school without qualifications opportunities to learn foundation skills needed to progress to higher-level study and skilled employment.”

Current moves to wrap foundation education into continuous pathways that take young people to a higher and better place are to be welcomed but if they result in re-introducing the disconnection between foundation work and the real qualifications they follow then many of the gains made by Youth Guarantee might be lost and that would be a great pity.

If issues such as disengagement, NEETs, teen Mums and Dads, Maori and Pasifika achievement and so on are to be seriously addressed then level 1 and 2 must not become programmes based on new turf in its own right but a level of learning that is a genuine foundation on which the superstructure of higher skills can be placed. The two parts of this process are one and indivisible.

Effective delivery of levels 1 and 2 in a seamless and connected manner will be a key to success not only of programmes but also for learners – both those things are also the same thing!

 

 

Talk-ED: It's still a good read: The Hawke Report

 

This is the third piece in an occasional series about documents that have had in them important ideas and challenges to practices that prevailed at the time. The first was about the ideas of Phil Capper in the late 1980s and early 1990s (The Jagged Edge) while the second noted that the 1993 policy statement Education for the 21st Century, released during Dr Lockwood Smith’s watch, had ideas that we are only starting to grapple with now.

In 1988 the Report of the Working Group on Post Compulsory Education and Training was published.  This group, convened by Professor Gary Hawke, had been looking at what happens after the age of 15 years (the school leaving age at the time, across the variety of providers and ways of obtaining qualifications.  The report, generally referred to as The Hawke Report, led to policy statements Learning for Life and Learning for Life 2.

It is instructive that the focus was on “post compulsory” and that this point is a person’s educational progress, reaching the age of 15 years and therefore not compelled to remain at school, was seen as a key point from which educational responses could be planned.  It also meant that the senior secondary school was placed into the mix of provision alongside other kinds of institutions (polytechnics, universities for instance) and different approaches to educating and training the young adult (such as on the job training).

The definition of “postcompulsory” that the working group was given was not narrow and dry simply pipelining young people onto the floor of the factory or out into the fields.  Hawke noted that the working group had worked on the basis that the definition, the definition which took in all state provision, private providers, both formal and informal opportunities, it was assumed to be  “all-encompassing in the spirit of lifetime education for everybody in New Zealand” (p14).

We seem these days to be even more troubled by the notion that the senior secondary schools is just one pathway forward at the post compulsory level and there seems an even greater desire to see the senior secondary school as being able to meet the needs of all learners for several more years after the point of compulsion.

The Hawke Report discussed the idea of raising the school leaving age noting that 15% of the age “cohort left school within a year of their fifteenth year” (p21) and immediately noted that “the consequences for many schools of having to provide for significant numbers of reluctant returners would be significant.”   The report went on to propose an “educational leaving age” requiring young people up to some age limit such as 18 to be in some form of education and training”(p22)Five years later the school leaving age was raised to 16 years! What a pity that the more challenging notion of requiring continued engagement with education and training wasn’t explored and the simplistic “school leaving age” approach which was, to be fair, favoured across the Anglo-Saxon systems was favoured.

Another interesting recommendation of the Report was the suggestion that a ministry would be best grouped so as to be the Ministry of Education and Training.  This might have avoided some of the distracting and misleading arguments that are still trotted out about the distinctions between “education” and “training”, an argument largely fuelled by the old hoary binary distinction between “academic” and “vocational”.  It went further in ruling out as producing too many awkward divisions, the notion of a Ministry of Postcompulsory Education and Training on the grounds that it would “place an awkward division of responsibilities for the upper levels of schools” (p46)The truth in this is being played out currently through the attempts to provide success for more 15-19 year olds with initiatives that cross that very same “awkward division”.

The Hawke Report gave impetus to the development of a national qualifications framework under the control of a National Education Qualifications Agency (NEQA) which would later come about as the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA).  In fact the Report deals at some length with attempts to bring order into what was then a somewhat Byzantine collection of disconnected agencies, bodies, boards and authorities.

While schools were a little outside the target of the Working Group, it did arrive at some conclusions about them.  It noted a welcome trend for schools to be opening “paths for young people rather than administering successively more demanding barriers to further education” (p90) and sought to see this continued which would require, in its view, the “removal of barriers to students undertaking courses in more than one institution.”  I wonder if this is the first appearance of this notion in an official document.  It was later to re-surface in Education for the 21st Century and, twenty years later is starting to be actualised in trades academies, tertiary high schools and other such developments.

The Hawke Report remains the most comprehensive consideration of postcompulsory education and training that we have.  The brief dip into it here does not convey the breadth of the treatment it gave to that critical area of education and training, the pathways from compulsory schooling to lifelong learning.  It continues to increasingly challenge us.

 

  

Talk-ED: It’s still a good read: The Hawke Report

 

This is the third piece in an occasional series about documents that have had in them important ideas and challenges to practices that prevailed at the time. The first was about the ideas of Phil Capper in the late 1980s and early 1990s (The Jagged Edge) while the second noted that the 1993 policy statement Education for the 21st Century, released during Dr Lockwood Smith’s watch, had ideas that we are only starting to grapple with now.

In 1988 the Report of the Working Group on Post Compulsory Education and Training was published.  This group, convened by Professor Gary Hawke, had been looking at what happens after the age of 15 years (the school leaving age at the time, across the variety of providers and ways of obtaining qualifications.  The report, generally referred to as The Hawke Report, led to policy statements Learning for Life and Learning for Life 2.

It is instructive that the focus was on “post compulsory” and that this point is a person’s educational progress, reaching the age of 15 years and therefore not compelled to remain at school, was seen as a key point from which educational responses could be planned.  It also meant that the senior secondary school was placed into the mix of provision alongside other kinds of institutions (polytechnics, universities for instance) and different approaches to educating and training the young adult (such as on the job training).

The definition of “postcompulsory” that the working group was given was not narrow and dry simply pipelining young people onto the floor of the factory or out into the fields.  Hawke noted that the working group had worked on the basis that the definition, the definition which took in all state provision, private providers, both formal and informal opportunities, it was assumed to be  “all-encompassing in the spirit of lifetime education for everybody in New Zealand” (p14).

We seem these days to be even more troubled by the notion that the senior secondary schools is just one pathway forward at the post compulsory level and there seems an even greater desire to see the senior secondary school as being able to meet the needs of all learners for several more years after the point of compulsion.

The Hawke Report discussed the idea of raising the school leaving age noting that 15% of the age “cohort left school within a year of their fifteenth year” (p21) and immediately noted that “the consequences for many schools of having to provide for significant numbers of reluctant returners would be significant.”   The report went on to propose an “educational leaving age” requiring young people up to some age limit such as 18 to be in some form of education and training”(p22)Five years later the school leaving age was raised to 16 years! What a pity that the more challenging notion of requiring continued engagement with education and training wasn’t explored and the simplistic “school leaving age” approach which was, to be fair, favoured across the Anglo-Saxon systems was favoured.

Another interesting recommendation of the Report was the suggestion that a ministry would be best grouped so as to be the Ministry of Education and Training.  This might have avoided some of the distracting and misleading arguments that are still trotted out about the distinctions between “education” and “training”, an argument largely fuelled by the old hoary binary distinction between “academic” and “vocational”.  It went further in ruling out as producing too many awkward divisions, the notion of a Ministry of Postcompulsory Education and Training on the grounds that it would “place an awkward division of responsibilities for the upper levels of schools” (p46)The truth in this is being played out currently through the attempts to provide success for more 15-19 year olds with initiatives that cross that very same “awkward division”.

The Hawke Report gave impetus to the development of a national qualifications framework under the control of a National Education Qualifications Agency (NEQA) which would later come about as the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA).  In fact the Report deals at some length with attempts to bring order into what was then a somewhat Byzantine collection of disconnected agencies, bodies, boards and authorities.

While schools were a little outside the target of the Working Group, it did arrive at some conclusions about them.  It noted a welcome trend for schools to be opening “paths for young people rather than administering successively more demanding barriers to further education” (p90) and sought to see this continued which would require, in its view, the “removal of barriers to students undertaking courses in more than one institution.”  I wonder if this is the first appearance of this notion in an official document.  It was later to re-surface in Education for the 21st Century and, twenty years later is starting to be actualised in trades academies, tertiary high schools and other such developments.

The Hawke Report remains the most comprehensive consideration of postcompulsory education and training that we have.  The brief dip into it here does not convey the breadth of the treatment it gave to that critical area of education and training, the pathways from compulsory schooling to lifelong learning.  It continues to increasingly challenge us.

 

  

Pathways-ED: Bridging the Divides with Pathways

 

 

Over the past two days 260 educators have been meeting in Auckland at the third National Conference on Pathways and Transitions – Bridging the Divides : Secondary-Tertiary-Employment Transitions for Learner Success.

The conference was organised by the Manukau Institute of Technology Centre for Studies in Multiple Pathways in association with Ako Aotearoa, the University of Auckland, the Ministry of Education, Cognition Education and Cyclone Computers. This “family of six” reflects the importance given to the topic and the extent to which it has moved more and more towards centre stage in the awareness of those who care about improving students outcomes.

There are two key concepts – the notion of “transitions” and that of “pathways”. We know that the transitions between and within the different parts of the education system are choke points in the journey students face as they pursue an education. The shift from ECE to primary, primary to intermediate and subsequently for all, into secondary, then on into some postsecondary education which finally move into employment is a reflection of a system that is built for the adults that survived rather than the learner/student.

Dr Joel Vargas from the Jobs for the Future Foundation in Boston U.S. showed that the loss of students at transition points was an issue that went well beyond our shores. We know that we “lose” over 4,000 students between primary and secondary, that 20% of students drop out, that half of those starting a postsecondary qualification do not complete. Much of this waste of talent and potential is the result of the issues surrounding transitions. And there is that transition form the stages of education into employment.

Associate Professor Leesa Wheelahan (University of Melbourne) reminded the conference of the weak link between education and employment, a point reinforced by business leaders who addressed the conference.

Transitions need to have “pathways” if they are to lead to the levels of seamlessness that will address the issues of the dysfunctional transitions which might more correctly be thought of as fractures.

Pathways are seamless, start somewhere and arrive somewhere else. In themselves they are an organising principle that calls for connection and quirks each of those who work on each side of the crevasse to work together. It is interesting that some of the systems we admire have solved this issue through looking to sector reform to shape a system based around the needs of young people rather than around the sensitivities of adults.

260 educators working to address these issues simply have to make a difference. There is developing a community of practice that is seeking to construct new pathways and transitions with a more seamless approach to create increased likelihood of more positive educational outcomes for more students.

This was a clear message of the Minister of Education Hon Hekia Parata who in addressing the conference emphasised the Better Public Service goals as clear markers for outcomes which the system must work towards.

This will require us to work differently but this will not always require us to embrace startling and new or radical ideas. As has been a theme of recent EDTalkNZ pieces, some of the ideas have moved across the education stage before. The notion of a “jagged edge”, even “seamlessness” and the reforms of Post Compulsory Education and Training in the 1980s had canvased many of the changes now being seriously considered – a point made elegantly by Professor Gary Hawke who led the reforms back then. Professor Hawke made an interesting point in his reminder that we need to focus on post compulsory rather than postsecondary.

So it was an exciting gathering where ideas surfaced and were considered, where for two days there was a coming together of people working towards shared goals. The things that divide us in education were parked at the door and students were considered. Many were impressed by the eloquence and directed energy of the students, especially one who had gone through the MIT Tertiary High School.  He had made the transition from risk to reward, from being given no hope in school to seeing a pathway that would take him into a job he loves and which opens up a big wide world.

It is early days but directions are emerging that hold the promise of an education system that will deliver pathways to students that see them college (postsecondary) ready and career ready. If we can achieve this we will perhaps avoid the demographic time bomb that ticks away and was so clearly described by Sir Mark Solomon.

 

It could be that in time is not on our side in these issues.

 

Pathways-ED: Why is “jobs” a dirty word?

Stuart Middleton
EdTalkNZ
4 April 2012

 

I cannot understand why there seems to be reluctance and even resistance to the idea that a critical outcome of education is to get a job. Note that I have said “a critical outcome” and made no claim that it is the only outcome. But I must say that without the capability of getting a job after 10, 12, and 13 perhaps even 20 years of formal education all other outcomes are made to look rather meaningless and trite.

When I went to school, (yes, this usually breaks out a chorus of simulated violin playing, shouts of “he’ll tell us about walking to school barefoot in the snow into the teeth of a raging gale next” and many other kinds of loving derision) we knew why – it was to get a job. Indeed at the age of 12, I was enrolled in a technical secondary school to become a carpenter. The course of my life was fixed on that job or so I thought.

It is a whole other story, intervention by well-meaning educators who classed me as “academic” and despatched me into 10 years of academic learning, the most perplexing years of my life when I most flirted with failure. The removal of the goal of a clear job for a future shaped rather amorphously which only later crystallised into teaching as a job, certainly made  my pathway rockier than it needed to be.

Take the espoused goal of creating a lifelong learner. I’ll show you a lifelong learner when a person has demonstrated that they are – it is not a soft prediction that one makes. Many seemingly self-educated people are not lifelong learners. To say “I am a lifelong learner” can only be the conclusion drawn after looking back on at least a chunk of a life and being able to document clearly the evidence.

You see, what we need from educational experiences is the capability to do whatever is asked of us next. That is why I am frustrated by the unwillingness of education systems to accept that the key purpose of each stage of formal education is to prepare students for the next stage of their lives – education, eventually being a responsible adult, and, yes, finally getting a job.

Then there is the nonsense that we are in the business of preparing people to have “at least seven careers” as I read somewhere last week. This is baloney. Rare people have two careers perhaps but most, if they have a career at all, have one. “Career” is a qualitative judgment about a continuous quality of achievement in an area of employment. It might mean that a person has different jobs; indeed it is probably essential that they do, but they are changes and growth within a field not a succession of wild swings between “careers”.

Education would do well to set as a key goal, the aim of getting each and every student into a job.

Yes there are issues of unemployment but remember that the creation of unemployment is the outcome of a deliberate ideological stance about how economies best run. We could have full employment if we so wished and were prepared to pay for it and perhaps the western world will return to that one day. Who knows?. Or could we return?

Alongside the issue of youth unemployment we have another mammoth in the house, the unemployable youth. The skills of employment are not hard to define and one list is about as good as another.

Reliability, punctuality, pride in work, ability to work unsupervised, knowing what productivity means, ability to learn, enthusiasm all occur to me. A better, much more worthy, can be seen at http://www.quintcareers.com/job_skills_values.html . These should be a given if an education system is half good. But too often students have simply not acquired them. This is not simply the fault of the system or those who teach but we should ask questions about why this simple catalogue of dispositions and skills evades so many learners.

And the answer is clearly, because they cannot see a connection between what they are doing and the life of working in a job or jobs. Unemployment is a scourge of that we can be certain. The wonderful and gruesome and dispiriting TV series, Boys from the Blackstuff, a British television drama series from the early 1980s sticks in the mind for its main character  Yosser Hughes who was somewhat demented by not having a job and the devastation that brought into his life. He had a couple of catchphrases, “Gizza’ job!” and “I can do that!” which summed up the continual torture of unemployment.

Of course the 1980s a time of serious unemployment among adults who lost their jobs. Now the issues seems increasingly to be among the young who have never had jobs.

Can education hold its head up high and say that we are doing our best? Or even that we are addressing the issue?

 

Talk-ED: You say tomato I say tomato, you say academic I say vocational

Stuart Middleton
EdTalkNZ
15 February 2012

 

I have no understanding why it is so. Perhaps it is because we have two arms, two legs, two eyes, two ears and lots of other bits and pieces in twos. But humans like us seem to have a fixation about binary opposites – life and death, night and day, evil and good, yin and yang. This last pair does shed some light on the issue – they are opposites, each cannot exist without the other, they impact on each other through mutual consumption and, I read, “one can change into the other, but it is not a random event, happening only when the time is right. For example: Spring only comes when winter is finished.”

This might be helpful in understanding why we are so fond of such distinctions in education – content/theory, product/process, and of course learning/teaching. But no distinction is more of an issue than that odd couple, “academic” and “vocational”.

Once there was something of a distinction. Academic was higher education, it was learning about much that improved the quality of life, of thinking and was the basis of an educated and knowledgeable person. Its purpose was not explicitly utilitarian. And this persisted until quite recently.

In the 1970s I went to school one day and mentioned to a group of colleagues that I had finished my DipEd to complement my MA. The Head of the Languages Department’s only comment was “Ah, Stuart, teachers might have an MA DipEd but gentlemen simply have an MA.” The grubby trappings of a vocational qualification were not for him.

But things have changed. The first is that the universities have become blatantly vocational. It is likely that this has been driven within the university by marketing and outside it by a community awash with cupidity. Increasingly degrees are offered that relate to a job rather than to an academic discipline – teaching, town planning, natural therapies, physiotherapy and so on. This reverse creeping credentialism (the modern dumbing down) has ushered in a decline in the value placed on the generic degrees such as BA and BSc that were once the platform from which post-graduate work of a more specifically employment related nature (sometimes taught outside the university) was possible.

A further issue is that there is no longer any clear vertical distinction between the vocational and the academic.  Much that qualifies people for work in business, industry and commerce which is vocational is very academic. The academic demands of such programmes are substantial. It used to be the case that you could enter professions (or were they vocations?) such as nursing and teaching with a middle level of achievement in a secondary school. Now you must enter the profession through the degree portal. Has the work changed to that extent?

And has this worked? Hardly.

When I reached the end of my primary schooling I was enrolled for a carpentry course at a Technical High School. This was a vocational secondary school that offered a wide range of technical and commercial subjects that led quickly into employment. The primary school Principal intervened and cautioned my parents that I should not pursue this vocational pathway because I was academic. For many years I was a very poor academic (and might well still be). Looking back there is some regret that we took notice of the advice.

The system largely solved the issue of increased difficulty in leading young people into employment by spreading comprehensive secondary education across our system and cleansing the curriculum of vocational skills other than in a generalised way that was academic and in no sense clearly vocational. And this was largely because the tracking / streaming that was implied by the system that was used to pursue vocational pathways became discredited. We had no choice but to try retain students longer in secondary education and this has had mixed success.

Consequently the issues of the academic / vocational debate have been transferred to the tertiary sector. But without the secondary / tertiary interface becoming blurred and porous, the grip on vocational courses by institutions that see themselves as academic will result in them becoming less accessible.

We will only start to meet the needs of all students if institutions do not continue to dine out, gorge indeed, on the sacred nature of that which is academic.

Academic is the new vocational. And vocational now requires much better academic preparation than the education system is currently delivering. As Dorothy Meier said back in 1994, “That academics has become the path all children must pursue in order to meet their non-academic aspirations – from engineer to lawyer to bookkeeper – is absurd”  If it was absurd back then it must surely the height of silliness now.

The use of academic and vocational is no longer a distinction and has instead become a distraction.

 

Talk-ED: Phil Capper – He spoke but did we listen?

Stuart Middleton
EdTalkNZ
7 November 2011

 

I have a number of times recently mused on the extent to which good ideas are ignored only to emerge at some time later in a similar or new shape but essentially repeating or building on those earlier ideas. The same is true of people. I have worked with some of these people.

The multilingual nature of the school population is now at least acknowledged and in many placed even understood. The ways in which this impacts on the curriculum and its delivery in classrooms is now accepted. Indeed major programmes such as the highly effective Kotahitanga professional development programme seeks to help teachers put in place the shibboleth first put forward by Sylvia Ashton-Warner – “take the native imagery of the student and use it for teaching material.” This was also advocated strongly by Bernard Gadd, an English teacher who knew long before the rest of us caught up with it that the world in which we taught English was changing dramatically and irrevocably. Indeed he was to some extent seen as eccentric and a bit of a nuisance as he challenged all-comers about their practice and on occasion their principles.

But without the Sylvia Ashton-Warners, the Bernard Gadds, change would later be much more difficult. We need these people who move ahead and see a world that is beyond our comprehension but of which we slowly develop first a suspicion that they might be right and then an understanding that we missed a chance by not listening more carefully.    

I have also written, repeatedly some of you might say, of the extent to which we failed to grasp the importance of what Phil Capper wrote in 1986 and repeated in 1993. Twenty five years ago he said:

  • schools are not catering for the increasingly diverse range of needs the students bring with them into the secondary school;
  • the “standard menu” of offerings would no longer be adequate;
  • if we didn’t think about the nature of the senior secondary school, there was a danger that other providers would offer pathways that were more attractive and more appropriate;
  • we needed to rethink that whole notion of a “school” as having a protected space that gave secondary schools the “right” to claim a group of students of a certain age as “theirs”.

Now I have paraphrased some of this to express the points he made in the current way that these very same issues are being discussed. But in his own words he argued that “schools could respond more readily to what the community wants, especially in the upper secondary school. If schools do not respond to the opportunities and challenges implicit in this, then I believe that we will see a flight of post-compulsory students to other educational institutions and the reduction of all but the most academic schools to virtual junior high schools.” The title of his first paper said it all –“The Jagged Edge.

This still seems a little dramatic but is it a warning that remains unheeded? Is his later position one which can be ignored? He saw himself “questioning the continued validity of regarding the secondary service as a fixed and discrete entity.”

Phil Capper died last week. Education has lost a thinker who had the courage to raise issues which were uncomfortable to many. In the little area of his activity that I have noted, his thinking was much wider than just this but in the jagged edge material there is a feel of the clairvoyant. We could have saved ourselves and probably many, many students a whole lot of anguish if they had been not only taken notice of but also acted on back then. But perhaps we need these ice-breakers in education, people like Phil Capper, who can break through, who can start to mark a trail that we could follow with profit if only we trusted others insights.