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.