Skip to content

Tag: secondary schools

“…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.


Leave a Comment

Pathway-ED: Have we been here before?

Stuart Middleton
13 October 2011

One of my most favourite poems is The Four Quartets by T S Eliot and my most favourite lines in it include these from Little Gidding

What we call the beginning is often the end

And to make an end it to make a beginning

The end is where we start from.

It is axiomatic in education that you can’t make changes unless you know what it is that you want, just where you want it to end. It puzzles me therefore that we simply continue to do what we have always done despite getting the same results. In other words, long past the point of knowing where we will end.

Perhaps the issue is that good ideas for change rely not just on the quality of the ideas but also on the setting into which they are placed. This produces a situation in which we do go around in circles and like a bus load of tourists being driven past yet another cathedral or another monument, we close our eyes and have a snooze.

Take the importance of language in education for instance.

It was in 1928 that George Sampson said in a dissenting opinion to a Royal Commission on Education in England that “every teacher is a teacher of English because every teacher is a teacher in English.” Forty years later, after yet another report from a Commission of Inquiry in England called A Language for Life (The Bullock Report), the idea resurfaced as “language across the curriculum.” The bus of sleeping tourists drove past yet another basilica.

Finally in the early part of this century a huge focus settled on literacy. The bus of tourists had woken up and realised the importance of language in education. All over the show literacy was being embedded, new kinds of literacy were invented, it is the fashion of the moment and so it should be.

But why did we miss earlier opportunities for action in this regard? Despite the ideas being of good quality the setting was wrong. The need for addressing language was not yet sufficiently obvious for us to agree that action was appropriate.

The same thing has happened with the notion of a more porous interface between secondary and tertiary education. At last New Zealand and to a lesser degree Australia is exploring initiatives that blur the distinction between secondary and tertiary education, a distinction that has become a clear barrier to many students who simply do make the crossing. It is now obvious that change is needed.

But that is not to say that the calls for change have not been ignored in the past. Back in 1986, a conference paper for the NZ Post Primary Teachers Association had in it a set of propositions  written by Phil Capper which argued that the hard edge between secondary and tertiary education was unnecessary. He further argued that secondary schools needed to be working alongside other education and training providers and drew attention to the fact that the traditional work of the secondary school was being challenged. Secondary schools, he concluded, needed to change or face the consequences.

Some seven years later in an official NZ Ministry of Education policy paper, Education for the 21st Century, a view of the future was put forward. In that future students would be able to undertake education and training in more than one setting at the same time and they would be able to combine regular school courses with tertiary courses and workplace training with local industries. This would require agreements between institutions. And just as tertiary institutions would be teaching students that convention said were secondary students, schools would be able to offer polytechnic courses.

Eighteen years later all of this is starting to be given expression. The pattern of circling past a good idea several times before it gets purchase is repeated.

The cynical would say that things have to reach something of a crisis point before people wake up and start looking for the good idea. A more charitable view would argue that there is some truth in the proposition that there is a right time for an idea when a complex combination of factors provide a setting which demands change.

It is as if it takes time for us to develop a clear view of that which we are looking at. T S Eliot was perhaps talking about this process when he concluded his lines about exploration with:

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started from

And know the place for the first time

That last line is important. It is not that the issue is new, what is new is that we have become aware of it. It is only by frank and truthful assessment of what is happening that a setting becomes conducive to change.

Leave a Comment