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“Perhaps we don’t fully understand our degree of advantage” – Monty Python


I’m in Australia at a conference – that of the Australia Vocational Education and Training Research Association. I am a member of the executive and it is good to catch up with colleagues and friends.

There is a feeling of celebration in the air – it isn’t because of Queen Elizabeth II’s birthday, or the celebration of 400 years since Shakespeare’s death or even ANZAC Day (although they do make more of that over here than we do). Nor is it the prospect of a double dissolution election that Australia now faces on 2 July.

No it is about the growing realisation that the future growth and health of the economy is not only in the hands of the universities. It has dawned on the politicians that addressing the flow of skilled persons into the workforce has reached a level of importance that it has now moved into centre stage.

In opening the conference, the Hon Barilaro, Minister for Skills in the NSW Parliament reflected on his own experience – failing at university, shifting into his dad’s joinery workshop and becoming a chippie. He left a clear impression that he had done quite well and has clear aspirations that others should follow. It was a buoyant theme on which to start the conference.

But perhaps even more heartening is the interest in what we are up to in New Zealand. There is agreement that we have the tertiary sector (I am not sure who “we” is actually) in a much more organised space than they have in Australia. Of special interest is the secondary / tertiary interface and I have spent a lot of time detailing this in conversations.

I am pleased to report that the impact of the attack on disengagement which is the premise on which our comprehensive approach at MIT (I am careful to emphasise that this is the Manukau Institute of Technology) is based is starting to manifest itself in what one Principal calls a significant increase in the senior rolls that he attributes to the partnership opportunities at MIT taken advantage of by his school.

We sometimes look at Australia and are inclined to think of it in terms of their own description as “the lucky country”. Believe me the gloss of this is starting to dim. It is time for us to start seeing ourselves as a lucky country. Not in any Pollyanna sense but in cool reflection on some of the advantages we have.

Scale is on our side – the size of any issue with regard to education is not beyond our capability to respond.

We have made greater progress with responding to both our “first people” as they call them here (how lucky we are to have access to Māori language to help us arrive at descriptions that are better) and the “Welcome to Country” seems simply to be endured rather than entered into with a degree of participative enthusiasm. There is much interest in the Māori and Pasifika Trades Training initiatives.

Jobs are there and accessible for the well-prepared and well-presented. I strolled around the much talked about Barangaroo that looks more like a medieval walled city than a welcoming work site. I didn’t crack that code! I found out later that I could have brought a ticket to a tour – oh well, next time.

Let’s just get on with it.



Te Ara Whakamana is New Zealand’s largest forum dedicated to education and employment pathways and transitions.  Now in its sixth year, this event brings together educators from both secondary and tertiary sectors, industry representatives, policymakers, and researchers to share good ideas and practices, and to be challenged by different perspectives.

Earlybird registrations are open now.

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The long low croon of the steady Trade Winds blowing*

Stuart Middleton


13 November 2015

I am sure that there is a discernible breeze getting up among the education trees.

I have recently spent time with Iwi groups who are looking at the value of such developments as the MIT Tertiary High School in jump-starting an improvement in Māori educational achievement. Demand for places in trades academies is increasing markedly and schools are asking for trades courses to be delivered within their programmes and on their premises.

In Alberta, Canada, I made a presentation (via video) about the MIT Tertiary High School to a major government education conference and there is ongoing work taking place to look at the value of such a development in Alberta, a province which probably has been more successful in adapting and changing than the more vaunted Ontario.

In the weekend papers a story is told of a set of early childhood education centres in the UK that is using experience with real trades tools and activities and a setting (workbenches, real materials and so on) to develop quality motor skills and social skills among the preschoolers.

At the other end of the age range, the University Technical Colleges developed under the leadership of Lord Baker of Dorking, are taking high performing 15 year old students into a STEM oriented programme and having them complete a first university degree by age 18 years. Why that age range? Lord Baker says simply: “14 years is too early to start specializing and 19 years is too late to get on with a career.”

As these English speaking systems get on with trying to address disengagement and failure (just as we are) some principles emerge which should be the foundation for future actions in response to the achievement issues.

Early access to applied learning will open up a pathway for students who are jettisoned by the university-bound track that constrains the senior secondary school programme. We hear so much chatter about different learning styles, about De Bono and and his jolly hats, about reflecting students aspirations and on and on and on but we see no action in response.

Early access to applied learning through the trades ticks all the boxes – a range of different learning styles can be catered for and the highly demanded skills of team work, planning and discipline are able to be integral parts of the programme. But most of all, when students reach the senior secondary school age they are wondering about their futures beyond school and trades programmes give a line of sight to employment and careers. Education become purposeful rather than for no obvious reason.

The age range 14-19 years is critical if we are to address disengagement and failure. It is where disengagement occurs, it is where the failure become manifest, it is where students become dispirited as they realize that they are ill-equipped for the world ahead. They are lured into a future as a NEET because it seems to be the only option. But what might once might have seemed to be the rosy glow of Shanghri-La quickly turns out to be neither rosy nor rewarding.

If we are to canny sailors we should be responding to the breeze before it develops into a storm that defies containment and might well be beyond our capability.

* Trade Winds John Masefield

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The science of earthquakes prediction by the bovine community

They say that cows are warned about earthquakes for they occur by a sense that something is changing, that something is about to happen. This might be true. Although I have no bovine features, I too have a sense that something is about to happen.

I sense that after a number of years, for me about eight years and for the education system perhaps five, I see signs that critical shifts are about to happen in the schooling system in New Zealand.

Back in 2008 and 2009 when I argued for legislative changes that would allow MIT to start its Tertiary High School I was motivated by a sense that the changes were not just about that programme but were in fact changes that would lead to side developments that would be in the interest of students who were underserved by the education system.

The changes to the law (which allowed for many other changes) were specifically made to allow the Tertiary High School at Manukau Institute of Technology to go ahead. But the next year, in the 2010 Education Amendment Bill, those changes were expanded to allow for other secondary / tertiary programmes to be introduced. By then the Trades Academies were starting to get a policy around them and a shape to what they might look like. Youth Guarantee had morphed from a couple of words in an election campaign into a policy setting.

Increasingly the discourse was using words such as “multiple pathways” and “transitions” and “partnerships”. Of course there was resistance as the tired and well-discredited cries of “give schools the resources – they can do the job”. But that was simply code for “give us the money and we will do the same old thing for the same old results.”

It is now not hard to find excellent examples of……

Trades academies, which are giving students the experience of trades, oriented disciplines in Years 12 and 13. And this in no way resembles a return to the old technical streams. These programmes are taught in ways that give students an experience of the kinds of training that will, would, get, should they make a decision to follow that pathway. The work they are doing is real and done in the same setting as others being trained for the trades. There is an authenticity about it that goes well beyond the school-based technical stream programmes which could certainly produce highly skilled craftspeople in the metal and wood crafts, outstandingly skilled and clever, but it isnot trades as we know them in this iteration.

The trades academies are conservative in that they are restricted to Years 12 and 13 typically and they pose little challenge to the structures of the schools with their simple one day a week out of class approach. But they are a great start.

Partnerships. There are examples of sophisticated relationships and partnerships between schools of different levels. Intermediate schools show that they can work with contributing primary school in the one direction and with high schools in the other. Again, this is conservative but it is a start. Excellent partnerships can lead to managed transitions more easily than a bunch of slightly hostile folk sitting down together to initiate them.

Some schools are forging great relationships with community. This is clearly evident in much of the work being done by wharekura and there are examples where such schools are outperforming many high decile schools that pride themselves on their results.

While this is something of a revelation to some, to those who have promoted such developments, it has always been a clear and confident expectation. Students who have access to vocational and technical education earlier, who can work in different ways, who can see themselves in what they do, who are culturally respectful simply perform better than they would have. In fact they perform to stunningly high levels.

The relationship between tertiary and secondary has developed in some instances with remarkable speed to find ways of working together.

And there is starting to develop a view that 14 years to 18 years is where the action must be concentrated. And not just for “low performing students” or for those who disengage from the education system. Changes have started that have wide implications for the future, implications that suggest we could start to perform in ways that match the education systems we envy. It is dangerous to be not doing well at school at the age of fourteen in New Zealand.

High performing students in the UK are being given the opportunity to start university level STEM qualifications at the age of 14 years and are then ready to pursue postgraduate study or to go into highly skilled technical employment at age 18 years. Lord Baker who is a key force in this development explains they they “start at age 14 because 15 is too late to specialize and they finish at age 18 because 17 is to early to start employment.”

Just as cows might sense an impending earthquake, I sense that a shake-up of another kind is on the way! But this one while causing distress to some will by and large be wholly to be welcomed.



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We are not the only ones

A response to my blog last week about the gap in the middle has made me aware of some interesting developments in the UK. The respondent was a senior member of the staff of Edge Foundation whose tag line is “Champion of technical, practical and vocational learning”.

The Edge Foundation has six key planks in its belief[1]. They want politicians, practitioners and the public to:

  1.        recognise that there are many talents and paths to success;
  2.        ensure the “learning by doing” is valued equally with academic learning;
  3.        provide technical, practical and vocational learning as an integral and valued part of every young person’s education and as a recognized route to success;
  4.        from the age of 14, give young people a choice of learning experiences and pathways based on their motivation, talents, and career aspirations;
  5.        ensure that the technical, practical and vocational education and qualifications offered in schools, FE and HE are high quality and recognized by employers;
  6.        ensure all young people, whatever their different abilities and interests, leave the system with confidence, ambition and the skills to succeed and the skills the economy needs.

Britain, just like the other Anglo-Saxon systems, are appreciating that they got it wrong after the Second World War when they started to systematically remove vocational and technical education from their schooling systems. I recently read an argument that this was partly for reasons of snobbery and a desire to not be like Germany. The irony is that now such countries look at Germany and wonder whether they were right all along that it is we who  might have got it wrong as Germany continues to bring large numbers of young people through its schooling system well qualified and ready for work.

The Chairman of Edge Foundation is Lord Baker of Dorking, better remembered as Kenneth Baker, Sir Keith Joseph’s successor as Secretary for Education in the Thatcher government. This sprightly 80 year old has developed a passion for doing something about the young people being spat out by a schooling system that suits fewer young people while at the same time the country suffers from extreme skill shortages. A familiar story.

The vehicle he has pushed for leading this charge is a new kind of institution – the University Technical College. There are now 17 of these colleges in the UK and all share four key qualities[2].

1.       They aim to provide a high quality technical education involving 40% practical application and a balanced study of subjects that include maths, science, English and a modern language.

 2.       The practical and academic components of the UTC curriculum are developed through active cooperation with local employers and universities.

 3.       They serve children aged from 14 – 19 on the basis that “11 is too young and 16 is too old to specialize”.

 4.       They stretch students by making them work a longer day than the average high school or college from 8.30am to 5.00pm – and through five eight week terms – meaning children study for a 40 hour week rather than a 38 hour week year.

A recent article[3] comments that if the development succeeds “…. it will eliminate the problem of “neets”, youngsters who are not in education, employment or training. Baker says “Every student who leaves a UTC will go into a job, an apprenticeship, a higher apprenticeship, or to university.” The writer muses that all this seems better than “…. the pent-up energy, frustration and rage of those who should have been equipped for good jobs [rather than being] dragooned into classes they hated” that he had witnessed in his own schooling.

We grapple with the same issues in New Zealand and slowly programmes are emerging that are turning the tables of failure over and showing students who otherwise would have failed in the system, that success is within their grasp. The success of what is happening under the Youth Guarantee banner, the MIT Tertiary High School and the preparedness of communities to seek improved outcomes are all signs that we are seeking similar goals to those that Lord Baker of Dorking and Edge Foundation are seeking on the other side of the world. Our focus is greatly on those whose struggle is evident. When we have addressed that we will be able to focus on those who are doing well but would love to be educated in a different way. But, first things first.

Nevertheless, the worm turning as we discover that we are not the only ones.

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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.


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Talk-ED: Trading Names


The use of both “academic” and “vocational” as terms that describe classes of education and training activity is one of those old hoary binary distinctions that might well be despatched to the rubbish bin.

We have for over a century loved to think that it was a matter of logic and orderliness that needed categories that were separate and neat and not blurred by subtlety. So “academic” and “vocational” served us well.

If you were “academic” you had refinement and intelligence and an innate ability to be a lawyer or a doctor or a philosopher, perhaps even a teacher (although I recall being told early in my time as a teacher that “gentlemen [sic] had MAs and teachers had MA DipEds!”). Not many people were considered to be “academic” – perhaps 10% of each cohort and that was about the number that therefore stayed in secondary school for five years and proceeded to enter the university.

I had the troubling experience as an imminent adolescent to have my identity as a learner called into question. At the end of primary school I was enrolled in a course to be a carpenter at the local technical college. The school principal intervened and insisted to my bewildered parents that I should not do this because I was “academic”. This cast a huge pall over the household. We had coped with many things but being called “academic” was beyond our experience. It was not just that we knew our place but also that we had bought into the view of those who pursued an academic track as being “brighter”. Further we did not feel that becoming a skilled tradesperson was in any way a second class choice.

But that was not a commonly held view. If you were more “vocational”, rather than “academic”, you were perhaps not so bright, you were better with your hands that with your brain, you like practical things rather than theoretical things, you used secondary school to pass through quickly and get out into the world of work.

Now, it must be abundantly clear by now, dear reader, that all of this was just nonsense. And yet I suspect the beliefs that kept these distinctions are still more alive than we would want to admit.

The Universities are clear about their right to inhabit the “world of academia” despite the fact that their publicity emphasises progression to employment and earning power – both strong indicators of a vocational orientation. In fact the developments within the university sector have seen the introduction of many more quite demonstrably vocational qualifications over the last 20 years.

So that leaves the “vocational” sectors looking as if they are left with only doing practical things. I don’t think that this true. “Vocational” is the new “academic” in as much as learning in such settings is both academic and vocational. It would be a brave assertion to try to say that this is not the case. Just because a sector has open access and is skilled in taking among the huge range of its students those who the education system has served poorly to that point points it seems to me to greater pedagogical skill than providers who skim the cream.

But I recently heard a university leader assert that “We do not train people!”  This has made me very nervous – the person that tested my eyes and prescribed the right glasses, the person that checked my hearing, my doctor, lawyer are all people with degrees from this very same institution. Of course they were trained!

It matters what names we attach to activity. CTE, VET, TVET are each an acronym that is used to describe trades training and preparation for many careers and professions.

CTE – Career and Technical Education – is a the term gaining ground in the US but I have a similar problem with that as I do with the academic / vocational split. Most learning could be described as having a career and a technical flavour.

VET – Vocational Education and Training – has been long favoured in Australia and other places as an accurate description and it does add “training” into the mix. This might please that University leader who assured a meeting I was at the other day that “we don’t train people.” But does it capture the broad range of areas that are covered in the VET sector? And as the university system has become increasingly vocational and about training, does it differentiate the sectors sufficiently?

Then there is TVET that is used in different places – Technical Vocational Education and Training. Now, this has a ring about it. “Technical” does accurately capture what much of the VET / CTE / TVET sector does. It is concerned in large measure with the middle level qualification the technicians that keep organisations, industries and operations ticking over sweetly and productively. It also takes note of the close vocational orientation of the activity – it produces job-ready graduates who have industry-current qualifications. And it does both education and training.

I think that TVET gets my vote.

Perhaps there are other ways of differentiating the sectors – a colleague of mine likes to refer to the universities as doing the work that you do sitting down while the VET sectors attends to the jobs you do standing up. Sounds good but too many exceptions. “Pracademic” was suggested to me – nah!

The key understanding is that all learning in this modern era is both academic and vocational and that this requires us to practice higher levels of parity of esteem than has been achieved to this point. To continue to have the great divide between what is thought to be “academic” and  that considered to be “vocational” is just another of those silly little habits of the past. And to ascribe status to it is even sillier – have you had to pay a plumber lately!



Talk-ED: Trade? Me? Really?


It’s time that the trades got a boost. It is an absurdity that New Zealand on the one hand requires substantial numbers of skilled people – 30,000 in Christchurch and 40,000 in Auckland and then some more – but on the other  hand there are struggles to get people into training for the trades.  And this is happening in a time when unemployment among young people is at worryingly high levels.

It surely can’t be the money – trades people quite quickly earn good money.  Have you had to pay a tradesperson lately?

It can only be a matter of perception that keeps young ones at arm’s length from training for the trades.  Of course it hasn’t helped that the secondary schools have so comprehensively removed trades options from the programme over the past thirty or so years and it will take time for the youth guarantee initiatives such as the vocational pathways and trades academies and the like to start to have an impact.

The perception that success can only be found in being a lawyer or a doctor or some other “professional” guides too many students into pathways in which they do not find success.  It would have been greatly to their advantage to have been on track to enter programmes that took them into technical and trades areas much earlier and consequently to employment that is secure and leads to “good money”.

The image of the trades must be elevated in the eyes of parents who should be invited to see futures working in the trades as ones worth pursuing, and so should teachers, careers advisors and those who influence people.  It is time for us to dampen a little the hype around knowledge workers and think a little more carefully and critically about the snob status attached to law and medicine.  New Zealand needs highly skilled workers at all levels not just those in suits and power dressing outfits.

We also need to think more carefully about the values that we attach to words such as “academic” and “vocational”.  Get used to it – the distinction is now spurious and has little meaning.  All education and training that is valuable is both academic and vocational.  A report will be published in London today that identifies the greatest pressure that universities will come under over the next period of time will be the extent to which they will be able to show that they are “vocational”.  Get used to it!

The Holy Bible is full of tradespeople.  Giving them modern occupational descriptions that reflect what they did, we note that Cain was a metal fabricator while Andrew, James, Peter and John worked in the marine industry.  Joseph worked in building and construction and later was furniture-maker, Abel and David were in agriculture while Luke was a health professional.  Noah was a skilled shipwright and Adam a zoological technician.

Think of the impact on New Zealand of various tradesmen such as Parnell the carpenter, Kirk the roofpai­nter and railway engineer, Hillary the beekeeper and Muldoon the accounting clerk.

In the 2012 list of most trusted jobs the following rated highly:  fire-fighter, nurse, childcare-worker, hairdresser, builder, plumber, mechanic, waiter, shop assistant.

One does not have to denigrate the professions in order to promote the trades but a balanced view would place the options clearly in front of young people with good and accurate information about life prospects and the education and training pathways that lead to different outcomes.  The trail of failed young people who set off on journeys for which they were not prepared nor perhaps even realistically able to complete is a tragic commentary.  On the lop-sided approach we took which saw disproportionate numbers of young people ignore real opportunities for a successful and sound future in the trades pursuing the rosy but unrealistic glow of the professional Shangri-La.

New Zealand is at a point where there will be opportunity for young people on a scale perhaps never seen before.  If we stand by and do not get our systems for education and training cracking, employers will simply fill up large aircraft with the workers they need and bring them into the country to fill the jobs that our young people could have got had they been better prepared, had developed better understanding of those opportunities and had been the recipients of better advice.

If young New Zealanders do miss out the fault will lie not with them or their parents and caregivers but fairly and squarely with a wider community including the education and training community that allowed it to happen.  It is greatly ironic that if the Christchurch re-builds and the Auckland demands from growth and leaky buildings had occurred in the 1960s we would have been much more soundly placed to respond.

The real causes of the current situation are not only seismic events, demographic factors and weather-tightness but also an education and training system that allowed itself to forget that each and every student needed a pathway that led to satisfactory outcomes both educationally and occupationally.


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You are invited to a National Symposium


You are invited to a National Symposium

The interface between secondary school and tertiary has become a focus as New Zealand seeks to extend educational success to a wider group and to higher levels. This has led to the policies and developments which are exploring new ways of working. This symposium will offer an opportunity for educators to get up-to-date information about developments such as trades academies and service academies, other successful programmes such as tertiary high schools and Trades in School, and policies such as Youth Guarantee. 

  • What is possible within existing frameworks?
  • How can secondary schools and tertiary providers work together?
  • What will bring more success to increased numbers of young people?

The symposium will give participants an opportunity to meet and hear from those actually delivering innovative programmes at the interface between secondary and tertiary education, leaders in the fields of engagement and multiple pathways and from those at the leading edge of future development. It will also provide opportunities to consider the barriers, the issues and the changes posed by innovation in this area.

We are pleased to announce the following Keynote Speakers:

Hon Anne Tolley                      Minister of Education

Minister Anne Tolley has responsibility within the New Zealand Government for the schools sector and she has been a key force behind the Youth Guarantee policy which seeks to provide a wider range of opportunity for students who would benefit from alternative pathways through their senior secondary school years.

Arthur Graves                           Deputy CEO, Whitireia Community Polytechnic, ex Principal

Arthur Graves has been a secondary school principal, ius currently Deputy CE of Whitireia Community Polytechnic and recently spent some time in the Ministry of Education working on the Youth Guarantee Policy.  He was also a previous Chair of the New Zealand Principals Council. He brings to his presentation at the symposium a balance of forward thinking and a realistic appreciation of the settings into which change is sought and the difficulties raised for school leaders

Professor David Conley            University of Oregon

David Conley is Director of the Centre for Educational Policy Research (CEPR) at the University of Oregon. His areas of teaching and research include the high school-to-college transition, standards-based education, systemic school reform, educational governance, and adequacy funding models.  In 2003, Dr Conley completed a groundbreaking three-year research project to identify the knowledge and skills necessary for college readiness called Standards for Success. This project analysed course content at a range of American research universities to develop the “Knowledge and Skills for University Success” standards. In 2005, he published College Knowledge: What It Takes for Students to Succeed and What We Can Do to Get Them Ready, based on this research. In 2010 he published College and Career Ready which summarises recent research he has conducted on this topic. 

Dr Conley is a major figure in the field of school to post-secondary transitions. He will be attending the symposium for the two days and looks forward to meeting New Zealand teachers and administrators.

Dr Stuart Middleton                    Director, MIT Centre for Studies in Multiple Pathways

Stuart Middleton is well known as an education commentator and his involmenet in the field of transitions from secondary to posy-secondary education has been as a Fulbright New Century Scholar in 2007 – 2008 when he had opportunities to work with an international group in such issues and out of which he developed the principals ands broad outline of a new way of working – the Tertiary High School – which opened at Manukau Institute of Technology in 2010. In 2010 he established the Centre for Studies in Multiple Pathways which will develop as a centre of excellent, development and support for initiatives which better link schools to post-secondary education and training and develop pathways for students to head towards and into the world of work.

 Developing Pathways: Leading students to success


Dates:        18th – 19th July 2011

Venue:       Manukau Institute of Technology

Cost:          $295.00 (including Dinner)


Contact:    Colleen Young, Administrator Centre for Studies in Multiple Pathways,

                      [email protected] or phone:  09 968 7631


                        Only 150 places available.  To avoid disappointment, please register early.


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Paving the way for skill development

Stuart Middleton
New Zealand Education Review
Vol. 14 No.35, 11 September 2009, p.16
APN Educational Media (NZ) Ltd.

The Government in New Zealand, like its counterparts in the UK, Australia, the United States of America and Canada, seems to realise that powering up education to get behind any economic recovery that will be sustainable relies on their being able to stimulate the participation in and appropriateness of technical education. Each of these governments share a view that a sustained economic recovery cannot take place without a skilled and well-trained work force.

Little wonder then that the technical education sectors are coming under both the microscope and the blowtorch in each of these countries. This has seen a reversal internationally of the relative underfunding of Career Technical Education (CTE), as it is now commonly called, and with that a much closer scrutiny is being paid to its organisation and delivery.

In New Zealand we have seen this trend.

In developing a policy setting for senior secondary and post-secondary education that highlights skills, trade academies and the Youth Guarantee policy, the Government has signalled clearly that it too expects to see greater emphasis in this area.

The first shots have been fired with a wholesale review of the nature of governance in the ITP sector. Moving away from large Councils based on a representative model, the recent Education (Polytechnics) Amendment Bill calls for slimmer councils of eight members that reflect the skill sets required for governance in this critical sector. Clearly the financial performance of some of the institutions in the ITP sector is seen largely as a failure in governance. Failure in the wider financial sector, in national sports bodies, in local government and in many not-for-profits is often a failure of governance so there is nothing particularly special about the ITP’s in this regard.

But addressing this issue in New Zealand is unusual and the Government has acted in a decisive manner.

Sitting alongside this is the call for ITP’s to move out of Level 1-3 programmes. The Government is stuck between the horns of a dilemma (this might be code for two views around the cabinet table with Treasury providing impact from the bench). If significantly increased numbers of people are to access Level 4+ programmes then they will have to start below that level and be stair-cased through. There is a capacity among PTE’s for provision at Levels 1-3 but not on the scale required in some communities to get the numbers into Level 4 + that are required and where that capacity exists it is in some institutions already working as a pipeline into Level 4+.

So quite simply, some slack has to be cut for the ITP sector in this area. Two other factors should also be taken into account – the extend of Level 1-3 activity in the university sector and the policy settings aimed at getting our young people moving.

A little over 2% of enrolments at universities are at Levels 1-3 (this does not include the arrangements that exist for such activity for universities to take place in associated PTE’s and other such arrangements). But the range is wide – 10% of activity at one university is at these levels while at some there is none. A differentiated tertiary sector really needs to sort this out.

The other aspect is the excellent Youth Guarantee policy – the opportunity for 16-17 year olds to continue their education outside the setting of a secondary school but retain the free education entitlement that applies to secondary school students up to the age of 19 years. The first iteration of this will see recipients of funding to Level 1-3 programmes. Eventually this will have to be addressed if the policy is to make a real impact in terms of numbers. The reason why pathways outside of the school system are needed in the 15 – 19 year age range is that some of the students in the schools do not make progress at Levels 1-3. It is logical therefore that the alternative pathways offered to them include a good set of options at Levels 1-3.

On the one hand ITP’s are being encouraged to restrict their Level 1-3 offerings at the very time where opportunities in ITP’s at this level will be very important to the skills thrust of the Government.

Finally there is the division of the ITPO sector into the six “metropolitan ITP’s” and the “regional ITP’s.” This 6/14 self-imposed split is based on the premise that there are in New Zealand two kinds of ITP that have different needs and which therefore require different responses in terms of funding, management and governance. No doubt this will all play out over time.

But perhaps there is a hint in the Education (Polytechnics) Amendment Bill that allows for a single Council to have responsibility for more than one ITP that the TEAC suggestion of hub and spoke models for tertiary is about to be revived in the ITP sector. And will that tie in with the Metro / Regional distinctions? And will that tie in with the rationalisation of Level 1-3? I think that is trying to stretch what is happening into a conspiracy and a little too far!

The key action is the interface between the K-12 education system (ECE / Primary / Secondary) and postsecondary. For mn60% of students the system is functioning well and existing provision is quite adequate.

But if the country has aspirations to develop the skilled workforce on which the economic recovery will rely if it is to be sustained, then attention cannot be allowed to stray from: 

  • the provision of early childhood education throughout all our communities;
  • the issues of those young people who are disengaging from schooling;
  • the qualification levels of the bottom 40% of school leavers;
  • the provision of seamless pathways into whatever should be next for those students;
  • the acquisition of meaningful industry-recognised qualifications.

That is why the ITP sector is crucial and has to be working well. And none of this is to say that there are no issues in the rest of the tertiary sector but the Government has identified the right plce at which to make a start.

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Technically speaking

Stuart Middleton
New Zealand Education Review
Vol. 14 No.31, 21 August 2009, p.16
APN Educational Media (NZ) Ltd.

The 100th monkey notion has long appealed to me. It is based on a story about monkeys who would eat sweet potatoes after digging them out of the ground. They would eat them dirt and all. One day, a monkey washed the potato in a stream prior to eating it and over a period of time others monkeys picked up this habit. Then a remarkable thing happened – monkeys on another island started to do the same thing, then on another island, and another until washing sweet potatoes before eating them was established as the natural way of working.

This was an early version of what Malcolm Gladwell called “the tipping point” I have been up in the Pacific with a trade delegation and I observed the approach of another tipping point in education.

Countries are starting to realise that the removal of the hard skills of industrial arts from the curriculum has not turned out to be such a good thing. While it seems logical to give all students a smattering of understandings about technology it has had the unintended consequence of triggering the demise of industrial arts, the workshop subjects, as a pathway for some students. Typically this lead to an early exit from school into employment and a continuation of training through apprenticeships and night school and such other opportunities as were available.

In Tonga, consideration is being given to a project that will see the tertiary technical institute introduce industrial arts subjects into the secondary schools. In American Samoa the community college is developing a similar programme. In Samoa there is also discussion of this. While in New Zealand the trades academies will see a significant thrust in the reintroduction of technical subjects.

None of this is exactly a return to what once was the technical stream or track in a secondary school. Common to all the approaches being considered is the involvement of tertiary education providers working alongside and inside the secondary school systems. And common to all the approaches is the desire to start young people on the vocational tracks developed in such subjects at an earlier age.

A recent book Education for All: The Future of Education and Training for 14-19 year olds (2009, Pring et al, Routledge) raises the issue of the language of education. It questions the language of business and performance management that has crept into the discourse (levers, drivers, delivery, audits, targets and so on), the changing of metaphors from those of engagement to those of delivery and the persistence of “false dualisms”.

Dewey in 1916 had raised the dangers of the false dualism of “academic” (the transmission of knowledge) and “vocational” (narrowly conceived as training to hit a target). Education has over the past half century blurred the distinction between these two terms. Academic study in the university setting is clearly marketed as vocational and indeed world-wide, universities have expanded their repertoire by adding narrowly focused qualifications. While on the other hand technical training has become increasingly sophisticated requiring considerable academic engagement.

It could be that “academic” now applies to both education and training while “vocational” is a description better applied to the motivation of students – let’s get rid of the mutually exclusive descriptions of different kinds of programmes.

Education systems are therefore starting to consider the role of secondary schools in pre-vocational education. This is made more complex by the collapse of the youth labour market which happened in good times and becomes a major issue in poor times. The focus keeps coming back to the 14 to 19 year age group.

Policy and programme development has increasingly settled on the 14 to 19 year age group as the area that should receive attention. It is the absolutely most vital age when decisions are made that determine much that will happen in the rest of their lives. Good decisions will bring steady rewards while poor decisions will bring misery and despair. And yet it is at the start of this age span where pathways have been destroyed and withdrawn. Countries around the world are now seeking new ways of bringing some of these back.

A New Zealand historian said that nostalgia is history without the pain so it is not a case of simply turning back the clock. There is no going back because what used to prevail in terms of employment and training opportunities is just not there. But the principles can still be expressed in new and different ways.

Allowing some students to engage in pathways that take them into the industrial arts from about the age of 14 might well give to them the same opportunities to be motivated and focussed as those enjoyed by students from professional homes where parents have had tertiary experience. We could dramatically enlarge the number of first generation students in our system if this turned out to be the case. The impact would be huge.

The 14 to 19 year age group is also a critical time when a young person can so easily change from being a potential contributor to their families and communities into one who takes and destroys. The pathway back from some of the places that our 16 to 19 year olds get to is difficult and hard. One of the commentators in the USA says that the only thing we know about second chance education is that the first chance would have been better.

This is not to demean second chance education, it plays a valuable role in our community and while it is a difficult pathway the successes can be spectacular. Night classes, small PTE programmes, foundation and bridging programmes, community education courses all provide potential second chance starting points. But this track should be there for those who need it and not as an alternative for young people. And the return to mainstream education should be hard-wired into these offerings.

Paying attention to the quality of the first chance at education is paramount. So too is getting young people through the 14 – 19 year age.

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