By Sandy Galland
Statistics report more than a quarter of our students aged 15 to 19 are not in school and some in the teaching sector believe the numbers could be higher. The recently released OECD report, Education at a Glance, shows 26.9 percent of New Zealanders in this age demographic are not in education. The OECD average is 15.7 percent and only Turkey is higher than New Zealand.
Disengagement, lack of motivation, lack of support from family and community, truancy, drug and alcohol exposure and/or abuse are all cited as possible reasons why. The attribution of blame and focus on lack of funding are themselves fuelling endless debate and speculation.
What is important is implementing initiatives which engage our students and set them up with skills and motivation to succeed throughout life. The time for talk is over. The Government, last August, announced additional funding into youth development and speaks often of lifting learning achievements. The time for action at ground level is now.
Taking action to tackle this issue is nothing new at Hamilton’s Fraser High School. Frasernet is an initiative which links all aspects of careers, work based programmes and counseling under one roof and it is producing “dramatic” results.
David Jennings is the Pathways Director at the school and helps head the initiative which was introduced nine years ago.
Frasernet is a dedicated building within the school. The 11 staffdo everything they can to provide students with the skills needed to become independent, productive and ready for the world of further study or work. It is also the “lighthouse” school for the Youth Apprenticeship Programme (YAP) and has a very strong STAR programme.
Fraser High School is a decile-four school with around 1,700 students. It deliversNew Zealand’s largest Gateway programme, which allows students to spend time in the workplace, like a real employee, with a structured learning plan. It also attaches unit standards specific to their workplace, assessed and delivered to strengthen not only NCEA achievement, but also towards starting apprenticeships or further tertiary study.
Frasernet aims is to provide three different apprenticeship options – one that builds mostly on Gateway, another which focuses on career development within a trade and a third that targets students who may want to leave school early, while supporting and connecting other students with tertiary training and business opportunities.
Frasernet is not just a traditional transition programme separate from the main stream, it engages all students and pathways them to relevant exit opportunity in real time. It enhances and extends the existing school curriculum.
“Our Gateway students in normal school classes have outperformed non-gateway students in those classes by up to 184 percent,” David says.
“The student’s motivation rises, they feel in control, they are achieving and they see relevance in what they are doing.”
With exposure to real employers and workplace expectations, the students are coming back into the school environment knowing why they need maths, or any relevant skill, to enter into the career they choose.
“The see a real relevance and they see the need to learn skills applicable to their own life. So now they want to do maths rather than treating it as a way to fill in an hour.”
Frasernet has also developed a Maori Achievement Collaboration supporting Maori students. Through mentoring and coaching it seeks to strengthen the students’ connections to the school programme, to build the students’ capacity to move along positive pathways to exit school strongly with valid qualifications and support networks for ‘post’ school.
“The results from this are dramatic. The achievements and retainment of this group is going against all the reported trends,” David says.
“We are serious in our belief that work-based placements and qualifications are the right of every student in their journey through our school, and a normal part of curriculum delivery within the school.
“We see all this as an extension and enhancement of the normal curriculum. Of the 498 students talking part in Frasernet, 62 percent do not experience any change to their normal curriculum, it is over and above.”
The others are being challenged and motivated in ways appropriate to them.
Are we at crisis point?
Is our school dropout rate as bad as the OECD report indicates? Yes, says David, but he also believes it can get better at a moment’s notice. “People are now realising there are different ways of handling things.”
He believes many schools simply tick boxes rather than roll out real initiatives which have positive impacts on students.
“To me connecting beyond the school gates in ways which deliver value is essential. We are trying to connect the world of work and tertiary training into the world of school. Work-based education provides the opportunities for students to grow up and connect with the real world and its’ demands. Its not play, its real.”
David also believes students have cottoned onto NCEA faster and better than many teachers. “Kids know how many credits they need and they want those credits. We need to find ways to support them into getting them.”
Fraser High School is also leading the way with a successful IT initiative. It has developed a unique tracking system and database which allows it to analyse school-wide data, providing a unique overview of every student in the context of their total school performance.
“Right down to knowing what students have an interest, let’s say, in accounting in year 11. This means we can more accurately schedule and plan accounting classes in year 12.” David adds a large part of the Frasernet ethos is getting professionals in front of the students. “If a student wants to be an accountant, we arrange for an accountant to talk with them, or for them to be exposed to an accountancy firm.”
The system also allows Frasernet staff to look at a student’s file and see how many expected credits they are sitting on.
“This gives us time to intervene and see what else we can do to help them achieve the 80 credits needed. It also allows us to look at students who might be sitting on an expected 110 credits and approach them to look at moving onto level 2 subjects.”
This programme, both Frasernet as a whole and its IT database, has received recent interest from many schools. “We welcome others to look at it, see how it works and implement it in a purposeful way into their own schools. Two years ago people just weren’t interested in this sort of thing, but things are changing.
“At some point schools have to relax and look at what is being done in good example situations and while this is working for us, we don’t say ‘do it this way’.
“I still believe there are too many schools that are institutions to themselves and they want to stick with tradition. Why they feel threatened about letting kids out the school gate, I don’t know.”
“Kids are getting out there and discovering why they have to learn. It is the difference between delivering an education and delivering a schooling.”
David asks the question – should schools be arguing about creating academics or better citizens?
He believes both are possible. While it might be a separate issue, it is closely interlinked with our dropout rate and engagement levels within secondary schools.
Being exposed to real employment possibilities in the real world is certainly empowering Fraser students; they want to learn and are seeing for themselves why they should learn. David creates an example of 20 students who may be taking part in a mainstream curriculum automotive workshop. Of these 20, only three or four will actually be truly passionate about pursuing a career in the industry, “the rest just want to know how to tinker with their own cars”.
“If they are really passionate and you place them in a work environment and help pre-empt an apprentice and then help them find an apprenticeship, it not only keeps them in school, it keeps them motivated.”
Frasernet has a 10+10+20+20+20 approach. In year 9 David explains they endeavor to make 10 deliberate interventions with students. “It might be attendance at an open day, a careers talk from a professional or a visit to a careers expo.”
In year 10, the same number of interventions occur, thus by the later part of this year, the students have the information to begin making choices about year 11 and beyond. “They know us sufficiently and have a connection with us.”
In years 11 to 13, 20 interventions are proposed each year. “So by the time they leave in year 13, they have had 80 interventions additional to the main curriculum. It is deliberate and pro-active. Waiting for students to come and knock on your door is no longer good enough.”
Youth initiatives scheme
Last August Prime Minister John Key announced a $152 million package to create new work, education and training opportunities for unemployed young people.
The number of young people who want a job but can’t get one has climbed from less than 4000 in June 2008 to nearly 17,000 by June 2009.
The tail of underachievers from our education system continues to grow. None of this is news but on the positive side, the additional funding opens the doors to a number of new initiatives, short listing some for government funding as early as 2010.
One is the Catlins Area School who want to establish our first virtual trade academy. It is a popular concept overseas, with the virtual trade academy being a hub for trainees to study trades in three dimensions via the internet, combined with hands-on experience.
The Manukau Institute of Technology will implement a world-first “tertiary high school” designed to catch students before they lose their way and drop out of education.
It will open next year and take 80 to 100 year 11 students who aren’t achieving at school and enroll them in a four-year vocational or technical qualification.
When the students graduate they will walk away with NCEA level 3 and a diploma. Success breeds success and Lincoln High School principal Linda Tame believes it is imperative we make education more relevant for students. “We need to hook them into success early to get them to stay on.”
She believes, overall, we are well on the way to better engaging our students. “We need to get them achieving at level 1 so they can go on to success at levels 2 and 3.”
David is confident Fraser High School in on this bandwagon of success. His school’s statistics back this up – more students are staying in school and many more are on a positive pathway to success when they do exit the education system.
“We made learning more relevant and the kids now feel they are in control of their future.”