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Pathways from school to work and study

Pathways from school to work and study

Trevor Mallard Speech to the annual conference of the New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER), Quality Hotel, Wellington

Today I want to join some of the dots between the government’s priorities for education and your conference theme, “Educating for the 21st Century.”

I want to discuss how we are working to create pathways that will lead to a nation of 21st century learners.

I also want to underline our continuing commitment to policy and practice that draws on a strong evidence base.

But first I want to acknowledge the important role of the New Zealand Council for Educational Research in contributing to thinking about what works for students today, and what will work for them – and for the country – in the future.

This conference brings those two elements together – our goals for 21st century education and how high quality research can help take us there.

Two months ago we released a policy statement: Education Priorities for New Zealand.

The document sets out two key goals.

The first is building an education system that equips New Zealanders with 21st century skills.

Our needs today go beyond narrow technical skills to ‘new knowledges’ – a vital subject I note is being tackled at this meeting.

Key building blocks here include more school leavers taking part and doing well in high quality tertiary education and training pathways.

Other important foundations include more working age people seeking training and achieving qualifications, and more graduates gaining the kinds of skills employers actually want.

Increased use of ICT as a teaching and learning tool is important here.

The second goal for the education system is to reduce the inequalities in educational achievement to ensure that all New Zealanders can reach their potential.

While the system produces good results on average, too many New Zealanders are falling between the cracks.

Our highest achievers are amongst the best in the world but too many are not achieving to their potential.

Both New Zealand-based surveys and international research bear this out.

That’s why we want our schools, teachers and providers to be able to identify the unique educational needs of all students and teach in ways that meet those needs.

So what is the role of research in all of this?

Research is all about asking the right questions, looking for answers and thinking about how we might use those answers to change where we are headed and what it takes to get us there.

Last week I released three new research reports, best evidence syntheses, that for the first time draw together international and New Zealand educational research and evaluation evidence about how to effectively improve learning.

This research focuses on what has been shown to make a difference to student outcomes, that is on what works, rather than on what is fashionable, feels good and works in theory.

It will be an important resource for teachers, and it will influence our thinking on the type of professional development currently on offer.

This government is focussing on quality teaching as a key priority for schooling. We know that quality teaching is the most important influence on a student's achievement within the school system.

And we also know the importance of making sure teaching is effective for ALL students regardless of their backgrounds.

Through effective teaching, students will stay engaged in and enthusiastic about learning so they become life-long learners.

Life-long learning is essential in the 21st century. Speakers at this conference are covering such vital areas as how students make sense of and see their pathways from school, and what we actually mean by 21st century skills.

NZCER is playing its part in contributing to these goals, if you take a look at the research programme for this year.

Innovative Pathways from School – looks at innovative transition programmes in seven low decile schools.

Learning Curves: meeting student needs in an evolving qualifications regime. Documents how students' subject choices and within subject options change in each of six case study secondary schools.

Pathways and prospects. Five year longitudinal study to investigate how students approach and experience the transition to work and further study or training.

These research projects tie in well with the government’s education priorities.

An important focus of the government’s Growth and Innovation Framework is working to forge stronger connections between schooling and industry.

There are education and training initiatives underway to assist successful transitions from school.

The overall thrust of the Youth Transitions work programme is to improve retention and ensure successful transitions from school to tertiary education or employment.

There’s also a big focus on quality pathways at school that connect with post-school options.

Effective career information, advice and guidance is another key area. Partnerships are also being forged between schools and tertiary institutions in areas like curriculum alignment.

The Gateway Programme and the Secondary Tertiary Alignment Resource (STAR) are good examples of how programmes can help improve retention and ease transitions from school to tertiary education, work-based learning or fulltime employment.

I am pleased to be able to release today the evaluation of STAR undertaken by NZCER’s Karen Vaughan, Natasha Kenneally, and Fiona Beals.

STAR is a programme which supports the retention of students in senior secondary schools and assists their transition from school to employment or further training and study.

Schools use STAR funding to put students through tertiary level courses and work experience or work based learning activities.

The NZCER evaluation shows:

STAR is operating highly successfully in schools and has become an integral component of the curriculum rather than an add-on.

Half of all schools in the study had 40 per cent or more of their senior students involved in STAR, and 28 per cent of schools reported that more than 60 per cent of students were involved.

This level of intake means STAR is integral to many schools’ normal operation, rather than an add-on. STAR is providing a variety of opportunities for students including work opportunities, courses focused on keeping students at school, and the development of basic life skills.

STAR's flexibility is its strength. Schools can match courses and industry opportunities to students' individual vocational and academic interests. Many schools also give students taster course opportunities to test out career and study options in an authentic way.

A really positive sign from the report is that students value their STAR experiences highly.

They appreciated the opportunity to test out study and career options and to get ahead in their tertiary study.

Evaluations like these are used to inform policy work in this area.

Gateway is a school-to-work programme for senior secondary students that enables them to start national qualifications in a work-based setting while they are still at school.

Mana College, north of Wellington, has used Gateway to expand on existing alternative courses and work experience programmes for senior school students.

At Mana College, students are working towards units in a variety of fields including fashion design, electronics and retailing, office administration and hospitality.

By gaining experience and learning in a workplace environment, students can see the practical relevance of what they are doing in the classroom.

A challenge for us will be to look at how increased collaboration and relationship building can help improve the education outcomes being achieved from both STAR and Gateway.

Transition issues for this age group must reflect the government’s wider aims of raising achievement at all levels of education.

The National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) has an important role here.

Because it is founded on explicit achievement standards, the NCEA lets us design more flexible programmes and provides a sharper profile of student achievement.

The result is that students, parents and employers get more information about levels of achievement and the knowledge and skills gained.

Schools can also use the standards on the national qualifications framework to customise courses for the particular needs and requirements of their students.

The increased flexibility of the NCEA also has the potential to enable a wider range of pathways in the senior secondary school.

It allows students to develop a broad range of skills, including in vocationally oriented courses, for preparing for a variety of post-school options.

Good career information, advice and guidance can make a huge difference to improving the lives of individuals, employers, and society as a whole.

In schools, we want teachers and careers advisors giving students practical, up to date careers information and advice.

Students need to know how to identify options, make better decisions about careers, occupations and life roles, and better manage the transition to adult working life.

Right now, the ministry is rewriting its careers publication for schools.

The Youth Transitions work programme highlights the importance of providing high quality careers advice and guidance within schools.

This is a huge issue for many students - especially for those from families with no history of tertiary participation.

Tertiary information for students and their families, including the creation of well co-ordinated partnerships between schools and tertiary institutions is very important for this group.

We can already see signs of how the secondary and tertiary sectors are starting to respond together to the new kind of future that 21st century students will be living and learning in.

An excellent example is the Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) Curriculum Alignment initiative where 18 local secondary schools and the MIT are collaborating on curriculum pathways.

This project started as a local initiative.

Now it has expanded to nine polytechnics and their surrounding schools.

This shows the type of collaboration and innovation that is beginning to emerge across the education sector. This sort of work will give our young people a real opportunity to aim high and reach their full potential.

As I said earlier research has a vital role to play in all of this.

I look forward to the contribution of NZCER and its researching powers as we work to deliver significant learning outcomes for all students over the coming years.

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