The following examples show how three schools implemented aspects of Vocational Pathways for their students. These schools were at different stages of implementation, and all considered that they were engaged in an ongoing process.
Forest View High School in Tokoroa was at an early stage of working with Vocational Pathways.
Their story shows a school at the tipping point, implementing and embedding Vocational Pathways to support students, and considering the implications for their curriculum.
For Flaxmere College in Hastings, Vocational Pathways sparked interest in creating a more relevant and responsive curriculum for their students. Their story shows how they made this change and the structural adjustments they made to support it.
Hauraki Plains College in Ngatea made the philosophical shift towards a pathway approach before the development of Vocational Pathways. Their story highlights how Vocational Pathways can fit into and add value to an existing pathway structure.
When Vocational Pathways were introduced, Forest View High School leaders felt that it fitted well with their ethos of adding value through 'quality qualifications'. They had focused on providing qualifications that helped students transition to life after school, and which were coherent as students transitioned between NCEA Level 2 and Level 3. As part of this focus, the school had built closer connections with the University of Waikato and Waiariki Institute of Technology. Vocational Pathways' emphasis on relevance and continuity supported the quality qualifications ethos.
Forest View High School implemented Vocational Pathways in the senior school. All students are identified as being on a pathway. Deans work closely with students to map their pathways, and school leaders saw this was having a positive impact on course selection. Students are also beginning to become more aware of the need for literacy and numeracy credits. The language of the pathways is more evident in the school, although leaders are also aware of the need to continue to build awareness of the pathways among whanau and local employers.
The Principal chairs the monthly meetings of the local Youth Guarantee Network, which has helped the school to develop useful partnerships with other schools in the area, tertiary providers, the Gateway co-ordinator, and others. Other important relationships were established with local employers, notably the Kinleith Mill. These connections helped the school to show students the relevance of their learning. For example, chemistry students going on a field trip to the mill to see chemical processes in action. Students were earning sector related credits largely through the Secondary-Tertiary Programme (STP) led by Trident High School,1 and Gateway placements with a variety of local employers.
As the school implemented the pathways and mapped their courses against the standards, they began to consider the broader implications for curriculum. A Vocational Pathways working party was formed, evolving out of a pre-existing curriculum review group.
It is still early in the process but leaders are considering how to break down barriers between courses, and construct programmes based around meaningful activities. One of the activities being considered is the school production, which provides opportunities for authentic learning contexts across a range of areas, particularly within the Creative Industries pathway. Another innovation is the development of a new role of 'future pathways leader' to replace the traditional careers adviser position.
Leaders are aware of the need to move carefully and deliberately in making curriculum changes.
There are further implications for how school structures can best support pathways implementation, including changes to timetabling and thinking about the length of the school day. Leaders are using tools on the Youth Guarantee website to inform their review. They recognise that they are at the beginning stages of a deeper implementation of Vocational Pathways but see the potential to provide a more relevant curriculum for their students.
In 2013, Flaxmere College's internal evaluation processes identified that its current curriculum was not meeting the needs of many of its students. In 2014, leaders began an extensive curriculum review process to provide students with a curriculum more responsive to their needs and aligned to their aspirations. Following participation in Ministry of Education workshops, leaders identified the Vocational Pathways framework as a useful model for this process.
School leaders consulted the local community. The school's charter was aligned to the Ngati Kahungunu Iwi Education Plan. Parent and whanau views were sought at a marae hui where the college openly accepted its responsibility for students who were not succeeding. The school provided further opportunities for whanau voices to be heard at an evening to celebrate student success.
Staff initially expressed some concerns about the risk of 'dumbing down' the curriculum. Some were worried that Vocational Pathways did not provide for more traditionally academic students. After discussion about the breadth of Vocational Pathways, these worries were allayed. The Principal has consistently repeated the message that Vocational Pathways learning is challenging and rewarding.
Senior leaders followed a cautious and systematic approach to managing the changes that they identified as necessary. As they worked towards the new approach, leaders acknowledged and managed staff anxiety about major change and used Post Primary Teachers Association (PPTA) guidelines for change management. Departments reviewed their curriculum provision and developed courses appropriate to the pathways approach. Over the course of several staff meetings, teachers developed hypothetical courses aligned to Vocational Pathways. Initially, they drew standards from many different learning areas. However, in reviewing these courses, they realised that individual teachers were not necessarily able to teach all of them. The courses that were eventually approved were less expansive than these initial hypothetical courses. The college is continuing to explore how greater collaboration across departments can support students to take standards from a broad range of learning areas in single coherent courses.
To support the modified curriculum it became evident that a change in timetable structure was needed. Period times for Years 9 and 10 students were lengthened and the number reduced to three daily. At senior level, a full day was set aside each week to allow opportunities for authentic, hands- on, onsite and offsite learning. The longer blocks of time at all levels also made conferencing with students easier and gave more flexibility in managing assessments.
These timetable and course changes also highlighted the need for changes in pedagogy. Professional learning and development was provided for staff, using another school as a case study. Time was set aside for teachers to plan collaboratively and share successful practice to help implement the new approach. This often meant drawing on previously established good practice from within the college such as elements of Te Kotahitanga.2 The need for collaboration across departments to provide a more integrated approach to learning soon became evident. This is still a work in progress.
One outcome of the changes is a more multi-levelled approach to monitoring and supporting students, with more people responsible for each individual. At the start of the year, students choose a mentor who maintains contact with the home. Whanau are kept fully informed of their teenager's progress along their chosen pathway through three conferences per year. A full day is set aside for these and the college writes to parents' employers where necessary to ask them to release their employees to attend, indicating the importance that they place on these meetings. Students attend and, at senior level, lead the discussion about their pathways. Staff explain the pathways to every newly enrolled student and their whanau. The Principal reported that the pathways really resonate with parents, with some saying "I wish this was around when I was at school.”
Following the economic downturn in 2007-2008, Year 13 enrolments doubled, highlighting the need for a more diverse range of courses at senior level. At this time, the college examined whether the current course options provided equitably for all students. Leaders acknowledged that university was not the only pathway to excellence. The outcome was a shift to a pathways approach.
"The school's mission is giving our kids a future and a hope. There's a place for them out there and it's important that we help them find it."
A college trust had already purchased a farm, originally as an investment, and this subsequently became a vehicle for a Primary Industries pathway. The trust had also bought an old Masonic lodge, which was used to provide a venue for a performing arts centre.
In 2008, the college trialled a four pathways structure of arts, sciences, trades and services. Every space on the timetable had a choice from each of these pathways. They reduced the time per course from four to three hours, providing the opportunity to offer 25 percent more courses than previously. The biggest concern at
this time was whether three hours was long enough for 'core' subjects - English, mathematics and science. Leaders acknowledged this concern and mitigated it by providing optional extension classes for students who felt they needed them. When they evaluated the trial they found that the extension classes were not necessary so they were phased out.
When Vocational Pathways were finalised and published by the Ministry of Education in 2013, the college viewed them as something to add value to what they were already doing. Vocational Pathways were incorporated into the college's existing curriculum. Options were extended to provide courses at Year 12 for each of the six Vocational Pathways. At Year 12, students currently take eight subjects. This includes the opportunity to take 'interest' subjects with assessment for credits being negotiable in some cases. At Year 13, students cut back to five subjects.
Students' exposure to the concept of pathways begins at Years 9 and 10 with assembly talks and posters visible around the school. Vocational Pathways are fully integrated into subject selection at Years 11 and 12. Students use the Profile Builder tool for planning, and course booklets clearly show how the available options relate to Vocational Pathways. Students also track their own credits in their school diary, in consultation with the academic Dean. Teachers ask students, "What's your pathway?' and not "What's your career?”
The college is moving towards a pathways management structure with pathway 'Champions', who have designated responsibility for providing leadership to teaching staff in their particular pathway.
A key role of these Champions is to facilitate the cross-curricular links that are an essential element of Vocational Pathways.
A Vocational Pathways mathematics course was introduced in 2015. Students can now see the point of learning mathematics because the course links to their chosen pathway. Mathematics teachers liaise with teachers of practically oriented courses so they can align the teaching of specific topics that relate directly to what students are learning in their other courses. This has lifted students' engagement, self esteem and motivation. It has also lifted the numbers in senior mathematics classes as students now realise they need the mathematics to succeed in their chosen pathway.
The college is providing students with a mentoring/support structure with all students divided into 'Rivertime' year level groups of 14. During weekly sessions the River Guides3 develop students' career competencies through a range of practical activities. River Guides, deans, and to some extent the Champions, monitor students' progress along their chosen pathway.
Most staff are very supportive of the college's pathways approach. They accept the expectations of senior leaders of the need to be flexible:
"Please don't grizzle if students are out of class - it's their future."
The Principal values the opportunity to employ people with practical trades' experience who are able to provide students with authentic learning experiences:
"Real people teaching real skills."
Having tradespeople on the staff has also been a useful resource to obtain consent to assess for sector related standards.
The college has strong links with community employers who provide students with a wide range of 'on the job' authentic learning opportunities in their chosen pathway. Eighty students participate in the Gateway programme, which is the largest Gateway group in the country. Some students are enrolled in a Primary Industries Trades Academy. The college makes good use of links with tertiary providers to assist students to obtain relevant credits and qualifications.