Secondary schooling marks an important time in the life of a young person. It is a formative time when learners develop a greater awareness of the world and begin to pursue education, training and employment opportunities linked to their future.

This report follows on from ERO’s 2012 report on careers education. The findings of Careers Information, Advice, Guidance and Education (CIAGE) in Secondary Schools emphasised the importance of school-wide processes to develop the career management competencies of students. It showed that, in the most effective examples, careers education is central to a school’s delivery of The New Zealand Curriculum.

This second report investigates how well 74 secondary schools have prepared their students for future opportunities in education, training and employment. It particularly focuses on how innovative schools are in responding to the diverse abilities and aspirations of all their students. The report includes information about school curricula, careers and pastoral systems, as well as the partnerships which schools have developed with businesses, iwi, parents and other educational organisations. A set of indicators detailing good practice is included in Appendix 1 of this report.

The broad scope of this work provides insight into the way secondary schools are responding to changes in the wider education context. This includes the implementation of The New Zealand Curriculum; the development of vocational programmes such as Secondary Tertiary Partnerships and Youth Guarantee; an increased emphasis on meeting the needs of priority learners; as well as the Government’s Better Public Services’ goal to have 85 percent of 18 year olds achieving NCEA Level 2, or an equivalent, by 2017.

When combined with ERO’s recent evaluations of secondary schooling,[1] this report indicates that fundamental questions remain about secondary schooling in New Zealand. It shows the need for schools to be far more innovative in responding to the individual pathways of each of their students. Effective secondary schooling is moving away from offering a programme that is suitable for most students, and towards identifying and responding to the aspirations, strengths, culture and needs of every student.

Increasingly, secondary schooling requires teachers to have a better understanding of what their students can do and where they want to go. This includes teachers knowing more about any educational or social barriers to success and what support each student needs to build a suitable pathway. Central to the future of secondary schooling is focusing all students’ learning through the principles, values and key competencies of The New Zealand Curriculum. Students should have ongoing opportunities to develop career management competencies: through increasing their self awareness, exploring their options and making decisions.[2]

Examples of responsive secondary schooling could be seen in the 10 most effective schools in this evaluation. In these schools ERO found:

  • processes and practices that encouraged the individualisation of student pathways
  • a school curriculum that was effective for a large majority of the students enrolled at the school
  • senior students having access to a range of academic, careers and pastoral systems that worked together to support them
  • individual course and school-wide initiatives that encouraged students to develop leadership and self-management skills
  • an extensive range of vocational and academic options
  • purposeful partnerships with others in the community to support student learning and development
  • some effective initiatives for Māori and Pacific students
  • some effective self-review systems.

The remaining schools in this evaluation were less innovative in responding to each student. Thirty-eight schools were identified as partially responsive. Many of these schools were large, high decile schools that were focused on providing a range of curriculum and pastoral initiatives. Despite this, these schools did not consistently target the individual needs of students and, as a result, significant numbers did not achieve. In addition, these schools had less of a focus on improving their performance through self review. While some of these schools had developed innovative approaches to engage students, they were generally not sufficiently focused on building partnerships with others, including families, community organisations, other educational institutions and businesses.

ERO found an additional 23 schools with limited responsiveness and three schools where the responsiveness for senior students was poor. Although some innovative programmes or approaches were found by ERO, many of these schools had low levels of student achievement and aspects, such as their student support systems and careers education, needed to improve. The development of successful student pathways at these schools was more challenging in light of the wider social and educational context of their students.

The concerns identified in this evaluation about the effectiveness of some smaller, low decile schools suggest that additional work is required to understand how these schools can support the development of individual student pathways and individual career management competencies. Part of this is about how schools, in combination with others, can respond to the social and health needs of students, so that each student’s educational potential can be realised.