Vocational Pathways are part of the Government's Youth Guarantee scheme, which is about improving the transition from school to work by providing a wider range of learning opportunities, making better use of the education network, and creating clear pathways from school to work and study.

Vocational Pathways provide new structured ways for students to achieve the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA). The Ministry of Education has worked with industry groups to identify Achievement Standards and Unit Standards that will prepare students for employment or ongoing education in one of six key industries:

>    Primary Industries

>    Services Industries

>    Social and Community Services

>    Manufacturing and Technology

>    Construction and Infrastructure

>    Creative Industries.

Standards for the first five Vocational Pathways were finalised in 2013 and the Creative Industries pathway was added in 2014. Students can obtain a Vocational Pathways Award at NCEA Level 2 if they achieve enough of the relevant standards.

The Ministry of Education provides supporting materials and tools on the Youth Guarantee website (http://youthguarantee.net.nz/vocational-pathways/) to help students, whanau, schools, tertiary organisations and employers understand and use the pathways. Vocational Pathways standards and qualifications are identified for Levels 1,2 and 3.

At the time of data collection for this evaluation, in Terms 3 and 4, 2015, Vocational Pathways standards at Level 1 and 2 had been identified and released. Level 3 standards were released in late 2015.

A commitment to increasing the relevance of students' learning and providing a coherent structure for continuing education and/or employment in each area underpins Vocational Pathways. The Ministry of Education's Vocational Pathways team has encouraged schools through workshops, seminars and website materials to provide more authentic learning and assessment contexts for their students.

In Terms 3 and 4, 2015 the Education Review Office evaluated how well 35 secondary schools were using Vocational Pathways to provide students with a responsive, relevant curriculum. Most schools were aware of the pathways and were including them in their careers education and course selection processes. However, the broader aims of increasing curriculum relevance and authenticity, and supporting a coherent pathway structure for students, were less evident. In most schools, Vocational Pathways were functioning as an add-on to a traditional curriculum model, and their influence on curriculum was limited. A perception that 'vocational' education is less rigorous or prestigious than the more traditional academic track persists among some school leaders, students and whanau.

A few schools were using Vocational Pathways as a way of moving towards curriculum change. Within this group, schools were at different stages of this process. Two schools had substantially altered their approach to curriculum design and implementation in line with the intent of Vocational Pathways. Leaders in these schools had found that implementing Vocational Pathways had also necessitated some changes to school structures in order to better support their implementation of a more relevant, responsive curriculum. This report includes examples of the changes they made. Other schools had made a philosophical shift towards a pathways approach, but at the time of this evaluation, were still considering how best to move ahead with the changes they wanted to make.

Vocational Pathways has considerable potential to engage students in relevant learning and to provide greater continuity of learning for students as they transition to further education and/or employment. At present, many schools are implementing the programme at a level that does not fully support this potential. This report includes examples of how schools are using Vocational Pathways to best support their students.