Names, numbers, needs: ART in action
Posted: 30 June 2014
Reference #: 1H9ct7
Over coming issues throughout 2014, Education Gazette will be examining a few schools that are successfully putting ART and the Vocational Pathways to use. This month, deputy principal of South Otago High School Paul McDowall speaks about tailoring learning to the economic needs of the region, and more importantly, to individual students.
South Otago High School Deputy Principal, Paul McDowall, works with students Ashleigh Awanui (right) and Mananui Keane (left) as part of their Tikanga course. The course is one of many approaches SOHS is taking to make learning relevant to students and raise academic achievement.
The ART 2013-2017 (Achievement, Retention, Transitions) initiative was put in place in response to the Government Better Public Service challenge that was recently issued: 85 per cent of 18-year-olds gaining NCEA Level 2 or equivalent.
ART 2013-2017 is part of the overall Youth Guarantee initiative. In essence, it’s about raising achievement of NCEA Level 2 or equivalent qualifications for targeted students. Schools are supported to identify students who are not on track to achieve NCEA Level 2. Youth Guarantee advisors support schools to raise the number of students achieving NCEA Level 2 by focusing on student pathways and on how schools can best meet the needs of students.
Schools are offered assistance to develop systems and methods to best support those students who might otherwise fall through the education cracks and find themselves embarking on life’s adult journey without a relevant qualification. It’s been proven time and time again that these students, for the most part, face an uphill struggle to progress into fulfilling jobs. Once these young people fall off the education band-wagon, it’s difficult to get far in life.
Ministry Youth Guarantee advisors work with schools to provide advice on effective curriculum design such as:
- developing Individual Education Plans – co-constructed with students and their whānau
- aligning standards – with the desired student/whānau outcomes articulated in the individual education plan
- aligning credit standards with a relevant Vocational Pathway(s)
- monitoring schools to develop contextualised learning programmes or provide access to other learning using the Vocational Pathways.
South Otago’s first steps
At South Otago High School (SOHS), Achievement 2013-17 began with a series of workshops where Paul and his leadership colleagues bounced around with Youth Guarantee advisors some of the concepts that underpin ART. One point that everyone kept coming back to was the need to think about the BPS target in a different way.
“One of the key messages I took away from our work with John Hogue (Youth Guarantee advisor) and his team was that this is a gateway or foundation toward keeping students in education as long as we can. In other words, it’s about thinking of that Level 2 pass rate not as a goal in itself, but as a minimum threshold. It’s a starting point, not the finish line.”
Paul explains that for him, ART taken as a whole can be viewed as the mandate and impetus that a school needs to pursue the lifting of student achievement and develop pathways for students.
The first step was the gathering of data. This is one of the main tenets of the ART philosophy: everything should be based on accurate data in order to identify students who are not on track as early in their secondary education journey as possible but also for tertiary providers to identify students. SOHS is assisted by the University of Canterbury’s Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring in this process. This data is used to create individualised achievement targets for all identified students. It then becomes straightforward to track the students against these goals.
“Every fortnight, we conduct checks to make sure they’re on track. If they’re not, we’ll do things like holiday catch-up programmes, which staff run in their own holiday time. That’s one of the most important things for the success of anything to do with the ART programme: staff must be onboard. That’s what the mandate helps to foster.”
A shared experience
SOHS has a number of systems in place to identify students who need additional support. Paul gives the example of ‘fortnightly notes’: every fortnight, teachers give students a score from 1 to 5, according to whether the student is achieving to their potential. From there, it becomes easy to work out who the students in danger of falling too far behind are. These students are then referred to deans or heads of department, who are asked to monitor the identified students and to establish a plan. This can lead to tutorials – for example, holiday catch-up programmes – or senior managers might intervene to look at where timetables could be amended.
“It becomes a collective shared experience for the staff,” says Paul, “Because all the data is on a board in the staffroom. We raise the names [of identified students] as often as we can in meetings and examine where they’re at. One of the things that we have in place is a buddy system, so a teacher in a mentoring role will take on three or four students and meet with them weekly. The teacher helps them, for example, to prepare well for standards they might have coming up, and we make contact with home in a lot of cases.”
This is where Youth Guarantee advisors can help; after students are identified as not being on track, it’s time to work out how best to move forward and get them back on the right track. MOE personnel worked with Paul and principal Jo Hutt to help them put the best tools in place.
“The phrase ‘names, numbers, needs’ was used when we first met with John and his team. This means: name the students; work out how many there are; and identify their needs,” says Paul.
Another message that Paul and his team took away was that without partnership, none of the ART tools can be optimally effective. ‘Partnership’ in this context means between teachers, and right up to the macro level, between schools. Paul talks about the close cooperation that is now in place in his community that’s being called the Clutha Partnerships, between SOHS, Tokomairiro High School, and Catlins Area School. This has been particularly useful in successfully implementing Vocational Pathways.
Vocational Pathways (see pg. 4 of Education Gazette Volume 93.9) recognise that the traditional structure of education, and an emphasis on traditional subjects, isn’t for everyone. To have any hope of keeping more young people in education longer so they can get a foundation education – NCEA Level 2 or equivalent – and to achieve the BPS target, education needs to be tailored to the aspirations and aptitudes of individual students. This will see young people better prepared to move into tertiary study, industry training, or work.
ART and Vocational Pathways are not prescriptive initiatives. Schools are encouraged to come up with ideas and programmes that suit their communities and to use the assistance that Youth Guarantee Advisors can offer. At SOHS, Vocational Pathways begins with a subtle re-purposing of traditional subjects, so that every bit of a student’s learning time helps them toward their goals, says Paul.
“What we’re looking at in terms of the Vocational Pathways is taking a traditional course, such as English, geography, or agriculture, and building in the standards that are being aligned to the different pathways – for example, Primary Industries. As an English teacher, I might have my class doing a speech. But instead of doing a speech on a novel or a play, we might do it around the Primary Industries – for example, the impact of dairy farming on waterways. What we’re doing is taking mainstream courses and creating a matrix that sits on top of them. We are redesigning curriculum to suit the needs of our community and our students.”
One way to approach Vocational Pathways is by involving students in local Trades Academies. However, many schools simply don’t have the resources and structure to do this, so SOHS have made the most of the Clutha Partnership arrangement that’s been struck between the three high-schools in the area, in order to give students options.
“The [three high schools] got together just last week, and we’ve sat down and designed new courses. These will be available to Year 12 and 13 students on a one-day-per-week basis. So the students come out of normal school, they go to the other schools, and they pick up programmes that aren’t on offer at their own schools. Tokomairiro, for example, are offering a mechanics and panelbeating course, Catlins Area this year are trialling an outdoor education programme, and we’re going to be running a Māori Tikanga course. On a Friday, we’ll have 10 places for our own students, and 5 for each of the other schools, and they’ll come here by bus.”
Listening to the community
The concept of strengthened partnerships goes beyond just schools themselves, though, as Paul explains. After all, the goal at the highest level is to prepare young people for a competitive world, so there is a need to involve the community and ask employers what they’re looking for.
“Traditionally, we’ve had STAR courses where students do programmes during holidays, but we’re looking at making it more community focussed in order to facilitate getting what we need. Our local mayor is getting together all of the big businesses in the area and we’re going to sit down with the principals and DPs and have a meeting about what they want from us. What are the skillsets that our community needs? So we’ll begin designing courses that meet this need.
“The only real feedback we’ve had in the past from the business community is that they want employees to be on time and have a driver’s licence. That doesn’t give us much to go on. But they’re now talking about forestry and farming, which are quite big around here, and what Fonterra and the logging companies, for example, want to see in graduates. For instance, do they need a heavy vehicle licence? Those sorts of things that we are making the effort to offer if there’s a need.”
“It’s about getting a programme in place that is based on need rather than simply saying ‘you will do these subjects in order to achieve NCEA.’”