Elevating transitions between education and employment

Issue: Volume 102, Number 8

Posted: 22 June 2023
Reference #: 1HAaWF

Palmerston North Boys’ High School, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and the Primary Industry Training Organisation, has developed a model that provides individualised learning programmes linked to their local curriculum and career pathways for students.  

All the images in this article were supplied by Palmerston North Boys' High School, and show their purpose-built outdoor construction site in action.

All the images in this article were supplied by Palmerston North Boys' High School, and show their purpose-built outdoor construction site in action.

Local farms, construction companies, barbers, mechanics, and trades academies. These are some of the connections made by Palmerston North Boys’ High School (PNBHS) to build pathways to future training and career opportunities, which is empowering students to stay engaged with their secondary school learning. They have now ramped up this offering with the introduction of a homeroom model. 

PNBHS introduced their innovative homeroom model in response to changes made to the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) and the Tertiary Education Strategy (TES) Objective 4, Future of Learning and Work. These changes aim to support personalised career pathways that lead to more effective transitions between education and employment for ākonga.

Careers advisor David Barwick says the school has been involved with vocational training for around 10 years. 

“Vocational training really started 10 years ago with Gateway. In the last five years we have been ramping that up with Trades Academy programmes, which every year have been increasing in numbers. This year we’ve got 98 students in Trades Academy programmes and 60 involved with Gateway.” 

The programmes have evolved over the years, including new connections with providers such as UCOL offering training in areas such as barbering and chef work. But one area that has grown and developed significantly is their relationship with the Primary Industry Training Organisation (PITO). 

“We have had a close connection with the PITO for the last few years. We’ve got 33 students with them. That connection really started properly last year when we piloted a new scheme.” 

Growth in agricultural pathways

Jason Cudby, who is the school’s agriculture and horticulture teacher, has been one of the main leaders for the new model. He comes from a farming background and has a small station that students can visit. Jason explains how a week might operate for the programme.

“Our Year 13s go out on Mondays and Thursdays to a range of farms all over the Manawatū. They get a real sample, they get hands-on training, with a range of different types of farming. When they’re at school, the work is mainly based around farm work. For their theory work, they do Unit Standards through Primary ITO, and they do English and maths based on agriculture.”

Previously, the school’s timetabling constraints made it difficult for students to set aside more than one day per week for vocational learning without significantly interrupting classroom learning and teaching.

To overcome this challenge, four teachers proposed the creation of a ‘homeroom’ situation for a small cohort of students who participated in the ‘Grow Feed Protect’ programme, a Level 3 certificate developed by PITO. 

The homeroom provides a dedicated space with a member of staff to support the learners’ area of interest or industry-specific work, along with instruction in literacy and numeracy.

“They’re not having to take subjects they are not necessarily interested in, which does help to keep them at school. A lot of these students would probably have left school at the end of Year 12, but they’re still here and they’re enjoying it,” says Jason.

“Some of them are doing another day’s work experience as well. So, they’re only spending two days a week at school. All of them are out doing a day on a farm as well as two days training and then two days in the classroom doing their Unit Standards.”

Education and Employment

Literacy and numeracy in farming 

Eight students participated in the homeroom in 2022, recruited from the 2021 cohort of students studying towards the Level 2 Primary ITO programme. A key aspect was a module-based learning project incorporating literacy and numeracy in a farming context. 

Students visited a local farm to take measurements, process the data in Microsoft Excel to inform recommendations, and write a report. The maths and English instruction provided by the teachers tailored the project’s scaffolding.

Jack Siebert, who is an English teacher, says students were set a task involving pasture management within a sheep rearing business. 

“They had to use mathematical solutions, which took care of the maths, but then they had to compile the research and write a report for the owner of the farm. So that covered both maths and English components.” 

Construction connections

As well as the farming programme, the school has connected with BCITO to gain access to construction resources of a similar nature. This has led to their purpose-built outdoor construction site. 

Richard Fogarty, the technology (metal/wood) head of department, says they operate their school construction site like any commercial build site. 

“Students come over after their roll call each morning and start work onsite. They sign in with our health and safety app and then they begin working like any apprentice would.

“They just continue working on where we’re up to on that particular build. During the day, they may go on site and do some bookwork.”

The houses are pre-sold so there is no financial risk in constructing them. Richard says they have full build contracts with all their clients and all of their houses have the same guarantees that any commercial build would.

Education and Employment

Individualised programmes

David says the programme incorporates the different needs of students.

“Some students still might need a top up with their numeracy and literacy components compared to some other students have already got those aspects. So, it is massively important that those students are all working sort of separately on their own, monitored by staff.”

Each student has an Individual Learning Plan (ILP) which incorporates their skills, interests, and future pathway focus. 

For construction, Richard says the bookwork is created through BCITO.

“Alongside that, because we work full-time five days a week, we also offer micro credentials which are basically carpentry units.”

Jack adds that they are currently looking at how they can create tasks for the construction students in the same way they have created tasks for the farming students.

“The students are doing the construction units, the BCITO units, which does involve a lot of similar stuff where they do research, answer questions, do calculations and things like that. We’re looking at how we can adapt it but not supersede it.”

The homeroom’s timetabling flexibility allows school staff to adapt to worksite and workplace requests, increasing practical opportunities throughout the year as learners gain experience and confidence. 

David sees the homeroom as the key component to the success of the vocational training.

“These students have a large amount of time out from the normal school timetable, which is five periods a day, for five subjects. They were going to be really disadvantaged if we were to put them back into that normal timetable window at school and try to catch up on work.

“It’s also hard for the teaching staff to catch those students up. So, we believed there was a real need for a homeroom.”

This does mean additional work for staff involved, but David says it’s been a real passion project.  

“It is something that we’ve been talking about for quite a while, and we really wanted to get this up and running. Last year we managed to do that with the Primary ITO. Then we had Richard coming on board to set the construction programme up and this year we’ve got that operational.”

Education and Employment

Support from the community

The ability to see the scheme through has been supported by the local business and farming community as well as within the school. 

“One of the reasons why it’s expanded so much is that we’ve had buy-in from management,” says Jason.

“We’ve had people like David and his predecessor, John Adams, and our Gateway coordinator, Pat Johnson, who have been very enthusiastic about this pathway. With the support that we’ve been able to receive from management and the Board, it’s been a lot easier for us to promote these programmes.”

The homeroom has opened significant pathways for participating students, developing their technical skills, literacy and numeracy skills, confidence, and essential other skills that make them highly employable.

Teachers reported that employers in the region regularly call the school to enquire if they have suitable students for them to employ, highlighting the success of vocational learning at the school and the good relationships that PNBHS has developed with the local and regional business community. 

Challenges and successes

The homeroom does not mean students are cut off from the rest of the school, and they are able to participate in subjects that they are passionate about, says Jack. 

“For example, we’ve got one student who still does performance music as a subject and we’ve got a couple of students doing geography, and te reo Māori.”

Despite the success of the homeroom, it has faced some challenges due to time constraints caused by Covid-19. The module-based learning project started late in the year, affecting the timing of assessments and the completion of work. Another challenge is obtaining recognition for everything the students are doing.

“One of the major issues we’re going to be running into in future is trying to get accreditation for all work that we’re getting the students to do, because it’s difficult for us to marry it into something that is already there in terms of gathering credits.” 

However, the homeroom’s impact extends beyond vocational learning, addressing learners’ pastoral needs and the development of essential life skills that can be addressed and developed daily in the homeroom environment. 

The positive development of staff-student relationships allows for genuine responses from learners to “how are you doing?” questions, providing a safe environment that fosters growth and cultivation of life skills with secure and expert support for academic development, says Jack. 

“Some students are built for academia and some students are sort of in the middle and then some students just didn’t see the point of it at all. We have a detention system, and I would probably have had 15–25 Year 13 boys in detention every week. Since we started introducing the vocational pathways programme, a lot of those issues have gone away.”

Two students who are benefitting from the training are Sam (building and construction) and Flynn (agriculture). Both say that the best part of their week is when they are out of the classroom and onsite doing the work they love. 

For Sam, in terms of satisfaction and what he has gained, he quickly says work ethic but then adds, “Seeing everything get put together. Seeing it starting from nothing and now we have the whole house.

“I think it mirrors on what all the builders outside of school are doing. But we are doing it at a slower pace so we can learn.”

Flynn comes from a farming background so had a good introduction to the practical side of things but says the course has expanded this knowledge. 

“There were a few things I didn’t know how to do, such as the bookwork and the more technical side of it – everything like measuring grass and whatnot. That’s something that I have learned.”

Being able to work on a variety of farms also increases his knowledge as he comes from a sheep and beef farm so working on dairy farms has shown him new practical skills.

Education and Employment

Staying engaged in school

When asked if he would still be in school if it was not for this course Flynn says, “I had a job, working as a shepherd and I decided halfway through the holidays I’ll come back to do this course. I’m trying to get myself into a cadetship. So that’s quite a big push for me to come back to school.”

Sam says that he would probably still be in school but, “I would not be learning much”. 

Teachers and PITO tutors believe that the homeroom model can be used in other environments and encourage its use to effectively prepare students for the workforce. 

The homeroom has adjusted the way PNBHS approaches Year 12 and 13, providing potential pathways within school as opposed to leaving school for them.  

“Students find a reason to be here. They’re not disengaged with school and with education. They see that education doesn’t have to be purely academic, it can be on any level, and they have a reason for coming to school. They have a reason for being engaged with school,” says David.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 11:37 am, 22 June 2023

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