Forging better connections between secondary schools and higher education

June 2017


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We are starting to think of education as more of a continuum, rather than segmented into separate stages. An increasing number of partnerships between secondary schools and tertiary education organisations have emerged in the last decade, signalling a more integrated and connected system. Here, Education Review looks at a recent example of secondary-tertiary collaboration.

ara institute

Josh Hough of Ara Computing with digital technology secondary school students.

Two Christchurch high schools faced a conundrum. They couldn’t find suitable teachers to teach digital technologies and electronics, yet were unwilling to cut these subjects from the curriculum, recognising their importance. So the schools formed a partnership with Ara Institute of Canterbury to find a creative solution that puts students first.

Attracting students to digital technologies and electronics is key to training the technologists, engineers and scientists of the future, however the reality is that capacity in the secondary school sector doesn’t always meet demand in these specialist areas.

Christchurch Boys’ High School (CBHS) was one of the schools that approached Ara. Headmaster Nic Hill said the subjects were too important to neglect.

“Our students are delighted that they have the option to study computing,” he said.

Papanui High School has also partnered with Ara. The school had run an electronics class for 10 years but the subject looked to be in jeopardy when the teacher returned to the UK in 2015.

“The rest of that year was taught by relievers, none of whom were suitable for one reason or another to continue,” said Papanui High School careers advisor Ellen Cashion.

“We advertised worldwide but could not find a suitable teacher – other schools did the same and decided to can electronics. I was very reluctant to do that, so I approached Emma West [then manager of youth pathways at Ara] and after a couple of meetings we agreed on a process by which Ara delivered the teaching.”

The agreement saw Ara computing tutor Josh Hough delivering the programme for two classes a week at the specialist facilities at Ara and two classes a week at the schools. One class of supervised self-study per week completed the programme. The programme started in 2016 and continues this year.

By all accounts the collaboration is working for students. When surveyed, all of the students at CBHS rated Josh as very good or excellent. He even attended parent interviews and held extra sessions when students needed them.

CBHS careers advisor Richard Webster says that the increase in demand for the programme this year is proof of its success.

“The student feedback and re-enrolments speak for themselves, with 38 out of the 43 opting to select the Level 3 digital technologies computing course this year,” says Webster.

“I thought Josh did very well running the year 12 computer course, especially in regards to his communication with the students, parents and the school and in the coordination of providing time for students to sit the assessments even when they had missed the scheduled times for one reason or another,” he says.

Feedback from Papanui High School was just as positive. Not only were students succeeding in the programme, but they were learning about tertiary training options, while getting insights into the industries and even setting up future work experience.

Ellen Cashion from Papanui High School says the collaboration gives their students the chance to “use far superior facilities than we could offer”. It also gives students confidence and knowledge about future pathways, she says.

It works both ways too.

“By tutors coming to the school, they are more aware of the level of students leaving school and this must assist in the development of appropriate first year full-time courses at Ara,” says Cashion.

This year CBHS and Ara will run two digital technologies year 12 programmes, two year 13 programmes and will introduce a year 12 electronics class. The year 13 programmes are being taught by both Ara and University of Canterbury, giving students a valuable insight into tertiary life at both institutions, which will inform planning for their future study and career paths.

The Ministry of Education intends to fully integrate digital technology into The New Zealand Curriculum and Te Marautanga o Aotearoa for 2018.

Until then, CBHS, Papanui High School and Ara are already delivering these subjects. And it’s by no means the first successful collaboration between the tertiary and secondary sectors.

“Since the establishment of the Canterbury Tertiary College in 2011 students and schools have been participating in dual enrolment programmes delivered in collaboration with Ara through a range of specialisations including: construction, automotive and engineering, cookery and hospitality, business and retail,” says Emma West, Ara manager of engagement.

“The intention is to ensure that students achieve NCEA Level 2 with the ability to make informed decisions about their next steps so that they can make a successful transition from secondary school to tertiary training or into employment.”

Chairs to that!

A group of Central Otago secondary schoolboys have pooled their collective talent to raise money for New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation’s Pink Ribbon Campaign.

The 14 students are studying Level 2 carpentry at the Otago Secondary Tertiary College (OSTC) at Otago Polytechnic’s Central Campus. This helps them achieve NCEA and aligns them with a vocational pathway into further education, industry training or employment. They meet every Friday and have recently made outdoor benches, which they’ve decided to raffle to raise money for the charity.

Lecturer Grant Beel says the young men love their Friday lessons.

“They’re supposed to start at 9am, but they’re always there by 8.15. I have to make them break for lunch, they’re just loving the hands-on learning” he says. “It’s great that they want to use their new skills to raise money for charity”.

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