Schools steering Maori and Pasifika away from uni, says ERO

by The Listener / 03 July, 2013
The Education Review Office confirms some schools are using the pass-boosting tactic that Parata earlier dismissed as "rubbish".
This story was originally published on July 3rd, 2013.

Some schools are selling Maori and Pasifika short by channeling them into “vocational” courses such as agriculture, tourism or hospitality, a national report by the Education Review Office has found.

These courses let students pick up NCEA credits for tasks such as making coffee or riding a motorbike on flat terrain. They are widely considered easier to pass than “academic” alternatives such as science or history – so they can make school pass rates look good. But doing these courses rather than the academic ones will generally rule a student out of going on to university.

NZ education - Hekia Parata
Hekia Parata, photo/Ben Fraser

Allegations that schools are putting more students through these courses as a tactic to keep NCEA pass rates high were outlined in the May 11 Listener story All Shall Pass.

At the time, those allegations were dismissed as “rubbish” by Education Minister Hekia Parata. But the ERO report, released today, flags the issue as one of four “challenges facing all secondary schools”.

ERO recommends that schools prioritise the development of more academic courses for Maori and Pasifika.

Last year the Government set an explicit target that by 2017 at least 85% of 18 year-olds would have Level 2 NCEA or its equivalent. In our earlier story, many in the sector linked the vocational courses tactic to that increased pressure.

Parata’s response at the time was: “Okay, so I’d say that’s rubbish. If a kid wants to pursue a pathway to university, then they have the choice of units or credits that will get them there. No teacher or school forces kids or parents to take a pathway that’s something less than what they aspire to. I have seen absolutely no evidence of that.”

ERO investigated 74 schools for the report, which focuses on how well secondary schools prepare students for future education, employment or training. Responding to individual students’ needs was seen as key.

The report found that 10 schools were effective, 38 were “partially responsive” and 23 had “limited responsiveness”. Three schools were deemed to be responding poorly to students’ needs. The report says the increase in vocational pathways enables more students to succeed.

“However, it is also clear that some schools are seeing vocational programmes mainly as a way to increase qualifications for Māori and Pacific students, particularly for the boys. While many students experience the benefits of these vocational courses, very few schools were developing academic courses specifically to increase the numbers of Māori and Pacific students who are able to enter university. While many Māori and Pacific students may succeed in vocational contexts, and thereby achieve NCEA Level 2, the question remains – how many Māori and Pacific students may also have thrived in more academic programmes that responded to their interests, strengths and aspirations? Schools need to raise the expectations for some of these students by ensuring that their curriculum and systems are enabling Māori and Pacific students to achieve to their potential.”

Read the full ERO report here.

Read the May 11 Listener story here.

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