“School’s just not really my thing, but I really like the academy.”

These were the words of a 16-year-old Massey High School student enrolled in a two-year electrotechnology course offered by the new West Auckland Vocational Academy, a joint Unitec and Massey High programme. The academy, which opened earlier this year, allows students to attend classes with Unitec tutors two days a week in addition to their regular school work in the remaining three days. Electrotechnology, carpentry, and hospitality are currently offered, although there are plans to expand into other areas.

Trades academies

Trades academies, like the one housed at Massey High, are really taking off in New Zealand. Eight trades academies opened around the country in January 2011, with 13 more set to open their doors this year. The academies are the result of a Ministry of Education policy that gives priority to high schools engaging with the tertiary sector and industry. Such academies are typically partnerships between schools, tertiary providers, and industry training organisations (ITOs) aimed at providing 16 to 17-year-olds with the opportunity to combine a secondary school programme with learning in tertiary education and/or industry settings. Government funding for the initiative means that senior secondary students enrolled in a trades academy programme can make a start on their trades career without paying fees and earn credits towards NCEA at the same time.



Massey High School principal Bruce Ritchie told The Aucklander that the school has been working for the past nine years towards the concept. The school was delighted to accept the Ministry’s invitation to be the lead school for a trades academy in West Auckland.

“We’ve had a vision for this because we believe a weakness in the New Zealand system is that senior schools do not provide enough pathways for the number of students who are staying at school longer,” said Ritchie.

Ritchie is not alone in his opinions. Many have long felt that there was not enough flexibility in the system to provide students with opportunities suited to their unique skills and interests.

Youth Guarantee

Fortunately, the government’s Youth Guarantee initiative is now addressing such concerns. With a goal that all young people will achieve level 2 NCEA, Youth Guarantee aims to provide clarity, flexibility, and choice for 16 and 17-year-olds to help them achieve education success and to progress into further education, training, or employment.

There are currently 2500 full-time Youth Guarantee student places at 39 polytechnics and private training establishments around New Zealand. These places allow school leavers under 18 to study a range of vocational courses without paying student fees. This year, Youth Guarantee and Youth Training places will combine under Youth Guarantee, bringing the total number of fees-free tertiary places in tertiary education to 7500.

Vocational Pathways

Also under the umbrella of the Youth Guarantee scheme, five new vocational pathways for young people are being developed. The pathways are in the following fields: construction and infrastructure, manufacturing and technology, the primary industries, the service industries, and social and community services. Each pathway is being developed by a consortium of ITOs and representatives of schools and tertiary providers, liaising with government agencies. They will help to clarify the existing array of options so students and their families can see the connection between what students learn at school and what industries their education could lead them to.

NZQA deputy chief executive qualifications Bali Haque says students will be able to achieve a certain number of credits from the standards included in the pathway.

“Defining what those standards will be is the next step. All pathways will include a shared set of standards in foundation skills, equivalent literacy and numeracy NCEA requirements, and other existing achievement and industry-set unit standards. The pathways will reflect the real knowledge and skill requirements of industry sectors, will be educationally robust and credible, and will work within the NCEA qualification framework,” says Haque.

Career development tools

The new vocational pathways are likely to be supported by tools such as Career Education benchmarks, a new tool developed by Careers New Zealand to prepare secondary students for training, employment, and life beyond school.

The Career Education benchmarks are a self-review tool designed to help secondary schools, teachers, career development specialists, principals, and parents deliver high-quality career education to their students. The benchmarks contain clear descriptions of the skills young people need to develop so they can successfully navigate their own career path.

The benchmarks, after being trialled in approximately 30 schools around the country, were launched in October last year at Hornby High School in Christchurch. They are the culmination of extensive work and development from Careers New Zealand, with input from the Careers and Transition Education Association (CATE) and the education and research sectors.

Careers New Zealand chief executive Dr Graeme Benny says the new benchmarks will enable a more consistent national approach across secondary schools, and they represent a big step towards ensuring students can make well-informed, smart decisions about their future.

Service Academies

In addition to fees-free tertiary places, new vocational pathways, and trades academies, service academies also feed into the overarching aims of the government’s scheme to provide more choice and flexibility for young people embarking on their first steps outside of school.

Like their trades academies counterparts, service academies give young people a chance to work towards their NCEA while pursuing other opportunities. Service academies are run by the New Zealand Defence Force within low-decile secondary schools, and offer young people the chance to engage in outdoor education, physical fitness, goal setting, leadership, and life skills.

The Education Review Office (ERO) reported in August 2011 that the service academies appear to be transforming students’ motivation levels, academic achievement, behaviour, and physical fitness. The same report found that of the 16 service academies reviewed, most provided high-quality education and support for their students.

The ERO report gave the example of how attending a service academy benefited one student who was verbally and physically capable, but had very poor social skills.

“He had not made any friends and was depressed and withdrawn. After joining the academy, he made friends who have supported him as a member of the academy team, accepted his differences, and have included him in their social and physical activities. He is now more confident, outgoing, and completing NCEA level 2,” the case study reads.

The ERO report also gave evidence of positive student feedback from service academies, with one reportedly saying, “I was suspended from school for fighting. I was always angry and hated myself. I’ve changed. I’ve got a purpose now. My parents are very happy and proud.”

Another positive aspect to the trades and service academy programmes is that by allowing students to remain enrolled at their secondary school, they can still participate in sporting and cultural activities offered through the school.

Sports academies

Providing direction and opportunities for secondary students is not just about catering to those struggling with education. The growing number of sports, arts, business, and other specialist academies residing in New Zealand secondary schools are testimony to this.

Hamilton Girls’ High School, Kelston Boys’ High School, Freyberg High School in Palmerston North, and St Peter’s School in Cambridge (see side story) are among those with sporting academies. In general, sports academies accept students who show promise in their chosen field of sport, but who are also committed to their academic workload.

The Freyberg Sports Academy, for example, becomes one of the student’s timetabled subjects and provides its members with a tailored individual education programme. With access to top fitness coaches and facilities, there is also a focus on sport science, testing and conditioning, and sport-specific practice. The school makes it clear that the academy will help students balance their sporting, academic, and family commitments.

Some school sports academies specialise in certain areas. St Peter’s College has found its niche in golf and rowing, while Kerikeri High School has developed a sailing academy.

Arts academies

Similarly, schools are offering unique opportunities for their students in the arts. Auckland’s Avondale College’s dance academy recently saw its students pass an external exam in contemporary dance. Under the instruction of dance teacher, Hana Tipa, a former dancer with the Royal New Zealand Ballet, the students have progressed their dancing significantly and have found the academy a wonderful component of their school lives.

Kerikeri High School is branching out into a different area of the arts – theatre. Owing to its growing reputation in drama, the school now offers students the opportunity to develop skills and receive NCEA qualifications through its specialist Theatre Arts Academy, alongside continued academic studies. The school boasts links to internationally experienced teacher-practitioners and access to a brand new arts venue located in Kerikeri.

Other specialities

Beyond the arts, sports, trades, and service academies are other avenues for secondary students to pursue.

Onehunga High School in Auckland has a business school, which aims to prepare students for further tertiary study in business or entering the workforce as an employee or self-employed entrepreneur. Through innovative curriculum development, experiential learning, coupled with sound business practice and business case analysis, the school aims to provide students with the necessary skills and knowledge for the world of business. At year 13, level 3, the business school offers a Certificate in Business and Entrepreneurship course.

Aquaculture and agriculture are other specialities that are offered by schools in different parts of the country. No doubt countless others will emerge in an effort to stimulate young people and open their eyes to possibilities beyond the school gates.

St Peter’s Academies

Nearly 15 years ago, a strategic planning meeting paved the way for the innovative sports academies at St Peter’s School in Cambridge. Rowing was the obvious first choice, with the school’s close proximity to the world-class facilities at Karapiro. The tennis academy followed shortly after, and these have since been joined by the equestrian, golf, and swimming academies.

“It always takes someone passionate to start these things,” says principal Steve Robb. “We have found that parents, staff, old boys, and corporates have all been involved with ideas and support for the development of the academies.”

The top-class facilities and renowned coaching staff make the academies the perfect breeding ground for excellence in sport, but they also offer programmes for beginners through to the elite for St Peter’s students and those in the local community. There are over 500 people enrolled in the swimming academy; approximately 85 per cent of these are local children and adults.

Expanding the school’s facilities into the surrounding St Peter’s farm, the sports academies collectively boast a 25m x 25m, 10-lane swimming pool; 11 flexi-pave tennis courts and three classic clay courts (unique in New Zealand); a small six-hole golf course, a full-length driving range, and comprehensive short game area – including a 95m-long green and a 30m-long bunker; 96m x 75m sand equestrian arena, 120m x 110m grass competition area, and cross-country training jumps, along with yards and stables for student horses to be kept on site; and a boat shed at Karapiro with a full range of skiffs and a land-based training centre at school. There is also a hockey turf and expansive fields for other sports as well as a state-of-the-art gym. Use of video analysis tools are also provided for top athletes.

“There really is nothing like this in New Zealand,” says head golf coach, Simon Thomas, of their golfing facilities. “A visiting head coach from Stanford University some years ago even said you wouldn’t find anything close at any US high school.”

Having daily access to such facilities and coaching staff helps develop students to their full potential, some long after they have left St Peter’s.

“We still get older professionals training here through the academy, which helps the students see that their ambition is achievable,” says Thomas. “It makes it all very real for them.”

Across all the school’s academies, students are seeing their hard work come to fruition with National Titles adding up. Current North Island under-19 golfing champ Compton Pikari says, “It’s hard to imagine being where I’m at without the support that I’ve had and continued to get from the golfing academy”.

 “Our top athletes have individual mentoring, and know that academics always come first,” says principal Robb. “It is crucial that studies and homework are completed first, so students develop great time-management skills for life. And with 98.1% pass rate for NCEA level 2 last year, we must be doing something right!”

Throughout the school, the philosophy of developing the whole person is key, so the sports academies also focus on building character and sportsmanship alongside technical ability.

Robb believes that the sports academies have enticed sporting students from throughout the country. “Once they see the top academic, cultural, and other opportunities, it makes us incredibly attractive.”

With the first sod of soil due to be turned next month for Bike NZ’s velodrome, head office, and high performance centre, the St Peter’s sports academy offering looks like it will be expanding again in the near future.

Source: Education Review

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