Chapter 2 Pathways to School Completion: An International Comparison

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1 Chapter 2 Pathways to School Completion: An International Comparison Stephen Lamb Over recent decades, many western nations have stepped up their efforts to increase secondary school completion rates while maintaining high standards. How systems have approached this, and how successful they are, varies. One of the key differences is in the range of programs that are offered and the different pathways to completion. In some systems there is a menu of separate certificates and qualifications, each tied to a different strand of learning, and each representing a different pathway. In other systems there is a single certificate or qualification, but with structured options producing academic, general, and vocational tracks that work as pathways to different post-school options. This chapter compares some of the different pathways to completion of upper secondary qualifications offered by different countries. What are the main qualifications and pathways? How do they work? For whom do they work? Are they of equal value? Answers to these questions require an evaluation of the various options nations offer students to complete secondary school qualifications. The evaluation needs to consider criteria such as content, rigor and graduation requirements as well as how effectively the different options work to reduce dropout rates and deliver real benefits to those who participate. There is little use providing alternatives to deal with pupil diversity if the alternatives simply function to promote stratification by working as sources of relegation and offering only weak returns. For this reason, it is important to consider the extent to which different pathways are inclusive (who gets included) and promote equivalent standards of learning and outcomes. The discussion begins by comparing school-based pathways across countries, and then moves on to look in more detail first at academic pathways, then at alternatives such as vocational education. Finally, the discussion turns to alternative pathways to completion specifically available to dropouts. S. Lamb ( ) Centre for Post-Compulsory Education and Lifelong Learning, The University of Melbourne, Australia S. Lamb et al. (Eds.), School Dropout and Completion: International Comparative Studies in Theory and Policy, DOI / _2, Springer Science+Business Media B.V

2 22 S. Lamb School-Based Pathways Differences in Provision The provision of upper secondary education tends to vary across two main dimensions. The first is the level of program diversification or the variety of programs that are offered. This can include differently focused strands or streams such as academic programs, professional and technical courses, vocational education, and in some countries, subject-based strands such as specialist art, music, humanities and science programs (as in Italy, for example). The different programs orient students toward different post-school outcomes. The second main dimension is the extent of institu tional segregation (or integration), which refers to the extent to which young people are separated into different schools or streams and tracks on the basis of the programs or qualifications in which they enrol.1 In some systems this can occur early and extends well back into lower secondary or even primary school. In Germany, for example, it is common at the end of the primary school years for many students to be separated into different schools based on interests and aptitudes. Schools tend to be divided into those offering a more academic, university-preparatory curriculum (Gymnasium), those offering specialist technical training (Realschule) and those with a more vocational focus (Hauptschule). Alternatively, in other systems, such as in Sweden, Canada and the United States, students tend to remain in the same type of school through both the lower and upper secondary years, able to pursue a variety of programs or courses within one institution. Institutional segregation and program diversification are mutually linked. Both are driven by curriculum requirements, and the demands of the academic curriculum are central to this. All systems give pre-eminence to academic knowledge. Some call it general education, while others refer to it more directly as academic. Even when alternative programs and curricula are developed, the academic curriculum enjoys the highest prestige. This is in part because of its role in preparing and selecting students for highly valued and sought after places in university. This function has worked against the development of truly democratic, inclusive and universal programs of teaching and learning built around a common curriculum. The stratifying effect of providing academic programs geared to university preparation operates in all countries, with the extent varying by the structure and number of alternative programs and the organisation of schools. Table 2.1 presents information for a number of OECD countries on features of school organisation. It reports on school settings including the ages at which This is different to the process of residential segregation which produces marked divisions in some systems, separating students on the basis of where they live and their racial and social backgrounds. Regional or residential segregation can create sharp divisions between schools in terms of intake, separating students almost as effectively as selective schooling. It also has a marked impact on student progress and outcomes, at least according to a range of school effectiveness studies (see, for example, Willms, 2006). 1

3 2 Pathways to School Completion: An International Comparison 23 Table 2.1 Comparisons of pathways to completion: features of school organisation Compulsory Features of upper secondary schooling (organisational Years setting) Age of Admission to type of Age range entry Level of segregation upper secondary school Partly selective: some Australia Mixed: largely schools use ability testing comprehensive, some for entry selective-entry schools Austria High: academic, technical, vocational, specialist schools Selective: entry is dependent on type of school attended and academic achievement Denmark Mixed: some integration, though largely separate: general (gymnasium), technical, vocational Partly selective: entry is dependent on completion of formal exams at the end of compulsory education and teacher recommendation England Low: largely comprehensive Non-selective Finland Mixed: general (gymnasium) and vocational schools Non-selective France Mixed: general (general and technological lycées) and vocational schools (lycées professionnels) Partly selective: entry is dependent on completion of formal exams at the end of compulsory education Germany High: academic (gymnasium), technical, vocational, specialist schools Selective: entry is dependent on type of school attended and academic achievement Iceland Mixed: some integration, though largely separate: general (gymnasium), comprehensives, vocational Partly selective: Varied admission based on results at end of compulsory education Italy Mixed: general (liceo) and vocational schools (istituti) Non-selective Japan High: academic senior high school and vocational and technical schools Selective: highly competitive entrance exams Netherlands High: academic (VWO), general (HAVO), vocational (VMBO) schools Selective: entry is dependent on type of school attended and academic achievement, selection at end of primary school (continued)

4 24 S. Lamb Table 2.1 (continued) Compulsory Features of upper secondary schooling (organisational Years setting) Age of Admission to type of Age range entry Level of segregation upper secondary school Norway Low: largely comprehensive Non-selective Scotland Low: largely comprehensive Non-selective Spain Mixed: largely comprehensive (Institutes for Secondary Education), though some specialist vocational schools Non-selective Sweden Low: largely comprehensive Non-selective United Low: largely Non-selective States comprehensive Sources: OECD (2006); Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, International Review of Curriculum and Assessment Frameworks Archive; Eurydice: Eurybase the information database on education systems in Europe. young people enter secondary school and the level of institutional differentiation or segregation. High levels of segregation operate where young people attend different schools either because of the streams or courses that they enter, or because they are divided across schools on academic ability lines. Low levels of segregation occur in systems that more often operate comprehensive schools, catering for a range of student skills and interests within one type of school. There are also countries that have mixed arrangements in which there is some separation across schools on the basis of academic skills or program choices, though there also are integrated or comprehensive schools that cater to a wide variety of students. Admission requirements vary depending on the types of schools and their level of differentiation. Table 2.2 presents features of secondary school programs and qualifications. It provides details on the various programs and qualifications that are offered in each country. This includes information on the typical duration of courses, program-specific entry requirements (what criteria are set to enter each type of program and qualification), broad course content (in terms of core subjects and electives and associated arrangements) and the main form of assessment (whether exams, school-based assessment or other forms). To compare differences in qualifications standards, which can vary both within and across national systems, it is important to consider the formal completion criteria what the requirements are to graduate and obtain a qualification. These can affect both the post-school opportunities, such as entry to university, and the rates of completion. Details on these are

5 2 Pathways to School Completion: An International Comparison 25 provided together with completion rates expressed in terms of the typical age cohort, revealing the proportions of young people in each country who are likely to graduate with each type of qualification. Table 2.3 presents some broad outcome indicators. These are provided at a system level rather than at a qualification level, since qualification-specific outcomes are not available either widely or consistently in an appropriate form for valid comparison. The broad indicators that are presented give some insight into the overall function and performance of system arrangements. Measures include achievement levels (mathematics achievement measured through the Programme for International Student Assessment [PISA]), access indicators (how inclusive are the qualifications and programs for the whole student population) and transi tion outcomes (what the upper secondary arrangements deliver in terms of labour market experience). The levels of PISA achievement relate to 15-year-olds and, therefore, achievement prior to upper secondary schooling in many systems. However, they provide a measure of the impact of school organisation and differentiation. The measures selected for inclusion are those that relate to between-school differences in achievement (percentage of variation in student achievement that is linked to differences between schools rather than students, all else equal). The second PISA measure is the percentage of between-school differences accounted for by the SES backgrounds of students and schools. This gives us an indication of the extent to which school arrangements and diversification work to stratify or separate students along social lines. The access indicators include measures of the percentages of young people who have left school without obtaining a qualification. They provide an assessment of the capacity of secondary school programs to accommodate and retain students. The transition indicators assess returns to study. They report rates of unemployment for dropouts and for graduates. Also included is the university entry rate, expressed as a percentage difference from the OECD average. Academic Pathways to Graduation Every system provides programs and courses that work to prepare or select students for university, and this influences school and program organisation. Even so, there is considerable variation in the requirements for graduation and access to higher education. In some systems, neither the number of subjects nor the disciplines to be studied for accreditation are prescribed. For example, students in England and Scotland may achieve accreditation in a single subject of their own choosing. In these systems, there are no compulsory subjects at upper secondary level only electives, with the breadth of subject offerings dependent on school size and student demand. Students choose from a range of subjects available at General Certificate of Education (GCE) Advanced Level ( A level ) and GCE Advanced Subsidiary Level ( AS level ). Assessment is academic and competitive, involving external examinations controlled

6 Varies by state Separate Australia Austria Dependent on type of school attended and academic achievement Open 1 2 Certificate of Applied Learning (Victoria only) 4 Open 1 2 VET certificates, school-based apprenticeships (single or dual) Certificate of Secondary Education (Reifeprüfung certificate) Open 2 Senior school certificate (varies by state) Structure Qualification Duration Entry (Years) requirements Core subjects (mathematics, German, foreign language) and small number of electives Elective-based system, VET focus Module-based, industry specific Elective-based system, English compulsory in some states Content Passing grades in compulsory subjects and electives (matriculation) University and professional schools Work, further education Successfully completed course work School-based assessment School-based written and oral exams with examination panel including at least one external panel member 14.0* Work, further education Successfully completed course work School/modulebased assessment % 68.0* Provides access to: University, work, further education Minimum completion requirements Cohort grad. rate Pass grades in at least four subjects External and school-based Form of assessment Features of upper secondary qualifications (program setting) Table 2.2 Comparisons of pathways to completion: features of qualifications

7 2 4 Vocational certificates Open Open 3 4 Apprenticeship certificate (dual system) Core subjects (mathematics, German, foreign language) and professionally relevant subjects Core subjects (mathematics, German, foreign language) and professionally relevant subjects Training certificate Core subjects completion (mathematics, German, foreign language) and professionally relevant subject 4 Professional matriculation certificate (Berufsreife prüfung) Core subjects (mathematics, German, foreign language) and electives Dependent on type of school attended and academic achievement 4 CSE and TVE Diploma (Reifeprüfung and TVE Diploma) (continued) 17.9 Trades, occupations, Berufsreife prüfung Passing grades in compulsory and practical subjects School-based written, practical and oral exams with examination panel 30.2 Trades, occupations, higher education Passing grades in compulsory subjects Examination 20.5 University and professional schools Passing grades in compulsory subjects and electives (matriculation) External examination 8.6 University and professional schools Passing grades in compulsory subjects and electives (matriculation) School-based written, practical and oral exams with examination panel

8 Denmark Separate Dependent on successful completion of formal exams at the end of compulsory education and teacher recommendation Two main programs (languages, mathematics). Core subjects common to both programs (Danish, history, biology, music, geography, visual arts, religious education, classical studies, physical education), core subjects unique to each program and specialist electives Some options can be taken at different levels (intermediate or high) Content External written and oral exams in ten subjects Form of assessment Features of upper secondary qualifications (program setting) Duration Entry (Years) requirements Gymnasium upper 3 secondary certificate (STX) Structure Qualification Table 2.2 (continued) Provides access to: University Successfully completed examinations and program work with a minimum grade point average Minimum completion requirements 22.7 % Cohort grad. rate

9 Dependent on successful completion of formal exams at the end of compulsory education and teacher recom mendation Dependent on successful completion of formal exams at the end of compulsory education and teacher recommendation Higher preparatory 2 upper secondary certificate (HF) Higher commercial 3 upper secondary certificate (HHX) 7.9 University Successfully completed examinations and program work with a minimum grade point average. At least two of the subjects must be at A (highest skill) Level External written and oral exams in ten subjects Business and commercial studies focus. Core subjects, optional subjects and a major written assignment. Subjects are offered at different skill levels (A, B, C) (continued) 4.0 University Successfully completed examinations and program work with a minimum grade point average External written and/or oral exams in every subject studied Common core subjects, three optional subjects and a major written assignment Some options can be taken at different levels (intermediate or high)

10 Open Open Vocational education and training (EUD) Vocational education and training (EUD) Dependent on successful completion of formal exams at the end of compulsory education and teacher recom mendation Seven programs comprising basic and main courses Seven programs comprising basic and main courses Provides access to: Trades and occupations Trades and occupations Successfully completed exam and program work with a final exam/ proficiency mark School-based assessment with tests and an exam to measure proficiency 2.8 % Successfully completed exam and program work with a final exam/ proficiency mark University Successfully completed examinations and program work with a minimum grade point average. At least two of the subjects must be at A (highest skill) Level Minimum completion requirements Cohort grad. rate School-based assessment with tests and an exam to measure proficiency External written Technical studies focus. Core subjects, and oral exams in ten subjects optional subjects and a major written assignment. Subjects are offered at different skill levels (A, B, C) Content Form of assessment Features of upper secondary qualifications (program setting) Duration Entry (Years) requirements 3 Higher technical upper secondary certificate (HTX) Structure Qualification Table 2.2 (continued)

11 England Separate No official criteria, though General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) results can be considered No official criteria, though GCSE results can be considered 1 2 General Certificate of Education A Levels in Applied Subjects. Four qualifications available. GCE AS Levels GCE Advanced Subsidiary Level (AS Levels). Single subject qualifications General Certificate 2 of Education (GCE) Advanced Level (A Levels). Single subject qualifications External tests and internal assessment Pass grade in requisite subjects Pass grade in exam External Range of elective examination subjects, cover half of the content of full A Levels. Commonly four or more subjects selected Courses are available in ten vocational subject areas and are organised on the lines of the GCE AS and A format Pass grade in exam External Range of elective subjects, commonly examination between two and four taken by a student 42.4 (continued) Work and 8.2 further education University and further education University

12 Finland Separate Dependent on successful completion of the compulsory education syllabus Dependent on successful completion of the compulsory education syllabus 3 Certificate in general upper secondary education Duration Entry (Years) requirements Passing grades in all compulsory subjects with at least one subject taken at the advanced level (matriculation) Passing grades in program syllabus School-based Core subjects and electives. Subjects in some core areas are offered at different levels of difficulty Minimum completion requirements National written Mother tongue (Finnish or Swedish) examinations and three other core subjects from the second national language, other language, mathematics, general studies (science and humanities subjects) and at least one elective. Subjects in some core areas are offered at different levels of difficulty Content Form of assessment Features of upper secondary qualifications (program setting) 3 Matriculation examination certificate Structure Qualification Table 2.2 (continued) 27.6 % 3.8 Polytechnics (professional higher education) University Provides access to: Cohort grad. rate

13 France Separate 3 University (continued) Work and polytechnics Successful completion of studies School work, theory and competencebased assessments Mixture of core general studies (same as national core curriculum), electives and workplace learning National written and/ Passing grades in or oral examinations examinations in core and elective subjects 36.5 Work and polytechnics Successful completion of studies School work, theory and competencebased assessments Mixture of core general studies (same as national core curriculum), electives and workplace learning. 52 qualifications, 113 study programs across eight broad industry sectors Three types of Completion of lower secondary programs (literary, economic and social education sciences, scientific). Minimum of eight or nine compulsory subjects plus a maximum of two optional subjects in each program Dependent on successful completion of the compulsory education syllabus 1 4 Apprenticeship qualification certificate General Baccalaureate Dependent on successful completion of the compulsory education syllabus 3 Certification in Vocational Upper Secondary Education and Training

14 Four types of Completion of lower secondary programs (sciences and tertiary education technologies, sciences and industrial technologies, sciences and laboratory technologies, medico-social sciences). Three specific programs for the hotel trade, applied arts, music and dance. Core and elective subjects Compulsory Completion of lower secondary general subjects and professional studies education relevant to different occupations and industries 2 Professional (Vocational) Baccalaureate Content 3 Duration Entry (Years) requirements Minimum completion requirements Written, practical and oral examinations in core and elective subjects, as well as work and training assessments during the course Successfully completed examination and program work National written and/ Passing or oral examinations grades in in core and elective examinations subjects Form of assessment Features of upper secondary qualifications (program setting) Technological Baccalaureate Structure Qualification Table 2.2 (continued) % Provides access to: University Work, further education, university Cohort grad. rate

15 Germany Separate Dependent on type of school attended and academic achievement Open Vocational leaving and apprenticeship certificates (Dual System) Tests or exercises based on compulsory subjects and professional studies Workplace training and school-based formal curricula established by the lander. Training covers 350 professions Work, further education Trades and occupations Passing grades in at University least four subjects Successfully completed examination and program work Successful Final examination completion before an of the exam examination board relevant to the training industry. Practical and written component Abitur examination Small number of (written majors selected and oral exams) from three areas (languages, literature and the arts; social sciences; mathematics, natural sciences and technology) with each area needing to be included Compulsory Completion of lower secondary general subjects and professional studies education relevant to different occupations and industries Zeugnis der Allgemeinen Hochschulreife Certificat d aptitude 2 professionnelle (CAP) or Brevet d etudes professionnelles (BEP) (continued)

16 Technical and professional certificates (such as the Fachgebundene Hochschulreife and the Fach hochschulreife Structure Qualification Table 2.2 (continued) 2 3 Dependent on type of school attended and academic achievement Duration Entry (Years) requirements Final written Specialise in and oral exams subject areas such as engineering, economics, farming, the welfare system, and design. Students are also usually required to study core subjects (such as German, social sciences, mathematics, natural sciences, one foreign language and sport) from the three general subject areas Content Form of assessment Features of upper secondary qualifications (program setting) Successful completion of the exam Minimum completion requirements % 12.2 Trades, occupations, higher education Provides access to: Cohort grad. rate

17 Iceland Separate Varied admission based on results at end of compulsory education Open 4 4 Matriculation examination certificate (studentsprof) Journeyman s examination certificate (sveinsprof) Study comprises general academic subjects, theoretical vocational subjects and practical vocational subjects. Students must take a certain number of credits in general academic subjects Journeyman s examination and continuous assessment of practical and theory work Examination Three main academic programs: and continuous assessment foreign languages, natural sciences and social sciences. Students required to take core subjects (regardless of program), specialised subjects according to particular program of study, and electives 40.6 Trades and occupations Passing grades in exam and course work (continued) 39.4 University Successfully completed examinations. Can also be awarded from the accumulation of internally set unit-credits.

18 Italy Separate Professional skills qualification (Diploma di Qualifica Professionale) 3 5 Lower secondary diploma (primo ciclo di istruzione) Lower secondary diploma (primo ciclo di istruzione) Core and elective subjects, with electives varying by vocational specialisation. Specialisation involves basic training in either agriculture, industry and crafts, or the service sector Core and elective subjects, with electives varying by specialisation Content Minimum completion requirements Provides access to: Examination Successful completion of exam and course work Work, further vocational education University Successful Three written completion examinations and one oral examination of exams with a minimum grade point average Form of assessment Features of upper secondary qualifications (program setting) Duration Entry (Years) requirements 5 Upper secondary leaving certificate (diploma di Stato) (Classica/ Linguistica/ Scientifica/Tecnica/ Professionale/ Magistrale/Artistica) Structure Qualification Table 2.2 (continued) % Cohort grad. rate

19 Japan Separate High school graduation qualification test (continued) Passing grades in exams Examination Exams cover core subjects in the general upper secondary curriculum Individuals who have not graduated upper secondary school University entrance exam 24.7 University Achieving threshold of credits and work (80) by successfully completing the required number of core and elective subjects Credit-based system School-based assessment of core subjects and specialised vocational or technical electives Entrance exam 3 Upper secondary school leaving certificate (vocational/ technical) 66.1 University Achieving threshold of credits entrance (80) by successfully exam completing the required number of core and elective subjects Credit-based system School-based assessment of core subjects (Japanese language; geography and history; civics; mathematics; science; health and physical education; art; home economics) and small number of possible electives Entrance exam 3 Upper secondary school leaving certificate (academic)

20 Nether lands Separate Achievement and school recom mendation Achievement and school recom mendation Achievement and school recom mendation 5 6 Upper Secondary General Education Diploma (HAVO) 4 Upper Secondary Vocational Diploma (VMBO) Duration Entry (Years) requirements 41.0 National and school- Passing final based examinations grades with minimum overall grade Four programs associated with four industry or business sectors, each with its own combination of exam subjects Work, further education 21.2 Professional higher education, VWO Passing final grades with minimum overall grade National examination and school exam/ assessment Four programs (science and technology; science and health; economics and society; culture and society) with some common core subjects 22.9 % University Passing final grades with minimum overall grade Provides access to: National examination and school exam/ assessment Minimum completion requirements Cohort grad. rate Four programs (science and technology; science and health; economics and society; culture and society) with some common core subjects Content Form of assessment Features of upper secondary qualifications (program setting) Upper Secondary Preparatory Diploma (VWO) Structure Qualification Table 2.2 (continued)

21 Integrated National Qualification Certificates 1 3 Initially open, level of study depends on achievement Open 3 Vocational qualification/trade or journeyman s certificate Scotland Initially open, promotion can depend on achievement 3 Upper Secondary Leaving Certificate (general) Separate Norway Centrally set theoretical and practical examinations Written and/ or oral examinations and schoolbased assessment Internal National and external Qualifications are assessment available at five levels: Access, Intermediate 1, Intermediate 2, Higher, and Advanced Higher. Courses cover both general and vocational subjects. There are no compulsory subjects. National courses often involve three subject-related units Twelve vocational streams Three general programs (general and business studies; music, dance and drama; sports and physical education) 29.9 Work, further Passes in all subjects and exams education required for each program with minimum level of achievement in core subjects (continued) University, work, National Course further education Qualifications are awarded to those who pass all of the internally assessed components and achieve a passing grade in the external exam for the course 44.0 University Passes in all subjects and exams required for each program with minimum level of achievement in core subjects

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