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Northland College – Setting up a trades and enterprise school

Northland College is a small rural, co-educational secondary school with 440 students in the heart of the Far North. Students from years 9 to 13 travel to the college, mainly by bus, from as far west as the Hokianga and as far south as Mangakahia. Northland College is a decile 1 school and approximately 90% of the students are of Māori descent, the majority aligning to Ngapuhi.

Enterprising approaches to a range of learning areas

The college has a 480 hectare dairy farm and a boarding facility that has not operated as a hostel since the late 1980s. Both of these valuable resources were utilised to develop enterprising employment and training opportunities through the Trades and Enterprise School.

The Trades and Enterprise School was set up initially to try to address the needs of the large number of students leaving school without an appropriate formal qualification. Senior students have the opportunity of achieving NCEA qualifications and also certification in several industries, including:

  • building
  • hospitality and catering
  • agriculture and farming
  • business.

The college initially consulted students and their families to ascertain demand for these courses. The need was established, and within 12 months there were waiting lists for all of the courses.

One of the most popular courses was the carpentry course, and the school employed a qualified builder to run it. As part of the course, students built houses onsite at the college. At the end of the course, the houses were purchased by Housing New Zealand and allocated to the community. The students completed a National Certificate in Carpentry at Level 4 and had the equivalent of 2000 hours taken off their apprenticeships.

As the college did not have the accreditation to offer a course at this level, a partnership was formed between the school and a private training establishment. There was also a local community trust that provided finance for the purchase of materials for the house. At the end of the two-year memorandum with the local trust, the school took full responsibility for the programme, including all associated costs.

Another course available at the Trades and Enterprise School involved 40 senior students learning about the catering trade. The school employed a qualified chef to run this course, and the students set up their own restaurant as part of the learning experience. The school entered into a memorandum of understanding with another private training establishment to provide courses up to and including Level 6. These courses were available to members of the local community. The school shared its facilities, and students had the opportunity to continue their post-school learning onsite.


The courses run by the Trades and Enterprise School have clear outcomes for the students with learning in a "hands-on", practical way. Students experience first hand the available career opportunities, and can make informed decisions about their future. The students know that they have very real opportunities to gain quality full-time employment after they complete their courses.

These students are experiencing authentic learning opportunities that develop "real life" skills, such as:

  • trades students are building real houses for families
  • catering students are running a restaurant and catering to a paying public
  • agriculture students are dealing with live animals, real land, and real projects (forestry).

The community is one of the main stakeholders in all of the courses run by the Trades and Enterprise School. This has been beneficial for both the school and the community. The students have developed networks that they would never have imagined and have had to "step up to the mark". They know if they do not perform, they not only let themselves down, but also the community. The strong community involvement makes the students feel supported and motivated to do their best. Many of the students see a future for themselves because the skills they are accessing are in employment areas that Northland needs.

The greatest challenge for the college is to find ways to sustain the programmes into the future and to employ the appropriate human resources responsible for the running and further development of these programmes.

community engagement

Published on: 27 Mar 2015