High school in 2016 has become a playground for the logistical mastermind.

As well as co-ordinating timetables for traditional subjects, principals must fit in two days for at least three different academy programmes, and also arrange off-site work experience for senior kids to ensure everyone has the chance to do what they're best at.

At Southern Cross Campus in Mangere, that means multiple bus runs to hotels and hospitals each week, an onsite commercial kitchen, and a partly-dismantled car in its trades academy suite out the back.

"It's difficult but it's what you've got to do," says principal Robin Staples.


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Southern Cross has fully embraced the idea of "vocational pathways", the Government initiative aimed at providing a clear route through the skills-based side of the complicated NCEA system.

It allows students to see which career their credits will aim towards, to provide a smoother transition at the end of school.

"For example, we've always had food technology," Staples says. "But now we're putting it into context. And by the end of the year the students will all have an idea of whether hospitality is for them."

On a chilly Thursday in September, a group of students - all girls - are hard at work inside the kitchen, under supervision. On Friday, they will go to hotels to experience the pressures of a working kitchen. Earlier in the week they were doing academic courses.

While chopping vegetables, Bettina Adriano, 17, says she took the hospitality course because she wants to be a chef. Or maybe a flight attendant.

"That's the dream job," her friend, Luisa Pulu, 16. "I want to go travelling."

The girls talk about meeting people and going places, after they finish Level 3 next year.


Asked if hospitality opens the same kind of doors as traditional academic subjects, Staples says the course still allows for those who are capable to achieve university entrance.

Notwithstanding that, many of the skills learned can be used elsewhere," he says.

"They're learning co-operation, organisational skills, and getting quality practical experience."

"You can think about being a barista as just making coffee. But it also has transferrable skills - performing under high pressure, doing a quality job and pleasing a client."

Southern Cross also has a health science pathway, run in conjunction with the local health board. Like in hospitality or construction, those students can spend a day a week on site at a hospital, seeing if nursing or medicine is for them.

Staples said as well as raising pass rates, the diverse range of pathways was keeping more students at school.

"In the past we would have only had around 20 students at Year 13. Now we have 150," he said.

"I think it's because they can see the point of what they're doing now. They know why physics matters. They come back more motivated."