It has been interesting that many of the default negatives about Charter Schools (including Ian Leckie NZEI in the Dominion) have come out and said – why isn’t it being trailed in Epsom? – in a way it has been, for more than 9 years at the Mt Hobson Middle School.
I see opportunity for many children and their families to benefit (without others being harmed) and wonder if much of the opposition is about who announced the proposal rather than possibilities that could emerge.
The Mt Hobson Middle School model is a NZ model that we have “trialled” for the last 9 years therefore does not depend on US data, etc.
We are non-profit, all our teachers are registered, we get (and welcome) ERO review, we deal with a range of students. We teach the NZ curriculum and we run at a pre pupil cost very close to state funding.
It has been interesting for me to see so many groups go into default negative mode (PPTA, NZEI, Green Party) and throw out the “US model”, “Swedish model”, “non-registered teachers comments”. In the past, on a number of occasions, we have asked those groups to come in and see what we do – especially due to negative comments in and around Middle Schooling (of the same default negative style) – they never show up. To be fair – Chris Carter – as Min. of Ed. did come through our school and loved it. The PPTA and NZEI are even avoiding the key point in the data they are quoting from overseas and that is that the model is helping children in poverty (Stanford report, p13.) Not only does New Zealand have an alarming educational tail but, as almost every teacher and parent will tell you there is an ongoing “could do better” at all levels. New Zealand is such a small, and well resourced country, that we should be doing all we can not just to be “world class’ but absolute world leaders. A range of models can greatly aid that and any opportunity to improve things should be given a good hearing.
We run a 12:1 student teacher ratio. John Hattie’s meta analysis did not have class size high but the things he had above it are far more manageable with 12-15 in a class. We split our day into a 4 hour academic morning and in the afternoon do Community Service, Community Learning, Sport, Art and Music. We run a project based curriculum which means the students get an hour a morning of independent study towards 5 weekly set assignments – it gives a context. We are at knowing every student and their families well.
We have had a massive amount of educators come through and their acknowledgment of what we are achieving means a lot. The feedback from parents is also very positive. We constantly test and adjust what we do according to the students in front of us, best theory and the local/national environment.
I spent twelve years teaching at big schools (Tauranga Boys, Hamilton Boys, St Cuthberts) and did 4 tertiary qualifications. As a part of one of those qualifications I did a longitudinal study on achievement at secondary schools which highlighted some major issues. It is okay for people to argue that NZ has a world class education system – the statistics make it clear that it isn’t for those who need it most. I then travelled a number of schools overseas to see best practice.
The basic conclusion to me around that was that Years 7 – 10 in the NZ system were vital and are not strong. It is a vital developmental area and probably the last chance at remedial work.
We take all administration off staff so they prepare, teach, assess and report.
We are non-profit.
We deal with a genuine ability range with our students. Our results are nothing short of remarkable. 95% of our students get level 1 qualifications when they move on and many were not on that pathway when they came to us.
No one has been prepared to follow our student:teacher ratio, our day structure or our curriculum model is a state system. And yet these are the things that are helping the children that come to us. There are probably a number of reasons why the public schools are not able to follow these innovations.
1) Inertia and risk – any change within the state system has the Min of Ed, NZEI, PPTA, parents organisations and public perception issues. Parents in NZ tend to be conservative and when state principals have been innovative sometimes their numbers, etc, have declined or they have faced massive internal opposition.
2) Perceived and actual funding issues – state schools have funding formulas that have a ratio built in. There is a limited flexibility in that.
It is interesting to note that Private School’s also haven’t necessarily gone after the ratio – one reason may be due to the huge facility resources many of them aim to create and maintain (which is even lower in Hattie’s analysis). The other is that some of the school’s are running with a profit motive and I am yet to be convinced that that can work in the BEST interests of compulsory aged students.
It has been to my absolute despair that we have not got the resources to replicate the model elsewhere (we started this school through selling our family home). Clearly the Charter School proposal will not allow us to help every child who could benefit but it may give us the opportunity to do a lot more. Some of the opposition to this seems to be saying that if you can’t help everybody then help nobody. This is an opportunity to do something for many children with in New Zealand that will fit their context.