Open Letter to Chris Hipkins

Guest Post:

Subject: Please Don?t Close Our Partnership Schools

Good day,

We are writing this letter due to our increasing concerns that current government may potentially end the existence of Partnership Schools.

Let us be quite frank and simply state that ?one size fits all? (in relation to state schools and all children) is simply a very na?ve position to take. The beauty of the human race is our diversity which means we are different with varying capabilities, styles personality and learning styles. While the state school system works well for the majority it does not and never will be able to provide the individualised and personal teaching environment that some children require. For the minority that the larger public schools do not work for, it creates children who feel left out, dejected, depressed and bullied, where every day is a struggle for them to feel ?the same? as all the others who learning comes easily to.

We don?t say the above lightly or from just a general opinion, we speak from experience as one of those children is our boy. Our son was diagnosed with a learning difficulty that fits somewhere within the ?dyspraxia and dyslexia realm?. ?This means his motor skills are impaired and he learns in a different way with a lot of repetition and visual aids (and patience). ?Over the years it has displayed itself in delayed hearing and speech as well as slower progress in reading, writing and mathematics. He has been through hundreds if not a thousand hours of therapy, tutors and home-based learning to just get him to what was the very bottom end of the national standards scale.

He attended state schools until year 6 with a constant struggle and quite frankly a tough and tiring fight with both teacher(s) and principal(s) of the school who continued to ignore, deflect and refuse to accept that there were any learning difficulties. From the schools perspective, everything was fine and he was normal (except that he was well below National Standards). ?Despite us spending thousands of dollars on an independent review of his current abilities that stated very much the opposite (if required, I am happy to forward you this independent report).

He is a well-liked sporty kid who looks like all the other children, yet academically he struggled year after year, and despite a lot of extra work at home was still falling further behind his peers. ?At one stage we even offered to pay for our own Teacher Aid which was refused by the school as it was deemed ?not fair? to other children and too hard to accommodate. He would put his hand up when he did not understand but was ignored or told to ask another child for help as a teacher with 30+ students just cannot give the extra time he was constantly requiring.

We eventually paid for an independent tutor outside of school over his final two years to get him close to or just meeting the national standard. There is absolutely no doubt that he would never have achieved this within the state system alone. ?All of this left us knowing that to continue down the public school avenue was not going to be the best path for our child to learn to his fullest potential.

Our research into alternative schools led us to the Villa Education Trust (VET) where he has just completed Y7. ?The VET?s low student to teacher ratio and project-based learning style along with their culture and community activities have allowed our son to learn more, across a broader spectrum than ever before. This would not be possible in any public schools with larger class sizes and the ?standard? stand up front teaching approach that simply does not work for our sons learning style.

The amount of work he is completing but most importantly retaining continues to amaze us. From architecture, history, art, geography, core subjects such as math and English topped off with global and environmental challenges of today. He LOVES school and cannot wait to get there each day. ?We now know that testing a child?s progress against a National Standard academically is not the ?be all and end all?. ?Shouldn?t it also measure life skills like confidence, independence, self-worth, attitude to learning etc? ?We know our son has gained/improved on all of these over the last 12 months which is a direct benefit from the VET style of learning.

We put this down to three simple factors:-

The Environment; small class sizes that provide more 1 to 1 learning and collective learning amongst all the students. They don?t feel like outsiders as they learn that everyone is unique with their own challenges, strengths and weaknesses.
The Teachers; they really care (I am sure all teachers do in all schools) but they have the time to really get to know the kids. What makes them tick, what works or does not work from their individual learning requirements and they see the immense difference they make through the year(s)
The Culture; A truly caring but with a determined; make a difference attitude comes from the entire staff, driven from the top. They communicate very clearly to parents ?it is all about the child?! Whatever they do, whatever actions they take and how they manage the day to day conditions, it is all for the child to learn and grow.
I am not entirely sure we?ve managed to put into words the amount of progress and learning my son has achieved but I do know that without a doubt the VET has been a true blessing for our family. Please take the time to visit these schools, meet the Kingpins Alwyn and Karen Poole and the great teachers, attend their classes a few times and attend their prize-giving ceremony you will quickly learn that our son?s story is not an isolated case but one of hundreds who love these schools. Please put the time into meeting those of us who it would directly affect if you were to close them down.

Listen to our stories and more importantly listen to our children.