A Post from Vanguard Military School

Vanguard Military school’s impressive NCEA results were not included in a 2015 newspaper article.


Guest Post:

Not being a trained teacher is the biggest asset I have brought to Vanguard.  Before putting my heart and soul into creating Vanguard Military School I spent 12 years working for my families privately owned PTE.  A PTE that specialised in helping young people who had left school with little or no qualifications. We ran a military course that was outstanding.  Students were arriving at their lowest point and leaving with a career in the Army earning 40k in their first year of employment.

The rush from seeing their success has never left me.  Our school dropouts were getting higher test scores than kids who had finished Year 13 at school.  How could that be?  I started as a tutor and quickly learnt two things.  Children learn the same thing in a manner of different ways, so if you want to make a difference to all of them in the classroom you had better figure out more than one way to teach something. Secondly the higher expectations you place on students and the more you believe in them the more they will achieve.

During that time as a tutor I heard many horror stories about how they had been treated at school, I saw their lack of self-esteem and what struck me was that not one of them had any pride or connection with their old school. I should point out that I do believe that there are schools and teachers out there doing an outstanding job but that I equally believe that something needed to be done for thousands of students who were exiting the system having not even scratched the surface of the potential they held.

When the chance to open a charter school was a reality I took those 12 years of experience and put into practice everything I had learnt, heard and seen.  Often the design was the complete reversal of where the current system of teaching was heading.  The reason for that was our cohort of students had already tried it that way and it didn’t work for them.  That really is the point of charter schools. We had to be the change so instead of teaching with devices we banned them, we banned cell phones in class and on parade too! Instead of offering an endless list of subjects for them to choose from we made Maths and English compulsory.  Our thinking was that every employer in the country still needs these skills.  We wanted healthy students so PE was compulsory and just to add to that we made military PT compulsory as well.  The students we got were always distracted by others so there were no open plans.

We wanted students who were proud to say they attended Vanguard so we insisted on immaculate uniform, hair and shaving.  Being a Vanguard recruit had to mean something.  You had to display the characteristics of a Vanguard recruit so we made a compulsory program called the recruit development course where we discuss the importance of giving up your seat on the bus or train, a firm handshake, looking someone in the eye, assisting others, showing respect, marching at ANZAC Day, leadership skills and holding each other to account.

For the recruits to feel part of the school they had to feel valued.  We set about making them all learn military drill, recruits wrote our own school haka which every recruit learns and we introduced a pastoral care system where each teacher has responsibility for a section of 15 recruits.  They now had a friendly face to go to.  Teachers are to treat that section like they are their own children and are held accountable for the behaviour of their section.  These things all gave us a sense of being from one family.

I invested in employing the best possible teachers and had no problem paying over the standard rate.  Great teachers are worth every dollar they get.  Just think of the impact a great teacher has compared to a bad one.  Vanguard doesn’t even have a field but we have great teachers.

An annoyance had always been the underachievement of Maori.  We felt a duty to turn around the negative statistics and provide the next generation of Maori leaders.  We now have 1 in 6 recruits learning Maori and it is reading, writing, listening and speaking.  No kapa haka performance credits here.

So how has this all turned out?  We are now in year five of what some politicians and education experts have described as a failed experiment.  The school is full and we have a waiting list.  Clearly, a military-style charter school is not something parents or students want.

But before we rejoice the same politicians and experts will tell us they are the are participation based results and we should use the roll based ones.  Ok, let’s try that and see how we failed.

Yep, they go down but wait so does the national average!

This can’t be right, charter schools aren’t doing anything that can’t be achieved for these kids in mainstream education I hear all the time.  Let’s look at the Maori roll based stats then and remember 60% of our roll is Maori.

These results are not a fluke.  It has been like this every year since we started.

Behind everyone one of these stats are a group of very happy parents or caregivers.  The solo Mum who works full time looking after four kids, two of her own and her sister’s two who she adopted.  The grandparents who are raising their grandchildren due to the parents no longer being around, the parents whose kid has been bullied for years and anyone who is just hoping that their teenager reaches their potential and doesn’t fall off the rails getting there.

We now stand at a point in time where charter schools are to be closed.  Some in the education sector are even rejoicing this.  I guess they got into teaching to go into politics and not for the purpose of educating children.  When the schools close, what is the solution they are offering for those children, return to your old school?  I look at our record of four years of outstanding NCEA results, a huge lift in achievement for Maori, the fact we have doubled the roll, we have glowing ERO reports and hundreds of happy parents and recruits.  The new solution is that Vanguard Military School will attempt to convert to a Special Character School.  The obstacle is that Chris Hipkins is the only person that can approve the application.   Let’s hope that Vanguard gets a peaceful solution and doesn’t have to go to war.


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