Per­fect storm

With a wors­en­ing staff short­age, in­creas­ing stu­dent men­tal-health is­sues, chronic un­der­fund­ing, and a frac­tious re­la­tion­ship with the Ed­u­ca­tion Min­istry, Auck­land’s sec­ondary schools are at break­ing point.


Staff short­ages and other prob­lems are push­ing Auck­land sec­ondary schools to break­ing point. Plus: aca­demic achieve­ment ta­bles.

By­ron Bent­ley has been prin­ci­pal at Ma­cleans Col­lege for 18 years. The ar­che­typal ed­u­ca­tor in a grey suit and striped tie, he wel­comes me into his of­fice with a strong hand­shake and a voice that’s used to ad­dress­ing as­sem­blies. His desk is cov­ered in files; shelves of ob­jets d’art re­flect some of the 55 eth­nic­i­ties rep­re­sented by Ma­cleans’ roll of 2600 stu­dents.

Around 65 per cent of the stu­dents in Years 11, 12 and 13 at Ma­cleans are study­ing for Cam­bridge ex­ams, with the re­main­der do­ing NCEA. The co-ed state sec­ondary at Buck­lands Beach in­vari­ably ranks among New Zealand’s best for aca­demic suc­cess. Bent­ley be­lieves its whanau house model is one rea­son for that. “They be­long to some­thing within the school and iden­tify with it. There’s an ex­tra layer of sup­port for the kids.”

Stu­dents are as­signed to one of eight whanau houses in Year 9, with around 60 kids mov­ing up through each house each year for five years. Named af­ter in­spi­ra­tional New Zealan­ders — Hil­lary, Te Kanawa, Bat­ten — the houses have their own iden­ti­ties, as­sem­blies, mas­cots, cap­tains, and lead­ers. In­ter-house com­pe­ti­tions, held three lunchtimes a week, range from ath­let­ics to cross-coun­try and mu­sic. “It cer­tainly helps the core aca­demic progress of the kids,” says Bent­ley.

But as suc­cess­ful as the whanau house model is, it is dwarfed by one im­per­a­tive. “Pri­or­ity num­ber one through to 10 has got to be get qual­ity teach­ers. Noth­ing else mat­ters in the school. Noth­ing.”

That’s a prob­lem, and not just for Ma­cleans; Auck­land faces a cri­sis of teacher avail­abil­ity. The num­ber of grad­u­ates en­ter­ing teacher train­ing na­tion­ally de­clined from 17,065 in 2010 to 10,965 in 2015. Al­most half of all new teach­ers are leav­ing the pro­fes­sion within five years. Forty-five per cent of the cur­rent work­force is over 50 — and 21 per cent of those are teach­ers in their 60s and 70s. Teach­ers who have mi­grated from the UK are fill­ing some of the gaps, but far from all.

Mike Wil­liams is prin­ci­pal of Paku­ranga Col­lege and pres­i­dent of the Sec­ondary Prin­ci­pals As­so­ci­a­tion of New Zealand (SPANZ). With the ram­bunc­tious lunchtime sounds of his own school in the back­ground, he says the short­age is par­tic­u­larly bad in science, maths and tech­nol­ogy. “Schools are sur­viv­ing — just — but we’ve used all of our nor­mal back­stops. Prob­a­bly ev­ery sec­ondary prin­ci­pal I know has put pres­sure on some­one who was re­tired, or about to re­tire, and con­vinced them of the mer­its of teach­ing for an­other year — or two — or of go­ing part-time.”

In Auck­land, the teacher short­age is com­pounded by the high cost of liv­ing;

ex­pe­ri­enced teach­ers in provin­cial ar­eas are no longer mov­ing here for jobs, which may pay sev­eral thou­sand more, be­cause it no longer makes fi­nan­cial sense.

The ma­jor­ity of ap­pli­cants for teach­ing jobs in Auck­land are now grad­u­ates, young teach­ers who are still flat­ting or in other flex­i­ble liv­ing ar­range­ments, Ki­wis re­turn­ing from overseas, and new mi­grants. “Now that’s great for a lit­tle while — lots of young and en­thu­si­as­tic teach­ers is good for a school,” says Wil­liams. “But the other place we’re all suf­fer­ing is those young teach­ers, three or four years down the track, might want to have a fam­ily, buy a house. The re­al­ity is in Auck­land you can have a fam­ily or you can have a house. If you’re a teacher, you’re dream­ing to think you can have both of those.”

A na­tional Post Pri­mary Teach­ers As­so­ci­a­tion (PPTA) sur­vey of sec­ondary prin­ci­pals ear­lier this year found the av­er­age num­ber of teach­ing job ap­pli­cants is the low­est it’s been since 1998. One in 11 class­room po­si­tions draws no ap­pli­ca­tions at all. In Auck­land, 30 per cent of class­room po­si­tions at­tract no suit­able ap­pli­cants.

Me­lanie Web­ber, who teaches English and me­dia stud­ies at Western Springs Col­lege and is also the PPTA’s ju­nior vice pres­i­dent and spokesper­son on Auck­land is­sues, says the gov­ern­ment is in denial about sec­ondary teacher sup­ply. “You will hear them say, even now, there’s a small prob­lem in cer­tain ar­eas. It’s not true. It’s across the board. And prin­ci­pals are funny about say­ing, ‘I don’t have an ap­pro­pri­ately trained per­son to put in front of this class.’ You don’t want to stand up and say, ‘I’ve got some­one who’s just okay, I’ve got some­one who’ll fill the gap, they’re bet­ter than noth­ing.’ No prin­ci­pal on Earth wants to stand up and tell par­ents that.”

Fif­teen prin­ci­pals, in­clud­ing By­ron Bent­ley, spelled this out last year at a meet­ing with then-Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Hekia Parata, then-Sec­re­tary of Ed­u­ca­tion Peter Hughes, the Teach­ers Coun­cil and the Qual­i­fi­ca­tions Author­ity (NZQA). “The mes­sage we were try­ing to get through was you’ve got to get the quan­tity of teach­ers up,” says Bent­ley. “Bring­ing them in from overseas is a short-term so­lu­tion, but there’s no short­term fix for this be­cause you’ve got to get these peo­ple through and train them.

But hurry up … [and] in­cen­tivise them to hell.” He shakes his head. “That was the clar­ion call.”

De­spite this, he says, lit­tle has been done, and the num­ber of stu­dents go­ing into teach­ing re­mains too low to fix the prob­lem. “In no way is it go­ing to feed the ma­chine, es­pe­cially in Auck­land where you’ve got huge de­mand. The rolls are all ris­ing on this in­flux of pop­u­la­tion, and it’s flow­ing through al­ready into the sec­ondary school sec­tor. The cri­sis is right here, now.”

It’s a cri­sis for which there’s only one an­swer: teach­ers must be paid more. A trained teacher with a four-year de­gree cur­rently starts on $52,000. It takes them six years to get to the top of the scale, which is $76,000.

An­other way of at­tract­ing grad­u­ates to teach­ing in the first place? The gov­ern­ment could wipe a fixed amount off their stu­dent loan for ev­ery year they teach.

Back at Ma­cleans Col­lege, some­one has pre­pared a timetable for my three-day visit. Bent­ley takes me on a tour of the school, its grounds and fa­cil­i­ties such as the gym and assem­bly hall, which has been clev­erly de­signed to break down into smaller spa­ces, ex­tend­ing its use­ful­ness. The cam­pus is set into the south­east­ern edge of Ma­cleans Park. Past the fields are East­ern Beach and the blue sea be­yond. The grounds “flat­ter to de­ceive”, Bent­ley says, point­ing out the ac­tual school bound­aries. He’s right: it’s hard to dis­tin­guish where the grounds end and the park be­gins, cre­at­ing a lush and ver­dant il­lu­sion of a school prop­erty that stretches to the sea.

It all seems quintessen­tially Auck­land, down to the pukeko strolling lan­guidly along the rugby field’s western touch­line. Up the path, the school has opened a new $2.5 mil­lion multi-sport play­ing field with an ar­ti­fi­cial sur­face and so­phis­ti­cated drainage. It was funded en­tirely by Ma­cleans in a process Bent­ley de­scribes as “a piece of cake” com­pared to man­ag­ing the school’s other projects in con­junc­tion with the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion.

The min­istry says on its web­site that ed­u­ca­tion is free for the 5-19 age group, but Bent­ley says it's time to “stop the weasel words about [parental] ‘do­na­tions’ and call it what it is: user-pays. It ain’t free. It’s not. You’re never go­ing to fund it enough. Mod­ern schools need all this high-qual­ity tech­ni­cal gear, you’ve got to pro­tect the plant, so we’ve got about 70 CCTV cam­eras around. Mainly be­cause peo­ple walk through here all the time out­side of hours. All those things cost a for­tune. Where’s it go­ing to come from?”

Fo­cus groups with par­ents run by the PPTA last year found they now ac­cept they have to pay fees. And Ma­cleans’

400 for­eign fee-pay­ing stu­dents, who make up just over 15 per cent of the roll, con­trib­ute an ex­tra­or­di­nary 39 per cent of the school’s an­nual in­come. They di­rectly sub­sidise an enor­mous range of ser­vices it couldn’t af­ford oth­er­wise, in­clud­ing re­lief teach­ers and ex­tra-cur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties. Ma­cleans’ in­ter­na­tional de­part­ment has 10 full-time staff just to help man­age these stu­dents and their ed­u­ca­tional and pas­toral needs. The school would take more if it could, but find­ing suit­able home­s­tays for the stu­dents has be­come harder over time. The yearly “do­na­tion” for New Zealand stu­dents is $590, but even in this rel­a­tively well-off part of town about 20 per cent of par­ents don't pay it. “Just be­cause you’re a wealthy com­mu­nity, how are you sup­posed to ex­tract money out of them?” Bent­ley asks. “Do you lift your fees? That pre­sumes you are of­fer­ing a su­perb ser­vice on all fronts. You hope you’re do­ing that, but there is a limit to how much you can ex­pect par­ents to pay.”

Pre­dictably, there's ac­cep­tance by op­po­si­tion par­ties that free ed­u­ca­tion is over. When it comes to this some­what so­cial­ist ideal and ac­tual le­gal statute, Labour’s ed­u­ca­tion spokesman, Chris Hip­kins, reck­ons the gov­ern­ment is danc­ing on the end of a pin. “By law, kids shouldn’t be de­nied their ed­u­ca­tion based on their par­ents' abil­ity to pay. But let’s face it, that’s hap­pen­ing. If par­ents can’t af­ford to pay, their kids are be­ing de­nied op­por­tu­ni­ties within school and within the school’s pro­gramme, and that’s cre­at­ing un­fair ad­van­tage and dis­ad­van­tage. The ba­sic rea­son we adopted free state ed­u­ca­tion in the first place was that it shouldn’t mat­ter who your par­ents are or how much money you’ve got in your fam­ily … be­cause ed­u­ca­tion is sup­posed to be the great op­por­tu­nity, the great so­cial lev­eller.”

Hip­kins says he’s not will­ing to give up on the prom­ise of a free ed­u­ca­tion “but we’ve got to start from ac­cept­ing the re­al­ity — that’s not what we’ve got now”. Given how closely suc­cess­ful ed­u­ca­tion out­comes are tied to other so­cial fac­tors such as hous­ing and in­comes, it’s hard to know if Labour could re­turn New Zealand to truly free ed­u­ca­tion ei­ther.

The gov­ern­ment is in the mid­dle of an ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor fund­ing re­view due to lead to the im­ple­men­ta­tion of any new mea­sures in 2020, but there is cyn­i­cism among ed­u­ca­tors about whether it will pro­vide much-needed new money. The PPTA’s Me­lanie Web­ber: “It’s merely mov­ing around not enough money. If your pie’s only a cer­tain size, no mat­ter how you slice it, it’s not go­ing to feed the 500.”

The gen­eral view of those in­ter­viewed for this story (apart from Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Nikki Kaye, see page 40) is that the sec­tor has been chron­i­cally un­der­funded by suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments. MP Cather­ine De­lahunty, spokes­woman for the Greens, be­lieves it’s got­ten worse un­der eight and a half years of Na­tional.

“They don’t see fund­ing state schools as their top pri­or­ity. They’re al­ways look­ing at ways in which our schools can self-fund or how pri­vati­sa­tion can be sup­ported.”

In its first Bud­get, in 2009, the gov­ern­ment gave an ex­tra $35 mil­lion to pri­vate schools, says De­lahunty. “They’re pre­pared to prop up Wan­ganui Col­le­giate, which should stand on its own mer­its, but when it comes to state schools in Auck­land, a lot of them have been strug­gling for a very long time. Un­der­fund­ing is a very bad way to treat the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, be­cause we pay for it later on in many other ways in our so­ci­ety.”

Last year, the gov­ern­ment handed out $41 mil­lion to pri­vate schools. Its ar­gu­ment for do­ing so when so many state sec­ondary schools are strug­gling is that pri­vate schools ac­tu­ally save the pub­lic money, be­cause with­out them the full cost of ed­u­cat­ing their stu­dents would be borne by the tax­payer. But if some­one chooses to spend up to $30,000 a year on their child’s pri­vate ed­u­ca­tion, opt­ing out of a “free” state sys­tem, that is a per­sonal de­ci­sion. Shouldn’t the school be sus­tain­able with­out tax­payer sub­sidy?

If elected, both Labour and the Greens say they will look hard at the sub­sidi­s­a­tion of pri­vate schools. But nei­ther prom­ises to re­move it.

As I spend time at Ma­cleans, ob­serv­ing classes, talk­ing to teach­ers and stu­dents, it be­comes ob­vi­ous that one of the fac­tors un­der­pin­ning the school’s suc­cess is its wider cul­ture: the whanau house sys­tem (par­tic­u­larly its com­pet­i­tive el­e­ments); the 70-plus ex­tra-cur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties avail­able, from fenc­ing to hip hop; the cul­tural di­ver­sity; the mu­tual re­spect be­tween stu­dents and teach­ers; and, ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey of 60 pre­fects run by the school in April, the dis­ci­plinary sys­tem. “We love that there is no tol­er­ance of steal­ing,” one pre­fect com­mented. Said an­other: “Bul­ly­ing and com­ments on Face­book are taken se­ri­ously,” un­like other schools, “where some of our friends are scared”. Safety and the feel­ing of in­clu­sion ranked as highly im­por­tant: “We don’t have to worry about safety when we come to school.”

In a chat with me about their ex­pe­ri­ences at Ma­cleans, stu­dents Rhi Ann and Jas­mine are ea­ger to demon­strate their pride in the col­lege. “The teach­ers are re­ally good,” Rhi Ann starts. You have to say that, I point out, given their form teacher is in the room. They laugh and in­sist it’s what they’d say any­way.

“The school re­ally stresses be­ing a well-rounded stu­dent,” Jas­mine says. “There are so many clubs here, so many things to do.”

She wants to tell me about “these Ma­cleans val­ues”. “M stands for man­ners, A stands for Ar­tic­u­late, C stands for courage, L stands for loy­alty, E stands for Ef­fort — 100 per cent, A stands for author­ity re­spected, N stands for No lies, and S stands for sym­pa­thy and ser­vice.” She re­cites them with­out stum­bling once. “When we get to Year 9, they teach us these val­ues, and they re­ally put a lot of stress on it, so we try to learn and grow into them.”

I ask how they’re per­son­ally track­ing against the school’s val­ues and there’s a long pause. “It’s a bit dif­fi­cult for me to have courage, to go out­side of my com­fort zone,” Jas­mine ven­tures. “But I’m work­ing on it. I’m not re­ally a risk-tak­ing per­son, un­like some­one else I know who is to­tally crazy.” I’m not sure if this is di­rected at Rhi Ann, the teacher, me, or some­one else. They both say they have close friends in the school, and this is re­ally their favourite thing about it.

Have they ex­pe­ri­enced bul­ly­ing?

“We’re aware of it,” Rhi Ann says. “It’s been men­tioned in assem­bly. But per­son­ally, I’ve never en­coun­tered it.” Jas­mine agrees. “I don’t think I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced it at Ma­cleans.”

Yet bul­ly­ing, the ubiquity of dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy, and aca­demic pres­sure cre­ated by con­tin­u­ous in­ter­nal as­sess­ment are to­gether putting enor­mous pres­sure on our teens. Ed­u­ca­tors are see­ing more

men­tal health is­sues among stu­dents; schools are des­per­ately aware New Zealand has the high­est teenage sui­cide rate in the de­vel­oped world.

Bar­bara Jones, head of coun­selling at Ma­cleans, has sil­ver hair and a pro­fes­sion­ally con­cerned ex­pres­sion. Her of­fice is a lit­tle larger and warmer than those of the other staff, but then, stu­dents don’t come in here to be told off. On one wall there is a print of Be­have, Otis Frizzell and Mike We­ston’s ap­pro­pri­a­tion of the Bee­hive matches logo. I sit on a red couch, a coffee ta­ble and a box of tis­sues be­tween us. Ma­cleans em­ploys five full­time stu­dent coun­sel­lors, and they are con­stantly busy. Jones tells me there’s been an up­swing in stu­dents seek­ing help in the past few years.

“We’re see­ing kids come in, and in the health cen­tre, too, with panic symp­toms. They can’t breathe, they’re shaky, they’re hav­ing real panic attacks, and that’s hor­ri­ble. Some­times they suf­fer from claus­tro­pho­bia, ago­ra­pho­bia, de­pres­sion, OCD.” Sui­ci­dal ideation? “Yes.” The school takes a “wrap­around ap­proach” to sup­port­ing dis­tressed stu­dents, get­ting par­ents and men­tal health ser­vices in­volved. “Men­tal health in gen­eral is a very alarm­ing prob­lem. It’s scary for schools, it’s scary for fam­i­lies, it’s scary for the kids,” says Jones.

NCEA and the con­stant de­mands of in­ter­nal as­sess­ment con­trib­ute to the pres­sure our kids are un­der. A 2015 Ed­u­ca­tional Re­view Of­fice study of 68 sec­ondary schools found that stu­dents in all schools were ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a very as­sess­ment-driven cur­ricu­lum and as­sess­ment anx­i­ety.

Add the im­pact of so­cial me­dia and sec­ondary teach­ers are rightly wor­ried about the amount of pres­sure on stu­dents, says SPANZ’s Mike Wil­liams. At Paku­ranga Col­lege, he has has three and a half full-time-equiv­a­lent coun­selling po­si­tions and a team of paid and vol­un­teer youth work­ers to sup­port a roll of around 2250. “You’re a teenager and you do some­thing a bit dumb? Twenty years ago, a cou­ple of peo­ple saw you do it and you live with a bit of a rib­bing for a few days and then it’s gone. Now, some­one took a pic­ture of it and they put it on the in­ter­net and the en­tire world knows what you did,” Wil­liams says. “Now the dumb thing has sud­denly be­come ev­ery­one’s busi­ness.”

One of the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion’s ma­jor new pro­grammes is cre­at­ing Com­mu­ni­ties of Learn­ing (CoLs), groups of ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing providers work­ing to­gether. The idea is that by col­lab­o­rat­ing, schools can share best prac­tice, lift stan­dards and bet­ter plan for fu­ture ed­u­ca­tional needs. Funded un­der the gov­ern­ment’s In­vest­ing in Ed­u­ca­tional Suc­cess ini­tia­tive, a CoL es­tab­lishes lead­er­ship roles in­side each group of schools to help in the process. There is gen­eral agree­ment the con­cept of CoLs is a good one, but also that the im­ple­men­ta­tion has left a lot to be de­sired.

The Greens’ Cather­ine De­lahunty sits on Par­lia­ment’s ed­u­ca­tion and science com­mit­tee. “Nikki Kaye told me that [cre­at­ing CoLs] was all about break­ing down com­pe­ti­tion. So in one breath, they sup­port pri­vati­sa­tion and char­ter schools, and in the next it’s, ‘Oh, we’re break­ing down com­pe­ti­tion.’ They don’t know what they’re do­ing.”

De­lahunty says CoLs are a long way from the “sil­ver bul­let” of ed­u­ca­tional out­comes the gov­ern­ment is hop­ing for, and teach­ers are gen­er­ally unim­pressed. “They’re very cyn­i­cal at the mo­ment, teach­ers on the ground, about the point of this.”

“I think that the con­cept’s good,” Bent­ley says. Then: “I can’t re­call prin­ci­pals or boards ever be­ing con­sulted about it, just this is go­ing to hap­pen, it’s go­ing to be good. Well, who said? What’s good about ex­pect­ing a prin­ci­pal to be out of their school run­ning a whole lot of other schools? It’s hard enough run­ning your own school. The way it’s been han­dled is very poor. It’s been dic­tated to us by some­one in Welling­ton. They don’t get how it works in the real world.”

The cur­rent model pro­vides money to em­ploy a prin­ci­pal, a CoL leader, and for a few po­si­tions be­low, but no project money to ex­e­cute col­lab­o­ra­tive ideas. Given the paid roles are clearly and pre­scrip­tively de­fined, crit­ics say this erects a bar­rier to true col­lab­o­ra­tion, as there’s no flex­i­bil­ity for schools to choose their own CoL struc­ture, or money to im­ple­ment their ideas.

Wil­liams agrees, both that it’s a no­ble ideal and that it has been poorly ex­e­cuted. “The pre­vi­ous min­is­ter was adamant that the lead­ers of these com­mu­ni­ties would be our best prin­ci­pals; it would be a ca­reer pro­gres­sion for them. The re­al­ity is it’s not a ca­reer pro­gres­sion.

It’s a fixed-term job for a few years. More im­por­tantly, that’s not what mo­ti­vates prin­ci­pals to col­lab­o­rate. Prin­ci­pals don’t work in an en­vi­ron­ment where they’ll col­lab­o­rate bet­ter if that per­son’s get­ting paid more and they’re the boss. We col­lab­o­rate for prin­ci­ples and ideas. It would have a lot more trac­tion with a dif­fer­ent lead­er­ship model and some re­sourc­ing to do some­thing.”

Wasn’t the whole phi­los­o­phy be­hind Tomorrow’s Schools to en­cour­age com­pe­ti­tion, not col­lab­o­ra­tion? “Yes. But at heart we are col­lab­o­ra­tive, we want to work to­gether, and we find ways of do­ing it,” Wil­liams says. “This missed the point, think­ing that the [way] to make us col­lab­o­rate was pay­ing

some­one more money. It’s a very busi­ness-world way of look­ing at it.”

Wil­liams says peo­ple are strug­gling to find ways to make CoLs work, but they’re get­ting there, slowly, be­cause they do ac­tu­ally want them to suc­ceed. “Al­ready the hard, fast rules are be­ing blurred. We will see more of that as time goes on.”

Whetu Cormick, na­tional pres­i­dent of the New Zealand Prin­ci­pals’ Fed­er­a­tion, sug­gests there may be a big­ger agenda, such as turn­ing them into buy­ing col­lec­tives in or­der to lever­age cost sav­ings. “It’s about schools pool­ing their re­sources and sav­ing money. Some­body — a politi­cian I can’t re­veal — likened the model to the DHBs [dis­trict health boards].”

Cormick wants to know “the true in­tent” for CoLs now and into the fu­ture. “Be­cause our par­ents, Min­is­ter, would prob­a­bly be re­ally in­ter­ested in know­ing what is the greater plan for Com­mu­ni­ties of Learn­ing.”

There is a fear that CoLs, cou­pled with the lat­est amend­ments to the Ed­u­ca­tion Act, are a Tro­jan horse for su­per schools, a sign­post of a pol­icy fu­ture not be­ing pub­licly dis­closed. The amal­ga­ma­tion of many, dis­parate schools into su­per schools, run by su­per prin­ci­pals and boards of trustees, is some­thing that the ed­u­ca­tion unions and many oth­ers in the sec­tor ve­he­mently op­pose.

Bent­ley be­lieves su­per schools are bad news. “The strength of New Zealand ed­u­ca­tion for decades has been com­mu­nity-based schools. Ev­ery­one gets in be­hind it, hope­fully it’s well led, well man­aged, and away you go. You’ve got your own iden­tity.”

Na­tional has forced through a se­ries of sys­temic changes that have proven un­pop­u­lar within the sec­tor. These in­clude Na­tional Stan­dards in 2010 and re­cent changes to the Ed­u­ca­tion Act, which al­low the min­is­ter to com­bine school boards, a prin­ci­pal or board to be in charge of more than one school, and the es­tab­lish­ment of Com­mu­ni­ties of On­line Learn­ing (COOLs), which can be pri­vately owned and run but re­ceive pub­lic money.

Ed­u­ca­tors here point to the ex­am­ple of the United States, where there has been growth in the num­ber of on­line char­ter schools, but learn­ing out­comes have been very poor.

While ten­sion be­tween the pro­fes­sion and the min­istry has al­ways ex­isted, is the re­la­tion­ship now be­com­ing dys­func­tional? Bent­ley and Wil­liams, both prin­ci­pals of large Auck­land sec­ondary schools and fac­ing all the unique is­sues that en­tails, agree the min­istry has a ten­dency to be au­to­cratic. It op­er­ates what Bent­ley calls a “low-trust model”.

“It’s been around for years and years, [un­der] suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments. They don’t trust schools to do things so [gov­ern­ment] will have to come in over the top and sort it out. We’re say­ing you don’t need to sort any­thing out. We’ll man­age it, thanks. We’ve been man­ag­ing our schools for years, we can han­dle it.”

De­lahunty says it’s got­ten worse un­der this gov­ern­ment. “I think there are a lot of teach­ers and teach­ers’ or­gan­i­sa­tions that have felt re­ally ex­cluded by the gov­ern­ment from crit­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion de­bates. The lead­ers of the ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor do their very best to main­tain a re­la­tion­ship with gov­ern­ment — they have no choice, but it should not be like that. [The min­istry should] have a gen­uine con­ver­sa­tion about as­sess­ment and the teacher short­age. The con­cept that we’re be­hind you, we’re lis­ten­ing to you, and we have ex­per­tise and re­sources to sup­port you, I don’t think that re­la­tion­ship ex­ists any

more. The min­istry should be a seat of ex­per­tise and sup­port, rather than a cen­tre of man­age­ment and con­trol.”

Labour’s Chris Hip­kins be­lieves the min­istry has lost its way. “They’re get­ting pub­lic ser­vants or busi­ness peo­ple from out­side of ed­u­ca­tion, and as a re­sult there’s a dis­con­nect be­tween the way they are op­er­at­ing and the day-to-day re­al­i­ties of be­ing in a school.”

Back at Ma­cleans, be­fore the lunch bell, By­ron Bent­ley is telling me what he re­ally thinks: “Yeah, we’re id­iots! Don’t ask us. What would we bloody know? Do what we tell you. So we’ve got this men­tal­ity now, where you get all this shal­low think­ing that’s based on ide­ol­ogy, not re­search. Like the ‘mod­ern learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment’, where you’re go­ing to put a whole lot of teach­ers in a big space, and they’re all go­ing to teach classes and hold hands and do ringa-bloody Rosie. Where’s that come from? It’s got no foun­da­tional re­search, it’s got no foun­da­tion in prac­tice. We know it’s a load of rub­bish, yet they keep try­ing to [put us] in build­ings with these mas­sive big spa­ces. We’ve been a vic­tim our­selves, with our science and tech­nol­ogy block two years ago. We had a right royal set-to with them. We said, ‘We’re a whanau house school, we’ve got the big open spa­ces now that we use. We want class­rooms and lab­o­ra­to­ries and work­shops that have a teacher with their stu­dents, so they can work the magic.’

“Teacher-led in­struc­tion is the mantra here, and it al­ways will be. Not stu­dent-led. Good teach­ers will al­ways find out what their stu­dents need.”

Where does all this leave our sec­ondary schools? What will they look like in 10 years’ time? It de­pends who you ask. Mike Wil­liams be­lieves de­ci­sions need to be made now about what Auck­land’s schools will look like in the fu­ture. “How big are we pre­pared to let sec­ondary schools go? What does a 3000-stu­dent sec­ondary school look like, if that’s what’s around the cor­ner? What in­fra­struc­ture do you need to sup­port that many young peo­ple? We need to do some re­ally se­ri­ous think­ing about Auck­land schools in par­tic­u­lar, be­cause that’s where most of the over­crowd­ing is com­ing from. Have we got the right mix of schools, are we putting the right schools in, or are we just go­ing to keep go­ing up to su­per schools?”

Chris Hip­kins’ view is more apoc­a­lyp­tic: he pre­dicts higher un­em­ploy­ment be­cause school leavers won’t be equipped with the nec­es­sary skills. “If we con­tinue down the road the cur­rent gov­ern­ment have got us on, we’ll see a fu­ture work­force that is sim­ply un­able and un­pre­pared to cope with the re­al­i­ties of the fu­ture.”

Me­lanie Web­ber is more san­guine, and sug­gests a re­turn to not let­ting stu­dents at­tend schools out-of­zone is one an­swer. “I’d love to see ev­ery­one sup­port­ing their lo­cal com­mu­nity school, and go­ing … ‘My kid is go­ing to be fine there, and I want to be mak­ing the sit­u­a­tion bet­ter for ev­ery­one with my kid be­ing there rather than mak­ing it worse.’”

ABOVE— Ma­cleans Col­lege bi­ol­ogy teacher Aliesha Cham­ber­lain guides stu­dents through a dis­sec­tion.

RIGHT, TOP— Ma­cleans prin­ci­pal By­ron Bent­ley with the pre­fect lead­er­ship team of (from left) He­len Wu, Theo Quax, Bronte Croad and Ben Zhang.

RIGHT— Vee Muck­erd­hooj in­structs Ma­cleans stu­dents in an au­to­mo­tive tech­nol­ogy class.

LEFT— Dr Jane Lu­ton (sec­ond from left) takes a Ma­cleans Col­lege drama class.

ABOVE— Ma­cleans' 1st XV, with coach Be­van Packer, and the Hau­raki Gulf as a back­drop.

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