JOHN GRANT, CAROL CRAYMER, JOHN KEYES
Interviewed by SIMON DALLOW
SIMON It's the school holidays and the next term is traditionally the testing one for secondary schools with exams dominating the timetable but how well are our schools doing, are they really preparing our young people for life beyond the school gate. Well joining me now are three school principals, John Grant from Kaipara College, a coed school serving the farming and lifestyle area around Helensville northwest of Auckland, and in Wellington we have Carol Craymere principal of the Presbyterian Girls' School Queen Margaret College located near Wadestown amidst the embassies and diplomats of Thorndon, and also back in the studio here John Keyes is principal of Mangere College serving the predominantly Maori and Polynesian lower income suburb that surrounds Auckland's airport. Welcome to all three of you.
Let's begin with the overnight news angle, of course Trevor Mallard has said that powhiri are effectively sexist and a waste of time or wasting too much time, would you agree.
JOHN GRANT No definitely not. Powhiri's the way we do things in New Zealand we're becoming you know a country which is bicultural and multicultural and we have a distinctive voice and powhiri's a distinctive way we have of ceremonially welcoming people, and it's becoming more accepted and it's adapting to the school situation, long may it continue to grow and adapt.
SIMON You agree John?
JOHN Keyes Absolutely. As you've introduced I come from a very multicultural area and powhiri is a very central part of our welcoming procedure, we use it both with the student body and with the staff body, so when new people arrive we do welcome them.
SIMON Carol one of the things that Trevor Mallard said of course is that girls are marginalized but generally I think in a dual gender environment, is that what you find with powhiri? Do they prevent you getting down to really business?
CAROL No certainly not. I've actually come from a co-ed school just prior to coming to Queen Margaret College I was at a co-ed school so that wasn’t an issue there, but quite interestingly being in a single sex school we actually use powhiri and I actually saw quite recently a powhiri happen quite informally and just involving girls so no I completely support what the two male principals have said, it is an intrinsic part of New Zealand society and more and more within our schools we are adapting Maori protocol and it's working very very well.
SIMON That’s good to hear. The other issue of course during the course of the week was that violence in schools has been raised, how big an issue is discipline John?
JOHN Keyes It's not a big issue at all, it's a part of what a teacher does and what a school does, but in terms of it becoming more of a critical issue within particularly the school in the area that I've worked no it is no worse now than it has been for the last 20 years.
SIMON One in seven teachers have experienced physical assault and since 2000 there's been a 30% increase in assault.
JOHN GRANT I think it's probably true that there are more challenging students but I think it's equally true that our staff are getting more skilful at dealing with them. There will be these incidents and I think there is a concern out there that we need to perhaps become cleverer and firmer in setting the boundaries for young people at school. I think perhaps the wider issue underneath this it raises the question of exactly how do we support students who can't meet the behavioural expectations that we have at school despite the best efforts of their teachers.
SIMON You’re saying how do we support them, that’s the converse in discipline isn't it?
JOHN GRANT No, no, no, support is the very nature of discipline, the only discipline that means anything is self discipline and the supporting structures around that self discipline that enable the person to take on the self discipline, that’s what we want in New Zealand.
SIMON But again it's a matter of teaching them how to be disciplined.
JOHN GRANT It's a matter of teaching them.
SIMON What residual effect has there been from the abolition of corporal punishment.
JOHN GRANT None, it's so far in the past, even at its height it was only used by a minority of teachers on a minority of students in a minority of situations.
SIMON Many would say that of course that boys have suffered as a result of a lack of that type of discipline, is the system serving boys well?
JOHN Keyes Yes it is, but I think we need to be careful when we say system, the education system can't be separated from the social system and the wider societies we have, and I think as a member of the OECD we do have an issue with boys and how we raise them, we also have issues within the educational setting of how you manage boys at this point in the 21st century, and I think we still have lessons to learn there.
CAROL I hasten to add that we have issues as how we manage girls in the 21st century, we're living in quite a different age and I think it's all very challenging, it's all very exciting, and certainly the pressures on young people today.
SIMON So Carol why are girls doing better then?
CAROL Why are girls doing better, well we're talking about exam results are we?
SIMON Representation at tertiary level, representation in results I mean pretty much most criteria these days.
CAROL I'd like to put a spin on this, it's said that more girls are going to more university but perhaps some young men are brighter by not going to university not having the student loan, not perhaps being a girl who goes and takes on a student loan ends up being a nurse being paid X number of dollars if you compare male and female rates of pay out there, perhaps you might get a different spin on it, but I'm probably being a little bit sort of ironic there perhaps but girls do mature earlier than young men and so there's that issue as well to take into account.
SIMON Let's look then at the role of parents in influencing the outcomes of boys and girls. Are parents doing everything they should.
JOHN GRANT Oh some parents are, most parents fortunately are doing everything they should.
SIMON How do you get all parents doing everything they should John, you can take them to school you can't make them study.
JOHN GRANT No you can't and I spose at the time it is a team effort and it's a situation in a community where if we have concern about the way a young person is growing up and we feel that the parents need support then the parents have gotta get that access to that support.
SIMON Who gives them that support is that the government's role or is that the school's role, does there need to be a greater interface between the school and the community.
JOHN GRANT No I think the interface between school and community is really strong and I think there are some of us who are experimenting with full service schools, notions around providing the support for young adolescent boys and girls at their school so that there is access to health care, and to social work and to other advice that can strengthen the resiliency that a young person has, resiliency being that quality of bounce back that we need in our young people. When, and there are not many, but when we do have children that don’t have resiliency or are struggling then it's a communal issue, yes the government have gotta play their part and they’ve got fund it a bit more than they're funding it but also the communities as a whole could pack good challenges and good support around our young people and the schools are a good place for that to happen.
SIMON Let me ask John Keyes on this, a decile one school, community must be very very important to achieve outcomes. How do you utilise the community to improve the lot of stragglers?
JOHN Keyes I'll just pick up on what John said in terms of a full service school, we are a full service school, we have full health, full social work facilities on site, and so the ability to work with the students when an issue does arise inevitably will lead back to that need as John has said to be able to work closely with the family and the wider community and within particularly that cycle in the community there are a large number of community supports that are in place, so the important thing for the school is to be aware of those contacts, to set up those links and to be quite religious I suppose and quite strict in their ability to reach out to that, because the school cannot do everything.
SIMON So the school though as you’re saying has to be a community leader not a follower. Let me just go back to Carol, Carol are the problems that we face with under achievement are they effectively educational problems or are they societal problems?
CAROL Both, both, I just want to go back to the discussion that you were having then with the male principals there, I think it's very hard as a parent actually to be a parent in this day and age and I think it's more difficult than when my parents brought me up and so it is not just a case of the schools being part of this mix, certainly it is schools working with community but I think as a society we have to look at some of the issues concerning the way we present images in the media and some of the ways, the directions that our society is going and the values that we hold dear so it's a much more complex issue than just the schools being held accountable for things.
JOHN Keyes A school can only reflect what is in that wider community and I go back to my earlier comment that we in New Zealand also are isolated just at this corner of the Pacific we are part of the western English speaking world if we want to use that label and the issues that we are facing here are issues that if you like, if we want to put it into a grandiose term, are facing western civilisation at this point in time and I certainly pick up on what Carol has said, it is a very very tight relationship and we just need to keep working on that relationship.
JOHN GRANT My experience is that it's a really positive one, in the years that I've been a principal of a school we have relied on confidently, on a wide number of parents and a wide number of people in the community to support the school and to help us and to volunteer and to be there so that it is very much a partnership and certainly at Helensville where Kaipara is – I value that partnership that exists between our parents who help us in all sorts of ways ranging from sports management and coaching to giving kids advice to taking kids away on trips and so on, so I think it's actually a very very positive climate in school in New Zealand.
SIMON After the break we will have more from our panel of principals, with looking at NCEA to start.
SIMON We are back with our panel of school principals discussing how well the education system serves our secondary students, let's to got Carol Craymer at Queen Margaret College in Wellington. Has NCEA made a positive difference to student Carol?
CAROL It's changed the way schools work in the senior school and it has made a number of positive differences but it also has problems. I think we all agree that the implementation was fraught. One of the things it has done which has really I think improved education is it has made the actual – made it clearer what's actually being taught, it's made it more transparent, however there is still clunkinesses with NCEA and that’s the thing that the media in particular reports on, there are a lot of things about NCEA that are positive.
SIMON John Keyes does it benefit all students, who does it serve best?
JOHN Keyes It benefits all students, it gives every student the potential to show what they can do and what they do know and it takes away the historical skill of being able to cram at the last minute and perform well in a three hour written exam which for most of us that are sitting here served us very very well but we would probably all be able to mention people in our year groups that it certainly didn’t suit well and they were the ones that were labelled as failures in those days, so we now have a situation where every student is able to get what they do deserve what they have worked for and what they are able to show. We still have failures. Not everyone is going to be able to do everything but they are at least being able to get recognition for what they can do, which in the past was totally hidden.
SIMON John Grant you’re nodding away, you’re an NCEA school, would you agree?
JOHN GRANT Yes, oh very much so.
SIMON Why then are 40 odd schools opting out of the system?
JOHN GRANT Well I don’t know, you'd have to ask them to be honest with you but it has always I must say caused me a great deal of puzzlement as to how state school could opt out of state qualification system, although they’ll probably say they're not opting out they're just offering an alternative, and you know I don’t find the offering an alternative a problem because we offer a number of alternatives like the Australasian language examinations and so on and so forth but in state schools the state qualification should be the central issue and the Cambridge should be a challenge that students who choose to pick it up may want to meet and I don’t have any problem with that at all.
SIMON Let's ask Carol cos Carol you've had some experience with this haven't you?
CAROL Yes and I'm interested hearing what John is saying and that would be my attitude as well, I think it's very healthy that schools look at other options as well as NCEA, at Queen Margaret College we are a totally NCEA school and I am very happy with that because I don’t think NCEA assessment is the issue, too long we've spoken about assessment, weighing the pig is not going to make it any fatter, what's really important is improving teaching and learning and that’s what I'm going to be keeping my focus on while I'm a principal.
SIMON All NCEA protagonists though, many would say that we're heading for a two tier system, that NCEA serves the lower performing students and the others are served better by Cambridge or baccalauria.
JOHN GRANT It's interesting in this debate that the whole question of lowering standards and dumbing down has gone away and it's gone away because students and parents have realised that to get merits and excellences at level 2 and level 3 is a testing and demanding challenge of our young people and a lot of our students are stepping up to the plate and standards are rising slowly and steadily in these subjects.
SIMON The other argument of course is that employers have said that it doesn’t serve – that they can't understand it, is that just a matter of time getting used to it?
JOHN Keyes I think it has to be, when I think back to some of the early work in the late 80s and early 90s that we were doing an alternative assessment, I can remember officials wagging fingers at us and saying look employers are saying they need this sort of information from schools, can this person work well in a group, does this person communicate well, is this person good a time management and so on. So I'm a little bit puzzled where 15 years down the track we're now being told by the employers we're still not getting the things that we need, it's a bit like universities as well are a little bit puzzled by what they're getting out of NCEA. Funny they're another one of those groups that do receive the students that leave from the secondary schools, there is still a bedding down period to go.
CAROL There's clunkiness in the system and I think we have to clearly address some of the issues. There is I think too much information.
SIMON They're just teething problems aren’t they?
CAROL Well, they have to be worked through.
JOHN GRANT Yeah I agree with Carol there is clunkiness in the system.
CAROL There's a whole issue of reassessment that can go on interminably, within our own schools we are addressing those sorts of issues but in trying to sort them out the thing that I feel encouraged by is that we actually have the scholarship examination and I'm really hoping that there's big pickup on that because that would be a criticism in that we aren’t serving the needs of our top students. Now that the scholarship examination is in place I'm hoping that we're going to work to make that serve that need to stretch our top students who are very very important.
SIMON As Carol said you can have an interminable reassessment.
JOHN GRANT That actually leads to the point really which is the principle clunkiness is that there are too many standards in some subjects and I think you know English for example there are nine achievement standards and that’s two or three too many.
SIMON So okay this is a process of refinement. Let's go to zoning, I want to address zoning because this has been a topic that’s been very much a political football the zoning choice issue. John Keyes you’re probably in a decile one school you would have a very strong viewpoint on zoning I imagine.
JOHN Keyes It exists and we work within it. The way that we work is that we are a local school, we believe we meet the needs of the local community very very well indeed, and when we speak about NCEA and I'm not going back to cover old ground but in terms of the information that we as a school get out of NCEA does demonstrate that we meet the needs of our Pacifica students really really well indeed and that we can demonstrate that in many curriculum areas our Pacifica students in a decile one school out perform Pacifica students in the rest of the country, now we didn’t have that information in the past, so to go back to that zoning question draws we see ourselves as the local school, we sell ourselves as the local school and we promote the excellence in education that we offer for the students of Mangere.
SIMON You’re a decile one school with a strong line in Polynesian influence but then a sense of community can be established, what about the other end of the scale, Carol particularly with your experience at Takapuna Grammar what did you make of zoning there, what was parents' feedback?
CAROL I would say that zoning is in particular an Auckland issue Simon, I mean you've only just gotta look at the real estate up in Auckland, I'm just not so aware of that down in Wellington I think there's quite a different culture down there. I actually want to come out in favour of parents here, I think parents have a right to choose and I think we've actually got to make sure that our schools are very desirable to parents. It's a very difficult issue. I do get concerned about people who have got some stake in a school, they might have had a grandparent that has gone to a particular school and so on and they want their child to go to that school, it seems to me sad that we are not encouraging that sort of connectedness because of the zoning issue, and people work right around zoning, there's no doubt of that that there are ways around it.
SIMON Choice also offers a similar set of problems. Let's look at funding, does bulk funding work?
JOHN & JOHN No.
CAROL Well I don’t agree with my colleagues there because I have worked in a bulk funded school, I've worked in a couple actually, and again I actually think that the solutions that we have to bring about in our schools because we have such diverse school, we have a diverse society, can only come about if we are able to have the tools as principals to be able to sort out those issues.
JOHN GRANT When it comes to the bulk funding of operations that’s fine, that’s fine because let's face it schools can make more efficient use of dollars to purchase the things they need to operate the schools fine, but when it comes to staffing the answer is no, because what I need to do to put in front of my students is I need teacher time to teach a class, I don’t need dollars. If you bulk fund in dollars for teachers then the amount of dollars and the cost of the teachers determines the amount of teaching time that a class can have. Now that’s crazy, in fact we are bulk funded for teaching now, the bulk fund is in minutes and I get a fixed amount of minutes so that it's equitable for Mangere to Kaipara to Queen Margaret's, we get an equitable thing. The cost of those bulk funded minutes is correctly and rightly the matter for the country as a whole. So we are bulk funded it's just time not dollars.
SIMON The problem that I've got is not so much the process but every school seems to say that it doesn’t have enough money. Not adequate funding and every school seems to be out there fundraising. Why are they, is it simply because of the inadequacy of the amount?
JOHN Keyes Well if we come back to the earlier comment in terms of full service education it is a very very costly thing so we are constantly having to get separate contracts with the local District Health Board, with PHO's and other organisations that are out there to allow us to provide those addons which are very necessary for the education process to take place, we don’t receive them as a matter of fact, we have to go out looking for them.
SIMON And everyone is soliciting foreign fee-paying students?
JOHN GRANT Well no no, not everybody. I mean there's a whole range of schools that can't. I think the issue about funding is that the government and parents quite likely have been lifting expectations of the performance of secondary schools and long may that increasing demand on what we should do, long may that continue, but the other side of it is there's always going to be a shortfall between what the government is going to give us and the expectations.
SIMON That essentially is the long and short of it, unfortunately we've run out of time. John Keyes from Mangere College, John Grant from Kaipara College, Carol Craymer from Queen Margaret College in Wellington thank you all very much for joining us today
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