28 Feb 2018

A day inside a charter school

From Checkpoint, 5:42 pm on 28 February 2018

Eleven charter schools are currently fighting for their survival after Education Minister Chris Hipkins signalled a plan to ditch the charter school model. 

The Education Amendment Bill passed its first reading in February and will stop any more charter schools being opened.

Under the bill, existing charter schools will have to make the transition back into the state school system as designated character schools.

Checkpoint was invited to spend the day at South Auckland Middle School in Manurewa - one of the charter schools under threat.

South Auckland Middle School principal Wendy Greig said she didn't believe the school's contract would be terminated.
"I think there will be negotiation and transition and I believe our school speaks for itself."
South Auckland Middle School is run by the Villa Education Trust, which runs two other middle schools in Auckland and caters for students between Year 7 and 10.

The school has no infrastructure - instead relying on community facilities like the local park, pool and recreation centre. 

It leases buildings inside the well-manicured grounds of the Elim Church facility at Manurewa - a reflection of its christian leanings.

Villa Trust academic advisor Alwyn Poole has fiercely defended the funding model and quality of teachers at charter schools.

"Our policy is that our teachers are registered and qualified and we teach the New Zealand curriculum."
The school received bulk funding, Mr Poole said, which worked out to about $10,000 per student a year.

The school paid for students' stationery and uniforms and there were no school fees.

Former Otago Highlander's lock Filipo Levi has swapped the rugby paddock for the school's hallways in his role as community officer.

Mr Levi acts as the go-between for students, their families and the school.

"A lot of them will come from the local area - probably around 90 per cent are Māori and Pasifika," he said.

The school day is split into two - an academic morning focused on core subjects and in the afternoon students take arts, sports and community activities.

In its last Education Review Office report, Year 7 and 8 students were achieving 72 percent and above in the old National Standards in reading, 73 percent in writing and 70 percent in maths.

Wendy Greig said she had seen the huge changes students made at the school and was confident of the path the school was taking.

"(Students are) coming to school, wanting to come to school wanting to learn - believing in themselves and going out into further schools and doing really really well."