23 Oct 2014

Big ticks for first charter schools

8:14 am on 23 October 2014

The first two charter schools to get Education Review Office reports are hoping the results will help vindicate their place in the education system.

South Auckland Middle School and Vanguard Military School in Albany have provided Radio New Zealand with copies of their reviews, which are due to be published by the review office next week.

Pupils at South Auckland Middle School.

Pupils at South Auckland Middle School. Photo: RNZ / John Gerritsen

In both cases, the reports say the publicly-funded private schools have made a good start since opening this year and students are responding well to high expectations.

The academic adviser at the middle school, Alwyn Poole, says he is delighted with the report and it is important to get the review office's approval.

"The Education Review Office are thorough, they're professional, they ask the hard questions and that's a really important judgement to receive."

But Mr Poole doubts the report will do much to silence charter school critics. "For some people, it won't go anywhere near it at all because they've got a closed mind to the model and how it can work as an indigenous model in New Zealand to help children who aren't otherwise achieving."

However, he says from his point of view, the report provides proof that his school is working.

The chief executive at Vanguard Military School, Nick Hyde, says his school's review isn't merely good - it's glowing and provides credible proof to the critics that Vanguard is doing well.

"All educational people are aware of how important an ERO review is and to have a strong and glowing ERO report signifies ... that our school is at the required standard."

Mr Hyde says the school expects NCEA pass rates of about 85 percent at level one and 92 percent at level 2 this year.

He says that is despite the fact many of the students started this year not knowing their multiplication tables and a quarter had previously failed in their attempts to pass the qualification.

"We spend the first term or two just giving them all the basics that they should have had and then once they kind of connect with those, the confidence grows and they can achieve academically," he says.

"Then the flip side we're doing things like military drill, where they're getting prouder of themselves, a bit more self confidence. We're doing that PT where they're getting fitter, you know healthy body, healthy mind. So there's a whole raft of things that we're trying to do to promote achievement."

But Post Primary Teachers Association president Angela Roberts is having none of that. She says the schools' success is due to the fact they get more funding per student than state schools.

The Government argues that is only because the schools are much smaller than most state schools - but Ms Roberts says it is still a big advantage.

"They have more money per pupil than a school down the road. How that money is generated isn't the point - the point is, they've got more money to spend on the kids and to do things like have smaller class sizes."

Ms Roberts says if charter schools do well, the only lesson to be learned is that vulnerable children do better if their schools get more money.

Reviews of the three other charter schools are scheduled for later this year and early next year.

What the ERO says

"Vanguard Military School has made a very good start to its operation. A significant proportion of students have not experienced success in their previous schools. At this school they are responding positively to adults' high expectations."

"Students at South Auckland Middle School are responding positively to teachers' high expectations. Small class sizes, the well organised timetable and teacher expertise is subject areas contribute to a sense of academic purpose for the students."

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