3 Feb 2015

Rise in charter school enrolments

5:41 am on 3 February 2015

Charter school enrolments have not been hurt by ongoing criticism of the publicly-funded private schools, with some reporting significant roll increases.

school seats generic

Several charter schools are reporting significant roll increases this year. Photo: 123RF

Last year, about 360 students attended the first five schools, and most had fewer students than the government was funding them for.

This year, those five schools, which the government calls partnership schools, already have more than 440 students and four new schools are opening as well.

Vanguard Military School is now the largest of the charter schools with 144 students enrolled, up from last year's starting roll of 108.

The school's chief executive Nick Hyde said the school had been fully subscribed since December, with families attracted in part by its strong NCEA pass rates.

"Academically people are saying it's a strong school, but they see the kids in their uniform, the pride, the manners, the behaviour that comes from our students and the model that we use.

"They've see them in the community marching at things like Anzac Day or presenting at the under-20 world cup and I guess people look at that saying 'that's a school I'd be happy to send my kid to'."

Mr Hyde said the school was likely to lose some students during the year but that was because they were getting their NCEA certificates and moving on to jobs or apprenticeships.

Middle School West, Auckland.

Middle School West Auckland - one of the five charter, or partnership, schools currently operating in New Zealand. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

In Whangarei, He Puna Marama Trust's secondary school says it has already met its minimum government-funded roll of 70, up from about 56 last year.

This year, it also has a primary school, Te Kapehu Whetu, with 34 enrolments so far.

The schools' executive director of learning Nathan Matthews was confident the primary school would reach its guaranteed minimum funded roll of 60 children this year.

He said parents were choosing the two schools for their mix of Maori and academic skills.

"They want their kids to be able to hold themselves in the Maori world by understanding te reo Maori and what to do on a marae and things like that.

"And they're also looking to make sure that their children have the right tools and competencies to make the most of the opportunities that they'll get in the wider world whether that be university, trade training, going into employment, whatever those opportunities may be."

Northland charter school Te Kura Hourua ki Whangaruru.

Northland charter school Te Kura Hourua ki Whangaruru. Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

Other schools to report growth include the Rise Up Academy in South Auckland, which had 47 students last year, and now has 72 with a further 11 children signed up to start once they turn five.

The South Auckland Middle School is full with 120 students, about 10 more than last year, and its new sister school, the Middle School West Auckland, is opening with about 120 children.

Another of the new schools, the Pacific Advance Senior School, expects to have nearly 30 students starting this week, and hopes to reach its guaranteed minimum of 80 by the end of this month.

Radio New Zealand was unable to confirm enrolment figures for Te Kura Maori o Waatea, a new charter school opening in South Auckland, or for Te Kura Hourua ki Whangaruru, which had widely reported problems last year.

However, Whangaruru says it is "on track" to meet its guaranteed minimum roll of 50 students.

Post Primary Teachers' Association president Angela Roberts said it was frustrating to see charter schools growing when they offered little that was different to regular state schools.

"They're not doing anything particularly innovative," she said.

"We have service academies, which provide that access to the military training. We have cross-curricular ... studies happening in schools around the place and we have really culturally responsive schools that have immersion classes for Pasifika and Maori kids, so I haven't seen anything too new."

Ms Roberts said parents were being attracted to the charter schools by the small classes they were able to offer thanks to their small scale.

But she said enrolments in the schools were taking students from neighbouring state schools and thereby reducing their resources.

Follow John Gerritsen on Twitter @RNZeducation

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