Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Of Monsters and Old Boys

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  • Tom Semmens,

    "...Even now whenever I hear some Grammar alumni talking,be it some businessperson or some minor sporting hero on the TV, I can still hear the echoes of that boastful ego-tripping that I and all my schoolmates acquired there, and which many of us worked hard to rid ourselves of..."



    Well said! It is hard to get rid of to. I've said here before I've puzzled over what we were being educated FOR within our school culture of an all-male, all-white incultated superiority complex and an excessive deference to strict hierarchy.

    The only thing I've come up with is we were all being trained to go off and rule the Indians.

    Sevilla, Espana • Since Nov 2006 • 2217 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart,

    Apart from the poor sods who went there.

    Well, they had to come up with some way to brighten their lives.

    I would say the Wellington equivalent of Auckland Grammar is Wellington College; not *quite* as posh, but they wish they were, and every bit as up themselves. I went to Wellington East (the middle-decile girls' school right next door to Coll) and the clash of culture, class, and gender was...interesting.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2105 posts Report Reply

  • JohnS,

    As an Akld Grammar Old Boy (WWII years) I hated the experience and have had nothing to do with the school since. It wasn't until I left Grammar and went to Teachers' College and Uni that I found I wasn't useless academically.

    All but two of the "masters" were incompetents at teaching, and one was a sadist (and the organist for a city church).

    I finished up as a colleague of one of the better teachers, coincidentally, on the teachers' appointment committee of the Auckland Education Board. I had pleasure in showing him a report comment he had written on me in which he had something positive to say about my work as a student. Years later, I wept a little at his funeral. Too rare a teaching professional at this "great" school.

    In the 1970s I was leading a research and inservice training team to develop a training programme to improve the quality and effectiveness of teaching early reading.

    We tried to document programmes and techniques that were working, so we could share these with others. Ultimately the inservice programme was used by about 25,000 teachers. The point of this comment is that we found the best teachers to demonstrate practices that were having notable success were among schools in Ponsonby (way before it became trendy middle-class), Otara and Mangere.

    The best teachers were in, what is now known as, the low decile schools.

    As has been mentioned earlier, the effectiveness of a school should be measured by the difference between input and output. These schools I worked in were making a huge difference to the educational gains of their students.

    Frankly, I was in awe of their efforts.

    Greenlane, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 26 posts Report Reply

  • Tony Kennedy,

    @ James George – sums it up really well.

    The so called elite “Boys” school’s seem to dominate the thread, how does it work in the equivalent girls school world?

    There is an interview in today’s DomPost with Roger Moses the principal of Wellington and while there are things I disagree with, it is worth noting how his views have changed over time.

    Oh, hope the Auckland crew are enjoying the beers, roll on Wellington

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 224 posts Report Reply

  • Mark Harris,

    I would say the Wellington equivalent of Auckland Grammar is Wellington College; not *quite* as posh, but they wish they were, and every bit as up themselves. I went to Wellington East (the middle-decile girls' school right next door to Coll) and the clash of culture, class, and gender was...interesting.

    Not in your time, of course, but when I was at St Pats, we were still in the old grey muthafukka across the Basin from Wellington Col. We heard all sorts of stories about the liaisons along the fence line between Coll and East ;-)

    One year (7th), we were invited to participate in the Shakespeare play with Wellington Girls, because they'd partnered with Coll the year before and there had been untoward goings on in secluded rooms, apparently. So they thought they would ask us as we were good catholic lads and not prone to immorality.

    Seems no-one told them about the incidence of teenage pregnancy among good catholic teens left to their own devices...

    Waikanae • Since Jul 2008 • 1343 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    Seems no-one told them about the incidence of teenage pregnancy among good catholic teens left to their own devices...

    Le figlie di Maria son le prime a darla via.

    (But you didn't hear it from me.)

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    I presume there are studies that attempt to level external factors and determine the best-fit indicator of educational success?

    No Google-foo here either but I think the big longitudinal Chch study showed it purely comes down to wealth of the students' families - which generally correlates well but not universally with a supportive home environment, resources, etc. I think the Lauder references in Russell's post may be to that research series?

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19740 posts Report Reply

  • Mark Harris,

    Le figlie di Maria son le prime a darla via.
    (But you didn't hear it from me.)

    heheh. Not far off, at all. Though the secular were just as interested. ;-)

    When I was a teen, you expected to lose one or two from the peer group to premature parenthood. Indeed, you knew some of the girls at the dance would be staking out what they considered were the likeliest prospects. But it always took two to tango.

    I was staying at a friend's recently (in AK) whose teens were at two of the "better" schools (Dio and I forget the other), and they shocked me with their matter of fact stories about never using the girl's condom, as she's probably poked a hole in it - and this was from the female teen! It's rough out there for kids today. And they're not all as smart as these two.

    Waikanae • Since Jul 2008 • 1343 posts Report Reply

  • Barbara,

    I felt our education system could be at risk with a National government. New Zealand is one of the few countries where by and large your children can get a good education at their local school.

    It is something we should be proud of, and not put at risk by elite schools being able to cherry pick the brightest and best from their own communities.

    Sandringham • Since Mar 2008 • 33 posts Report Reply

  • TracyMac,

    Regarding those who are stating that better schools don't offer that much better education, I disagree. I went to Tamaki College in Glen Innes, and to Auckland Girls' Grammar. There is no comparison between the level of resourcing and the teacher engagement.

    Tamaki had ok teachers and some very good ones, but the struggle against a useless principal and no resources to speak of took a toll. So too did a student body where the majority of parents were varying degrees of indifferent to their education, and they certainly weren't engaged by the school itself (with a few specific exceptions, like the fantastic head of the Maori dept, who did great outreach to families.)

    Auckland Girls', however, had good to excellent teachers, a ton of resources (and, yes, the Old Girls' club had a lot to do with that), and a very active and inclusive learning environment. The sporting facilities were crap, but I wasn't sporty. They had a friggin' marae in the mid-80s, when the principal of Tamaki could hardly bring himself to say "Tena koutou" a couple of times a year. In all, there was no comparison.

    I would agree, however, that a decile rating does not necessarily indicate that much. Tamaki, not surprisingly, has a decile rating of 1 these days (and would have done when I attended it). AGG's is 5, interestingly, due to the mixed community (still) where it's located. Epsom Girls', whose facilities and teaching aren't that many light-years away from AGGS's, from what friends who attended have told me (although they do have better resourcing again, and a much better sports programme) is decile 9. As you can guess from what I've just said, I don't think EGGs's quality of education is twice as good as Auckland Girls', as you might think if you equated school decile to quality (or a greater proportion of pakeha students, as some idiots do - pakeha are also a minority at AGGS).

    As the ERO itself says, all a decile rating is supposed to do is indicate the level of social-economic advantage in the area a school's students are drawn from. While it certainly helps explain why Tamaki was in such a parlous state - although its quality of education has massively improved in the last 20 years, from all reports - parents using it as a lazy way to decide where to send their kids for the best education (in theory, although I know that there are plenty who place just a higher priority on "networking" capability, the wankers) is just ridiculous. It might be an input for decision-making, but it's only one.

    As for the jumping up and down about zoning in general, I'm confused. The current system sounds exactly like what it was over 20 years ago, with zoning and quotas, and that was under the firm aegis of Muldoon and his crew. I suppose the Nats are about the "free market", when it suits them, these days.

    Canberra, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 701 posts Report Reply

  • tim kong,

    Although I understand Mr. Roughan's job is to provide grits for the masses to chew on - I do take issue with a few of his points.

    Point #1:

    "It is unmoved by the high standards delivered to all sections of society by mature markets for practically everything else."

    'It' being the education sector.

    Would these 'high standards' and 'mature markets' include the banking and finance sectors?

    Or possibly he refers to the 'high standards' of verbal and written discourse - as shown on Parliament TV, or modelled by local government bodies who text each other judiciously.

    If these are examples of the 'high standards' that the education sector is not delivering, I wonder why we're bothering at all.

    Point #2:

    "The profession lives in abiding fear of the idea that schools should compete to attract students, because that would threaten its control of the system's methods and philosophy, not to mention its members' job security, pay scales and career paths."

    Do we? The schools I've worked in have concerns that numbers might drop - because funding drops accordingly. So you strive to ensure numbers are at an optimal number - to fund teachers, resources, library materials and such. But I don't personally compete with other schools - if parents want to take their students off to other schools, we ask why - if there's a major issue - we seek to address it - and if the parents decide to move on, we do as well.

    This idea that schools should all be akin to those tailors who accost you in the streets of Bangkok, declaring they will provide you with the best deal on a pair of silk trousers, and a jacket to match - is bizarre.

    On a side note, he mentions the profession seeking to protect its career paths. Currently, an increasing number of young teachers are seeing their career path lead out of teaching - but that's a bigger issue, that Mr Roughan probably doesn't care about. Although seeing the average age of a primary teacher is 50 - and most new teachers are only lasting 5-6 years - even he might see the potential gap in actual teachers available to the education sector that is looming, regardless of zoning.

    Point #3:

    "Competition for pupils would transfer power to parents whose values and priorities may not accord with the profession's educational wisdom, faddish though it is."

    I agree - parents often make the best teachers. They do - it's just that a lot of them have other jobs - which are not teaching. I trained to be a teacher, so some of them could do the things they are passionate about. On the other hand, a lot of them teach their kids things that I as a teacher am legally banned from doing.

    Mr Roughan's distaste for 'faddish educational wisdom' is a bit odd - seeing the education sector is constantly undertaking professional development, in part to ensure a constant upgrading of those previously mentioned standards. Yes, some of it is faddish - and we're pretty good at laughing at that. But a lot of it is highly rigorous and demands we as teachers are articulate, specific and can verify our work. And I'll be the first to state we, as a profession need to get better at those things.

    My main complaint against Mr. Roughan's article - is that he is, like Russell says 'blithe', and almost 'blase' about the reality of teaching. As if zoning is the great ill that plagues our education system. It's not, and much like the quest for national standards, and league tables, there is no link between those touchstones of Tolley and Roughan and the reality of teaching.

    Having taught in a decile 2 school and now a decile 10 school - the reality of teaching is that the best teachers want to do the best they can for those students in front of them - every day.

    As can be seen in comments above, the best teachers are the ones that cared. And showed that care for their students. Those teachers will not be driven to compete to be in the "best" schools - they'll want to be the best, regardless of what school they're in. And with a little luck, that ethic will pass on to their students.

    Apologies, this post is a tad long, and probably a bit off-topic - but it is school holidays after all. :-)

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 153 posts Report Reply

  • mark taslov,

    I always enjoy yoru posts Tim.

    The thing I never understood about the NZ education system, especially in light of the smacking bill, is how they force children as young as 5 or 6 to assemble outside in temperatures as low as 5° wearing shorts. You're not allowed to smack your child, but the schools will do their damnedest to freeze their nuts off.

    Te Ika-a-Māui • Since Mar 2008 • 2281 posts Report Reply

  • FletcherB,

    (what happened to refusal to accept guilt being an aggravating factor?)

    While you may have an insight to his real feelings on the subject, its a bit hard to say, legally, that someone who pleads guilty hasnt accepted his guilt, no?

    West Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 893 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    While you may have an insight to his real feelings on the subject, its a bit hard to say, legally, that someone who pleads guilty hasnt accepted his guilt, no?

    I'd say Veitch's statement to the media could be summarised as "I'm sorry I got caught".

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Jackie Clark,

    About this whole private/public school thing - I went to both sorts. In fact, I went to 3 private, and 2 public. All good schools, none better than the others. Funnily enough, the reason I left the last private school to go state, was an argument with my friends about the differences between public/private schools. They were all about private school and privilege. So to spite them, I came home one holidays and insisted that my parents find a public school for me to go to. To their credit, they did. Rangi back then wasn't the megalithic creature it is now. What was great about all this moving around is that each school was different and offered unique advantages.The private schools were inevitably smaller, more intimate and I liked not going to school with boys. There were enough in my family, thanks. I appreciate that I was in the rare position of choosing my own schools from the age of 12, however. So private school at that stage was my choice. Not necessarily my parents'. So ban private schools? I think not. Whether we like it or not, people have to have the choice for their children. And sometimes, as I have said, it may be the child's choice. Now we come to the decile thing. All of the schools I went to would have been decile 8-10 schools. I find myself teaching nowadays in a kindergarten that gets equity funding because we are aligned with the decile 2 primary school next door. I have always taught in "low decile" kindergartens. Funnily enough, parents in Mangere don't consciously judge a school on it's decile number, or on it's resources - often they haven't the foggiest that the decile system exists - but mostly on how "nice" the school is. Loads of kids get taken to schools in Mangere Bridge, because it is seen as nicer, more refined, less rough. That's been the case everywhere else I've taught as well. The "whiter" the school, the more popular it is. So Glen Innes kids go to the schools up the road. Owairaka kids may end up in Mt Albert. They are making choices. And then there are the "ambitious parents" you speak of. Lots of my friends and family come under this heading. It irks me - it really does. Because it is my belief that nowadays low decile schools are usually very well resourced. Most of the teachers - primary, secondary level - are greatly committed to their kids. (Goes without saying us under 5 teaching types are a bit over the top with that too). And so, I think, in some schools anyway, the "deficit" in fundraising abilities and parental involvement - and I do accept that those hurdles exist - are tempered to a large degree. However. You just can't remove choice from the equation.

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3136 posts Report Reply

  • Tony Parker,

    If Roughan's report wasn't so scary it would be laughable. It seems to me that what it is is the beginning of a concerted effort by the media and others to soften up the public to a wholesale attack on the teaching profession cause they've "had it good for too long". Maybe I'm being a little paranoid here but an example of this is already happening with the ministry not initiating negotiations with the NZEI for the a new Support Staff agreement even though there old one has expired. The reason-the minister has not yet given the ministry the mandate to begin negotiations. Roughn's comments are just teacher and union bashing. The NZEI/PPTA does not run the education system of this country. They are there to support teachers and ensure they get a fair deal just like any other workers or employers organisations. As others have already said there are many reasons for school's and teachers gaining success with their kids, zoning is not one of them. I wouldn't personally change teaching my diverse range of 5 year olds in a decile 4 school for a homogenous bunch in a decile 10 school but that's just me. And having a couple of mildly autistic kids just makes it that more interesting and entertaining at times.
    And just OT-Lucinda Williams was great in Wellington on Wednesday night. If you're going tonight in Auckland make sure you see the opening set by her backing band Buick 6.

    Napier • Since Nov 2008 • 232 posts Report Reply

  • Gareth Ward,

    About this whole private/public school thing - I went to both sorts.

    As did I, although in a slightly different order - I was public right through to my last year when I became a "guinea pig" for the first year of a new private school. And as good as my public school was, this private school was a grade above and perfect for me - it operated on completely different hours and approaches to the public system that operated well as a "bridge" to university.
    Interestingly though, both my wife (who was privately educated for high school) and myself are quite against sending our kids to a full-length private education, independent of cost.

    Auckland, NZ • Since Mar 2007 • 1727 posts Report Reply

  • FletcherB,

    I'd say Veitch's statement to the media could be summarised as "I'm sorry I got caught".

    I agree with you....

    But I think you'll find the whole do you / dont you actually, in your brain, accept responsibility thing can only have an affect at parole hearings....

    At sentencing, you can get leniency based on whether you plead guilty or not...

    (this based on observation via media report only, no first-hand, or professional knowledge)

    West Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 893 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    I think my local education authority back in England did a sensible thing when they brought in non-selective education.

    Up until the late 70's, there had been four or five secondary modern (11-16) schools and one selective grammar school. They could have turned these into 12-18 comprehensives (which would have kept the grammar as a de-facto "elite" school, rather than the local school for the town it was in).

    Instead, they made all the secondary schools 12-16 comprehensives and the grammar school became a 6th form college for 16-19 year olds (Godalming College). That meant that the grammar schools "elite" facilities were available to anyone staying on after 16, while the comps had a level playing field.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole,

    Maybe I'm being a little paranoid here but an example of this is already happening with the ministry not initiating negotiations with the NZEI for the a new Support Staff agreement even though there old one has expired.

    Expired collective contracts aren't exactly news in the public sector. Career fire fighters are working on a contract that expired around the time that Labour took over (I think it was just after), and have had one (yes, singular) pay increase in about the last 17 years. NZEI have it good if their collective contract has only just expired.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report Reply

  • Margaret,

    I went to a private girl's school in Christchurch. I had a really positive experience with great teachers who had the time (due to well behaved kids and small classes) to nurture individual talents.

    However, I would never send any kids of mine to private school (with a possible exception for major learning problems or suffering bullying at their local school). The main reason is that a significant proportion of the kid's I went to school with fulfilled every private school kid stereotype - pretty racist, class-ist, and very entitled - their parents were usually just as bad. Obviously they weren't all like that - I like to think I'm not, and the people I were friends with weren't either (mostly). I don't think that the culture of the school particularly encouraged it but being surrounded by like-minded kids at school and socially certainly amplified it.

    Wellington • Since Sep 2007 • 15 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic,

    Margaret:

    The main reason is that a significant proportion of the kid's I went to school with fulfilled every private school kid stereotype - pretty racist, class-ist, and very entitled - their parents were usually just as bad. Obviously they weren't all like that - I like to think I'm not, and the people I were friends with weren't either (mostly). I don't think that the culture of the school particularly encouraged it but being surrounded by like-minded kids at school and socially certainly amplified it.

    The story of my senior high school life - and in the same city too. Was your tour of duty in the mid-1990s?

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5441 posts Report Reply

  • Hilary Stace,

    the ministry not initiating negotiations with the NZEI for the a new Support Staff agreement even though there old one has expired.

    And possibly even worse the Government recently stopped the work on pay equity for school support staff. Support staff are some of the lowest paid workers, earning the minimum wage or not much more, yet they do some of the most valuable work in the education system. A good teacher aide can make a huge difference to the educational inclusion of children with special needs, and the effectiveness of the classroom teacher.

    And re the private school thing. Three generations of the males in my family were sent to board at Christs College, but it just seemed to make them incredibly miserable. Is it any better these days?

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 3226 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Litterick,

    Three generations of the males in my family were sent to board at Christs College, but it just seemed to make them incredibly miserable. Is it any better these days?

    I should hope not. It is a fine old English tradition, to send your son to the school which you hated. It is character-building.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1000 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    Genuine question, I'm trying to work out why Grammar is supposedly more desirable and "betterer" than a similar sized low-decile school. Conceptually the lower decile school will be better funded - the counters to that seem to be private donations and nature of the kids attending.

    Lower decile schools are better funded by the government, that doesn't mean that they're better funded.

    The amount of money between funding at decile 1 and decile 10 can be made up 10 times over by a school in a high income area and with alumni that give back and a school image that attracts funding. A decile 10 school might take in a couple of thousand dollars more per student per year once everything gets thrown into the money pot. A decile 1 school can't ask anywhere near as much in school fees and activity costs, sports costs etc.

    Also (and I'm generalising on all these points, so there will be exceptions):
    - Lots of good teachers will happily take a job at a higher decile school because the resources are easier to come by. Lower decile schools will often have to employ new graduates to staff classrooms.
    - Better facilities, sporting activities, drama, music etc.
    - Smaller class sizes, more support staff.
    - Tending to be a better area, less crime, unemployment etc, better environment for learning and living in.

    A look at the web page of Auckland Grammar indicates that they have a Development (read: alumni and fundraising) Office that employs 5 staff. As a comparison, the University of Otago in the past decade opened a similar office, it employs 10 staff.

    Among other things, Auckland Grammar has "an investment fund aimed at generating an annual income to be used to attract, reward and retain quality teaching staff", a bequest system, a foundation to hold the donations in perpuity, and they've recently built an Old Boys Pavilion and a new sports facility. None of this is normally available to a decile 1 school.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

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