Reason to Celebrate

I have been to two wonderful End-of-Year Prizegiving ceremonies.

The first was at Aorere College where I had been Principal in the 1990s when the school was changing its demographic complexion rather rapidly. Well, that process is complete and those who received awards were Mᾱori, Pasifika reflecting all the South Pacific, Asian, and a range of other ethnicities. It was a parade of success at a school that set the tone and the standards in so many ways. Pakeha were noted for their absence.

Some things I wondered about – the gaining of an excessive number of credits at each level raises questions of the necessity of this. Would students have been better to meet the requirements and move on to the next level? Or was it perhaps an organisational matter where the clarity in course requirements became clearer as the student progressed, or perhaps essential credits appropriate to pathways had become more apparent as the year proceeded was the simple explanation. The practice in the US is to guide the students with academic plans which set out pathways frown on over-crediting – food for thought? Whatever the reasons there was great delight when it was announced that successful student after successful student had received every one of their NCEA credits at “Excellence” level.

This school over the thirty years since I left had virtually doubled its role to 1600 students. Does our system understand that the new high performing schools are emerging from schools such as this one? It is tragic that so many students across South Auckland still daily migrate to a central city school where the evidence that it is in their best interests is flimsy. Perhaps they will gain a few more credits but cultural competence and leadership emerges from the south and this is a desired outcome in the diverse future NZ is rapidly becoming.

Overall it was an exciting afternoon to be followed the next day by more.

The prizegiving at the Manukau Institute of Technology School of Secondary Tertiary Studies (more widely known outside the school as the MIT Tertiary High School) was different, it needed to be if it was to reflect its mission to cater for those who had been left behind by the school system. The school group (1,500 students have been at the MIT THS since its establishment in 2010) is comprised of those who are in danger of disengagement or, in some cases have already multiple reasons seen the relationship between students and school become broken. The group as a whole carry with them a range of pressures, of family setting issues and a host of other potential setbacks. But underneath each of the different personae there beats hearts and greatly hidden talent.

The setting for the event was decorated in a wonderful display of outstanding art, of cultural reminders and this set the tone. In the course of the morning achievement was recognised. Some also received recognition for attendance (100% was the standard) and the message that this was important was part of the mandated engagement drive that characterises the school.

But the real highlight for me was the celebration for a group of five students who had achieved BOTH NCEA Level 1 and NCEA Level 2 in the course of 2020, one year – two levels because they were motivated and able to do this with the encouragement and support of teachers. The students move at their own pace rather than follow the conventional path of 1 year – 1 level. At last the promise emphasised by officials in the late 1980s and early 1990s that in the STANDARDS-BASED NCEA ENVIRONMENT WOULD BE DEAD has had instantiation at the Tertiary High School. Is this the only known case of such an outcome.?

It seems to me that encouraged by NZQA and years of doing the conventional that schools have simply replaced School C with NCEA Level 1, Sixth Form Cert with Level 2 and Bursary with Level 3 to retain the time-served habit. I was going to say that there are only two institutions thatdo this but I was wrong, one of them gives time off for good behaviour!

So two schools, both excellent in what they do, engaging students and enhancing lives enjoyed happy events in what has been a difficult and somewhat broken year.

But so very different in the way they do this.

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