Hutt Valley: College academic standards under scrutiny again

It would seem that the debate that councillor Max Shierlaw started in early July that academic standards improve at single-sex schools has had some legs albeit surrepitiously behind the backs of those directly involved. The debate had seemed to lose some steam but the council has taken the bat by the horn (mixed metaphors, Hutt educated you see) and directly approached government to do a review without consulting the schools involved.

Councillor Shierlaw went on record earlier that academic performance at single-sex schools was superior to mixed sex schools after reviewing NCEA results released in June

Tomorrows Schools was supposed to give parents a choice as to what sort of school their children went to but Cr Shierlaw says that choice doesn’t exist north of Boulcott, Lower Hutt.

“You are getting a choice between a school with a 30 percent (NCEA) pass rate and a school with a 40 percent pass rate. Something has to change that.”

The “sensible” option is to close Taita and Naenae Colleges and re-open them as single sex schools. Another option that he wants explored is the possibility of re-opening Petone Tech. A review should also take a look at St Oran’s College and why it is accepting students from Whitby, when some Hutt children can’t get in.

via Dominion Post July 7

I struggle with the role that a council plays in all of this as surely the mandate belongs to the Education Department. Equally at the time Councillor Shierlaw was questioned that the issue around gender was not the most significant issue more important was the soco-economic background of the pupils. At the time several principals expressed great concern that the issue was not being discussed with them. The principal of Naenae college Mr Russell took a lead role and expressed his feelings in the same Dominion article

He doubts Cr Shierlaw has any understanding of the problems the two northern colleges face.

”In terms of the issues facing Taita and Naenae, the least significant is gender.”

Many of the pupils coming to the school have ”poor learning skills” and are operating at a level well below the National Curriculium Level for Year Nine students.

Both colleges are working with their contributing schools to try and improve the performance of students entering Year 9. Naenae’s Year 9 roll is going up and he says there is evidence that community confidence in Naenae is rising.

Mr Russell says that the population of the Hutt Valley is changing and that could be used to justify a review. But he warns Cr Shierlaw that reviews do not always lead to the result the community wants. The government has the final say and the provision of education is highly political.

He goes further to say recently:

But principals are furious, saying the council has “lobbed a hand grenade over the back fence” by initiating action without asking for their opinion.

“It’s a blind, uninformed swipe and it’s a pretty sad thing for the council to do,” Naenae College principal John Russell said.

“This move illustrates that the council is totally out of touch with the community.”

via Dominion Post

Rightly so, several of the Principals of the involved schools feel miffed, I would to as surely the right for evaluation lies within the domain of their governing body, the Education Board, who by all accounts have several standards on which they judge a schools performance, not purely academic.

This July video from TVNZ programme Closeup illustrates the debate and the out of touch attitude that seems to have started this debate by Max Shierlaw.

With all due respect Mr Shierlaw  I appreciate your diligence at council spending and development, but feel you have overstepped your role, as has the council and me has a sneaky feeling that this issue was given legs by the council, so your fire is directed here, rather than at other council matters.

Pity the poor colleges now who will go through a ringer. A previous education review in Tararua District once released was throw out by an upset local community by the changes ask to be impementated, I see the same result occuring here, the Hutt Valley is segregated by social-economic boundaries, live with it.