Thursday, February 09, 2006

I'm in the Zone!

Today (Thursday) John Morris (Principal of ABGS or AGS for you puritans) had a whole column to himself to put forward his views on zoning. You can find it here – or by searching John Morris in the Herald search function.

In tomorrows National Business Review there will also be a piece on school choice by a friend of mine – Page 13. We have utterly different views on this but it still will be a good read.
I want to respond to some of Johns comments and then move the debate a bit to talk about Selwyn college – which I believe the NBR article will touch on.

In his article John Morris is really saying that his school stands above the rest and that the parents who have aspirations for their children will send them there. He is marketing a form of elitism and suggesting that his school out performs all others.
There is not question that ABGS is a good school and that if you are a good rugby player you should go there. The traditional style of teaching works for some but not all. Morris also says that because of ABGS inner Auckland locale they are unfairly discriminated against because of the zoning laws.

So, what to do? Zoning ‘works’ for 99% of schools without complaint and ABGS will not be having legislation just for this school. So we need to
a) Build another school in the ABGS zone
b) Fund ABGS to build more classrooms
c) Crack down on system cheaters
d) Build confidence in those schools who are performing well
e) Identify those schools that are not performing and raise those standards.
f) Stop harping on about property prices – if zoning were removed all those people who paid a premium to live in the Grammar zone property prices would drop overnight. Surely its in those peoples best financial interest to support zoning,

John Morris is advocating for a removal of zoning full stop for reasons that we have visited and it didn’t work. So now we have to look to the future, National is not currently advocating the removal of zoning. They are advocating more ‘choice’ though – whatever that means. I am still yet to see the pragmatic solution that John Morris says that he has – I am willing to suspend my left POV to see something more centrist.

Grammar was given a one-year exemption by the government to begin classes a week early. This exemption was given so that they could adjust for the year after; Morris says that it is impossible to have a week less (actually 4 days due to Auckland Anniversary and Waitangi Day) as they would not reach the gazetted teaching hours for the Cambridge Exams. Unfortunately for Morris his argument is not strong as students are legally entitled to enrol in his school up to the date that school starts – this week – not last week when ABGS started, even with the exemption.

This while issue is more complex, it’s not all based on fact. It’s about attitudes, stereotypes, group think and values. ABGS appeals to some parents solely because of a uniform – or an all boy’s school (that is affordable) or having ‘Grammar Values’ or being a strict place of discipline. These values can be so strong that they defy all else; especially when parents are just trying to do what they think is best for their child.

Which brings be to Selwyn College – unfairly labelled a bad school by white, upper middle class In zone parents of Kohimarama. Why? Because its seen as an arts school, or because they have an immigrant programme, or because it does not have a uniform. Its basic human prejudice. Never mind the fact that your child could attend Selywn and study Maths, English, Science and say History and Geography – go through the system like a kid at Grammar without being called my their last name. Never mind the fact that the academic outcomes are excellent and the NCEA levels are absolutely fine.
What the prejudice is – is against the other course – the focus and fostering of the arts, culture and drama.
And because they are in mufti they must be hoons or wagers.
Although I personally like uniforms because they remove all class boundaries I cannot see how mufti can affect the quality of learning but it sure effects the perception of quality.

What this highlights is that we need to do some serious confidence building in our schools and breaking down of prejudice. Private schools do add value – they can cause you pay for it. ABGS adds value because of the history and its cultural capital but schools like Selwyn certainly add value and those students are just as successful.
It depends just how you define success - but that’s another post for another day.

Update: - 2 letters in the NZHerald today. One that suggests privatising Grammar. Rich also suggests in my columns field - an Auckland Zone drawn by the 'hat method' or turing top decile schools into 6th form colleges. Will examine these options soon. (must work - and so should you - get back to it!)