West Coast schools Thrive

Schooling on the Coast.

What does schooling in New Zealand’s most sparsely populated region look like? The answer may surprise some so let’s take a look.

Of the 36 schools, there are four secondary schools and three area schools. Primary school rolls range from tiny (like 25 students) to pretty big (about 360) while the biggest secondary school roll is also small at about 500. Smaller schools mean strong relationships - and a community feel is a feature all West Coast schools have in common - everyone knows everyone.

But does small also mean limitations? It could, but these schools have developed ways to make sure their students don’t miss out on anything. The West Coast Trades Academy brings senior students from all across the Coast together for programmes at Tai Poutini Polytechnic, Whenua Iti Outdoors (Motueka) and providers in Christchurch. Courses like automotive, culinary arts and carpentry training are popular, but so are Māori cultural tourism, outdoor leadership and computer programming. Schools blend this in with learning back in the classroom, sometimes using community contacts to add more “on the job” training leading to valuable apprenticeships or tertiary study. Students love working in this blend and very few leave school without achieving NCEA level 2. The universities are a long way away but make for a fun road trip - schools take groups of students on uni visits each year and often make use of university facilities to enrich school classes.

Technology features strongly in most West Coast schools with collaboration to make life easier for students and parents - Toki Pounamu is one such cluster where both primary and secondary schools have set up a trust to enable student devices to be managed seamlessly without causing parents headaches. From year 5 to year 13, every student has their own device through this trust and teachers are trained to use creative techniques to provide powerful learning experiences.

Toki Pounamu is linked to clusters in Auckland, Christchurch and across NZ, and backed up by researchers from the University of Auckland, so that by sharing with each other we know our students are getting the quality experiences you’d expect anywhere. Being community schools, with no private schools, the flavour is inclusive - deciles don’t mean much here.

Ethnicities are mostly NZ European (about 75%) and Māori (about 20%). Māori medium education is small but growing in each of the main centres. Small, mixed classes mean students of all backgrounds learn alongside each other. There are challenges that come with this approach of course, which can be seen in the schools’ achievement stats - most sit around or just under national averages – which reflect the communities’ diversity. But as families who have brought their children from boarding schools back to their local school will tell you, where families and schools work together the child always achieves. And as former students will tell you, an inclusive education gives a great start to life in ‘the real world’ - qualities such as relating to the full range of people and skills such as strong self-management are desirable to employers and it’s amazing how many doors the phrase “I grew up on the West Coast of the South Island” opens.

As the schools don’t try to compete with each other, most don’t do promotional material. They typically have an open and honest approach to prospective school families - go for a look around during a normal school day so you get to see them as they are.

So schooling in our least populated region looks similar to other regions, in terms of facilities and learning, yet comes with its own community feel with all the advantages that come with that.

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