Parents take extreme measures to move children out of school zones

Rangitoto College Principal David Hodge.
ZIZI SPARKS/FAIRFAX NZ

Rangitoto College Principal David Hodge.

Parents are sending their children on long commutes and some are getting letters from psychologists in an attempt to enrol them in schools out of their zones.

The Ministry of Education said this year alone, 23 parents in Auckland have applied to enrol their children in out of zone schools under a rarely used section of the Education Act. Some applied because they are not happy with the education their children are receiving. 

Only six were successful in proving the children would be extremely disadvantaged by staying in their area's school enrolment scheme. 

Hobsonville Point Secondary School principal Maurie Abraham.
ROSE REES-OWEN/FAIRFAX NZ

Hobsonville Point Secondary School principal Maurie Abraham.

The section can only be used in rare cases where children have been severely bullied, attempted suicide or other exceptional circumstances. The reasons behind any application under exceptional circumstances need to be backed up by a specialist medical or psyhcological opinion.

The Ministry received three of these applications from parents who wanted their children moved from Hobsonville Point School to Rangitoto College, but declined them. 

Rangitoto principal David Hodge said those pupils had to wait up to a year, but were eventually successful in coming to the school through its ballot system

"The first believed that the style of education that the child was receiving at their current school completely disadvantaged their child in terms of acedemic progress," he said.

"The second said remaining at the school would endanger the child's health and had letters from two doctors from Starship to back up their application. The third said the education their child was receiving was psychologically damaging and had a psychologist report on that basis," he said. 

One of the Hobsonville Point parents, who did not want to be named, said his son's learning had declined severely in the year he had been at the school.

The school is the country's first public-private partnership school. It was touted by the Ministry as an example of a school equipped for the future, with Innovative Learning Environments and Flexible Learning Spaces.

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However the parent said the school offered no structure or clear NCEA pathway and the boy had "learned nothing" all year. 

Another parent, Fiona Diack, said her 14-year-old daughterwas awarded a place at Rangitoto College through the ballot system and now travelled an hour and a half by bus to school every day.

"She could have walked down the road to Hobsonville Point but wanted to go to Rangitoto and she has excelled academically since moving there," she said. 

Diack said parents had little choice in where to send their children to school and moving to out of zone schools was very difficult. She knew of one student who missed out on Rangitoto's ballot and was being homeschooled as a result.

Hobsonville Point Secondary School principal Maurie Abraham said he believed every student should go to their local school. His school had decided to exclude out of zone enrolments. 

He said 10 families had moved their children to out of zone schools in the two years the school had been open. 

"In most cases we have not been able to gain the confidence of those parents because we are so different to what they themselves experienced at school or what their older children are experiencing in traditional schools," he said. 

He fully acknowledged that some parents felt the school's methods did not suit their children. They prepared students for NCEA and university entry, he said. However, they didn't have traditional classes, but combined subjects together. 

"We believe that our school suits the needs of all kids. We know some people don't share that view," he said.

Labour education spokesman Chris Hipkins said school zones created a level playing field for students within the school zone. 

"We don't want a bizarre situation where schools are cherry picking students because of their academic ability or sporting prowess. But the downside is that we have parents travelling all over Auckland so their children can go to a school they perceive to be a better school or because it's a higher decile school," he said. 

"It's a misconception. Research shows that children from middle class families acheive the same academically whether they go to a low or a high decile school," he said. 

Katrina Casey, head of sector enablement and support at the Ministry of Education said there were rare cases where families needed some extra help from us in placing their child in the right school, because of concerns for the wellbeing of a child.

"These are cases where a school has declined to accept a student because they are out of zone. We have powers under the Education Act  to override a school's enrolment scheme where there would be serious consequences for the student in not being enrolled in a particular school," she said.

"An example is a case several years ago where a student had been the subject of a sexual assault by another student at her school. As a result there were mental health reasons the student couldn't return to that school.

"Another example is a case where a student was at risk on the way home from their existing school because of the threat of violence from a group of young people in the community."

She said applications were not approved if the family just preferred another school. 

"In those cases we would encourage families to explore other options in their area instead."

 - Sunday Star Times

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