Two schools of thought on education options

United Future MP Peter Dunne wouldn't have swapped his private schooling at St Bede's for a public education.

But he does admit "a degree of envy" towards schools nowadays.

"What I'm struck by now, just looking at the local secondary schools in my own area and my kids having gone to college, is the range of opportunity and range of subjects available, it's much broader than what we ever had," he said. "But at the time would I have traded it - no."

Dunne says there were high points and low points of his education which have moulded him into the person he is today.

"I enjoyed the intellectual challenges but I found some of the discipline petty and silly - this was at time when the Vietnam war and anti-South African protests were rife," he said.

"There was a whole change going on in the late 60s and early 70s and to be in a fairly conservative, rigid school environment I found quite difficult but, having said that, I found the opportunity there to be pretty good."

Dunne denies any advantage having gone to a private school, saying it didn't insulate him from life's battles.

"I was going to say I have had the advantage but my father died while I was at school and my mother brought up four teenage kids on a widow's benefit so I understand struggle," he said. "Has private schooling helped me, I'm not sure but I note there are more St Bede's old boys in Parliament at the moment than just about any other school."

While St Bede's might be the in vogue school for a current generation of MPs, the reality is that most of our elected officials, like those who elected them, went to state schools.

National MP Anne Tolley was educated at Colenso High School in Napier where private institutions had not made their mark when she was learning. She had no choice in going to a state school but, given the chance, she would not trade what she had for a private education.

Tolley says she was at a great school and took advantage of whatever opportunity came her way.

"There were a huge range of activities and opportunities and some fabulous teachers and school leaders," she said. "I also had a very supportive family who encouraged me to do well.

"I was into everything - school productions, debating, library work, sport, choir, orchestra and more. The high point was an exchange year in 7th form to the United States."

Tolley says going to a state school has had a huge impact on her adult life and work in the political circle. "Education is vitally important, so a supportive school environment is an essential platform for life," she said. "But public or private, it's the range of opportunities that count."

It's the same story in business, where a public education seems to assist rather than hinder progress. Among the board chairs and chief executives of our top-10 NZX-listed companies, three-quarters went to a public school.

Fisher and Paykel Healthcare chief executive Michael Daniell went to the community boys' high school in Hastings simply out of convenience.

"Hastings Boys' was down the street and five minutes away on push bike so it had a very wide cross-section of people," he said. "I enjoyed it, I was a keen participant in both academic and other activities in the school."

Daniell says the exposure to a wide range of people at school prepared him for the broad demographics of business.

"In a state school you get a different mix of people and you have got to bear in mind I come from a relatively small city," he said. "There were really only three, maybe four, high schools in the city so the choice was pretty much to go to the one that was closest."

Looking back, Daniell would not trade his state schooling for a private education. "I don't know whether it would have made much difference, I was always relatively certain in high school about what I wanted to do, what I was interested in - science and engineering," he said. "I wanted to go to uni and do a degree in engineering which I did, so I don't think it would have made a lot of difference either way, but you can't be certain."

In contrast, Sir Douglas Myers, one of New Zealand's most successful businessmen, once noted that his private education at King's College in Auckland was not conducive to the rough and tumble of big business.

While most of his colleagues went on to become doctors and lawyers, a business career was frowned upon as a calling for the less academically gifted.

The judiciary is one area where a private education seems to make a difference. Of the country's top judges - five Supreme Court justices and the chief judges of the High and District Courts - four out of seven attended private schools, and only one of New Zealand's five Supreme Court judges had a state education.

Judge Susan Glazebrook went to Piopio College and Tauranga Girls' College, while her colleagues attended King's College, Christ's College, Wanganui Collegiate and Diocesan School for Girls.

Chief High Court judge Helen Winkelmann, who has presided over the Kim Dotcom case, went to state-funded Lynfield College.

New Zealand Law Society president Jonathan Temm went to St Peters College in Auckland, which gave him Christian values for a career in the justice system.

Temm says his school prepared him for his career in the justice system, and it's impossible to give thought to what could have been had he gone to a state school.

"Some of the Christian principles that were passed to me in my secondary education still operate in my life today and still influence me in my legal career in that I do try to help other people who ask for my assistance and I do try to look for the good in all people, including in the Curtis brothers who were found guilty of the murder of Nia Glassie.

"They were people who made bad choices and bad decisions but nevertheless they are not without some merit and you generally try to leave people better than you found them," he said. "I don't know what a public education is like but the short answer is no [I would not swap what I had] because I'm content with how my life is now."


Sunday Star Times