Popularity contest weighing on schools

JONATHAN CARSON
Last updated 05:00 28/01/2014

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Hundreds of students are on waiting lists for Hamilton's most popular high schools while others are struggling to fill their rolls before the start of term.

Competition for positions at the city's most in-demand schools has seen some families move house to skip the queue.

However, the blatant preference for some schools over others has renewed calls for parents to send their children to the school closest to home.

"There are unfortunate consequences from school choice and I think you're seeing that potentially play out in the Waikato," Post Primary Teachers' Association president Angela Roberts said.

Flight from one school - "which isn't necessarily because the school is any worse than the school they're flying to" - is often based on perception, rather than reality, she said.

But the reality for schools with dwindling rolls is that they lose government funding, staff and the ability to offer a wide-ranging curriculum.

The belief that a school is good or bad become a "self-fulfilling prophecy", Roberts said.

Hamilton Boys' High School has accepted 470 year 9 students this year and there were 312 boys on the waiting list as of last week.

It has received a total of 853 applications, 562 of them from families living outside the school's zone.

Deputy headmaster Graham Robinson said several families had shifted from within Hamilton to be inside the zone.

Hillcrest High School has enrolled 303 year 9 students and has 105 students on its waiting list. Of 426 applications, 175 came from out of zone.

Waikato Diocesan School for Girls and Sacred Heart Girls' College, which are both state-integrated, are at capacity and have had to decline dozens of applications.

Meanwhile, Fairfield College had enrolled 111 year 9 students as of last week.

Principal Richard Crawford said he expected that figure to increase to 160 before the start of term, which would bring the roll to about 830 - a similar number to last year.

The school could "easily" cater for 1000 students, Crawford said.

Melville High School had accepted 150 year 9 students and received a total of 212 applications across all year levels.

Roberts said popular schools with full rolls were typically able to raise more money via donations and, therefore, offer a more diverse curriculum.

She said parents choosing to send their children to their neighbourhood school would take the issue of perception out of the equation.

"What we want, ideally, is for every parent to simply send their kid to the local school. Every child should have access to great experiences in their local school," she said. "When you can rely on every school being supported to be a great school and every teacher being supported to be a great teacher then it works for everybody."

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Hillcrest High principal Kelvin Whiting said education had become increasingly competitive and parents were more conscious of "choosing the right school" for their child.

"Parents want their sons and daughters to be going to the schools that they think are going to meet their needs," he said.

"Sometimes perception plays a role in that, but certainly reputation. There is a myriad of reasons.

"In theory, students should be going to their neighbourhood school and, for the most part, that happens."

Secondary schools start back between January 27 and February 7.

Fraser High School did not respond to requests for enrolment figures by the time of going to print.

- Waikato Times

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