While reading, writing and maths are fun, Nelson Central School pupil Oliver Lock, 5, prefers art - particularly art he can race.
As part of a school-wide project celebrating trolley derby film Kiwi Flyer, Oliver last week raced a mini soap-box trolley he made from an empty 1kg laundry box.
His trolley had been named Doggy Flyer and was green, with "a doggy tail".
Oliver said he loved being able to create art in class, because it let him make whatever he wanted.
But although the trolley had looked good, he had not had much luck on the track. "Every time I raced I came last," he said.
Such projects are part of a school-wide effort to keep the curriculum broad, despite national standards that emphasise literacy and numeracy.
Last year Nelson Central School, a decile seven school of 428 pupils, reported 91 per cent of its students at or above the standard in reading, 85 per cent of its students at or above for writing, and 79 per cent at or above for maths.
Principal Paul Potaka said he was not opposed to the standards, but was opposed to their widespread use as a means to judge schools and pupils.
"Teaching is more of an art than a science; the national standards seem to imply that it can be a science alone."
To keep the children's education well-rounded, an arts teacher regularly visits the two senior syndicates, and the school also brings in music teachers.
But funding pressures mean these are optional for pupils and parents must pay extra.
"All we can do is promote them," Mr Potaka said.
But reading and writing have also been a focus, with the school introducing a new course in the last two years to target those who struggle.
The oral language course, Hei Awhiawhi Tamariki ki te Panui Pukapuka, teaches a group of half a dozen younger pupils to use "book language".
Mr Potaka said some pupils struggled with the transition from the language they used outside of school and the language they used within the grounds and when they were learning.
"It's ‘once upon a time' versus ‘I knew a guy'," he said.
The programme uses parents as volunteers, who read to the pupils and use specialised techniques to make sure the children understand.
By learning the formal language often used in learning materials, they could then build on that in the classroom, he said.
"Hopefully we're arresting failure at the front end."
For Oliver's mum Linda Spray, a complete education was important.
"The teachers make the most of what's going on in the area.
"They take children to the museum, look at exhibitions and link it back to the classroom."
Coming in and having a look at the school had been enough to convince her, she said.
"I've been and looked in some of the classrooms.
"You only have to see how much is up on the walls.
"You want to make sure that your child is going to be stimulated and going to get on with learning."
Fellow parent and relief teacher Susannah Roddick has two boys, Will, 7, and Ed, 8, at the school.
While numeracy, literacy and science were important, other activities that involved the whole family, such as trips and school camps, were also part of the whole package, she said.
"You want your child to be happy and have all their needs met. If you have got concerns you want to be know that you're part of the mix."
National standards did not show a lot of the other good things happening at school, and implied precision that was not there.
"I think a lot of schools work really hard and national standards won't recognise and in fact might punish a lot of value added by schools.
"If you haven't been to a school and haven't felt what that school is like, national standards are not necessarily representative of what that school is about."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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