By: Simon Collins

Parents of students at Tai Wānanga don’t pay anything for education – but they pay $4 a day for the school to give their children breakfast and lunch.

The state school opened in 2011 under the “special character” clause that is now being offered to charter schools, and has only 190 students this year – 115 in Hamilton and 75 in Palmerston North.

It has no subject timetable. Instead, students have “individualised tailored learning plans” and develop their own “project-based” learning spanning multiple subjects.

Their learning is integrated with their physical, cultural and spiritual wellbeing.

“They start at 8am with physical training every morning – running and crossfit exercises and sports skill sessions and weights,” says tumuaki (principal) Tony Westrupp, a former Gisborne regional manager for Te Wānanga o Aotearoa which established the school.

“Then they shower and have breakfast at about 9am. Then we aim to be seated for karakia [prayers] to start the day at 9.15 or 9.20am.

“We believe that if the students are physically active, nutritionally fed and spiritually connected, then they are ready to learn, and if our teachers are physically active, nutritionally fed and spiritually connected, then they have the energy to teach.”

Toby Westrupp’s school Tai Wānanga asks parents for the second-highest donation of all NZ state secondary schools – because it gives students breakfast and lunch. Photo / Michael Craig

The school has the second-highest average donations per student of all state secondary schools: $771 in 2016, second only to Auckland Grammar’s $1140 (a sum which included trust donations for a new teaching block).

Westrupp says most parents pay the requested $4 a day, part of a $1000 annual donation, by automatic payments, even though the school is rated decile 4 with parents ranging from the “well-educated” to “the other end of the spectrum”.

Lunch at Tai Wānanga offered rice with beef, chicken or quinoa along with several salards. Photo / Michael Craig

Ngahuia Job-Watene, the chef at the Hamilton campus, performs a daily miracle by giving every student breakfast and lunch with that $4 – less than most families would spend on those meals.

“Brown rice goes a long way,” she says. For lunch on Monday this week, students chose from rice dishes with beef, chicken and quinoa, along with several salads.

Any left-overs get re-used in a new dish the next day.

Students queue for lunch at Tai Wānanga’s Hamilton campus, the former Meat Industry Research Institute on Tainui-owned AgResearch land at Ruakura. Photo / Michael Craig
Tai Wānanga is open to anyone, but 165 of its 169 students at last count were Māori.

All students learn te reo Māori immediately after karakia in the mornings, and the school’s vision is “Kia Tu, Kia Ora, Kia Māori“:

  • Kia Tu: “Stand with confidence.”
  • Kia ora: “Healthy in mind, body and spirit.”
  • Kia Māori: “Māori succeeding as Māori.”

Westrupp says Te Wānanga o Aotearoa’s former chief executive Dr Rongo Wetere wanted to start the school after serving on another school’s board whose main role seemed to be suspending and expelling mainly Māori students.

David Hood, a former head of the NZ Qualifications Authority, was part of a project team that first met in the year 2000. Their first application, for a school of 600 students, was rejected by Education Minister Trevor Mallard in 2003 saying it would have damaged other schools in Hamilton.

The team came back with a new plan for a maximum of 120 students on any site, and a new minister, Anne Tolley, approved it in 2010.

The Education Ministry’s staffing formula means the small roll gives the school a generous staff/student ratio, with 11 teachers for 115 students in Hamilton. Its state funding of just over $3 million for 201 students across both campuses in 2016 works out at $15,158 per student – much more than even decile-1 Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate in Ōtara.

More importantly, Hood says research shows that any “cohesive organisation” needs fewer than 140 people.

“I talk about the ‘factory model’, where you process kids by batches and test them at different points along the assembly line,” he says. “Education needs to be more than that.”

Tai Wānanga students still sit exams, and 96 per cent left school in 2016 with Level 2 or above in the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA), compared with 66 per cent of all Māori school-leavers.

“But you are focusing on what is important to each student, rather than everybody following the same diet,” Hood says. “So it’s about a holistic whole person’s passions. That, I think, is what we need to be doing.”

Source: NZ Herald

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