There needs to be some personal context for this opinion piece.  Three years ago, I “retyred” after 48 years in education.  My roles have included secondary teaching, union activist, teacher recruitment manager, and working in teacher industrial relations. I was the New Zealand Ministry of Education’s first PR/communications manager, while being a primary school board of trustees’ chairperson at the same time. I spent 15 years in the Executive Wing of our Parliament (called the Beehive) as private secretary/senior advisor for 7 consecutive Ministers of Education, from both sides of the political spectrum

For two years I helped give the young people of Christchurch a say in the rebuild of their shattered city, post the 2010/11 quakes. Finally, I worked with employers and local government in a couple of rural areas helping form partnerships to assist secondary schools better prepare their students for the world of work.

This month (February), a new private school is opening /has opened on a beautiful farm at Koru, ten minutes south west of New Plymouth, in the Taranaki province of New Zealand.  This 120-hectare farm has rolling hills, the beautiful clear Oakura River, stunning native forest and sits under the majestic Mt Taranaki.

Green School New Zealand is the brain-child of an entrepreneurial business couple from Taranaki, Michael and Rachel Perrett. They discovered the concept while having a break from their hectic business schedule, in Bali. Green School Bali, the first of its kind in the world, suited their own children so well, they decided to bring the concept back to New Zealand. They have formed a Green School Global Trust, with additional schools planned for Mexico and South Africa.

I had the good fortune to visit the site late last year. The place and the structures are magnificent and exciting. The concept behind Green School is authentic, real-time learning, partly child-directed, but in a sustainable and interactive environment.  As its website says, “It’s about hands-on learning and caring for our environment.”  This is not some wild, alternative, hippie-based, fluffy education – the school follows the New Zealand Curriculum and will maintain rigorous standards.  It’s the learning and teaching methodology that makes the difference.  It reminds me of the time post the 2011 Christchurch earthquakes, when I worked on the most rewarding phase of my career – working with Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Agency (CERA) to give the young people of Christchurch a real say in the rebuild of their city. The competitions we ran for learners from pre-school to year 13 had them coming up with innovative ideas on what could be achieved.  The work was cross-curriculum (not always easy in a secondary school environment), some done in school time, but a lot in their own time, in teams. The outcomes to be achieved came from the New Zealand Curriculum, and for the senior students, the work could contribute to their NCEA results. It was very hands on, without limits, (although the seniors had to do costings and quantity surveying).  The ferocity that these young people employed in this learning exercise was amazing and this is what I see Green School New Zealand achieving.  Authentic, real time, innovative learning, in a beautiful, sustainable environment.

The CEO of Green School New Zealand is Englishman, Chris Edwards, who was supposed to be heading back to London to semi-retirement when Green School came up.  Have a look at his latest blog: https://www.greenschool.org/nz/news/blog-the-reluctant-kiwi/

Even the construction process has begun to revolutionise the building industry in Taranaki.  Cleland’s Construction reports that typically on a construction project of this size, 5 skip bins of rubbish and waste would be generated a week.  In this case, only 3 skip bins have been generated over the previous 5 months of construction, due to repurposing of waste and including workers bringing lunches to work in recyclable material – no cling wrap on these sandwiches!

The school will open/has opened at its current capacity of 55 students, and all but three of those places were full by 1 December last year. It will eventually, over the next four years, grow to its planned capacity of 500, catering for Years 1 to 13.  As a private school, it has to charge fees – in this case between $12,000 and $24,000 per year. Already 20% of its students are on scholarships. The school has been swamped with applicants for its teaching positions.  I’m not surprised – I’d have been one of those too if I was younger!

The adventurous spirit, innovation and risk being undertaken by the Perretts has me thinking back to the opening of Discovery One School, in Christchurch. Begun in the early 2001 by the entrepreneurial Vicki Buck, this was located in an urban environment, where the city was the classroom. Following the destruction of its facilities in the 2011 Christchurch Earthquake, the primary school and its secondary counterpart merged to form Ao Tawhiti Unlimited Discovery. It’s a special character state school.  When opening it, then Education Minister, Hon Trevor Mallard, with whom I was working at the time, said that the concept of a state school such as Discovery One pushed him to the limit of the degree of experimentation he would allow as Minister.  If only Trevor, now Mr Speaker, would visit Green School.  I have always believed that the state should allow, and invest in, entrepreneurial enterprises in education, and everything else. This is how New Zealand became the great country it is – innovation, invention, experimentation, the number-8-wire mentality, get on with it, do what’s best for our young people. I hope that within a short time,  Green School will become an integrated state school, and more Green Schools will take root in New Zealand.

My words can’t do this haven justice. Have a look at Green School’s website and feel the excitement:

https://www.greenschool.org/nz/

https://www.facebook.com/greenschoolnewzealand/?modal=admin_todo_tour

Malcolm Bell

LGSD Facilitation Services

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