This is in response to the article that discusses the University of Auckland’s announcement that it will consolidate its Faculty of Education (previously Auckland College of Education, better known as Auckland Teachers’ College) and vacate the Epsom campus.  It may seem an obvious response to falling enrolments, however, there are other issues involved that need attention.

ISSUE 1

With the merger of 2004, did the University not only assume responsibility for the teacher training programme of the Auckland College of Education and acquire the buildings, but also the land involved?

A little history is helpful.

Early teacher training in a developing Auckland started on the job at the Wellesley Street Normal School built in 1881. A separate facility for training was provided in the Wellesley Street Training College built in 1907 (subsequently offices for the Auckland Education Board).

It was not until the late 1920s that larger facilities were required and teacher training moved to the then outer suburb of Mt Eden. In 1890 this Crown land was described as a “Blind Asylum Recreation Reserve and a Gravel Pit”. Later, it was referred to as “… an area of about 30 acres known as the Eden and Epsom Reserve vested in the Education Board. The land is part of the lava flow on the southern side of Mt Eden, very rocky and broken but picturesque and open commanding magnificent views.” The resulting two storey brick building served for decades – Secondary Teacher Training was an adjunct.

In the 1970s, the Government policy of replacing all teacher training facilities with earthquake ‘safe’ buildings saw the brick construction replaced by reinforced concrete. With this also came new accommodation for training Secondary School teachers. Earlier hostel accommodation for students was retained. (There even remains a WWll Command Bunker underground between the main entrance and parking building.)

Over the years, the administration of these facilities moved from the Education Board to a semi-independent Council responsible to the then Department of Education, that would assign an annual quota of pre-service trainees based on estimated school demand. The consolidation of teacher training in the greater Auckland area saw Ardmore close, then North Shore College similarly merged, and Early Childhood Education, even Catholic training, all centred on the Epsom site along with Special Education. For a while, Secondary training functioned independent of the larger Primary College, however, with the inappropriate addition of the School for Social Work, all main areas of training were combined as the Auckland College of Education under a single controlling Council.

Also on site, and sharing playing fields, were the Auckland Normal Intermediate School and a Primary School; near at hand were other Normal Schools, and further afield other Normal Schools as vestiges of North Shore and Ardmore Colleges.

This was by far the largest and most diverse group of Government owned education related institutions in New Zealand.

It is little known that in 1998, Massey University applied to the Commerce Commission for “clearance to merge with Auckland College of Education” – it failed. But merger was still in the air. About twenty years ago, as part of ‘Tomorrow’s Schools’, the controlling Department of Education was disbanded and the Teachers’ Advisory Service moved to the College site. The Government decided to shift responsibility for the training of teachers, nationally, to the universities. So in 2004, the Auckland College of Education became the University of Auckland, Faculty of Education and Social Work (leaving the schools on site under the control of Boards) – a generous ‘gift’ for the University, but to what degree of ownership when it was sitting on Crown land?

This merger resulted in the smaller, the College, eventually being consumed by the larger, the University. Initially, there were high expectations expressed by Ministers Mallard and Maharey – “… [it will] create a world-class centre for teacher education research which will underpin and support educational policy and development; and produce graduates with the research, subject expertise and educational understandings to enable them to teach in ways that reduce current disparities in educational achievement; [and] plans to develop a world class institute of educational research with a view to becoming a Centre of Excellence that will make a significant impact on educational policy and practice.” There were mutterings about how “evidence-based learning” (whatever this is) will permeate all aspects of teacher training. After more than a decade, a review of this aspiration is long overdue.

Following the merger, the range of agencies allowed to offer teacher education was widened and consequently fewer students sought training at the Epsom campus. Concurrently, interest in becoming a teacher waned (conditions of service and pay being factors, along with the perception that ECE work was definitely not for males and that Primary teaching had become female dominated). To cope, the University chose to considerably reduce staff across several years. However, there comes a time when such down-sizing fails to meet the required learning needs of trainee teachers, especially in areas such as Science, Technology, and The Arts. The outcome is inadequately prepared teachers, without much reduction in operational costs. The Government’s ‘gift’ has turned sour.

ISSUE 2

If the Auckland University Faculty of Education facilities are re-purposed, what are the boundaries between the new facilities and the others currently sharing the overall site which includes playing fields?

The University buildings on site comprise two main complexes each with a multi-storey main block of general teaching spaces, along with specialist teaching spaces (Art, Physical Education gymnasiums, shared swimming pool, Science labs, Music, Theatre,…); plus small and large lecture theatres, Hall, and shared Library; along with staff offices and Administration space, not forgetting a multi-level Parking building for all.

As indicated earlier, ‘boundaries’ between the University, Schools, and other agencies currently sharing space will need to be defined, as will street access.

The question of whether Crown land can be disposed of for any purpose other than that usually expected of Crown land (in this case originally a “Reserve”) certainly needs clarification before the University can part company with its Epsom site.

Aside from buildings, the history of the Teachers’ College on this site is represented in more than the fading memories of thousands of teachers who have been prepared for the classroom. In more tangible form are the memorials for those who went to two World Wars, but did not return. Within the Primary College building are the remains of a memorial to these fallen students/teachers; there is a Memorial Gate (presently the entrance to Normal Intermediate); and joining the two, a Memorial Avenue of mature Pohutukawa trees – these should be respected in any re-purposing.

A value of $80 million dollars has been suggested for this unwanted facility. Anybody familiar with current land values in Auckland in such areas as Remuera and Epsom – $2.5 million for an average section – will have no difficulty in estimating the real value of the land, then by adding the value of the buildings and plant reach a figure of nothing less than double the suggested amount!

ISSUE 3

So what is the best future use for this redundant Epsom campus?

The greatest priority with teacher education is for on-going professional education.

This is especially seen with advances in technology where the speed of change far exceeds the capacity to be absorbed into classroom practice. With the demise of the Advisory Service, an alternative way must be found to assist teachers to enhance their teaching skills beyond the pre-service level – a Centre for Advanced Teacher Education comes to mind. An ideal situation for such an establishment is adjacent to a range of schools.

What is currently lacking on the Epsom site is a Secondary School. This would support a special relationship between all the schools on site where they share a planned learning sequence from Year 1 to 13 – a splendid opportunity for a continuity of learning for the school students involved.

While control would be separate from the University, a collaborative relationship should exist between university research involving several universities and the above Centre. This would provide a unique model of co-operative learning and teaching between schools and the universities (such as Auckland, Massey, Waikato …) – unique nationally and impressive at an international level!

Recommendation

As a major educational complex, this site should not be down-sized and fragmented by conversion to something outside education – a large coeducational Secondary School, yes; and Centre for Advanced Teacher Education, yes; … residential apartments, no!

This is not just a matter for Auckland University, it is an opportunity for creative response, with wider implications for Government and as such for all tax-payers, while the ultimate benefit is with the school learners themselves!

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