My Story: Gareth Morgan - Putaruru High School

When I attended it had 700 pupils – only 10 in Year 13. Nowadays it includes the town’s intermediate school years so goes from Year 7 (was 9) to 13 - & has 350 pupils. The roll is 35% Maori students which is well up as a percentage from my days (1966-1970).

The town’s population hasn’t changed really – at 3,800 it’s down 8% from a peak of around 4,200. Its composition has – more older people enjoying the cheaper housing, fewer working families (from 7 sawmills in the surrounds to zero) – and a higher proportion of low income, and social benefit-dependant families.

But the school has had a tumultuous time and been the victim of abandonment by many of the more well-to-do families who nowadays ship their kids out to St Peters in Cambridge & other private schools in Hamilton and beyond. Even the vast majority of the teachers no longer live in the town. To be blunt the school entered a spiral as a result of these shocks. Nowadays it is a Decile 3 school, despite being located in the heart of thriving South Waikato dairy farm area.

The ERO has been helping the school since 2012 when the stresses of families was spilling over to performance issues at the school, and even tragedies.

Pleasingly, the school now is well back on its feet and its curriculum is far more attuned to the pastoral care needs of its students, it has an appropriate whanau ora component, and is going forward rather than backward – albeit from a much changed starting position.

The example really shows the damage that economic change, coupled with the discrimination that our education system has encouraged since Tomorrow’s Schools descended. The intergenerational impact on the families of Putaruru has been horrific – and in my view quite unnecessary.

Yes the economic change was unfortunate but is all part and parcel of reality – we economists call it “creative destruction”. But our schooling regime is a public good, it plays a massive role in the pastoral care that equips all of our children for life’s journey – not just those of them fortunate enough to enjoy a parental ability to pay.

If Putaruru College (as it’s called now) had keep all its local students, if it had had the whole community’s support instead of being cut off because of (largely) white, affluent flight – it would not have travelled to Hell and back, damaging so many children en route.

It’s the community that makes the school perform the best for the children. If you allow the community to fracture by using taxpayer money to sponsor that phenomenon – bussing in effect – then the school and the students left behind get crushed. The families left in Putaruru were in large part those most damaged by Rogernomics and Ruthanasia – they were in no position to provide the social, Trustee, and financial leadership the school needed to navigate that economic shock.

Tomorrow’s Schools buggered Putaruru HS and it is taking a lot of effort & taxpayer money to stabilise and turn it around. And the children are the victims. Equality of opportunity goes out the window for those children without community. If you introduce policies deliberately aimed to fracture community participation, establish elites and condemn the most vulnerable to support of last resort, you will exacerbate inequality & poverty.

Tomorrow’s Schools is such a divisive policy. We need to fix it, acknowledge that the neoliberal experiment in education has been a failure and just as we had to with the Crown Health Enterprises in public health system, kill it. Getting schools to compete is wasteful and damaging. 

Give me Yesterday’s Schools any day as the foundation, and let’s build a Scandinavian type education model upon that. We should move from an obsession with wasting teacher and student time testing to more time educating and learning whilst prioritising the 4 Cs (communication, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration) above the 3 R’s (reading, writing and arithmetic). Come on, we’re in the 21st Century now.