Headmaster’s Message

Dear Parents and Caregivers

Tena koutou katoa, talofa lava and warm greetings to you all.

Proposed New School Zone

You will now be aware that a major review of our zone is underway, forced on us by the move to a new site in 2019.

Please take a moment and complete the online questionnaire via this link:   https://goo.gl/j4UxGv   keeping in mind that what is currently in the public arena is a proposal only and therefore still subject to review and change. If you feel strongly about the proposed zone, let us know and your views will be fired through to The Ministry.

If public opinion is strongly voiced, they may well be encouraged to change their current view.

Questions about the new school 

Because we are having to look at the new school zone many questions are being asked by members of the community about the shift.

Here are some of the questions being asked at this time:

  • Will Shirley Boys’ Change its name? No, it will not!
  • Is Shirley retaining its own Board and individuality and independence? Yes, to all.
  • What is the size of the new school? We will maintain numbers between 1200 and 1225
  • What percentage of this number is likely to be in/out of zone? About 50/50
  • Will Shirley adopt a “modern Learning” approach?  We will have a mixture of traditional and innovative approaches. Our staff to student ratio will be the same as we have currently and our approach will be, as always, based on calmness and order in the classroom.

Meet The Headmaster

It is my intention to have parent evenings hosted by myself, where the approach to teaching in the new school will be explained in depth, however in the meantime if you feel the need to have greater elaboration of what is intended, simply contact the school in the usual way and I will happily meet you and provide that.

Purchase of School Classroom and Activity Photographs

On a different matter, can you let me know if you favour school classroom and activity photographs being made available for purchase. Many years ago this was an option for parents, but frankly demand died due to low levels and  it ceased to be cost effective to continue with the option.

A paper I developed in a recent conference follows.  It contains ideas adapted from Sir Ken Robinson, and they should provide an overview of what we intend to continue in our new school.

The Reasons Schools Are Struggling

For more than 35 years governments everywhere have poured resources into attempts to reform education and thence raise standards achieved. Their reasons are economic in the main. This has come about after digital technologies transformed international trade and employment, and political leaders have recognised that high educational standards are essential to national prosperity and competitiveness.

I do not disagree with any of that, though I might raise a wee concern about the desire to raise productivity, as a measure of public good, in a world of finite resources.  For the moment however, that is a different issue for a different time.

The problem arising from the setting of high educational standards, lies in the strategies governments have employed to improve education. In the west, there are four main strategies used:

Firstly, STEM has become a focus, (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). This is based on the belief that these disciplines are essential for economic growth. Without denying the importance of these disciplines it is worth noting that successful economies depend on entrepreneurship; wise investments and the importance of designers, musicians, writers, artists, dancers and performers, cannot be underestimated.  In my mind, it is incontrovertible that the preoccupation with STEM disciplines has therefore led to a diminishment of resources for Arts and Humanities programmes in many schools. The negative impact of this is profound.

Secondly, testing and competition have been emphasised. This focus is aimed at stimulating higher standards in education and, typically, the way this has been done, is by a testing focus on Mathematics, Science and Literacy. Usually, this is done by the mass administration of standardised tests, commonly in a multiple choice format. This high stakes testing system might be expected to stimulate higher standards, however the outcome is far from that. What we have now is a dreary culture that demoralises  staff and students alike. In the 1970s, we might expect students to take a few tests a year.  Now they are endless, and the results allow school league tables to be developed. Worse, they bring out the worst in people.

The photograph above  shows parents in India passing cheat sheets in to their children, who are sitting one such high stakes test.

Thirdly academicism is now king. The main focus in education reform is on the raising standards in the sorts of academic abilities that are needed to earn degrees at universities. Implicit in this goal is the assumption that graduates have the qualities that business needs and are more employable than people who have not been to college. This is simply not working as planned.  Business needs (in their own words) people who are adaptable and who can turn their hands to new tasks and challenges, who are collaborative and creative. Many are the complaints that academics are not team players, not creative and not adaptable. Why is this so? Again the answer is obvious.  The academics have spent years in education learning to be conforming, compliant and above all competitive.

For the record, The World Economic Forum in 2016, opined that the key skills needed to enable a person to well in modern times were: Curiosity, Creativity, Critical Thinking, Ability to Communicate (with individuals and groups), Flexibility, Collaborative Ability, Teamwork, Compassion-Emotional Intelligence, Composure under Stress and Citizenship.

Finally, diversity and choice for consumers are expected. There are many school types available these days, immersion units, academic, vocational, private state and even charter schools. We also must not forget home-school either. The result is manipulation of enrolment schemes, greater homogeneity in schools;  popular become oversubscribed, less popular languish and wither as they reflect lower socio-economic citizens, often from a particular ethnic minority group. In 2018, lots of choice is, for most people, more apparent, than real.

Finding a student’s Element.

Let’s dispense with a few myths.  There is no correlation between a school’s look and its output. There are schools in boats in Bangladesh, train platforms in India, even one in a cave in China.  There are some with glass walls in California. All are real and even if they do not look like something out of “To Serve Them all of My Days.” they mostly work well. Private Schools are not better than State- there are examples of good and bad in every model people choose to set up.

What is most important is that a student relates to the school of choice and in that situation, the student will be successful. 

Here are some of the elements that I believe good schools must have:

The school must have teachers who forge strong learning relationships with their students, in and outside the classroom.

The School needs a broad, balanced and dynamic curriculum. This means the whole curriculum, that taught in a classroom and the co-curricular activities outside it. A balanced curriculum needs equal provision for, Language and The Arts (Visual Art and Music and Literature), Mathematics, Science, The Humanities, Physical Education (which includes all things associated with movement, including dance) and Life Skills.

Just for the record, with reference to dance, one of the most significant aphorism’s I ever heard comes from Nietzsche “Those who were seen dancing, were thought insane by those who could not hear the music”.   There is nothing new about dance.  From time immemorial people have understood that dance is as critically as important as the physical expression of relationships, feelings ideas. Why is it not more significant in schools?  The reasons are not educational- they are social, economic, personal and cultural.

The schools need teachers who adapt their approaches to different students and material at their fingertips.

The school needs to have a balance between study and practical work.

The school needs to balance times when students work alone and together.

Schools need to provide Mixed Age Group learning opportunities.

Schools must have an open and informative approach to assessment.

Schools learning schedules must be flexible. Schools must be safe places and be prepared to engage with the wider community

Conclusion

I hope your sons have a good term vacation, but please note, homework and revision levels must be maintained by all students, Year 9 through to Year 13.

Reading each day is critically important.   Facebook and social media time needs to be reduced in many cases.

Daily physical exercise, even if at a moderate level is crucial. Diet should be about variety, more fruit and vegetable than any other category, more water than any other drink and a lot less sugar.

Finally growing adolescents need to sleep.  Eight hours a day, is about right!

Best Wishes

John.