EDUCATION : The right school

Private schools are no longer the sole domain of the wealthy and privileged.
“Most people who choose to send their children to independent schools are ordinary people who have huge desire to give their children good start in life,” says Deborah James, executive director of Independent Schools of New Zealand. “The one commonality of private school parents is their commitment to the education of their children at the school of their choice.”
She says many parents make huge sacrifices to exercise that choice and, increasingly, grandparents and extended family are contributing to the costs. Some choose school for religious affiliation, others for the academic standing, the curriculum choices or extra-curricular options. Increasingly the qualifications framework offered by the school is factor.
All parents want to see their children in school that best meets their individual learning needs, James says. “Choosing the right school for your child is one of the most important decisions you will make on their behalf. New Zealand boasts strong and robust education system, but in reality not every school suits every child and not every child suits every school.”
Independent Schools of New Zealand represents 43 independent or private schools in New Zealand. Member schools educate 80 percent of the students in the private schools sector.
Choice in education is imperative if we are to maximise the learning potential of every child, James believes. “The private schools sector best suits children who do not fit the one-size-fits-all state system. Take away the private schools sector and you strip parents of their right to choose the school that best meets the needs of their children.”
Peter Crompton, principal of Ficino School, says when choosing private school, parents are often wanting smaller class sizes where the teacher has more detailed understanding of each student’s needs.
“They are also often looking for more breadth in the curriculum, where the whole child is being educated not only their academic needs, but also in musical, dramatic and sporting prowess, which are key areas of child’s development.”
James says independent schools have more ability to innovate and cater for diversity than those limited by the state’s guidelines. “Examples include the use of digital technologies in teaching and learning, richer and more extensive co-curricular offerings and increased options for senior school qualifications.”
Crompton says in another example, Ficino School teaches Sanskrit, which gives the children an excellent foundation for clear enunciation and grammar.
James argues that the Government has an opportunity to improve the overall performance of school education and reduce its own expenditure on school education by raising the subsidy rate to private schools above its present level.
“An increased subsidy rate would make independent schools more affordable for more parents and the subsequent growth of the private schools sector would free up valuable resources for the state schools sector. The presence of private schools sector in this country already provides net fiscal benefit to the state of well over $150 million per annum.”
James believes New Zealand should aspire to system of education that is open to all. “All parents – regardless of financial means – should have the ability to choose where to send their children to school. That is social justice at its simplest.”

What to look for
Clarence van der Wel, deputy chief executive of Academic Colleges Group. suggests parents should consider the following factors when looking for private school:
1. Does it have high academic standards? Parents should check out the school’s academic record and make sure it delivers on what it promises.
2. Is it the right fit for the child? Look closely at the school’s ethos and overall educational philosophy.
3. Will students have extra tutoring support? The ACG schools provide each student with personal tutor who is member of the teaching staff and is in regular communication with the home.
4. Is there range of sporting and cultural activities outside the classroom? Extra-curricular activities develop the interests and skills of students and broaden their range of experiences.
5. What is the school’s position on standards of behaviour? Each school should have code of conduct under which it operates with clear expectations for students aimed at ensuring that all students are able to learn without hindrance or distraction.
6. Which qualifications? The University of Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) are offered by number of private schools either as the only qualification or in tandem with NCEA. Other private schools offer NCEA alone or in combination with the International Baccalaureate (IB). Both IB and CIE are considered international qualifications.

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