Education becomes a hot topic whenever the global economy slips and today’s climate is no different. With job prospects on a decline and the number of applicants on a steady increase, young people need all the advantages and qualifications they can get.
This means a solid education that can provide workplace or further education opportunities, and ultimately a foot in the door. The question in all this, is where New Zealanders can find this type of ‘solid education’ , what schools are the right schools? More and more it seems we hear the answer to that question is ‘independent’.
Each one represented by the national body known as Independent Schools of New Zealand, or ISNZ, there is a total of 43 independent schools in the country, sometimes referred to as private schools. In order to be accepted into the ISNZ, schools must apply for membership, then to retain membership they must pay a per capita levy that funds ISNZ office operations.
The application process largely involves meeting the designated criteria. ISNZ insists that to be eligible for consideration, schools must meet the following requirements: “be registered as a private school; be committed to independent schooling; have a current positive ERO report; offer a course of work in the senior school that is leading to a recognised assessment qualification that is approved by an accredited qualification organisation, eg NZQA, CIE, IB; demonstrate sound compliance and financial systems and practices, with a current positive audit report, or in the absence of such a report, such other form of independent confirmation acceptable to ISNZ in its absolute discretion; and, agree to adhere to The Association of the Heads of Independent Schools (AHIS) Code of Conduct and Practice, and the NZ Teachers Council Code of Ethics.”
This criteria manages not to seem overly strict, but it does allude to an overall sense of hierarchy when it comes to schooling; there are schools that won’t meet this criteria. Just because 43 schools have flown through the application process and become members, does this mean those 43 schools are the country’s best? There are unquestionably some terrific state schools, so what are the benefits of being part of the ISNZ?
The main role of ‘Independent Schools of New Zealand’ is promotional. It advocates independent schooling, represents the independent school view on education committees, in their own words “promoting choice in education” to Members of Parliament, provides services to schools, organises professional development programmes, connects with internationally recognised educational groups, “and generally provides a forum for joint action by ISNZ Member Schools”. So independent schools benefit from being part of the national body by being part of an international network of schools and international groups.
This means that even though independent schools define themselves by having the freedom to create a curriculum ‘independent’ from the standard New Zealand curriculum, they are held to a standard set internationally; and despite being governed by their own independent board of governors, they still must comply with governmental standards in order to be registered. This sets their standards exceptionally high.
The many different types of independent schools consist of pre-schools, primary (traditionally preparatory) schools, composite schools, secondary schools, day and boarding schools, and single sex and co-educational schools. The difference between these schools and public, or state, schools is the fact that these schools are owned by either individuals, private companies, charitable trusts or religious bodies. At first glance, this might seem dangerous, the idea that anybody can set up a school but as discussed, the standards that must be met are so high and definite, that the benefits surely outweigh the negatives.
First of all, independent schools get a lot more funding; 75 per cent of which comes from parents; meaning that they can afford better technologies, better qualified teachers, better facilities, more teachers. This allows students more opportunities to learn, with smaller class sizes, more subject variety, experiences such as international trips, vocational work experience, etc. Independent schools also get sponsors to boost their funding, ISNZ itself is sponsored by groups such as University of Cambridge International Examinations, ANZ and Fuji Xerox. These sponsors not only provide services and possible funding but also add to the network students are then made a part of; work experience, internships, scholarships, all these things and more could be offered by sponsors and become opportunities that don’t arise so often in the state school system.
More money also means they can facilitate a high level of education in drama, music, film and television, IT, sport and other such subjects that require resources such as computers, equipment, theatres, lighting, etc. Plus the schools can afford to integrate a strong pastoral, or student centric aspect; employing staff specifically to ensure that emotional and social care is taken of the students.
More often than not, independent schools are able to offer internationally recognised qualifications; A-levels, SAT Scores, International baccalaureate, and others, providing students with the opportunity to attend tertiary education overseas or even secure employment overseas. This is ultimately what makes independent schooling so sought-after; particularly in today’s global climate.
Even though just a small minority of the New Zealand student population attends an independent school, waiting lists are endless and there are few, if any, places available at any one time. Despite their apparent advantages then, unless the number of independent schools rises dramatically, it is difficult to say for certain that they are the future of education. But what is safe to say, is that for the young people who are able to attend an independent school, if taken advantage of their education could brighten their future.
By Rosie Clarke