Hobsonville Point Secondary School in Auckland is the country’s first Public Private Partnership (PPP) secondary school. Launched in February 2014, it was built to service the new residential area being developed on the former Hobsonville air force base.
Currently, there are 250 students on the roll, the majority being years 9 and 10, with some year 11 students. The school will expand its year 11 roll in 2016, then will open to year 12 students in 2017 and year 13 students in 2018.
The school has 28 staff members, and there will be an overlap in the staff to student ratio for the first three years until the school reaches its full capacity of 1350 students.
As a PPP school, principal Maurie Abraham explains, Hobsonville Point Secondary School provides New Zealand Curriculum-based education the same as all other state schools, but school property, furniture and equipment is funded and managed by a private company, Learning Infrastructures Partners, in partnership with the Ministry of Education.
“This leaves the teachers, myself and the board of trustees to focus on the development of teaching and learning for our students,” Mr Abraham says.
However, while it follows the new Modern Learning Environment (MLE) model in terms of layout and design, the methods of teaching and learning are quite different from those of the standard state school. Students at Hobsonville Point don’t cover the curriculum by attending single subject classes; rather they take specialised learning modules, which combine learning areas within contexts constructed with student involvement.
“Every term we select a ‘big concept’,” Mr Abraham says.
“This could be identity, or systems and how they work, for example. Teachers meet with student representatives, explain what the concept means and get feedback from them on how they want to explore the concept. Teachers from different subject areas, such as maths and English, or science and visual arts, then pair up to decide what areas to focus on and create a programme to teach the concept.
“The programme is divided into modules focusing on the different subject areas, and the students are then able to choose the modules they want to study.”
Mr Abraham says not only does this method of teaching makes students’ learning more authentic, it also enables them to become more flexible and responsive and as a result they are more highly focused on and engaged in their learning.
“We’re transforming secondary education. Our kids love coming to school. For us, the 21st-century learning environment is one where learning has a purpose, and is planned with the students and pursued through authentic and relevant contexts.”
He says visitors to the school, both from New Zealand and overseas, have expressed amazement at what the students are doing at such a young age.
“Some of our students are doing high-level scientific experiments, for example. Their passion and their interest drive their learning.”
The school also runs MyTime workshops three times a week in which students are free to choose what they need to work on, where they need to work and who they need to work with. Mr Abraham says this gives students the opportunity to develop self-regulation and move towards becoming independent learners.
“It’s not total free choice for everyone. It depends on the individual learner. For some it’s a guided choice and for others there is no choice, but all our students are fully supported in their learning at these workshops.”
Where other state school students are divided into classes with a classroom teacher, Hobsonville Point Secondary School students belong to learning hubs, which are located in nine learning commons – large, open spaces within the MLE. Each hub comprises 15 students, who are attached to one teacher – their learning coach.
“We have a huge belief in developing strong relationships. Our learning coaches are focused on looking after both the academic and personal needs and goals of their 15 students. We all want our students to achieve both academic and personal excellence.”
To reach their academic goals, students study for NCEA qualifications from level two upwards. Personal goals are based on the school’s dispositional curriculum. This comprises the 10 Hobsonville Habits of being resilient, resourceful, purposeful, adventurous, curious, compassionate, creative, reflective, responsive and contributive.
“We track our students’ progress both academic and personal, through their development of these habits, which shows the evidence of their learning,” Mr Abraham says.
He believes the methods of student assessment currently used in the New Zealand education system place too much stress on teenagers, and he doesn’t see the relevance of them.
By developing the Hobsonville Habits, he says the students also learn about the role they can play in the wider community, through asking questions such as ‘what do the habits mean?’ ‘what can I focus on?’ and ‘how can I be a good global citizen?’.
Having an online presence is also seen as vital for staff and students, with blogs and Twitter giving them the opportunity to share their successes and difficulties.
“Our staff are driven by a sense of obligation and desire to share knowledge with their students and we are putting online what we are actively doing so everyone in the community can see it.”
Engaging with the parents is a key aspect of Hobsonville School’s operation.
“We are very close to the parents. We run workshops for them every term and we communicate with them every three weeks on their children’s progress.”
This engagement actually began a year before the school opened, so the parents of potential students could gain a grasp of the new educational concepts the school would be offering.
For those with children now attending the school, the response has been mostly positive.
“We have had eight families who decided it wasn’t for them, but the vast majority of parents are thrilled with the progress their children are making at Hobsonville Secondary School,” Mr Abraham says.
He describes it as a “future-focused school, whose mission is to innovate through personalised learning, engage through powerful partnerships and inspire through challenge and inquiry”.
“I also believe schools need to work more collaboratively, rather than competitively, to improve the quality and relevance of student learning in all schools within a community, rather than contributing to the winner/loser school climate we currently have.”