Russell Blackstock

Russell Blackstock is a senior reporter at the Herald on Sunday.

NZ schools get a tick from Brit star Nesbitt

The Hobbit star was most impressed with his kids' schooling during his stay. Photo / Thinkstock
The Hobbit star was most impressed with his kids' schooling during his stay. Photo / Thinkstock

International screen star James Nesbitt has given New Zealand's education system top marks.

Nesbitt, star of numerous hit British television dramas such as Murphy's Law and Jekyll, moved his young family to Wellington for a year while filming a role in The Hobbit. And he has been raving about the time his daughters Peggy, 14, and Mary, 11, spent at school here,

His glowing report on his kids' school will be welcomed in the wake of controversial new national standards data, published this week.

The 47-year-old told Britain's Daily Telegraph he was impressed with the way Kiwi schools do not have the same preoccupation with targets and exams that they do in England.

Mary loved having lessons on the beach on hot days, he added, and his eldest daughter Peggy, who attended high school in Wellington, enjoyed herself so much she didn't want to go home.

Nesbitt's upbeat comments were welcomed at Seatoun School in Wellington, which Mary attended for a year. Principal Peter Pointon said the Nesbitts appreciated being treated like any other family.

"I know Mary really enjoyed it when the kids would go to the beach during school, because I doubt she would be able to do anything like that at home."

Seatoun is a decile 10 school which reported 89 per cent of its pupils achieving reading standards, 81 per cent achieving writing standards, and 75 per cent achieving maths standards. But teachers say it's not fair to compare one school's results with another, as all kinds of factors including class size, gender, wealth and whether a school's teachers mark easy or hard can affect the data.

In England, pupils are measured against national standards from early childhood onwards, and undergo standardised tests from the age of 11.

New Zealand's new national standards are a step in that direction - but this country does not measure children's achievement so rigorously, nor subject them to standardised tests till the end of high school.

And that, said Nesbitt, was a good thing. "It was a very good education, actually," he explains. "They don't have the same notion of targets, or the obsession with exams, or the same nightmare amount of homework."

Pointon said he had just returned from a visit to London, so he could understand how Nesbitt's kids would enjoy themselves here. "Over there there are high walls and fences around a lot of the schools and as a visitor I had to be buzzed through an electric gate."

The Nesbitts aren't the only kids with famous parents to attend the school, which is near Sir Peter Jackson's film-making operations. Pointon said: "It isn't that unusual for some children to bring in Oscars or Rugby World Cup medals that their parents have won to show them off to their classmates."

- Herald on Sunday

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