A west Auckland secondary school wants to be the first all-girls full secondary and bilingual school in the city of sails, but says the Ministry of Education is "dragging the chain" in processing its application.
Kelston Girls College wants to incorporate Maori and Samoan bilingual units, and extend its roll to accept students from Year 7 to 13, in a bid to boost achievement among Maori and Pasifika girls.
Its plans have the support of the local community, but its application - submitted to the Ministry earlier this year - has yet to be processed.
If given the go-ahead, it is believed the school would be first all-girls state school in Auckland to take students from Year 7 to Year 13.
Principal Linda Fox said the application was borne out of research on the benefits of bilingual education for ethnic minority students.
"The research shows that students who're able to tap into their first language and their culture achieve a far better literacy in English and therefore are able to cope with the academic literacy as they go through high school and university," she said.
The school has had success at raising literacy levels of students, who typically arrive at the school below the national average, and has good NCEA pass rates.
However, Fox said some students who then go on to university find they struggle with academic literacy, because of the earlier set back.
"We think that offering bilingual Maori and bilingual Samoan, together with an intensive literacy programme that will be offered through all subjects, is the way to go," Fox said.
"So we're starting that at the beginning of next year with our Year 9 and 10 students who wish to go into that group.
"But we also believe that if we had four years instead of two years we could do something much better, and that's why the application for change of class."
The bilingual element can begin in January 2017 as it does not need Ministry approval.
However, Kelston Girls would have liked to enrol its first Year 7 and 8 girls in January too, but Fox said the Ministry is "dragging the chain" in processing its application.
There has been no official correspondence with the Ministry since an acknowledgement letter in Term 1 giving the school approval to start the process and outlining what that entailed, Fox said.
"We did receive a letter to say that there was a process to be followed in Term 3, and that process didn't happen and we haven't really heard anything since then."
This despite the board writing to the Ministry, she said.
The application has had widespread support with the school community, Fox said, with only one response opposed to it when parents were canvassed.
Support has come from other corners as well - those from outside the school's traditional catchment area, and the local Muslim community.
"We do know that further afield there are primary and intermediates that are offering bilingual classes and one of the concerns parents have is that there's nowhere for them to go that's reasonably close once they get to high school."
Similarly, the Muslim community is backing the plans, as many wish to have their daughters taught in an all-female environment from post-primary age.
The closest such school is a state-integrated Islamic school in south Auckland, says Batool Zaki, who submitted a letter of support with 200 signatures from the local Muslim community.
"That's the only other option," she said. "It's way down in the south, and for people who live in the west, it's not practical ... to travel every day to Mangere."
There was a large population of Afghan refugees settled in west Auckland, Zaki said, and their conservative values meant it was "really vital" for them to see their daughters educated in a girls' school from age 12.
"The refugees ... are really striving to make their children achieve in life and have a home and have a career ... and they want their daughters to achieve very well.
"Their daughters will feel very relaxed in a girls only school," she said, pointing to freedom to practice their faith and wear a hijab, and "reach puberty away from all the distraction of having boys around them".
Girls from refugee families have already had success at the school, Fox said.
Kelston Girls College has a multi-cultural staff, with teachers capable of taking Maori and Samoan bilingual units.
"We've got the staff already who're able to do this, so it's not going to put huge pressure or cost the Ministry anything," Fox said.
"It's simply playing to our strengths here at the school."
A community meeting is being held at the school tonight [EDS: MONDAY] to explain the application further, and has been extended to both parents and principals in the greater west Auckland region.
It is believed the local intermediate school is opposed to the application, however, Kelston Intermediate principal Phillip Gordon did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.
Head of sector enablement and support at the Ministry of Education, Kim Shannon, said it has been assessing the impact of Kelston Girls' College's proposal on other schools in the area.
"We are ensuring that any decision we make will be in the best interest of students and schools in the Kelston area," she said.
"We will be meeting with the school soon to discuss the application, along with the Community of Learning school group, to discuss the effect of the proposal and look at projected growth on the New Lynn/Kelston area."