Parents outraged over class system

By Celeste Gorrell Anstiss

Tutor Heather MacKay said NCEA students were being neglected and the school's focus on the Cambridge International Examinations was to blame. Photo / Doug Sherring
Tutor Heather MacKay said NCEA students were being neglected and the school's focus on the Cambridge International Examinations was to blame. Photo / Doug Sherring

Parents at a top high school are furious their teenagers have been shunted into "abridged" classes for slow learners, and say there were doing fine in mainstream lessons.

Designed for struggling students, abridged NCEA classes have fewer assessments and a simpler workload - such as studying Spider Man instead of Lord of the Flies and Reader's Digest articles instead of short stories and chapter books.

The Herald on Sunday spoke with three sets of parents who claimed their teenagers had been put into abridged classes unnecessarily - and without any consultation. Each of the students went to Macleans College in east Auckland, considered New Zealand's top co-educational secondary school.

Private tutor Heather MacKay, a former teacher, said there were a number of Macleans students on her books who had been placed in abridged maths or English despite being up to a regular class.

The Macleans parents said their children were not challenged or stimulated by the watered-down content and were concerned they were being labelled "dumb".

"All the students know what the abridged class is. It's the vege class," one mother said.

"I was horrified when my son showed me the Spider Man assignment. I don't believe there's a great literary mind behind that film."

The parents, who spoke anonymously to protect their children, each said there was no discussion before their child moved class - they only found out when reports came out part-way through the year.

All said their teens had passed most assessments and would be better off in the mainstream class, where students were pushed.

"These abridged classes do not go anywhere, all-in-all they're a total dead-end," said one parent. "My firm belief is the school should be targeting these students with specific and focused teaching, not putting them into 'vege' classes with low-level (course content)."

One student in the abridged class gained "excellence" - the highest mark possible - for his Spider Man essay. A number of others were awarded merit, well above the basic pass rate.

Principal Byron Bentley dismissed the suggestion there were able students in any abridged class, and credited good marks to the efforts of the teachers. He said students were put into abridged classes at the discretion of teachers - for example, if they had achieved less than a 40 per cent pass rate in Year 10. He said parents signed a form that approved their child's subject choices, in which their class would be clear.

MacKay said NCEA students were being neglected and she blamed the school's focus on Cambridge International Examinations, which seventy per cent of students sit.

"Macleans has a duty to all the parents and children in the school zone to provide a satisfactory education.

"The maths and English they have been doing is demeaning to their ability. These boys now suffer from what I call learned uselessness, learned laziness and an acceptance of stupidity.

"If there is no expectation to do better, then a student will not perform at anywhere near potential."

- Herald on Sunday

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