An Auckland couple's plans for a school they have opened in Takapuna raises interesting questions about how we accommodate Kiwi kids who don't thrive in a standard classroom — if there is such a thing.
As reported in the Herald, property developer Evan Christian and interior designer Katherine Allsopp-Smith opened the Academy for Gifted Education last year because they couldn't find a school that offered the kind of education they wanted for their son Branson, now 6.
The school was initially open to 20 other pupils but now the couple plan to widen entry to any children whose parents can afford fees of $16,500. They plan to move "AGE School" next year into a $10 million office block in Takapuna.
The block will be fitted out with new facilities, including a huge net of foliage to be draped over the whole building. With small class sizes, the school aims to encompass social and emotional development and make learning relevant to the real world.
For children dealing with learning difficulties — such as as dyslexia and dyspraxia — or giftedness, school can be a struggle. This can have a lasting impact on happiness and future prospects.
It is understandable, and commendable, that parents such as Christian and Allsopp-Smith want to use their resources to provide the happiest and most fulfilling school years for their children. It is encouraging they're widening their roll and plan a charitable trust to fund scholarships.
But what about those kids who can't afford the fees and don't get a scholarship?
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About one in five of our 800,000 schoolchildren access Education Ministry learning support. Global studies suggest dyslexia affects between 5 per cent and 11 per cent of children and dyspraxia affects between 1.7 per cent and 6 per cent.
The good news is progress is being made in mainstream education to cater for kids who need help — and to provide a wider brand of learning than whiteboards and textbooks.
The Government last year said it would fund 600 dedicated staff in primary and secondary schools to support children with special learning needs. Teacher aides have also increased — we now have nearly one teacher aide for every two teachers.
In his Modern Learning series last month, education reporter Simon Collins opened the door into a contemporary classroom, where rows of desks are replaced with open-plan learning spaces and "breakout rooms" where children learn in smaller groups. The public school system is adapting to the needs of its pupils — and further changes could be on the way in the shake-up emerging from the review of Tomorrow's Schools.
Also, there are alternative schools and programmes already operating in Auckland. These centres could benefit from the pupils and funds the new AGE School is trying to attract.
All power to the children and teachers at the Takapuna project, but we should keep striving for an education system that can provide happy and learning-filled school days for all Kiwi kids, regardless of their parents' incomes.