It’s not decile rating, it’s leadership that makes a great college — and if it’s great, students will want to be there.

One of the things you get used to very quickly when you grow up in Christchurch is that people believe the role of the school in your life defines who you are.

I went to Linwood High. It's Linwood College these days.

Linwood wasn't a school you talked a lot about if you were part of "the set" that took school seriously.

Christ's College was a serious school. If you went public it was Christchurch Boys' High.


My school choices were determined by geography - you went to the school you lived closest to. This never struck me as unusual because it was all I ever knew.

In the ensuing years we seem to have turned it into an art form. The business of selecting a school has changed completely.

Deciles are everything, reputation is everything. A school can make or break your kid.

One school does not fit all.

You will have read a bit about this in Monday's Herald. White flight is alive and well. White flight is driven by a belief that a number matters.

Decile 1 is poison, decile 10 is aspirational.

Linwood was decile 2.

Actually, I am not sure if it was or not, it's decile 2 now.


What it was in the 80s I haven't the slightest idea, mainly because it didn't matter and I never asked.

But it encompassed Linwood, Aranui and encroached a little into Sumner.

Sumner was where the flash people lived. I wasn't one of them.

Not many of them went to Linwood but some did, and they're the ones who came in on the bus, and lived in houses on the hill with views.

Those of us who lived in Linwood went to Sumner at the weekends to swim.

I know Linwood is decile 2 now only because it's in trouble and it's making news in Christchurch. In fact, it was front page news last week.

It's now one of those schools that seem to be breaking down.

There appears to be tension between staff and management, management and the board.

The ministry is involved and calls the school "fragile".

I don't know the ins and outs, and it doesn't really matter.

What matters is the school I once knew, attended, and kind of liked, is a mess, and when I went there it wasn't.

I note also the roll is down from my time there, I don't know whether that's white flight or the earthquake or a bit of both.

But what I do know is Linwood was once one of the city's bigger operations, these days it isn't.

As regards deciles, I thought a decile 2 was fine for me.

Would I be better educated at the finest facility the city could have offered? I doubt it.

Was I disadvantaged by going to a public decile 2? I don't think so.

But what Linwood's story shows is that what's critical in a school is leadership. A principal can make or break the place.

A principal makes the decisions that matter, the hiring, the direction, the budgets, the role in the community.

As a parent I have seen some spectacular principals, and I have seen some ordinary ones.

I have seen a school change under different principals.

It can happen in as short a time as a year.

And this is why I have always argued for a couple of things:

Performance pay for teachers.

Choice for parents.

The more flexibility a school has, the more a school can chart its own course no matter what the decile.

Get a school's reputation right and they will come from far and wide. And if they can't, they will pay a fortune to move to the area. Just ask Auckland Grammar.

Which of course leads to yet another issue around schooling - zones.

Yes, you should be able to access your local school, but what if your local school is in an area you can't afford to live?

This is where performance pay comes in, this is why the Government's ideas on lead teachers and lead principals make so much sense.

Get the great talents and spread them about.

Talent is finite. The great ones are rare, and you cannot pay them enough.

A great teacher changes lives, a bad one can put you off learning for life.

Of course, the unions have always argued that if you just throw lots more money at everyone, all schools will be equal, all teachers will be equal, and we can all send our kids to any old school we like because it will be the spectacular Utopian experience they had always said it would.

Except, of course, itwon't.

Because it's a fallacy.

Parents play their part as well. Most of us have been sucked into the superficiality of schooling.

Most of us have fallen under the spell of fine-tuning the experience to meet the individual needs of our precious little ones.

Most of us will be as eager to see this week's decile ratings as we were our new house CVs.

The website will probably crash.

The irony, of course, for many of us who panic about our educational choices is that we're the same ones who went to the school around the corner and did just fine, thank you very much.

We all want the best for our kids no matter what our circumstances may be.

But what I know and saw in Linwood was that quality had little, if anything, to do with the catchment from which the kids came, and everything to do with the people who ran theplace.

Great people make great decisions and run great schools.

Greatness doesn't have a postcode. And a great leader beats any decile any day.