Two unusual new charter schools have been approved for Maori students in Rotorua and Taupo

One, in Rotorua, will be what is believed to be the country's first school combining a science and technology focus with a Kaupapa Maori philosophy for 200 children in school years 1 to 10, leaving out only the last three years of high school.

The other, in Taupo, will be a boarding school for 90 mainly Maori boys only in those last three years of high school, Years 11 to 13.

The Taupo school, Blue Light Senior Boys High School, will be run by Blue Light Ventures which runs youth activities out of police stations around the country.


Mike Jackson, the foundation principal of the country's first state middle school, Albany Junior High School, will be the founding principal of the new school and will live on the site at Wairakei, which is currently a Blue Light camp.

Mike Jackson, foundation principal of Albany Junior High School, who will now be foundation principal of a Blue Light Senior Boys High School at Taupō. Photo supplied
Mike Jackson, foundation principal of Albany Junior High School, who will now be foundation principal of a Blue Light Senior Boys High School at Taupō. Photo supplied

He has been Blue Light's chief operating officer for the past three years and said he was up for the challenge of moving from top-decile Albany to live and work with boys who will often be recruited through Blue Light youth programmes around the Bay of Plenty.

"It's a lifestyle commitment for us. This is important stuff," he said. "We are about empowering youth, giving them opportunities that they wouldn't have had before."

He said Blue Light was run by former police officers and had a memorandum of understanding with the NZ Police, but the police would not be directly involved in the school.

The school will open in February with 30 boys in Year 11 and will add Year 12 in 2019 and Year 13 in 2020, building up to a staff of 12 fulltime-equivalent teachers.

Jackson said it would offer outdoor activities and community service programmes such as the Duke of Edinburgh Award, but would also aim to get every boy through at least Level 2 of the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA).

"We'll be focusing particularly on maths, science and technology, and English of course because they will need it," he said.

"We'll be up with the kids early in the morning, working through to the evening, with classes scheduled throughout that time and remedial work in the evening with the staff."


He said the school would be run directly by Blue Light's national board and might be replicated around the country if it was successful.

The Rotorua school, Te Rangihakahaka Centre for Science and Technology, will be run by Te Taumata o Ngati Whakaue Iho-Ake Trust, the educational arm of the local Ngati Whakaue iwi.

Trust general manager Roana Bennett said the goal was to engage with whanau to get 100 per cent of young Ngati Whakaue through NCEA.

The trust has already run 14 week-long science schools or wananga for children aged 7 to 14 and has seen the way they engaged both the children and their families.

"We take them away for a week to stay on a marae or other places like Scion [forest research institute], and they interact personally with scientists and get into their learning," Ms Bennett said.

"We have seen the engagement with the kids, and the engagement with the families, and we are saying we can upscale this.

"We are going to deliver a curriculum that we have designed, we are going to deliver it in a way that we have developed, and we are looking for outcomes that we have defined, in conjunction with the Government as the funder.

"It's about that self-determination, not just for iwi but for hapu and whanau, because we all know that it's whānau engagement that creates the success."

The school will be "trilingual" in English, Maori and computer coding. It will cover the full New Zealand curriculum but with a focus on science and technology, teaching literacy and other learning areas through science topics defined in Maori terms such as whakapapa (genetics) and ahuwhenua (agriculture).

Ms Bennett said the span of years 1 to 10 was aimed at ending the "tragic transition points" from primary to intermediate and then to secondary school, where many Maori children now "just bleed out of the system".

However, the iwi accepted that existing secondary schools could offer a broader range of subjects in Years 11 to 13.

"We think that by the time they reach Year 10 they will be well-rounded students who will have a clear idea of what they want to achieve," Ms Bennett said.

She said the school would have an "open door" to anyone who wanted to study there, not just Ngati Whakaue. There will be no fees, and the school will negotiate increasing its roll if more than 200 students want to attend.

The trust is looking at three property options in Rotorua, including building new facilities and leasing existing ones.

"If we build, we'll have an interim facility while the build goes on," Ms Bennett said.

The two new schools will be the country's 11th and 12th partnership schools. There are two in Whangarei, six in Auckland and one each in Hamilton and Hastings.

There were 13 applications in the current fourth funding round. A fifth funding round is already under way but will not be finalised until after the September election.

Post Primary Teachers Association regional chairwoman Alex Le Long said the new schools would not raise children's achievement.

"It's not going to close any gaps. It's not going to level any playing fields. The only thing charter schools do successfully is reward mediocrity by using scarce education money to prop up private owners," she said. "It just doesn't make sense, and I fear it's a case of ideology trumping evidence."

PPTA deputy general secretary Tom Haig said in a blog that the Hastings charter school Te Aratika "is looking like closing already - with a contractual obligation to get to 50 students by the end of the year, and still with less than half that enrolled".

But Te Aratika director Casey Tapara said the school was "on track with its enrolment target for 2017". The school advertised in May for new registered teachers.