- Schools are being encouraged to develop localised teaching units now that national standards have been abolished. Simon Collins reports in the fourth of a five-part series.
When Bec KauKau took over as principal of what is now Papakura Intermediate School late in 2014, one of her first tasks was to ask the community whether the school had a future.
"There were 71 children in the school," she says.
"It became my job to consult with the community and decide whether they wanted the school, because the Ministry [of Education] couldn't continue resourcing a school for that many students."
The community told her it wanted the school to stay open. And KauKau's job became "to develop a curriculum and a school culture that was deserving of the children".
"If we can get kids thoroughly engaged in things that are meaningful to them, then we can do it," she says.
Parents and grandparents told her that they wanted the school's name to revert back to the one they knew, Papakura Intermediate. That change was made last year, reversing a decision in the year 2000 to change the name to Mansell Senior School.
And KauKau has transformed the curriculum, emphasising the skills and "dispositions" - habits of mind - that students would need.
"We are steering away from subjects," she says. "We still teach the NZ curriculum, but the emphasis should be more on the dispositions that we need to develop in our learners - the ability to enquire, to problem-solve, to collaborate.
"We have used inquiry and technology learning to localise the curriculum and transform our school, and we have established a relationship with Mana Whenua to relate to te ao Māori."
In each year since 2016, the whole school has pursued an annual "inquiry" - establishing a relationship with the local iwi Ngāti Tamaoho, then developing a new vision and mission for the school, then asking what each student wanted for their "legacy" to the school.
One group of students has been learning carving from Ngāti Tamaoho master carver Ted Ngataki, who now works in the school's technology block. In between carving two giant pou [posts] that will stand on the widened Southern Motorway at the Papakura Stream, he is helping students Jean Warren and Terangi Matthews to carve six smaller pou for the school grounds.
"We had to break the kawa [protocols] and have a special prayer to allow the girls to come in," he says.
Another group of students is designing a new playground using "astronomical" concepts such as aligning playground equipment with culturally important stars.
"We need a playground because our school doesn't have any," says Ali Bawi, 12, who helped to design a large climbing structure.
Kane Moeke, also 12, has designed a spider-like circular climbing structure with a slide in the middle.
Anjali Selby and Sativa Sammimaihi, both also 12, have designed a high tower with a climbing wall.
Two people from the Playground Centre in Whanganui flew up to Auckland before Christmas to see the students' models of their designs.
The school has received a $20,000 grant towards building them from the Government's Curious Minds programme, and the board of trustees has agreed to chip in the rest of the cost to build the playground in the first term this year.
Oriana Hansell-Pune, a technology teacher and assistant principal, says she is happy to supervise each student working on their own project.
"I would much prefer students to be more independent and choosing to do things that interest them, rather than everyone being the same," she says. "It's just multi-tasking."
KauKau says the whole staff trained in using "self-directed learning" through the Mind Lab at Unitec for four hours one evening a week through all of 2018.
"It's difficult, that's why we did Mind Lab," she says. And it is succeeding in attracting more students.
"The roll is now 155," she says. "We are now in the second year of roll growth after 35 years of decline."