A student uttering a swear word in the playground doesn't necessarily get a telling-off at De La Salle College, the South Auckland school held up for praise by Prime Minister Helen Clark for its academic success.
Perhaps surprisingly for the principal of a state-integrated Catholic school, Brother Steve Hogan didn't flinch when two students playing with a ball both uttered a profanity.
Brother Steve, a softly spoken man who wears a traditional white robe, said the decile-one school set high standards and expected the best from its 900 students.
He said the school was intended to be a proud place where students formed strong bonds - "being brothers to each other" - and were responsible for their own learning.
But while Brother Steve said the school was strict, allowances had to be made for human nature.
"We are a school and there are boys - it [swearing] is part of the lingua franca of New Zealand society," he said.
"I don't accentuate the negative. We are always continually speaking to boys about how they should speak and how they shouldn't speak - what they should do, what they shouldn't do."
Helen Clark last week mentioned Da La Salle, known for educating All Blacks John Kirwan and Isaia Toeava, when she spoke on a small marae in Karetu, 20km from Waitangi.
As she argued the case for raising the "education age" rather than the actual school-leaving age, she cited the Mangere East school's record of 90 per cent of its students leaving with level two NCEA, when the national average was 60 per cent.
"What is De La Salle doing that every school could be?" Helen Clark asked.
Brother Steve - who returned to the school about three years ago for the third time in his professional life - said the answer was not simple.
"Every school is different and needs to respond to its own context," he said. "Why Da La Salle is a successful school comes down to a number of elements that are all interconnected, there is no one thing."
Near the top of the list was its dedicated literacy centre for students in Year 7 and 8.
For the past five years, staff have assessed students as they arrived and tailored reading to individual needs, catering to both struggling and gifted students.
Last year, one student increased his reading age by six years in one school year.
The average improvement was two to three years, meaning an 11-year-old who arrived reading a year behind could end up a couple of years ahead.
Since last year, Year 9 students have had a dedicated computer suite with programmes that help develop their understanding of text.
A learning support centre has provided extra help for students who need a boost.
"They are not shamed or embarrassed" to have help from a teacher aide, said Brother Steve. "Everyone just wants to get their NCEA."
For Year 13 students best suited to a vocational rather than academic path, the school's education for employment programme offered individually designed "learning plans" with a combination of class time, trades training and work placement.
Brother Steve said it was an "extraordinary exception" if those students did not achieve NCEA Level 2.
An Education Review Office report written in December last year said NCEA pass rates at De La Salle generally exceeded average pass rates at similar schools - with some students gaining qualifications over several years assisted by "multi-level, individualised study courses".
The courses allowed students to complete qualifications at one level while beginning work for qualifications at the next level.
"As a result of these good strategies, nearly all senior students gain a nationally recognised qualification during their time at De La Salle," the report said. But it added the "challenge" for the school now was to increase Level 3 pass rates.
It said rates in internal assessments were considerably higher than in external examinations and a focus on students' writing skills this year was likely to boost success in external exams.
HOUSE CHANTS, BROTHERHOOD BUILD UP STUDENTS' MORALE
De La Salle College says its high NCEA achievement rate is not just because of students hitting the books.
It has developed a culture of brotherhood, says principal Brother Steve Hogan, which means students do not want to drop out because their friends are still at school.
Last week, it meant the roar of voices and thump of feet as 260-strong house groups gathered in different parts of the school to practise "house" chants.
They will perform the song and dance routines to try to take top honours at the school's athletics day.
Kelekolio Hifo, 17, and Joseph Tupe, 16, both Solomon House prefects, took the competition seriously and would not discuss this year's new chants in front of a prefect from another house.
But when asked what was more important, winning athletics events or the chant contest, Kelekolio said "having fun", while for Joseph it was "working as a team".
Joseph, a Year 13 student, started at De La Salle in 2002 in Year 7.
He said it was different to come from a primary school with both boys and girls and that he was taught about "brotherhood and stuff".
He paid tribute to a dean at the school he described as a tough teacher and a good guy.
"He's always been there for us - always pushing us even when we don't want to do it".