The integral role that a school plays in a local community is heightened in rural locations where it becomes a focal point for social activity and where a real sense of ownership is instilled among parents.
With more people seeking out lifestyle properties where they can raise their families away from the pressures of a fast-paced city, the educational opportunities on offer are very much part of the decision-making process. A good rural school is a key driver for a tree change lifestyle.
It's not just a matter of reading, writing and arithmetic. The small country school takes on a life of its own. It's usually a Civil Defence base, often its swimming pool is available to families after-hours via a key system, the principal will know all the children by name and will sometimes be teaching, and pet days are part of the school calendar.
Recruiting and retaining teaching staff can be a challenge in rural areas but in some instances, accommodation is part of the deal and the sense of community is a drawcard.
Some parents opt to have a rural home base and a city school life, with their children making the daily commute into the city during the week. However, it could be argued that strong rural communities are fostered on the back of robust, well-supported local schools where the curriculum is supplemented with a dose of country personality and where local kids attend school with their neighbours.
Free school bus services generally kick in when children live more than a prescribed distance away from their nearest state school and where public transport options are not available. "Bus at the gate" is often seen in real estate advertising for lifestyle properties.
Vanya and Blair Headford and their two children packed up their city life and moved to the country nine years ago. Since then, they've owned several lifestyle properties northwest of Auckland in the Makarau and Wainui areas.
The Headford children attend Wainui School, a decile nine full-primary school (years one to eight) with a roll of just over 250. The school sits on a bush-clad 11 hectares with a small stream running through it.
Having children at a country school is not just about education according to Vanya.
"Wainui School and its parent community were so welcoming when we moved to the area without any experience of what it meant to own a lifestyle block and not knowing anyone," she says.
"That gave us confidence that we'd made the right decision moving rurally for a better way of life.
"The school is also a great leveller. There are some very wealthy families in this area but you would never know it - everyone is on the same team here."
Vanya says the standard of teaching is very high and there is never a sense that the children are missing out on anything educationally.
"In fact, I would say the experience is richer given the closeness of the school community. Even pets are welcome with goats and lambs regularly accompanying children to school so they can be bottle-fed during the day."
Deborah Bensley lives on a lifestyle block in Coatesville north-west of Auckland and has two children at Coatesville School where agricultural days remain a firm tradition and where 100 years of teaching was marked with centenary celebrations last year.
"We specifically moved to this area so the children could attend Coatesville School. It's a tight-knit school community where families provide the most amazing support network," says Deborah.
"Just because we are a rural school, parent expectations about standards of teaching don't change - we all want the best for our children."
In some areas in New Zealand, demand is peaking at country schools as rolls grow on the back of land subdivision for new lifestyle block developments in the vicinity and as a result of a groundswell of support for a rural education. As city boundaries creep closer to rural areas, potential catchment areas for schools are being extended which is proving a challenge in many regions.
In some instances, zoning is being implemented to cap roll growth such as at Hauraki Plains College in Ngatea which has established a fine reputation for the quality of schooling on offer and results achieved.
As life in the city becomes more frenetic, pressured and competitive, owning a lifestyle block is resonating with a growing number of New Zealanders. A vibrant, proactive, local country school where tradition melds with contemporary learning is the icing on the rural cake.
Article by Bayleys Rural Insight - for more information click here.