Round up of 2017 from the Rector, Richard Hall

By Richard Hall | Posted: Thursday December 7, 2017

2017 has been a very good year for the school.

Academically we began strongly; our 2016 NCEA results were consistent with 2015’s very good year- the analysis of roll based data against boys in schools nationally;

Level 1 - 90% (72)

Level 2 - 87% (77)

Level 3 - 67% (61)

U.E - 57% (44)

Our boys are the very best and continue to achieve highly.

Importantly again over half of those who achieved NCEA in 2016, at Level 1, 2 and 3, did so with a merit or excellence endorsement. That means you the boys in our school strive for the very best result. This kind of statistic is exceptional in New Zealand.

Pleasingly Otago Boys’ High School again did very well in the national scholarship examinations. These examinations sat in November separately from NCEA are the pinnacle of academic achievement in a secondary school. Last year we achieved 20, in line with 21 in 2015, with 3 at outstanding level. This came from 13 candidates across 10 subjects.

Indeed with these results the idea propagated outside of our walls that we are just a sports school is more of a perception than a reality. I hope - with continued strong academic and cultural results we will be able to pop that particular balloon. For instance there are less awards given out in our formal weekly assemblies to rugby than chess and we have 12 rugby sides and two chess teams.

One challenge I will say, that we have not solved, is the idea of credit counting in NCEA. Indeed it is more powerful than ever across New Zealand. Credit counting is exacerbated by your son’s pragmatism - I have got what I need thanks. When a University offers a place in a Hall of Residence to local students and open entry to courses by September, boys very quickly check out.

As a school we have strived this year and I will speak more about it later, to combat the Year 13 academic slide and while the results are not in, I am worried that we may not have made a big enough dent.

I want to stress though that this is not a solely Otago Boys’ issue; I know this because I have taught in 4 boys school’s in this country. One solution other have adopted is to devalue the qualification through easy credits; that is not us. Rather I want to see a nationally led inquiry into how we can make this slide less of an issue.

So I like all of you, watch with interest for the political developments in our country. SO far the Labour/NZ First and Green coalition have openly discussed changes to the primary sector with the removal of national standards, the tertiary sector has been given a significant hand out in fees, but in regards to secondary education, in my opinion the most important sector, they have been very quiet. Too quiet.

While I read of a possible overhaul of NCEA, I don’t see any detail or indeed any real statement of intent. It may be that after more than a decade we are too far into it, but with the scrapping of the controversial national standards in Primary and Intermediate schools I would remind the politicians that NCEA has always been controversial and indeed remains so.

I would ask that any review of NCEA widely consults with students and with parents as well as educators and is also open and transparent. I have not always had faith in every Ministry of Education process that I have seen that the decision wasn’t made before the exercise began. Remember it is often not the Minister who drives the education bus.

I also think that the New Zealand educational system should not be aimed at South Auckland; that it needs to take into account highly aspirational and highly achieving students of all cultures in all regions. Just because we perform well in Otago does not mean we are ok. We perform well because of the people; invest in things we need for us to be better too.

This is why for us as a school membership of the New Zealand and International Associations of Boys’ School remains a priority. Often, although we make up as a group a number of the most outstanding achievements, we are seen as dinosaurs who are not in touch with reality. A voice for your son is all that we ask for.

In term 1, under the leadership of Ms Buckingham we began a mental fitness inquiry. Her 2016 OBHS Foundation award has allowed her to explore the idea of a mentally healthy teenage boy. For us this means looking at what it is that our boys need to become more able to ride the highs and lows of life and to see a future. Without being dramatic, we know New Zealand leads the way in negative social statistics, and not only for youth, so there is clear evidence that the need is there. This project aims to find the tools that will help. I am making this sound too easy, because I think the more I know, the more I realise I don’t know anything. We do now know for instance that anxiety is our biggest teenage challenge at OB’s. What we need to know and will find out is when that starts, how long it lasts and are there things we do as a school that exacerbate it? Our efforts this year, in parent meetings, in form time and with academic coaching have focussed on the Year 13 group. For it is just at the time when we feel they should be peaking, many still check out.

So as I say, this inquiry is a long term project in our school, for none of us, myself included, has that particular magic wand. The answer instead will be a combination of academic, social, vocational, cultural and innovative approaches and practice. If you are interested in helpful and well researched ideas as parents, might I suggest you follow our WTW and read Ms Buckingham's regular column. It does make sense.

Mr Hooper to, using his knowledge of statistics has fashioned an OBHS 10 indicators of success; whereby we can see the slide start to happen and together with Max Chu and Liam Turner’s initiatives the Stuart Street Shield; an academic competition between the school and the Hostel, we have the means to motivate.

When I think of resilience at the moment my mind flashes to India. I was very privileged to be part of a cricket tour to both India and Sri Lanka in the last holiday. With 16 young men, Mr Ford and I experienced the full range of humanity; from desperate poverty to absolute wealth, the experience of a dramatically different culture has left its mark. And still over a month later I find it very hard to describe a nation that has nuclear weapons; also has live power cables hanging from trees in the city because there are no power poles, where every kid speaks English and has a cell phone, but no shoes and eats one meal a day. Where a man and his wife travel with 2 kids on a moped at speed with no helmet or protection and no-one blinks. Where the groundsman of a cricket ground lives in a shack beside the field and is grateful for it. Where education is seen as the answer to all problems.

Don’t get me wrong I enjoyed and loved India; I sincerely hope another OBHS team will travel there, but I am still trying to make sense of it. As a school I believe it is in these experiences that we shape our future leaders. Singapore is a holiday, India is an adventure.

As always a key component of our school is our staff. The year began with a new and significantly larger Year 9 intake of 185. This increase allowed us to appoint six new staff; Ms Rhondda Bowen in Mathematics, Mrs Michelle Gilks and Mr Steven Sharp in Science, Mrs Cheryl Brown in English, Mr Kevin Gledhill in Accounting and Mr Matt Brown in Health and Social Science. The energy and commitment to boys learning has enhanced our school, inside and outside of the classroom.

Balancing that this year is the departure of two long-serving staff members in Mr Jim Black and Ms Wendy Curtis. Jim began his time here in 1973 and Wendy in 1989. It is too hard to sum up everything that they have lent a hand to and done over the years, and they have both lined me up on separate occasions to tell that they don’t want any fuss.

These two are firstly; teachers of the highest calibre - and as such have been excellent role models for our boys. In languages Mr Black brought a passion and dedication, and it is fair to say his contribution to and knowledge of the OBHS Lodge is without equal. Just yesterday he gave me archive photos of rock falls in MacPhearson Creek. The hours he did were enormous. Under his leadership the opportunities for boys increased as did the quality of what was learnt. What is little known is that Mr Black was a key supporter and participant in school productions for a number of years.

Wendy Curtis is a fine teacher. She has a passion for history, her resource building her demand for excellence has seen boys in her class regularly achieve to the highest levels including scholarship. She is knowledgeable not only in her subject, but in how to speak with talented students. This year, in the absence of Mr Townsend who was appointed Assistant Principal of Bayfield High School in March, she has stepped up to take the role of HOD Social Science.

Both leave us better than they found us.

Another leaving us is Mr Vilestra the Hostel Manager for the last 5 years. Together with his wife Barbara, they have established a better hostel culture that supports and enhances, rather than demeans or diminishes. We know that they will always stay in contact with the school and hostel in particular.

In sport and cultural endeavours we have again excelled. Our Maori and Pasifika groups go from strength to strength. Wairu Puho, our combined OBHS/OGHS Kapa Haka group has qualified for the National Kapa Haka competition first time ever, and the beat a full immersion school to do it. Kaharua and the other tutors certainly have sharpened that area of our school.

Another success was the Smokefree Rockquest group Sun Animals were prominent at the local finals and submitted an entry for the national final.

Our combined OBHS/OGHS school production High School Musical was again a truly professional performance. What was special about it was the contribution of 3 recent old boys who made it happen.

And finally this year we have two national choir representatives.

IN sport we have once again punched well above our weight. Our teams and individual successes are significant and not for retelling here, but the introduction at assembly by the prefects of a performance of the week has made a statement about a supportive culture in sport. As I said earlier Chess has featured in this award.

We have though had an exceptional year in sport for National representation; these will be read later, to have though 12 at Under 18 level or above and 1 in the junior grades with Cameron Moffitt in athletics. It is as far as I can find, out the best number yet.

As a school we are firmly moving forward in a new direction, the right learning for the young men of Otago.

For instance I am very pleased to report to the school that next year we will have 165 year 9 students; the second most since 2010. The Hostel also is full, I had to turn away three boys recently, there simply is not the space.

My personal thanks go to all the hostel and school staff, truly it is the people that make this place the right learning environment. In these people we have the opportunity to progress even further. The school senior leadership team of Mr Turner, Mr Hooper, Ms Gorman and Mrs Marr for their selfless dedication to the school.

To my wife Fran and our two children; I know 2017 has been hard on you; for instance I have spent over 25 nights away from home this year, but know that I am grateful to you for allowing me the privilege of having the best job I know of.

To our community - 2018 is nearly upon us - As a school we are moving in the right direction and with you supporting us as our community I know there are no limits.

As an old-boy – and a Dunedin boy – I remain proud to say this is my turangawaewae – my place to stand and you the students have only made that feeling stronger.

There is no other place I would rather be.

Ko te manu kai i te miro, nōna te ngahere.

Ko te manu kai i te mātauranga nōna te ao.

The bird that feeds on the miro berry, his is the forest

The bird that feeds on knowledge, his is the world

Norera Tena Kotou, tena Kotu Tena Koto Katoa.