Category Archives: Principal’s Message

We had our open evening last Monday night and our first music evening on Wednesday night. Only a few weeks ago we felt resigned to the fact that these sorts of events wouldn’t happen this year. It’s been lovely to see the re-activation of our cultural and sporting programmes. We are very lucky that we can go about living our lives quite normally in the face of this world wide pandemic.

If you are a regular reader of the weekly wrap up, you will know that we were recently visited by the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern and our finance minister and member for Wellington, Grant Robertson. They were here to announce more funding for the Creatives at Schools initiative. In attendance were a number of students involved in Creative Arts programmes and our He Kākano students. We weren’t able to tell anyone that the Prime Minister was visiting, including the students who turned up believing it was a ministry launch. You can imagine their reaction when they found out who the special guests were.  In addition, the event was media free and the Prime Minister expressed to me how much they both enjoy getting away from the cameras, to just see what’s going on. Our He Kākano students have been receiving tutelage from dancers at the Royal New Zealand Ballet, and although this relationship has been greatly affected by COVID-19, our students’ muscle memory kicked in and they were able to put on a wonderful demonstration for our leading ministers. The initiative is aimed at getting creatives into schools to provide pathway opportunities for students but also to provide support for people in the industry. After the performance, Jacinda (or ‘Jac’ she told me she was called at school) and Grant, if I may refer to them this way, spent time talking to our students about a wide range of issues including COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter, and everyone managed to get photos with them, including my own shameless request for a selfie with the PM. In short, it was a wonderful experience for everyone there and the fact that it was media free made it even better.

At this time of year I am normally speaking about our annual international students dinner. We haven’t been able to run this event this year and we had to say goodbye to many of our international students early in the lockdown phase of COVID-19. Our international students play a wonderful part in our school adding greatly to the cultural mix and having life-changing experiences in a country which for them is a long way from their homes. Last year 111 students from 4 continents spent time here and at this stage for next year we are only expecting to have 27 international students, all of whom are already here and wishing to continue their experience of New Zealand life. I have previously written about the benefits of living beside people from other cultures, and the opportunities it provides our students to examine their own cultural framework and learn to understand and appreciate others. We hope this situation will change for the better and we are able to welcome more students next year, but as we have all found, it is very hard to predict what might happen in this pandemic situation.

I mentioned the open evening in my opening statement and we estimated over 1000 people came to take a closer look at our High School on Monday night. The evening is a wonderful celebration of everything that High has to offer and with 400 enrolment packs taken away, we expect we will be welcoming another large intake at year 9 next year. I have mentioned our struggles with space and you may have noticed we have welcome relief in 4 very nice pre-fabs that have been strategically placed on the southern end of our field. The finishing touches are being put on these to be ready for use at the start of term 3.

I know students and staff will be welcoming a break at last. It feels like it has been one very long term from late January to now. I hope you are able to spend some time with your young person over the break and we look forward to welcoming them back for the start of term 3 on Monday 20 July.

Mauri ora!

Dominic Killalea


I write at the end of the first school week at level 2. The key principles of level 2 are to:

  • reduce the risk of someone getting infected in the first place,
  • ensure we can identify and contact anyone who becomes infected,
  • understand that it is not business as usual.

We have extensively planned for the reopening of our school and early signs are that the students are all embracing, or should I say, adopting enthusiastically, the extra hygiene measures that we have put in place. The continual cleaning and hand sanitising is an ongoing reminder of how we can maintain good hygiene practices at a time when this is a particular imperative.

I must admit I have never experienced so many enthusiastic greetings from students as I have walked around the school in the first few days since reopening. I’m not saying that students aren’t normally cordial with me, but their exuberance and the enthusiasm to be back at school is wonderful to behold. Schools are places full of energy and creativity and I hope we are able to restore all of the opportunities that are normally available to students, soon.

While we were in our level 4 and level 3 lockdowns, and while students were adjusting to remote learning plans and online conferencing, there were still achievements in varying forms from current and ex students. Please take some time to click on some or all of the links below:

  • Sophie Mance (Year 13, 2019) was awarded the extremely prestigious Girdler’s scholarship.
  • Sky Gobbi (Year 10) became a finalist in the Doc Edge festival with his short film about Underwater Hockey.
  • Former student Matty Di Leva (2010 – 2016) made Stuff  as an essential services frontline worker at New World Newtown.
  • Former student Jack Buchanan’s (2005 – 2009) family lockdown boogie went viral (perhaps not the right expression at the moment!) and he was awarded a CBS Sunny!
  • Our Shakespeare Society, who were scheduled to be performing in term 2 but have now postponed to term 3, were rehearsing the Tempest online
  • And Fresh Avocado launched their lockdown edition with some wonderful writing – my favourite is a piece by Cadence Chung (Year 12) called ‘Spill’ where she ruminates: ‘People joke that this is the end of the world but I think it is simply the end of what we thought tomorrow might have been.’

Remote learning during the lockdowns brought challenges but I also know it created opportunities and learnings for teachers and students. Many parents and caregivers have written to me about how much their student enjoyed working remotely but I also know that this hasn’t worked well for many. However, there is a need to carefully analyse the work during this period and adopt some of the better practices that have emerged for future learning.

We surveyed the students a few weeks back about how they were feeling and we had a terrific response with over 500 students taking part. When we asked our students about the aspects of remote learning they enjoyed the most, there were 3 themes that emerged in their answers:

  • Flexibility in terms of pace, assessment and independence [62 comments],
  • Use of technology to rewind learning & have it in accessible formats [34 comments],
  • Having a big picture plan for learning [23 comments].

A selection of student comments:

“I enjoy the flexibility of it, if you don’t feel like, say, doing English, then you can do Mathematics instead, rather than spending an hour sitting around, feeling frustrated. You can also come back and do our work later if you are tired and aren’t getting anywhere.”

“Being able to take breaks when I’m feeling overwhelmed/stressed helps me to not fully lose engagement and means I can come back to my work with a clear head.”

“…it would be good to have one remote day a week when we’re back at school.”

“I have found all the videos helpful, I struggle to read and write so videos are helping my learning a lot.”

“I quite like being able to look at a slide show and take notes because in class we don’t get shared the slides and the teacher can go a bit fast sometimes…”

“I enjoy that in some classes you know all the work you have to do for the subject at the start of week so, you can manage your time better.”

In these comments and in many others, there is some clear guidance for what learning could look like in the future and we must build on some of the really innovative teaching practices that emerged during the lockdown periods. This week we gave our senior teachers autonomy to decide how best to use their senior ‘double’ at the end of the day which has allowed some students ‘catch up’ time associated with varying levels of engagement with remote learning. Although this won’t continue next week, we will factor in our learnings from this and other aspects of the lockdown learning for our future planning for courses in 2021. The sorts of changes that we will consider are:

  • getting a better balance between whole-class teaching and smaller group tutorials with a review of face to face hours per subject or course,
  • using technology to open up more independent and self-directed learning methodologies and also enable more 1 to 1 opportunities, and
  • examining how our timetable can more flexibly accommodate different needs of students.

We need to acknowledge these opportunities for change alongside the crucial relationships that exist between learners and teachers and the important socialisation aspects of schooling. It’s then about getting balance, coherence and rigour so that we can continue to provide all the best parts of being at Wellington High School and make future schooling an even more exciting experience than currently.

Mauri ora!

Dominic Killalea


We have entered day 2 of the lockdown, and there is a welcome serenity about life, at least in my household. It has been wonderful to read stories of our staff and the connections they have been making with their students through google meet, google classroom, and the year 11 discord initiative. For the most part, these connections have been relatively seamless.

I have a wife who is working from home (not a teacher) and two university students (one rescued from a flatting situation and one from a university hall of residence), so everyone is online here for a portion of the day but we talk to each other, have coffee, listen to some music, watch a bit of TV (currently Seinfeld on TVNZ is popular in our house), have meals together, and then my wife and I go for a walk where it feels a little weird when people exaggerate the space between us and them as they pass. Despite that, everything does feel more relaxed. At night I’ve been able to re-engage with some non-school-related reading and of course trawl Netflix as I inevitably spend more time adding things to my list than actually watching them!

The city had a haunted feel to it as I drove to the supermarket this morning along deserted streets, and every natural sound felt more amplified as a calm, reassuring tone to me: everything will be alright but it will take time.

My mind then strayed to the words of Paul Simon in the Sound of Silence: “ … people talking without speaking, people hearing without listening …” and I wondered where we might get to at the end of this. He wrote these lyrics and this song to provoke discomfort at a time when many began to question mindless adherence to common thought expressed through our media and politics. It was a tumultuous time and perhaps we are living in that time again or perhaps we are just waking up to what was being said prophetically 50+ years ago. The Greta Thunberg inspired climate action marches have given voice to the concerns of many (I’d like to think the majority!) and COVID-19 will make us examine how we connect to each other and how we solve the problems for a future world. I am confident that we will reach these solutions in an inclusive way when we stop talking and start listening to each other more. Our challenge will be to elect politicians and have political systems that will enable our voice to be heard so that we really can do this together. 

Ngā mihi nui, Dominic Killalea


It has been a great start to the year. We are bigger than we were last year with our school population rising to 1383 students. This creates challenges as there are more students around, which means we all get in each others’ way a little more than we used to. It has been pleasing to see students acknowledging this as they wait for others to leave a classroom, leave a level – it seems that students are working together and showing patience and understanding.

The bigger population is putting pressure on our ability to be able to provide spaces for learning. I have been talking to the ministry for nearly three years about our spaces and our roll growth. The table below provides historical roll information for some of the secondary schools around Wellington. The numbers quoted here are domestic students which means that international students are not included.

The total number of students in 2008 in these schools was 10,197 students. This had risen to 11,188 students by last year, a rise of 991 students. If you look closely at the changes you will see that most of this growth has been borne by Wellington College, Wellington Girls’ College and Wellington High School. We have the highest recorded increase, 256 students, of any school over this period. However, we are still in the same buildings and the same spaces that we occupied in 2008. The only additional teaching space provided in this time has been the new gym, opened in 2011.

In addition to this information, our domestic roll for this year stands today at 1305 students, an increase of exactly 100 students compared to last year. And we are still in the same spaces. 

The good news is that the Ministry of Education has recognised our need for more space and the wider challenges that Wellington faces and they have developed an Education Growth Plan for the Wellington Central and North catchment area

The key extracts from this plan which have prompted the need to plan for growth at WHS include:

  • Te Aro is the city’s fastest-growing residential neighbourhood, with the population growing more than three times faster than the city as a whole. Wellington City Council projections show that the population in Wellington Central will grow from 74,700 in 2018 to 86,400 in 2030, and to 95,500 by 2043.
  • The majority of this residential growth is expected to come from medium and high density housing.
  • School rolls in the Wellington Central catchment have increased by 685 students since 2014.
  • Space at Wellington school sites is limited.
  • There is a planned review of technology provision across the city with the intention of delivering a technology hub for approximately 1,300-1,500 student places to ease pressure on primary schools.
  • Demand has been increasing for co-education with projections suggesting an additional 185 students in the secondary network that the Ministry is planning to accommodate “in the co-educational secondary school in Wellington Central, which has seen an increase in demand” – I think that might be us!
  • The Ministry wants to work with schools to develop master-planned capacity for each site.
  • Across the Wellington region, the Ministry is planning to engage with the school sector and our communities as options are developed for future schooling provision.

Just before Christmas last year, we (the Ministry and our school), appointed a Master Planner to develop what the future might look like on our quite complex site. One of the first steps of the future planning process is to consult with relevant stakeholders to talk about aspirations and visions for a future school which will take into account the factors considered in the growth plan including expected, substantial roll growth.

The first consultation sessions will take place on Tuesday 17 March and Wednesday 18 March. The architects hope to speak to approximately 30 representative staff, 30 representative students and 30 – 40 parents / caregivers. If you are interested in attending either of the consultation sessions (the two sessions will be the same, just providing flexibility for attendance purposes), could you fill in your details on the Google form linked to here.  We would like to have as many voices as possible in this conversation but we also need to make this manageable and this won’t be the only opportunity for you to represent your views on what future schooling here may look like. If we are greatly oversubscribed we will most probably ballot and stratify our population to get a good range of perspectives. The first step is to register your interest and include your contact details for one of the sessions.

Ngā mihi

Dominic Killalea

At the start of the year assemblies I spoke about a number of things. One of these was our core priorities based on the māori word WERO. WERO means ‘challenge’ and it is about Whānau, Excellence, Respect and Ora and I want to focus on one of these aspects in particular, whānau.

In thinking about whānau it is hard to think past the headlines of the Guardian International edition late on Friday 15 March 2019. This was the day of the tragic events in Christchurch. The paper that day simultaneously carried the following headlines:

  • Dozens of people killed in New Zealand mosque terror attack
  • School children in 100 countries strike to protest inaction against climate change
  • MPs vote to delay Brexit with EU figures appearing supportive
  • Senate rejects Trump national emergency ploy to fund US-Mexico wall

Those four headlines and the reactions and events that followed them simultaneously carried messages of love and hate, unity and division.

Friday March 15 for us began as a celebration of action – the first climate strike. As a school we made a statement that we supported our students to take part in the strike. Many of our students gathered on the field at the beginning of the day excited by what was ahead of them, many of them preparing a variety of signs to carry. This was a wonderful assembly of our students, our whānau, around the common theme of climate change inaction, all borne in a sense by the actions of one young girl on the other side of the world. Our students banded together and headed off to Civic square, supporting each other, unaware of the events that would happen later that day.

Meanwhile, we were reading the news in the US with continuing disbelief at the prevailing rhetoric that divides communities by demonising immigrants, and portraying asylum seekers variously as rapists, pedophiles and murderers as an excuse to build a wall.

In the same way, on that day we perhaps were not as inured as we are now to the news of a Brexit delay.

As parents, as teachers, we feel a responsibility to try and help our young people interpret what they are seeing around us and the events in the US and Britain are extremely challenging to interpret. When we talk about bringing people together, about creating a better society by creating better communities who are empathetic to one another, it’s hard to explain Brexit or the US-Mexico wall.

And then the events of Christchurch occurred. And we all watched in horror as we learned more and more.

Sean Kelly, an Australian journalist, wrote an interesting piece a few days after the event entitled: ‘Jacinda Ardern does something radical while Scott Morrison tells fairytales’. He was obviously comparing the reactions of both leaders and the ‘radical’ action of Jacinda Ardern was not to use the situation for political gain by, as I’ve mentioned previously, demonising sections of the community, but to remind us that ‘the community around the mosques was part of the country, was “us”’ – they are us.

And instead of preying on the differences between people she went on to say: “Many of those who will have been directly affected by this shooting may be migrants to New Zealand, they may even be refugees here. They have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home.” In saying those words, Ardern quite simply did what good leaders should do, as Sean Kelly described: “She painted for her citizens a vision of a new and better world – and in doing so, made that world a little more likely to come about.”

A fortnight after the attack in a memorial service held in Christchurch Ardern uttered the following words:

“We each hold the power, in our words and in our actions, in our daily acts of kindness. We are not immune to the viruses of hate, of fear, of other. We never have been. But we can be the nation that discovers the cure.”

And we all shared the pride of her statements during this period. And we all realised it is possible to bring people together in spite of the hatred. 

So I’d like to think that the cure lies within the bonds we have with each other. And that means growing our understanding and empathy for one another. And this is what I mean when I talk about whānau. It’s that realisation that we are all in this together and that we improve things for ourselves when we work at improving them for others.

In reacting to Christchurch in our school, our WERO leaders organised a lunchtime ‘they are us’ picnic on the field on a wonderful sunny autumn day and a chalk wall for expressions of support for the victims and their families. And out of one of the most horrific events, we bonded just a little bit.

And we carried this bond through other important events in the year. The national day of silence in term 3 which is a reaction against homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying is celebrated as ‘pride’ week at our school. Te wiki o te reo Māori is a chance for all of us to embrace the strong heritage, culture and language of our idigenous peoples of Aotearoa and we do.

I spoke about both of these events in my end of term 3 message when I mentioned the often-repeated proverb that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ and I highlighted these events and a few others. Any of you that have attended one of our music evenings would know the huge amount of cooperation needed to run an event of this magnitude with 150+ students involved. And it works, and this is because of cooperation, tolerance, and understanding – bringing people together, not driving them apart.

Against a background of division in Britain and the US, my wish is that we continue to work towards the cure in, as our Prime Minister says, “our daily acts of kindness”.

Finally, a whakatauki that I voiced at the senior prizegiving about a month ago is an appropriate insertion here:

‘Tangata ako ana i te kāenga, te tūranga ki te marae, tau ana’

A person nurtured in the community contributes strongly to society.

I hope all the students have a great summer break away from school. I hope they are able to take time out with friends and family, and read, watch TV, play games, play some sport – but most of all enjoy the people in their life and yours and appreciate the enrichment gained by the strength of those relationships.

Ngā mihi nui, Dominic Killalea

This has been adapted from the Principal’s speech delivered at Senior Prizegiving on 4 November.

At the end of last term I reflected on success and the many people involved to create that success. My thoughts were prompted by a lovely story that arrived in my inbox a couple of weeks ago. 

The email referenced one of our refugee students who has been with us since mid 2017. On arrival, he was placed in Year 11, although a little old for that year, and his academic programme was based predominantly around English language learning, as he had grown up speaking Arabic as his first language. By the end of 2018 he had achieved level 1 NCEA and he has already achieved level 2 NCEA this year. However, at this stage he looks unlikely to achieve level 3 NCEA this year in Year 13. When we look at statistics in relation to NCEA, he would be in the group that hasn’t achieved the qualification in the year he was supposed to. So that is not considered a success. But to tell you a little more about him, he has been studying this year in one of our transition classes which helps students to take steps into further training and employment through pathways other than university entrance. Through this transition class he undertook a Gateway placement (which is essentially work experience with NCEA credits attached) and the outcome of this placement is that he has been offered paid employment by Ray Hartley Motors over the summer holidays with a possible outcome of an apprenticeship in the future. Clearly, what he has done is quite astonishing in just over two years. It is success by any definition and the idea of success is worthy of exploring a bit further.

When ERO visited us at the start of 2018, we talked to them about what success looks like at Wellington High School. Our point, and it’s indicated by my previous example, was that success is very personal. For one student this may involve getting excellences across all of their subjects, and we have seen students like that tonight, but for another it may involve attending school regularly despite circumstances that make this a challenge. One of the ERO reviewers said to me, at the time, that success for her son was him being able to speak on the marae.

At the end of the review, ERO stated that “the school’s broad curriculum provides many opportunities for students to participate and celebrate success in a wide range of academic, sporting, cultural and leadership activities.” And they talked about Pathways, Secondary-Tertiary programmes, Gateway, The Secondary Tertiary Alignment Resource (STAR) and Industry Training Organisation courses, all providing options for senior students to receive sound career advice and guidance.

Further, we recognise that for a student to have success, whatever that looks like, they need to be secure in themself, their culture, and their identity and they need to be able to develop respectful and successful relationships with their peers and adults. We also understand the role we as teachers play in that growth. A recent ministry publication said the following:

“Young people spend close to half their waking hours in school and inevitably the quality of experiences with teachers and peers in that setting will affect emotional wellbeing.” (p42, Te Pakiaka Tangata – Stengthening Student Wellbeing for Success)

If students feel welcome and included, if they feel safe, if they can feel connected, if they can laugh and enjoy their time with us and with each other, then they will have success.

For my own children, I feel proud of them when they do well at school or at university. I also feel proud of them when they are able to successfully navigate and negotiate a relationship. I feel proud when we visit my family or my wife’s family and they interact well and they and everyone has a good time. I also feel proud when I see them successfully balancing a range of commitments in their lives: jobs, sport, music, study but still having quality time with me and my wife. My success criteria for them is wide. And so it is also wide when we talk about success here at Wellington High School.

When our Year 9 students start each year, I talk about WERO. As you probably know already, WERO means challenge and the letters of WERO stand for Whānau, Excellence, Respect and Ora which are our cornerstone priorities.

If we examine WERO as a measure of success, we are saying that we want students to be connected to whānau – that is, we say that family and community matter and being a part of that family and community and negotiating the relationships to do that is a measure of success. Further, we want our students / children to be seeking personal excellence – we want them trying to be the best they can be. We value respectful relationships and we want that to be at the heart of what they do. That means they work successfully with their peers, their teachers, their parents and whānau. Finally we value Ora – that emotional and physical wellbeing that allows them to find work-life balance. When each of these are in place our students will find success. 

So the Wellington High brand of success is build on these foundational priorities, it’s multi-faceted and it’s a deep part of our history.

I am going to return now to quoting one of my predecessors again – Turoa Royal, who was the Principal between 1978 and 1985. I say again because I have used this quote a number of times before. When talking about success criteria for students and what would be the most important factors for students to carry with them into the future, he said:

Firstly, if nothing else, pupils should leave the school with a sense of self-worth, a sense of self-esteem, and a sense of high expectations that life has beauty, and of truth. [Ralph Waldo] Emerson’s truism is worth quoting:

“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we will find it not.”

Secondly, whatever we teach, pupils should have the ability and skills to relate to others in a cordial, friendly and compassionate relationship.

“Ko te mea hui – ko te aroha”

The most important thing – is love and compassion

Thirdly, students should have the widest and happiest experiences in schools so that on leaving, learning is seen as a continuing and enjoyable experience.

Fourthly, to be able to analyse problems, no matter how complex, so that if career tracks are changing more frequently, they are able to make wise choices.

Fifthly, students should, through school practices be concerned for people and for mother earth. Mother earth is our past and our future.”

Although this was said over thirty years ago, what is there is very strongly linked to our current priorities in WERO. 

Valuing the relationships we have with ourselves, others and planet earth is embedded with whānau, excellence, respect and ora. Our role as teachers and parents is to help our students navigate their own pathway to success.

‘Tangata ako ana i te kāenga, te tūranga ki te marae, tau ana’

A person nurtured in the community contributes strongly to society.


Message from the Principal

It is often said that “it takes a village to raise a child” and this term has highlighted to me the strength in collaboration. There have been many highlights of a very busy term but the ones that stand out for me have all involved a high level of cooperation between a large number of people in order to achieve the success that has been achieved.

Firstly, on the weekend of 17-18 August we had some students travel to Auckland for the finals of the 48 hour film festival. There is a schools category and Wellington High School was the winning school for the 2nd year running. You can find our entry on the link above which has all the winners from the festival – ours is titled ‘The Talk’. The majority of the winning team were also past winners of the Roxy5 film competition which led to mentoring from Park Road Post Production and Weta Studios – an amazing experience for the students involved and slightly different groups of these students have won the past two 48 hour film festival competitions. In addition they have been well mentored by our own teachers, Kelly Jean-Louis, Ben Roth-Shank and Henry Hollis.

Secondly, around mid term, our Senior A netball played their final game of the season, playing for first place in their division which they won 26-24 in a heart stopping game where they advanced to 10-3 after the first quarter (with exceptionally high quality play) and then held on. The senior A team has played at this level for a number of years but we haven’t managed to win our division. This was a great achievement and a culmination of the hard work and commitment of the team, the work of their coach, Joe Sione, and the hard working netball committee led by Michael Melville, a parent volunteer. 

A third highlight but not as well known, has been the building of a rowing programme during this winter. What started as a dream of one of our counsellors, Lloyd Ward, has become a reality with a group of around 15 students keenly preparing themselves for competition next year. Winter for this group has involved weekend trips to the Whanganui River where they have been working hard honing their skills and building their ‘teams’.

Fourthly, we have recently celebrated both Te Wiki o Te Reo and Pride Week. Both involved significant organisation, the former by Whakamarurangi Chadwick and Anna Reeve, the latter by Rilke Comer (Year 13) and the Ultraviolet group. Te Wiki o Te Reo events included Warren Maxwell (Ngai Tūhoe) talking about music and hauora, Taawhana Chadwick (Ngati Kahungunu) kōrero about traditional navigation and astronomy, and poet and storyteller Apirana Taylor (Ngāti Porou, Te Whaānau a Apanui, Ngāti Ruanui) sharing some work and writing tips with us. Pride Week included a unity picnic mid week plus a range of panel discussions with many external speakers from organisations including Inside Out, plus alumnus Will Hansen (now a history researcher at VUW), MP Jan Logie and Drag King Willysmackntush. The buzz and level of student involvement in Thursday’s Outloud was phenomenal, as was seeing the library packed to overflowing with those at the panel discussion on ‘Rainbow representation in Aotearoa’. 

Fifthly, our second music evening for the year was a wonderful showcase of a wide range of very talented students. These nights are always fabulous but this one really stood out for me. The 25 acts on the night embraced music from classical, jazz, pop, hip-hop, rock and, dare I say it, death metal genres. The evening itself was a collaborative effort of lighting crew, sound crew, stage crew, programme writers and printers, mostly all students and all ‘conducted’ by the amazing Fritz Wollner, our music teacher.

My final highlight was a visit from our Education Minister, Chris Hipkins just this week. The minister was here to launch the School Leavers’ toolkit and recognize the work of a group of 18 of our students who had helped to curate the digital user experience. We have worked with a team from the ministry since February this year and the final product looks very exciting and useful for students with an eye on the future.

For each of these highlights, there has been a lot of inspiration and a lot of perspiration from a lot of people. And the learning and the success achieved doesn’t belong to any single one of them but to all of them.

I hope you are able to spend some valuable time with your young person over the school holidays. If they are a senior student, I hope they have a break but I also hope that they spend some time preparing themselves for the final term and the upcoming NCEA exams using the formative feedback they have received in the latter part of this term.

Ngā mihi nui

Dominic Killalea


Message from the Principal

NCEA has been a discussion point as reviews have taken place over the last 1½  years. You may or may not have engaged in the ‘education conversation’ around NCEA but changes are imminent and planning is beginning for implementation of new standards of assessment at level 1 in 2021. One of the changes discussed at various points in the conversation was the removal of NCEA level 1. The final decision hasn’t been made but it will almost certainly be that level 1 is, as it currently is, optional. 

New Zealand is quite unique in the three levels of assessment that are offered and the national statistics in relation to this make interesting reading. Nationally, approximately 90% of leavers attain at least NCEA level 1, 80% of leavers attain NCEA level 2 and 54% of leavers attain NCEA level 3. It is fairly widely known that NCEA level 2 is the benchmark qualification for accessing the first tier of tertiary study that involves industry-led qualifications while NCEA level 3 is mainly a step towards university entrance. So what is the purpose of level 1?

Last year at around this time we investigated curriculum and assessment by testing some statements with staff, students and our community. One of these statements was specifically about level 1 NCEA – we said to you that “we should no longer offer Level 1 NCEA as a qualification in Year 11” and we asked you and the other two groups (staff, students) to rate your feelings about this statement from strongly disagree, disagree, neutral, agree, and strongly agree. In response to this statement, only 15% of staff disagreed (including strongly disagreed). However, 40% of our students disagreed and 45% of our community disagreed. Another issue here was that in both of these groups, a large part (33% and 27% respectively) said they were neutral which was difficult to interpret. What did come through strongly was that although staff strongly supported the removal of NCEA level 1, this wasn’t backed up by our students or our community. 

Students commented that the value of NCEA level 1 assessment was mainly preparatory for higher levels and experiential in understanding process and expectations of NCEA. In addition, ‘higher stakes’ assessment forced students to complete work that they otherwise mightn’t have felt compelled to.

In contrast to this, teachers felt that assessment ends up driving the learning and we witness the effect on student wellbeing of 3 levels of assessment every day. I know from my own experience as a mathematics teacher that assessment is not a single event that occurs in an hour on a particular day. For each assessment there is the preparation for that assessment and the follow up. I want all my students to succeed so I teach them how to revise effectively and I spend time in class leading up to the assessment running quizzes that help their recall and understanding. I heighten the importance of the assessment because I want them to succeed and I give them feedback as they are getting closer to the ‘event’. After it has happened, I spend time feeding back to them about their achievement and what areas they can improve because feedback is feedforward. Instead of this single assessment ‘event’ we have something akin to a two week ‘festival of assessment’. And that’s repeated on average three to five times in every subject so that students spend their whole year doing assessment. Yes, of course there’s learning in there but whenever we get a little brave and try and offer some learning (without assessment) the first question asked is: will we get credits for this? In other words, the learning is validated by whether it counts towards NCEA.

This is not the students’ fault. This is systemic and it’s happening all over the country. And at least one third of the stress and anxiety and the effect on wellbeing is happening ‘systemically’ at level 1. So is it worth it?

Interestingly, the original intention of NCEA was as an exit qualification. It replaced the old systems of school certificate (level 1), sixth form certificate (level 2) and bursary (level 3) and it was supposed to evolve so that students would understand where they wanted / needed to get off, and do the appropriate assessments for that level. Except that it hasn’t evolved in that way at all.

But perhaps we should consider that model for a moment. It sounds difficult doesn’t it? It would mean that we had to put students at the centre of the decision making around their future. And that’s not how schools have traditionally operated. If students had autonomy to decide if they participated in assessment events or not, then what next? I might paraphrase the Sex Pistols here and suggest ‘Anarchy at WHS’! 

Of course I don’t believe that. I can conceive of a student in year 11 choosing a range of courses that they feel both interested by and in some cases, compelled to do. They want to know a bit about NCEA so they choose to do some assessments to get that experience. As the year rolls on they decide they like the learning but they don’t want to sit the end of year exams except in Spanish because they want to ‘test’ themselves particularly in the aural components of learning a language. They ‘only’ get 26 credits at level 1 for the year but they choose a more interesting, stimulating course of study for year 12. As they go through year 12, they start to increase the amount of assessment and they decide they want to get level 2 because they understand the ‘benchmark’ nature of that qualification. However, during their ‘learning conversation’ in term 3 of year 12, it has become pretty obvious to them, their whānau and their rōpū teacher that they won’t need level 2 and that they are heading towards university. They change the plan and sit some externals for experience at the end of year 12 but they don’t gain the qualification at level 2. At year 13, they are doing level 3. They have experienced but are not burdened by 2 years of assessment. They have discovered themselves what learning means and the role of assessment in learning. Although they never achieved level 1 or level 2, they achieve level 3 and they gain university entrance. Moreover, they have acquired the skills to succeed in the tertiary environment, and indeed, life!

I don’t think this is fantasy and it’s possible in our current system and in the changes that are being proposed for NCEA. If we keep students at the heart of learning, and of course that’s where they should be, then why wouldn’t they make the decisions about when and what to assess. If they want to do a full programme of level 1 then so be it. If they don’t want to do any assessment until level 3, then let’s give them the space to do that.

Our vision statement in our charter describes that we wish to develop the acquisition of “life long, independent learning”. The realisation of this statement doesn’t come through subjecting students to endless assessment and a ‘one size fits all’ model which is what has essentially been practised for years all over the country. 

This vision is realised when students are afforded autonomy to determine their own outcomes. This autonomy comes with responsibility from the learner and us as the education provider. We need to guide and support all of our learners, monitor and track their progress, then intervene and work together where we need to so as to enable their success. 

Ngā mihi nui

Dominic Killalea

Message from the Principal

Recently we ran our annual International Students dinner and I was thinking about the effect these students have on the rest of the students in the school. One of the leaving students from Germany, Nelina Neumann, spoke very eloquently about her time here, about the life long friendships she had made with people from all over the world, and the experiences that for her were life-changing. 

At the time of writing, there are 65 international students in the school: 16 hail from European countries – Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Italy, Switzerland, Sweden, Hungary and Russia; 45 are from Asian countries – China, Vietnam, Japan, Thailand, Cambodia, Bangladesh, and Taiwan; and 2 are from South America – Chile and Argentina. In terms of year groups, 20 of are in year 13, 25 in year 12, 16 in year 11 and 4 in year 10.

In addition to this, there are 41 students who could be described as refugee students in the school coming from the following countries: Syria, Colombia, Somalia, Iraq, Palestine, Yemen, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Morocco, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, and China. These students are also well spread amongst the year groups with 9 in year 13, 11 in year 12, 8 in year 11, 8 in year 10 and 5 in year 9. In total there are over 100 students, almost 10% of our school population, from at least 28 different countries. And this doesn’t include the rest of our students in the school many more of whom may have been born overseas or whose parents were.

We all grow up with our own cultural framework, our lens through which we view and make sense of the world. We use that lens to navigate our rules within our culture, defining what is right and wrong, fair and unfair, what is appropriate and what is not. And we know that what seems okay in one culture doesn’t make much sense in another setting. As we live alongside people from other cultures, this provides the opportunity for all of us to examine our own cultural framework and learn to understand and appreciate each other. Having the groups of students that I have mentioned in the school above provides us all with the opportunity to open our minds, enjoy the similarities and embrace the differences. We all learn about each other together.

The end of term 2 has brought the end of an era in our Community Education programme with the retirement of Robyn Hambleton. Robyn first came to Wellington High School as an ESOL tutor in 1989. In the late 90s she became our Deputy Director of our community education programme and has remained in this role ever since, working with a number of different directors. Robyn has been the constant in the programme and is largely responsible for why Wellington High School is the largest provider of adult education in the country. When the National government slashed funding for adult education in 2010, there were around 240 providers of courses for adults. There are now only 12 providers! Somehow we survived and this is in no small measure due to Robyn’s continued passion and advocacy for this sector. For me, Robyn has been my go to in terms of anything to do with community education. I know I’m not the only one and she will be greatly missed!

It has been a busy term for staff and students. Students have been engaged in a range of winter sports and seniors are well into NCEA assessment. Trips have returned from Nepal, Japan and China, feeder school visits and open evening have come and gone and students have been involved in film competitions, bullying free week, visits to Te Papa, striking for climate change, undertaking future cities projects, science competitions, music evening and of course our wonderful kapahaka rōpū who are performing on Friday 5 July. 

I hope you get to spend some good time with your young person(s) in the holidays and I hope they can enjoy some time out from the sometimes hectic pace of school life. I look forward to seeing all the students recharged and invigorated for the challenges that await them over the rest of the year.

Ngā mihi nui

Dominic Killalea

 Message from the Principal

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way …”

I’m sure many of you will recognise these beautiful words from “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens and you will probably know why I am starting my message with this quote. We are in uncertain times, there is hope and there is despair and the despair seems to be outweighing the hope at the moment. Unfortunately, negotiations with the government are not going well and disruption is occurring in our schools. This is not what any of us want but these are the times we are living in. The current government has inherited 9 years of neglect and they obviously cannot rectify this immediately but their intransigence on various aspects of the negotiations is reprehensible.

Education is a fundamental right and governments should be nurturing and cultivating the best teaching workforce so that we can have the best education system. The government should be leading the conversations about the best ways to do this but they are not. The key ingredient here, as I’m sure you know, are the teachers who are in front of our young people every day. We, as a society, have to decide whether we value those people or not. We have to decide whether we want the best people caring, supporting and inspiring our young people or not.

Thank you for your support during these times and we will need it in the weeks ahead.

I am sad to announce that Eric Tan has left us today to return to his home country of Singapore. Eric worked with us for 3 years in the Science department and made quite an impression with his calm, relational manner, his thorough planning and the cleanest Science labs you will ever see! We have already welcomed Dylan Weatherley-Libeau into the Science department this week as Eric’s replacement and we will also be welcoming Shaun Tavernor next week as a new Deputy Principal, and a Science teacher. Staffing changes inevitably cause more disruption and I thank the students for their patience in these times.

You should have received information and brief biographies of persons standing for election in the upcoming Board of Trustees elections. Please read these carefully and make sure your voice is a part of this process by voting by 12.00pm on 7 June. It is also important to recognise the service of outgoing members, particularly Deanne Daysh who has served on our board for over 6 years with the last three spent as board chair. Deanne has donated a huge amount of her time to the school and I am forever in debt for her inspirational leadership and support in this forum.

We have recently renamed our special needs unit from base 1 to He Kākano. He Kākano means ‘seed’ and conveys growth, development and expansion. Even before a seed is planted or nourished, it has inherent promise – the capability to take root, develop, grow and blossom. He Kākano reminds us of the opportunity we have in schools to make new beginnings, to plant, to nurture, to cherish, to realise potential, to grow and enhance that which is. He Kākano is a symbol of productivity and the promise of success through learning and achievement.

Finally, this is the time of year when we market ourselves to our community. We have had feeder school visits and we are about to run our annual Open evening on Monday 10 June. We always look forward to this opportunity to showcase the work that we do at our great school. My speech to the feeder school students was about opportunity and the words above which He Kākano embodies, explain this perfectly: opportunity “to make new beginnings, to plant, to nurture, to cherish, to realise potential, to grow and enhance that which is”.

Ngā mihi nui

Dominic Killalea