Strange things happen in times of adversity. Things out of the norm become acceptable—even essential. Laws and protocols evaporate, and necessity rules.
I have an abiding memory from February 22, after the big earthquake, of walking through the Merivale shopping centre down the centre of Papanui Road, along with cars and bikes and hundreds of other pedestrians. It was impossible, or too dangerous, to walk on the footpath with teetering shop fronts in danger of spewing out onto the road. Bricks punched the pavement with each aftershock. We all understood that the road rules no longer applied—despite the law. Men in suits and women in high-heels clambered over locked gates and walls into people's homes without being questioned—they were checking to see if anyone had been caught in the rubble of a collapsed wall of a house. We all understood that these things were right for the moment.
How co-location is working for Papanui High School and Shirley Boys High
Recently, I was chatting to a schoolteacher, Justin Warren, from Papanui High School, at one of our CORE Breakfast seminars. Papanui High is one of the schools co-locating because of the Canterbury earthquakes. They share their school facilities with Shirley Boys High School, and will do so until early August at the earliest, I understand.
I asked Justin how the two schools were finding the co-location arrangement. He said that the second "shift" school, Shirley Boys High, is finding that the students aren't coping as well as Papanui High School students in the first "shift". When you look at the times, you can see the picture:
- 8.00 a.m.–12.55 p.m. Papanui HS
- 1.15 p.m.–5.55 p.m. Shirley Boys HS.
But Justin was excited about this because the experience has been enlightening. The school is so pleased with the results of the earlier school start and finish times that they are looking at starting school earlier once Shirley Boys have gone!
Benefits for the earlier school start-time
He said that the benefits have been enormous. For example:
- Teachers are focussing on the essentials of what students need to know and be able to do.
- Students are, therefore, more focussed and working better, having less downtime.
- Behaviour has improved.
Initially, there were concerns about lateness. But that hasn't proved a problem. Well, there's still a problem with lateness: the kids that were late before are the same ones turning up late under the new timetable.
There are also some side-benefits. For example, the students and teachers have much more energy for after-school activities such as sports, scholarships, and teacher prep-time.
Law changes required for coping with the disaster may be catalyst for future changes
None of this would have been "discovered" if it weren't for the earthquakes! Schools are bound by law to be run within certain hours. Co-location being one of the only options open to the many schools affected by the earthquake, the Ministry of Education had to think outside the norm. Emergency (temporary) laws had to be put through including laws concerning half-days. Justin mentioned that a Ministry official who spoke to both schools' staff, no doubt wishing to encourage distressed and disrupted teachers, mentioned that new possibilities may arise out of the disruption.
Justin said that the school was moving to start earlier. The staff has already met to discuss the matter, and voted on it. "Staff have voted for an 8:30 a.m. start and a 2:30 p.m. finish. All meetings would be held in the mornings from 7:30 a.m to 8:30 a.m. This would make staff available in the afternoon for extra tutorials, sports and co-curricular activities." The next thing is to discuss this with parents and the wider community.
There are some issues. Childcare is one of them. Kids returning home earlier from school may present new challenges to working parents and guardians. It highlights the need for the wider community—parents, business, education authorities, and government—to take a good look at this.
Another is, this discovery by the staff at Papanui High School bucks the research trends—at least from overseas. They have been telling us for some time that teenagers are better off starting school later (read: they need more sleep before school). But then, that research has been done in the USA, and they are talking about school start times of 7.15 a.m. I think, even Papanui High would baulk at that, co-location or not!
What other revelations are there? New research may reveal
Are there other things that could come out of all this disruption? What about the very issue of co-location of schools?
Since I started writing this post, I have heard that my colleagues here at CORE Education have been commissioned to do research on the effects of co-location on Christchurch schools on behalf of the Ministry, not only in the secondary sector, but also in early childhood, and primary. Who knows whether the temporary legislation for Canterbury schools affected by the earthquake may open up new possibilities for the whole country!
As Disraeli (1804–1881), a British prime minister, once said: "there is no education like adversity."