Home' The Wellingtonian : May 24th 2012 Contents 12 THE WELLINGTONIAN, MAY 24, 2012
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New hand on the steering wheel
Nigel Hanton on performance pay for teachers: ''I'm totally against it. It's very difficult, impossible even, to
accurately and fairly measure a teacher's performance.''
Photo: OLIVIA WANNAN
New Wellington High
School principal Nigel
Hanton talks to Olivia
Wannan about why he
favours smaller class
sizes, the appeal of
teaching art and why it's
good to be back in
What was your experience of
I went to high school when edu-
cation was still very traditional --
we were addressed by our
surnames, we had very little per-
sonal contact with the teachers,
the teacher stood up the front of
the class and delivered the lesson.
Classrooms have changed a bit
since then and education is much
more student-centred. We know
now that the quality of student-
teacher relationship is fundamen-
tal to the learning process. And
Wellington High is one of the few
schools to have really focused on
What does that mean for
students of Wellington High?
It means students are able to
have input into the curriculum.
They get to have a say in what
they learn and how they learn it.
They're actually learning things
they want to know about and feel
they're in control of their learning.
That's very empowering for the
teacher and very engaging for the
Was this something that
attracted you to the
Absolutely. But on top of that,
the school is at the forefront of
implementing the latest ideas in
education and that can take some
bravery. Where other schools
might be saying, We can't try
that'', this school has said, We'll
try it and see what happens''.
I suppose one of those ideas
was the decision for senior
students to start class at
Yes, that was thought to be a
very radical idea. But there was
plenty of national and inter-
national research supporting the
move. The results have shown it
has been a positive move -- aca-
demic achievement is up.
Should other schools be
following in Wellington High's
No, not at all. The most import-
ant thing is that schools develop
cultures that reflect their com-
munities. A school that's more tra-
ditional will provide the education
that some students need, while
Wellington High will be a better
fit for others. It's the diversity of
schools that's important.
Your predecessor, Prue
Kelly, was rather a legend.
Prue had a wonderful repu-
tation for innovation. My chal-
lenge is to keep up that inno-
She had quite an open
relationship with her students
-- what's your view of the role
It's really a job with several
roles but as the leader of a school
you have to be engaged with
students -- visible, in classrooms,
available for students. So that
openness will definitely continue.
You've come from Wanganui
High School. How was it dif-
ferent to Wellington High?
Wanganui High is a traditional
middle-New Zealand high school.
It's the school of choice in
Whanganui with a strong aca-
demic focus, and the teaching is
much more traditional than the
holistic approach taken by Wel-
lington High. It's really interes-
ting to move to a school with such
a different environment.
How have your first few
months on the job gone?
It's been a really interesting
time. Whether you're a student or
a teacher, changing schools can be
hard. It's mostly a matter of get-
ting to know the school and how
things work. Then we can look at
reshaping if we need to.
You don't see many art
teachers become principals.
I'm one of only two in the
country. Art teachers usually
don't get engaged in senior man-
agement. Maybe that's a personal
choice to focus on their art outside
the classroom, maybe as creative
people they're put off by the com-
pliance aspects of the job.
Do you miss being in the
Definitely. And as an art
teacher, I especially miss being
around students as they're
expressing themselves creatively.
When there's a chance, and that's
not often, I really enjoy getting
into a classroom and seeing what
kids are doing.
What are your thoughts on
the Government's plans to
increase class sizes?
It's going to put increased pres-
sure on teachers, and ultimately
that's got to impact on students'
learning. The real losers are going
to be the smaller schools where
losing a teacher or half a teacher
is really going to hurt them.
Government's support of per-
formance pay for teachers?
I'm totally against it. It's very
difficult, impossible even, to accu-
rately and fairly measure a
teacher's performance. And how
do you measure the impact of one
of those truly great teachers who
students still remember 10 years'
What's your view of a suc-
For me, it would be students
who have reached or come close to
their personal best. Of course,
that's different for every student.
If a student finished school
knowing they'd done their very
best, whether that's NCEA 1 in
the first year or their final, and
knowing the school had supported
them, then I'd say we'd done a
Are you glad to be back in
Before we moved away for my
first principal job, we'd lived in
Wellington for 25 years -- we love
Wellington. It's wonderful to be
back and to be at a school so close
to the city. Especially for someone
interested in the arts, Welling-
ton's a very vibrant, exciting and
engaging place to be.
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