If Mr Hargreaves were a superhero, what superpower would he have? How do we go about addressing inequity in New Zealand education? These pressing discussions, and twelve other insights in the third annual interview with Macleans College’s principal, Mr Hargreaves.

Firstly, what are your plans for Macleans this year? Do we have any new things in mind?

Quite a few of the things have gone out the window with the coronavirus and all. Probably the biggest change this year is the removal of IGCSE and Level 1. That’s occupied quite a lot of planning time, and the faculties have all been involved in rewriting their courses and assessments. So that’s the focus. Because it’s such a big project, we didn’t have too many other things going on. We were going to celebrate the 40th reunion with a couple of events as well, but that’s been sidelined too. 

In saying that, then, do you have any of your own personal goals for Macleans in the future? In general, what aspects of the school do you think require the most scrutiny or the most focus at this time?

When I came back to Macleans, one of the things I wanted to change was to be a little bit more human. We’re a big machine: we deliver a lot of outstanding results, and a lot students achieve at the highest level. But I think we could be missing the aspect of looking after one another, and possibly being a bit kinder. We’ve been a lot about efficiency, a lot about discipline, a lot about top grades, and all those things are really important for a successful school like ours, but considering student wellbeing is a higher priority than what it has been in the past, I think we also need to be conscious of the social aspect. If we get to know one another a little better and understand who our classmates are, then that will actually have a positive effect on the classroom as well.

I mean, you guys have probably all experienced it: you’ve all come to class, you’re not that confident about putting answers forward or sharing ideas if you don’t know the people around you. But if we take a little bit of time to get to know the people that are with us, and understand that we’re all sort of sharing a lot of the same troubles, we’re on the same journey, we’re all in it together—then we are much more comfortable putting our ideas forward. I think then that helps with the learning process.

When you said that you want to bring forward a better kind of ‘social aspect’ to the school, as well as academics, did you have anything specific in mind?

I mentioned discipline as well. We’ve been a school that’s been quite punitive on discipline in the past, really focused on consequences. But we’ve actually started a program of looking at restorative justice, which is quite radical for Macleans. Some of the house leaders have trained in restorative justice, and some of the discipline incidents that have happened over the last year, instead of going straight to stand down and suspension, we’ve worked through restorative justice. But that trial on its own has helped house leaders and staff to consider, “What’s behind an incident? Why is a particular behaviour occurring?”. Instead of just administering punishment, we look at unpacking the situation so that these things don’t happen in the future. 

Did you have any childhood dreams? And did they change as you grew up?

Yeah, I wanted to play for the All Blacks. I was probably a typical Kiwi youngster; wanted to make a lot of money and play for the All Blacks.

I never actually considered becoming a principal until I was a deputy principal, and Mr Bentley said to me it’s time I started applying for principal’s jobs, which actually came as a bit of a surprise to me. I did apply for some jobs; I missed out on the first couple of applications, and then I got the job as principal at Wesley.

Then I turned 30, and I realised I was not going to make the All Blacks. I did play a lot of rugby and I played provincial rugby, but looking back, I never applied myself enough. I probably wasn’t good enough anyway. Even though I had one coach tell me I was good enough to be an All Black, I had the wrong attitude, and not enough self discipline.

You were presented with a red castle at a school assembly last term. Would you like to tell us more about that?

As a child, I did competitive athletics. Through secondary school, I went to the interprovincial events and the nationals, but again, poor training ethic. Looking back now, I really didn’t put in nearly enough time and effort into preparing for those events.

When I turned 40, I got back into Masters athletics. I realised that I really had to train to improve, and I became quite self disciplined around my training, and seeking good advice, and getting good coaching help, and I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve had some success and it’s been good fun.

Now I find that running—training to run—is one of the best aspects of my life in terms of achieving balance, feeling content, and having some personal goals to work towards. It’s a really important part of my life. 

Many school and co-curricular events have been cancelled, due to, obviously, the recent outbreak of COVID-19. What can you say about the school’s plans to keep in touch with the community, in light of these cancelled events?

Good question. A lot of the difficulty we’ve got there is that we don’t have a clear path going forward. What we know so far is that events are cancelled, but we actually have no clear guidance on what the future of these events is going to be. We’ve just got to wait and see. Once we have some firmer guidance from, say, College Sports or Auckland Netball or wherever it might be, then we can distribute that to the community.

In saying that, there are many other effects⁠, not just extracurricular events getting cancelled. In the grand scheme of things, what do you think are the most significant implications of this lockdown? 

I get the sense that there’s a lot of folks who aren’t coping very well. I was reading Sir Peter Gluckman—he’s been a science advisor to the Prime Minister in the past, and now he works in a ThinkTank. He’s predicting 10% of New Zealanders will experience mental health issues as a result of the lockdown. So I think that’s probably going to be one of the biggest issues. There’s also domestic violence issues, there’s now rising unemployment, and that’s going to put further stress on families, and I think there’s going to be quite a few social issues that are going to affect us for years to come. 

How have you personally adapted to COVID-19? What’s everyday life like, and how are you coping with it?

For the first five weeks or so, I set up a little office here in our front room, and spent an awful lot of time emailing and on Zoom. But I did also manage to enjoy a lot more time with my son and daughter, and my wife, and I probably got more exercise than I normally would during the term. We actually sat down and had lunch as a family, and talked about things and likewise at dinnertime, and that doesn’t always happen during the term, so there’s been a couple of nice aspects of the time enforced in lockdown.

With the implementation of making Māori studies compulsory for Year 9s and several other programmes, we can see that focus on Te Reo in schools has really grown in the past couple of years. What else can you tell us about Macleans’ efforts to further honour the Te Reo heritage in New Zealand?

Yeah, that’s something that I strongly believe in. We do want to keep going with the Māori studies at Year 9 but I’d quite like it to be a little more locally focused. Ngai Tai is our local iwi, and I’d quite like for the Māori studies to be about learning more about Ngai Tai and some of their history, and their stories about this place that we have around us here.

The other thing we want to do is to get a school waiata. We’re actually working on a school song, believe it or not, which has got a Māori verse as well.

From a student’s perspective, we can observe that many staff and teachers seem to have relatively high workloads with little in terms of financial compensation. Do you think there’s anything to be done about this?

Education relies heavily on the good will of teachers and a lot of teachers do go above and beyond what’s expected or certainly what’s in their contract. And you’re right, a lot of teachers could take their degree in maths or science or engineering and earn a lot more money elsewhere. There are non-monetary rewards in teaching though: the enjoyment, the reward of working with young people; the holidays are important too for a lot of folks. You don’t get that in the corporate sector—where you can have six or eight weeks of time away from work during the year.

What’s going to happen, I imagine, is that the workload is going to remain very high for teachers. We’re increasingly expected to do more and more. The social work aspect of the job increases, the amount of learning difficulties and behavioural issues that students present with us are growing more complex. Teachers have to cope with that.

And as far as pay goes, well, it’s just so hard to lobby for extra pay that I can’t see that making any quantum leap. We’re going to be given incremental pay rises in line with inflation or something like that. That’s what’s going to happen. So if you’re going into teaching, you’ve got to do it because it’s a calling, it’s not to make money.

What drove you to become a teacher in the first place? What drives you today?

It’s the best thing I’ve done. I started my work and career in the corporate sector, then in my late twenties I went to teachers’ college and did a one year teaching qualification to add to my degree. I had what looked like quite a nice job in marketing. Head office in Australia; I got to travel around and that sort of thing.

But it wasn’t nearly as satisfying as the twenty-one years I’ve been involved in schools. There’s an energy to it. You know, when I was working in an office in the middle of winter, Tuesday, you walk into the office and you’ve just got spreadsheets or I’d be forecasting production in the factory or whatever, boring. But you walk into school on a Tuesday morning in the middle of winter and it’s cold, and then you see the students and you see the expressions on their faces and you say hi; there’s an energy to it, and it’s a great place to come to work.

Macleans is obviously a fairly privileged school. A Newsroom article writer suggested that inequity in New Zealand education could be best combatted by a requirement to bank a good percentage of fees of more privileged schools in a communal fund, which would then be redistributed to less privileged schools. How do you think inequity should be addressed in New Zealand education?

Further reading: Newsroom: How to Fix NZ’s School Funding Shortfall

How do we deal with the inequity? Schools have to be funded properly, for a start. When I was principal of a decile 1 school, you scrape for every dollar and there are certain things that you really should be able to do but you can’t, like providing adequate resources in the classrooms and taking students on field trips. And you just have to do without, because in a decile 1 community you can’t go to the parents and demand payment for those activities.

However, it’s a problem that’s not going to be solved. While there are families on a spectrum of incomes, those with money are always going to be better off. You can’t tell parents not to contribute to their child’s education. Our parents will always equip you guys with all the books you need, if you need a laptop they’ll provide it, you’re going to have a space at home where you can work in peace and quiet. You’ve got parents that have a certain amount of social capital—they talk to you about work, the vocabulary they use from when you’re born—everything is stacked in your favour.

At the other end of the scale, they don’t have that. They have houses that aren’t heated properly, they go without meals, that have parents that haven’t had the benefit of an education, that can’t support their kids even though they really want to. You’re always going to end up with unequal outcomes. It’s just how it is.

The suggestion that we give away our money that we raise from international students is a different matter. We would not be recruiting international students if we had to give the money away. It’s hard work, and there are an awful lot of regulations that have to be met for us to generate the income. If we couldn’t keep it, we wouldn’t do that work. So that pool of money would just disappear from New Zealand education, and the whole sector would be worse off.

There’s a huge gap between people in communities of different deciles. How would you want to help ameliorate that situation?

Funding is one solution, so the government actually has to fund schools properly. Because I don’t think we’re funded properly either. I mean, that’s why we have a parent donation and recruit international students. If we didn’t have to do that, that would be great.

The other thing that needs to happen is better quality teachers. A good teacher makes the biggest impact. So for that to happen then, we have to pay teachers properly. It’s sad, but the most capable university graduates aren’t going teaching, but doing other things. And unfortunately that means that those good people that would be better equipped to really make an impact in the lives of students are doing corporate jobs.

If you could have a superpower, what would it be?

I don’t know, I should probably have something deep and meaningful but all that’s popping into my head is being invisible. Super speed—I’ll go with speed, there you go.

Interview conducted by Annika Lee and Ellen Wang. Transcript published on 22/05/2020, with minor edits for clarity and concision. Header image supplied by The Collegian.

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