Southern Cross Senior Campus

Karen Douglas at Southern Cross Campus senior school took a no excuses approach to student management, and academic improvement followed.


Set standards

We had to clean up the peripherals, so we did the image stuff first. I just thought you’ve got to start somewhere – you’ve got to get belief. We’ve got to get belief in ourselves as a real school. We talked a lot about being a real school.

So, we did things like really hit uniform, really hit attendance and puctuality. Very strong statements about behaviour and expectations. And, it was all standards talk. Always tempered with humanity and laughter.

We like our kids a lot. And it was great that the kids came on the journey wth us. Very, very quickly they kind of wised-up to the idea that it was good to be in a real school.

Build a learning culture

We’re trying to embed a learning culture in everything we do. We have this saying “It’s a no excuse school. Learning comes before everything.” It’s learning first and success is out in front of the kids all of the time.

Every six weeks there’s a checkpoint – every teacher is required to put into their HOD the names of any student who has not completed their work. But, those names can’t come to me unless every department has provided catch-up opportunities at lunchtime or after school. If they’ve still not completed work, letters go home and you go to Saturday school – and it’s compulsory. You must comply regardless of whether you’ve got sport or anything.

I run it because it’s to support my staff and to tell my kids that learning matters all the way through.

Raise achievement

We have a big problem. We get kids through to the end of NCEA Level 1 and then parents send them off. There’s that kind of sense that this isn’t an academic school. We’re concerned about the small number of students who go to university or get entrance. So, we’ve looked for a target of 10% to gain the minimum entry requirements at Level 3 to get them through.

Every small group of about eight or nine accelerate students, we put them in a group called 'Sparks', and we give them a few other little bonuses, such as problem-solving days and excursions into Auckland to go to museums and art galleries.

We targeted that 100 per cent of them would attain NCEA Level 1 and that every one of them would get at least a minimum of five excellence grades. So by nuturing we’re hoping that the kids benefit and the school benefits too.

A sense of progress

I tell them all the time that learning comes first in our school. We’re not getting resistance, which suggests to me that it is not just compulsion. There’s an innate sense of our school getting better.

I had a student who came here before who I met up with at a cultural event. She told me, "I wish our school was like this before, because I would have liked it if we had been made to do all these things." So you know the talk's kind of there.

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