Boys-only classes a possibility

Fiona Cavanagh.
Fiona Cavanagh.
The new principal of Queenstown Primary School says she wants to consult parents about introducing boys-only writing classes.

Fiona Cavanagh has been appointed by the board of trustees to head the Queenstown school of more than 600 pupils and 60 staff in term two on May 5.

Ms Cavanagh has been the principal of Sutton Park School, which serves the Mangere community in Auckland.

''I completed my master's in leadership and management a couple of years ago and my thesis was on the problem of boys' underachievement in writing in New Zealand primary schools,'' she said.

''After surveying schools, I concluded boys actually do achieve better in writing when they are separated from girls and in my previous school I introduced a boys' class at years 5 and 6 level.''

Ms Cavanagh also started a boys' class at Sutton Park School in years 5 and 6, then in years 7 and 8.

''Our achievement data which we've just sent through to the ministry [of Education] with our charter proves that the writing level of the boys in the boys' class came in at a higher level, but wasn't as much in a co-ed class,'' she said.

''That proves boys are not feeling threatened with their writing. When they are in co-ed class, they tend to feel that girls present their work far better and they don't want to verbalise what they are going to write about.

''The teachers I put into those boys' classes here had a lot of professional development about the way boys learn, what their needs are, how they like choice, how they like to lie on the floor or stand when writing and so a boys' classroom looks different from a co-ed class and we've got a parents' waiting list for the boys to get into those boys-only classes.''

Ms Cavanagh said she wanted to discuss and share her research with Wakatipu parents before considering introducing a boys-only class in Queenstown Primary.

''You've got to trial it in different communities and it's if the boys and parents are keen and if we find the right teacher,'' she said.

Sutton Park School is rated decile one, indicating it has the highest proportion of pupils from low socio-economic communities based on Census data, which means it receives the maximum amount of funding and grants.

Queenstown Primary and all the schools in the Wakatipu Basin are rated decile 10 and receive the least funding and grants, meaning parent-teacher associations work hard to raise funds to meet the shortfall for resources.

''I think it will take a bit of adapting. However, I have received a copy of the charter from Queenstown Primary School and their draft budget and I think there are a variety of ways we can build our resources,'' Ms Cavanagh said.

''I left a decile one school to work as deputy principal at a decile 10 school in Devonport in the 1990s, so I am experienced in going from a decile one to decile 10.''

The mother of two adult daughters and grandmother to a granddaughter said she was looking forward to the ''new adventure'' of leading Queenstown Primary.

''I'm really keen to build on the successes that the previous principal introduced and developed,'' Ms Cavanagh said.

''I feel like I could be heading in the same direction as the board, the staff and the parent community are in terms of their school vision.

''I feel that I can contribute to introducing a variety of ways of engaging the parent community and I'm also interested in perhaps setting up a buddy system with the current school to open them to learning about the South Island and introduce the schools to each other.''