“The special character of the school is highly evident in values and practices that relate to respect, excellence and service. A wide range of opportunities and experiences for students encourages participation in activities at and beyond the school. Reflected across all areas of the school is a culture of high expectations for achievement. This is contributing to very successful outcomes for students.” – Education Review Office
Villa Maria College is a state integrated girl’s secondary school catering to years 7-13. It has a student population of just over 800 students. The school, being a Catholic College and not subject to the standard zoning, draws students from across the greater Christchurch region. Despite or because of this, the college is a decile 9 school. The decile rating system is determined by analysing household income, the occupations of the parents, household crowding, the educational qualifications of the household, and finally, whether or not the parents of the students receive any income support (Ministry of Education). This decile rating places Villa Maria’s students within the top 20% of New Zealand families with high socio-economic backgrounds.
Stoll (1998), notes that a school’s culture is greatly influenced by the social backgrounds of the students in attendance. This is obvious at Villa Maria where a predominantly professional parent community places a great deal of emphasis on the academic achievement of their daughters. The result of this is that Villa Maria had 88.5% of its year 13 students achieve NCEA Level 3 in 2016, well above the national average of 53.9% (Ministry of Education, 2017).
Likewise, the teaching staff at Villa Maria also reflect this drive for academic excellence, with teachers putting in long hours at the College and often running extra tutorials after school hours or during their meal times to better enable student success.
This academic excellence is as strongly ingrained within the college community as the school’s special character. At the core of the special character are the attributes of the school’s Mercy tradition:
- Education that is grounded in the Gospel
- Respect for the dignity, worth and potential of every human being
- Concern for the poor and the disadvantaged
- Concern for justice
These values, embodied by the schools motto of ‘empowering each young woman to determine her potential, live gospel values, confidently embrace life-long learning and as a Mercy Woman be inspired to make a difference’ (Villa Maria College) was recognised by the school’s Special Character Community Report which noted that ‘The nurturing, support and care for individuals within the college and in the wider community is a strength of the college’ (Catholic Education Office, 2015).
Because of the very academic and culturally strong traditions of the school. There is a large amount of expectation placed upon both staff and students by the culture of the school. This can lead to stressful situations and high levels of anxiety within the school community. Fortunately, the school has sought to manage these in a variety of ways.
Firstly, among staff, the principal has strongly encouraged the development of a staff wellbeing committee. This committee, headed by the school’s counsellor, provides regular advice and feedback to staff through one a week staff briefings. The school’s senior management is also quick to offer staff any external help if it detects any form of extra strain on the staff. Secondly, the school has a strong social committee who organise staff drinks and afternoon tea every Friday. This provides an opportunity for staff to distress and have a conversation that doesn’t revolve around work. Finally, the school is notorious for the amount of staff morning teas that are regularly catered. These shared meals enable staff to regularly come together and relax and enjoy each other’s company.
Likewise, the school’s pastoral team works very hard to ensure that the students’ hauora is looked after. Vertical Group teachers work alongside house deans to provide extra support where needed. The school’s councellor also works alongside a public nurse and health expert who come into the school once a week to see student’s by appointment. Finally, the school works closely with the Christchurch Health School to deliver options for students whose health may otherwise prevent them from attending the college.
At a more whanau based level, the school and caregiver community work closely alongside each other. This takes the form of regular correspondence between the teachers and caregivers via fortnightly grades assessing student engagement. The school also strongly encourages both teachers and the parent community to contact each other if there are any concerns. The school’s leadership team has also worked hard to implement student mentoring (Ako Time) for 2017. This will enable even greater pastoral care of the students and strengthen the ties between the college and the parental community.
Catholic Education Office. (2015). Villa Maria College. Special Character Community Report. Retrieved 2 September, 2017 from: http://www.villa.school.nz/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/SC-2015-Report.pdf
Education Review Office. (2013). Villa Maria College. Retrieved 2 September, 2017 from: http://www.ero.govt.nz/review-reports/villa-maria-college-06-06-2013/
Ministry of Education. School Deciles. Ministryofeducation.govt.nz. Retrieved 2 September, 2017 from: https://www.education.govt.nz/school/running-a-school/resourcing/operational-funding/school-decile-ratings/#How
Ministry of Education. (2017). Villa Maria College – NCEA level 3. Education Counts. Retrieved 2 September from: http://www.educationcounts.govt.nz/find-school/school/qualifications/ue-standard?school=326&district=60®ion=13
Stoll. (1998). School Culture. School Improvement Network’s Bulletin 9. Institute of Education, University of London. Retrieved from http://www.educationalleaders.govt.nz/Culture/Understanding-school-cultures/School-Culture
Villa Maria College. About Us. Retrieved 2 September, 2017 from: http://www.villa.school.nz/