Alwyn Poole

The Villa Education Trust has provided exceptional education for children/families with a range of challenges since 2003. This includes the Partnership — then Designated Character — Schools: South Auckland Middle School and Middle School West Auckland that are phenomenal.

Cognition Education studied them and concluded: 

In summary we find and conclude that in both schools, the management and staff are actively involved in continuous development, and the delivery, of a unique programme of teaching and learning which is based on a comprehensive ‘local’ curriculum that is aligned with the New Zealand Curriculum, and which provides for the personalised needs of priority learners ‘many of whom have been failed by the current education system[1].

[1] Referenced from the ‘Mission’ statement provided in each of the SAMS and MSWA applications for the establishment of a Designated Character School.

In 2002 the Ministry of Education rejected Mt Hobson Middle School’s application to be a State or Designated Character School. The only option was private and it has operated as such for 18 years. It has a very diverse student body — many of whom were not succeeding in a one size fits all provision. 97% of students who have spent a year or more at MHMS have succeeded in Level 1 NCEA or the Cambridge equivalent.

In 2018 our Prime Minister stated: “Charter Schools taught us that we need more flexibility and better application processes for the Designated Character Model”
Chris Hipkins in the Labour party manifesto stated:

 It’s time for a fresh approach. Our focus has to be on a much more personalised learning experience, one that brings out the best in each and every individual. No two people are built exactly the same so we should stop forcing the education system to treat them as if they are.”

We took them at their word and in July of 2018 met with the highest education officials in the Auckland Ministry to map out a high integrity process.

The best I can do as a guest writer is to show how the NZ taxpayer and families get mistreated by our bureaucracies and then the Minister hides behind their recommendations. I can assure BFD readers that we are fighting hard.

Timeline and Process – up to now and forwards – Villa Education Trust seeking the establishment of Mt Hobson Academy as a Designated Character School.

MHMS established 2003 i.e. in its 18th Year. Academic record indicator is that for all students who have spent 1 year or more in this environment (and that is a very diverse range of students) 97% have achieved Level 1 NCEA or the Cambridge equivalent. It was established as a Private School because the Ministry in 2002 offered no other pathways. The average roll has been near the site’s 50 student capacity, and private school fees are charged.

South Auckland Middle School (SAMS) established 2014 as a Partnership School… now a Designated Character School under a separate board.

Middle School West Auckland (MSWA) established 2015 … now a Designated Character School under a separate board.

For SAMS and MSWA the re-establishment as Designated Character Schools took place in 2018 for the beginning of the 2019 school year. The Designated Character and superb quality of the schools was evidenced through a superb report by the independent Cognition Education including:

In summary we find and conclude that in both schools, the management and staff are actively involved in continuous development, and the delivery, of a unique programme of teaching and learning which is based on a comprehensive ‘local’ curriculum that is aligned with the New Zealand Curriculum, and which provides for the personalised needs of priority learners ‘many of whom have been failed by the current education system[1].

There was also a full Partnership Schools report that highlighted the qualities of our Middle School model by Martin Jenkins report (

SAMS and MSWA run very much in accordance with – and with guidance from – the Mt Hobson Middle School (Villa Education Trust) model.

The Villa NCEA Academy for year 11 – 13 was established with the Mt Hobson private school structure in 2016. The academic record for students attending there (also a diverse group) is also outstanding.

During 2019 Mt Hobson staff and board members had discussion on the best pathway forward for Mt Hobson Middle School with a view to longevity and also with being able to provide our specialised and highly supported delivery to many more deserving students/families. This is also in keeping with the Prime Minister’s and Minister of Education’s statements about expanding innovation and the Designated Character model and their policy statement the “the public system should be providing for EVERY young New Zealander”.

We determined that we should seek the opportunity that the government had emphasized and seek a fully consulted process with the Ministry for a Mt Hobson Academy (Y7 – 13) for up to 240 students (non-zoned) to be established for the beginning of 2021.

Process to this point.

July 23 2019 – Amanda Smith (now MHMS Principal), Tami Harris and Alwyn Poole met with senior Ministry officials (including Isabel Evans) in Auckland to agree to a VET bringing a continual draft DCS proposal for the establishment of the Mt Hobson Academy.

September 6 – a – very much draft – application – was presented to the Auckland Ministry – with an understanding of ongoing consultation.

October 7 – Isabel Evans advised that our draft application (not even formally presented) was rejected. This application had couched the proposal as a roll extension (as had been advised by Ken White); the Ministry had been clearly told that we should be advised if that was not the best option.

October 7 – Alwyn Poole pointed out that the Ministry had acted in bad faith given earlier discussions, and requested a further meeting so we could submit a new – and ongoing – draft application.

November 1 – next step draft submitted. Acknowledged:

Kia ora Alwyn

Thank you for the draft application. We will have a good look at it and be in touch regarding next steps.

Have a great weekend,

Nga mihi

Rachael Laurenson

November 28 – only consultation email received.

Dear Alwyn,

Hope all is well with you. I am sending you this email as both Rachael and Ken are away at the moment just for a couple of days, and I didn’t want to delay getting information/feedback to you. Your draft application has been thoroughly looked at, from a Designated Character perspective rather than integration. As you’re aware, integration is a separate process with very different requirements, particularly around the role of the Proprietor and property. We had talked about that at the meeting we had with you.

Your draft application covers most aspects well. However, one of the requirements is that we need to be able to demonstrate demand for the type of school so the feedback/comments are mainly about this. So in relation to that – some further information would strengthen your application.

For example, the application notes a couple of preferred locations for the campus, Newmarket, Epsom and Remuera. 

· Would the proposed school be serving these communities only or is the catchment intended to be much wider? If so what would be the defined catchment?

· Do you have data that illustrates the demand for this type of schooling in the proposed catchment?

· Is there any information to support the projected roll and projected increases? Do you have waiting lists for MHMS?

· Has any consultation occurred, particularly with the existing Mt Hobson Schooling community to gauge support? Would they enrol at the new school.

Alwyn, I’m thinking that you may find it useful to have another meeting with our team to go over the above, and anything else you may have queries around.    I understand from Rachael that you had indicated you were happy to receive feedback through email – and that’s fine as well. Just a suggestion that a meeting could be useful – if you want to do that can you let Rachael know and she will organise the meeting with you.

Hopefully this will help you with your application process. 

Kind regards


December 9 – after including details on Isabel’s request the next draft formally submitted. Acknowledged same day.

Good evening Alwyn

Thanks very much for forwarding this application through. Can I confirm with you please, whether you are now wanting us to progress this application through the process to the Minister, due to your application now being ready for that to happen, following the further meeting last week with the Ministry, or whether you are expecting that we would again engage with you in relation to the application, prior to it being progressed through to a national level.

Look forward to hearing from you.


We replied:

Hello Isabel

We would very much like it progressed to a national level as a formal application.

As indicated through the process so far – and operating in good faith – if anyone analyzing the report finds what they consider to be a weakness we would like to be given every opportunity to address that and fully meet all required criteria.


Alwyn Poole


Thanks Alwyn. We’ll progress the application. Can I just flag that due to the limited number of working days left before the Xmas break, this will likely be worked through into the new year, due also to relevant people being on leave. I hope this will be okay with you.


January 13 – further acknowledgement from Ministry that they were working on it.

Happy New Year to you Alwyn!

I hope you and Karen had a an enjoyable Christmas and holiday break. I know things will get very busy for you very fast. I wanted to touch base with you to let you know that your application remains our priority.  We will be back in touch with you as soon as we have a response prepared.

I hope your schools and their communities all have a settled and positive start to 2020.

Nga mihi

Rachael Laurenson

Replied to:

Thank you Rachael.

Please keep in mind that if there are any perceived weaknesses in the application we would like every opportunity to address them.


Alwyn Poole


Absolutely Alwyn. We will keep all channels of communication open.

Rachael Laurenson

Nothing further until ..

March 13 – Ken White – on behalf of Isabel Evans.

Hi Alwyn,

Isabel is currently on leave but I am able to provide you with an update.

The Education Report has been drafted and is going through the sign out process from our office. It should land in Wellington early next week and we will work with our national office team to provide you with a more detailed timeline. I will update you next week. [Which didn’t happen].


Ken White

April 15 – Alwyn Poole inquired about progress to Isabel Evans who missed it. Alwyn re-sent on May 5th and then spoke on phone, discussed progress, re-iterated consultation.

May 8 2020 – Cameron and Karen were connected with Ministry of Ed property people which certainly seemed positive.

No further consultation …

July 9 phoned by Isabel Evans to be told NO! – received letter from the Minister (attached) and telling us no further discussion will be entered into.

July 10 received a copy of the “report provided” to the Minister – it was incomplete and inaccurate and they had massively reneged on their obligation to continually consult. They also redacted all of the financials. They even cited the 2019 budget as a factor (the first time it was mentioned), had inaccurate achievement figures (which they could easily have clarified with us), had not asked for further demand information that we have, or put it out to local consultation.

It should be noted that we sought a meeting/conversation with the Minister of Education on this process for the last 18 months. He has in no way made himself available for that.

This is the last correspondence sent to him.

Dear Minister Hipkins

When this letter was received in February 2020 it was appreciated.

Unfortunately – as you may be aware – the Ministry:

did not follow through with a closely consulted process as they twice agreed to in person.

they cited Vote Education 2019 as a negating reason without previously raising it as any form of issue (neither did your letter).

they cited cost to the crown which we can show to be very minimal but they have redacted the figures in their report so they cannot be challenged on it.

they stated we had not demonstrated demand – despite us giving them evidence that they said at the time was significant, the record of demand at our three schools and much more that we could provide – and offered – but they did not indicate they needed.

did not visit the school at all to see the programme and the services we provide to children – many of whom have needs that simply cannot see them dumped back into large, one size fits all, schools.

The Ministry is hiding behind their responsibility for the poor work and wrong recommendation by stating that you made the decisions and that you were also in possession of the full application and could judge for yourself.

Your office may have made you aware that I have been seeking a 5 minute conversation for the last 18 months without any success.

When the Ministry’s work around the applications for South Auckland Middle School and Middle Schools West Auckland (both still flying along with excellent results for graduates) you bypassed the Ministry and got a report done by Cognition Education where they concluded: 

“In summary we find and conclude that in both schools, the management and staff are actively involved in continuous development, and the delivery, of a unique programme of teaching and learning which is based on a comprehensive ‘local’ curriculum that is aligned with the New Zealand Curriculum, and which provides for the personalised needs of priority learners ‘many of whom have been failed by the current education system”

We have a meeting for our school community tomorrow evening to look at ways to challenge the decision. 

Actions please:

1. Is it possible to have a conversation?

2. Please review and change the decision and approve a new Designated Character School for us for 2021. Both you and the PM noted early in your term that you were keen on development in this area and to quote the PM “work was being done”.

3. If you are not willing to immediately go against the advice of your officials (even though it is poor) please ask Cognition to come in and report.


Alwyn Poole

Villa Education Trust

Mt Hobson Middle School – Community Liaison Manager and Academic Adviser

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