HPSS and Seven Sharp - The School Behind the Soundbite

Dealing with media is an interesting exercise, simply because you don't know how they are going to portray you. After four hours of filming in the school it was hard to grasp which direction they might take it - would it be blindly celebratory (unlikely) or would it be all about perpetuating the myth that 'we are going to hell in a handbasket' due to the use of technology in schools (more likely). Luckily it was neither, it was (I thought) a balanced piece that began as many of our colleagues and community do, questioning whether the direction we are going is a wise idea and ending with the conviction that it was indeed a necessary change for the better...even if that message was undone a little by Mike Hosking's final throw away lines. But lets be honest, that was to be expected.

So in terms of how we were portrayed I was happy and I thank Frances Valentine, The Mind Lab, Gill Higgins and the Seven Sharp team for that. There has however been a few things that niggled away at me as the days passed by, the main thing being the misconceptions that people might have had by learning about our school via a few choicely selected soundbites and possibly reinforced by the throw away comments at the end. I suspect there are many folk out there that might be filling in the blanks and coming to the conclusion that our students independently direct themselves and their learning throughout the week and that curriculum coverage and learning might be not covering all the bases you might in a traditional school. For this reason I thought it might be useful to paint a fuller picture of what actually happens at the school behind the soundbites.

First up, what does a school week look like for Year 9 students at Hobsonville Point Secondary? Do they follow a timetable? Do they learn Maths? Yes they do! Have they ditched the pens and paper and wear what whatever the heck they like? No, not at all. Lets begin by looking at the weekly timetable. Students choose modules one term at a time - this allows them to personalise and pursue interests in in a way they might not normally be able to do in more traditional schools. Whilst they can choose the topics, themes and flavours of learning, they cannot choose whether or not they cover the normal spread of curriculum coverage. This is achieved by ensuring students choose a mix of modules that cover each of the learning areas. Subject teachers plan each term together to ensure they all teaching the same 'threshold concepts' from each learning area, i.e. no matter which module you pick that features English as a learning area this term, they will be cover ing the skills of close listening and speaking, the Maths modules all focus on Statistics...and so on and so forth. This ensures that ALL students will cover ALL learning area skills needed in Year 9 and 10 that will ensure they are able to achieve at Excellence come NCEA time.

So this is what their week looks like.

Every morning students meet with their Learning Coach (think form teacher on steroids) for a Learning Hub (see explanation of Learning Hub below). They spend 20 mins in a Learning Hub on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday and 90 mins with their Learning Coach on a Tuesday and Friday. This extended time allows for time for students to work with their Learning Coach to establish and track Learning Goals and time to reflect on their learning in an online portfolio, as well as time for regular one-to-one teacher-student conference time.

Learning Hubs
Learning Hubs will:
  • be small groups where caring relationships are fostered
  • provide learners with one key person who will connect with family and ensure learners are engaged in a relevant and challenging programme
  • explore learner interests in order to pursue passions, which can be linked back to learning
  • track progress and provide structures so learners, with their coaches and families, can maintain a learning portfolio
  • build on learners' capacities to be Inquirers and Self Directed Learners

On Mondays students spend the rest of their day in a Big Learning Module which is one of the types of Specialised Learning Modules offered throughout the week (see below for a definition of Specialised Learning Modules). A Big Learning Module is three teachers facilitating an integrated module that covers three learning areas. See this post to see a more detailed example. The whole structure makes it easy for school trips and outings to occur and allows for serious time for deep learning.

Specialised Learning Modules
Specialised Learning Modules:
  • will enable all students to gain coverage of curriculum areas and fluencies
  • will include a range of teaching & learning modes: co-constructed, seminar, workshop, flipped, online etc.
  • will encourage critical and creative thinking
  • will be framed by inquiry and involve independent learning activities
Learning Coaches will work with the students to create a LearnPath by selecting a range of modules that ensure curriculum and skills coverage. Beyond 2014 students will be able to be placed into modules based on curriculum levels suited to their readiness rather than based on their age.

Check out Specialised Learning Leader Steve Mouldey's post here for detail about Learning Modules

On a Tuesday after extended Learning Hub time students are engaged in a Big Project (see explanation below) - this year, each big project has run for two terms. The projects are large scale and tend to have a community wide focus and encourage students to think beyond themselves to address the needs of others. They also provide an opportunity for curriculum coverage, depending on their individual focus. For example, I am leading a project group looking at how we can use spoken word and speech to affect change - students will be exploring issues that concern them, such as political, environmental or social issues and will them create and perform spoken word or speech that aim to convey their message about the issue that they think is of concern for their community and/or generation. This provides opportunities for both English and Social Science learning along the way.

Project Learning
Students will be engaged in at least one project at any time.

This allows student choice through personal interest and develops lifelong skills of collaboration and complex problem-solving.

Big Projects: 
  • larger scale, links with internal or external expertise/mentors, business partnerships, community links, encourage social responsibility & citizenship
  • apply learning across curriculum areas with focus e.g. Wetlands
  • exposure to wide range of learning experiences, scope for student participation across range of roles
Passion Projects: 
  • individual/team initiated and negotiated interest based projects
  • encourage curiosity, grow passions and achieve excellence
You can check out Learning Partnership Leader Sarah Wakeford's blog here for more details.

On a Wednesday, Thursday and Friday students split their time between Small Modules (which are two learning areas and two teachers facilitating learning for two blocks of the day) and SPINS which are special interest modules that are one teacher, one learning area. This is where students learn Languages and where they can experience learning in a more singular focused way if they prefer - SPINS on offer this term include - Active Recreation, English, Maths, Technology and the Arts.

To understand what a Small Module might look like you can check a reflection of the Small Module I did last term here, or a couple examples of Math/PE modules I write about here

Another feature of our timetable is the 50 min blocks called MyTime which run Monday to Thursday. These are blocks of time that students can negotiate what they do on a weekly basis. Students complete a Google Form (an online survey tool) to select from a range of options such as 'floor-time' with specific teachers, sports, reading, independent study, gaming, coding, robotics, arts, music or numeracy or literacy extension or support (Learning Coaches ensure students who need extra support or extension choose these at least once every week). This is where we are nurturing this idea of self-direction, albeit in a very supported way.

So there you have it. Our Year 9s are learning all of the traditional learning area skills and concepts, but maybe not in the way that is typical in secondary schools at the moment. They have a lot more opportunity to choose the flavour of their learning, they do not have the option to opt out. As an educator in my 17th year of teaching secondary students I have been blown away by the depth of learning going on here and the way our learners can articulate what, why and how they are learning. The way that the integration of learning areas provides a genuine context for skills from other learning areas seems to be supporting our learners to really 'get' the skills and understand why those Maths and English are relevant in school and beyond. 

And as far as technology is concerned, HPSS is not about "ditching the pen and paper", it is simply about using the technology we use every day, in the 'real world'  in the classroom. We are about blended learning not technology - see this post for more detail.

If you are still worried at all about student's NCEA preparedness at HPSS, you needn't be. We are ensuring the groundwork is happening and as for NCEA itself it is actually incredibly flexible and is assessed standard by standard in each learning area, which means it could be easily delivered through integrated modules if we wanted to go that way. We are already working with NZQA who run NCEA and they are genuinely excited to see a school who is approaching the qualification as it was designed to be approached - a veritable buffet of standards that can mixed and matched to evidence the learning that is already happening - not a fixed menu of standards that was designed to be used as a manual for designing singular senior courses (where more often than not the assessment tail wags the curricular dog).

Finally, I do want address one of Mike Hosking's comments. When he said young people aren't capable of managing or directing themselves it really irked me. If there is one thing I have learned in all my years as an educator it is this - young people are pretty much capable of as much or as little as you think they are. Underestimate them and it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Expect great things from them, support and nurture them and they are pretty much capable of anything and they are most definitely capable of self-directed learning if you support them to be. 

And if you are still not convinced, check out the five year olds at our sister school Hobsonville Point Primary who plan and direct their learning on a daily basis. 


  1. Claire! Awesome post. Tautoko everything you've said - especially the last part about LC1 (and 2 and 3) at HPPS. Also, I must thank you for pretty much writing my #edchatnz conference presentation - this was what I was going to do so now I can just direct people to your post and go in a slightly different direction. And finally, Lisa and I are planning to kick off our 'Promote It' team in Big Projects on Tuesday with the challenge of "Seven Sharp only told a tiny part of our story of the learning we do at HPSS. How are you going to fill in the gaps and tell the whole story?"

  2. Thanks for this Claire, I'm going to share it with teachers at my school. The item on HPSS did prompt quite a bit of discussion here and, as you suspected, some did misconstrue how the curriculum at HPSS actually works.

    And as for Mike Hosking's comment about young people not being able to manage themselves, that had me spluttering too! If the young people he knows don't display this I can't help but wonder if they're being giving any opportunity to? Or if they are is it in areas that are of relevance or interest to them?

  3. Thank you Claire, I am very pleased you have written this response to the Seven Sharp article. Thanks to the Seven Sharps portrayal of the School, I have had several friends questioning our decision of sending our son to HPSS, and how is he going to learn the requirements for NCEA over the coming years.. This information will certainly make it a lot clearer of how the school functions and that the educational requirements are meet for our children. I can not speak more highly of the school, the learning and the personal growth in self confidence along with the enthusiasm each day he shows for wanting to go to school. I said to his learning coach that other day at his IEM, that it is like the switch has been turned on and now it is glowing with questions, what, when, how, I need to find out.and look for the answer. It is great to see the education system is realising that kids need to be nurtured, and taught in a realistic atmosphere to give them the self confidence to speak out, push forward their ideas, try out and test their findings, until the right or best solution is found in an environment with flexibility and also structure . Congrats to all the staff at HPSS you are all doing a fantastic job.
    PS to all those in dealt... yes they do read good old fashion hard cover books and write with a pen and paper as well..

  4. It's funny how people can use humour to hide ignorance, I wouldn't fret on silly Mike Hosking's stupid comments Claire.... I was wondering when a post would come from you related to the 'item' which I agree was pretty balanced on the whole.

    Well done, great article.
    Rob ;-)

  5. I really enjoyed the 7 sharp article until Mike Hoskings showed his ignorance. I must admit, I gave him a hard time on their Facebook page afterward. Good on you, Claire, for telling it how it is, and thanks for all the follow up information!

  6. Fantastic article Claire. I've found it so hard at times to do justice through a post or article to the amazing learning environment that has been created for our students at HPSS but you've given a great insight for those that have not had the opportunity that we have to experience it in action.

    As a youth worker at the school, I've been so proud of the way that the students have been empowered and supported in their learning and of the effort and expertise that the staff have invested since day 1. I only wish I'd been able to complete my schooling in a similar learning environment!

    Kia kaha Claire - we have an awesome school and we are already witnessing a quality of work and motivation in the students that we can be proud of and that will inspire us to continue despite any misunderstandings and misperceptions that often exist.

  7. Keep up the great work Claire. I love the fact the school not only has the vision to see the possibilities, but then the courage to see that vision through. Hobsonville is shining a light for others to follow.

  8. Thanks to everyone for the responses so far - always lovely to get supportive feedback and great to know that you all get "it". Cheers Claire

  9. So well written, what a shame you couldn't have scripted Mike Hosking?! Well done to the students and teachers at HPPS - awesome, inspiring and authentic learning going on there and a credit to all of those fab teachers and *GASP* self managing and engaged students!

  10. Thank you Claire. I watched the Seven Sharp item and was left disappointed. I was fortunate to visit the HP primary in 2013 and had seen then how hard they and the secondary staff were working to implement a 21st Learning attitude for both schools. I loved the snippets we saw from your school and hope "the press" look at having more follow ups that show case the fantastic facility you have there. With the successful students you are empowering.

  11. Brilliant. Great post Claire. Your school sounds a lot like the sort of place I've hankered after for many years.

    I didn't watch the show you've reacted to - I learned a long time ago that media portrayals of schools and teaching are way off - and I hate Mike Hosking's sanctimonious style - what a pity he has that forum!

    Anyway - just wanted to let you know that I enjoyed reading about how you've moved into innovative teaching structures at your school.


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