New Zealand’s largest school turns 100 next month

Source: 1News

Next month marks 100 years of the country’s largest school — Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu.

Formally known as the Correspondence School, in 1922 it was the only education option for isolated children — these days just 500 of its 23,000 students live remotely.

Childhood memories of off-the-grid schooling remain special to this day for former student Julia Aspinall.

She is one of three generations who went through the school and grew up at Mount Aspiring station in the South Island.

Back in those days, lessons were sent by post and were often carried over the flooded river on horseback.

“We could knuckle down and get our work done in the morning and have the afternoons free to go and do other things.”

Over the years the school’s evolved to respond to national crises and education issues — the polio epidemic, Christchurch earthquakes and Covid-19.

However, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing, with the school sometimes in the spotlight for the wrong reasons.

Police were called in the mid-2000s over a staff pornography scandal and there was a budget deficit which led to job cuts.

Exam pass rates also dropped as more disadvantaged children were enrolled.

The Education Review Office says the school is financially stretched in meeting the needs of all, but there have been improvements in student achievement thanks to structural changes.

Current student James Prendergast is happy staff call him by his preferred name and the pronouns he prefers.

“It made me feel like I was able to be me in an environment where I was never able to be me before.”