Educating the elite and squeezing out the rest


Auckland Grammar School is often in the news for the wrong reasons. It is a state school in central Auckland with an awful, and well-deserved, reputation for elitism.

This time the school is opposing proposed changes to enrolment policies which would mean the children of former pupils would not necessarily be able to attend the school – they would have to go into a ballot with other boys from outside the school’s zone. 

This is an outrage to school headmaster (sic) Tim O’Connor who rails against the proposal and is urging his school old boy community to get involved with this consultation process, and “just keep making submissions until the system blows up.”

So what’s the problem?

School zoning was abolished in the 1990s and schools were told they had to compete for students in the “marketplace”. The result was an explosion in the rolls of high-decile schools and a dramatic slump in rolls of low-decile schools. Government funding was prioritised for schools with growing rolls so the schools in the wealthiest communities thrived with new buildings while middle and low decile schools literally crumbled which in turn further fed parental assumptions about “good schools” and “bad schools”.

Needless to say when schools were left to make decisions about which students to accept they chose the whitest and the brightest (aside from enough Maori and Pasifika students for a couple of champion rugby teams). Meanwhile schools like Auckland Grammar were frequently fingered for turning away students living close to the school who the school thought might detract from the image the school wanted to project in the community. 

Instead of parents choosing the school they wanted, it was schools who chose the students they wanted while parents lost the option of their children attending their local school.

The enormous cost of funding this “parent choice” and the refusal of schools to accept local students resulted in National putting in changes in the late 1990s to ensure a student could attend a reasonably convenient local school. 

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Subsequent policy changes under Labour have given back a parent’s right to send their child to their local school but maintained their right to seek a place in another school if that school had a place available. If more students applied than places available then the school would be required to conduct a ballot. However, schools like Auckland Grammar lobbied hard to reduce the number of students selected by ballot so the following groups of students can be accepted before a ballot is held.  

  1. students accepted into a special programme run by the school (like a formal rugby or netball academy);
  2. siblings of current students;
  3. siblings of former students;
  4. children of former students;
  5. children of board employees and board members;
  6. all other students.

(It’s easy to see how the top rugby players from South Auckland – and those top in other sports are fitted in at high decile schools).

The government is proposing removing the fourth point from this list which would give more places in the ballot for out-of-zone students. This is anathema to Auckland Grammar. 

The conduct of ballots themselves is a real worry. There have been many stories of schools holding a ballot for a limited number of places based on the school saying they are not sure how many of their in-zone students will enrol. Later they hold a second ballot to fill additional places to which the families of “desirable” students are quietly invited to take part in while other families remain in the dark. 

This important thing to remember is when Auckland Grammar launches its campaign to “blow up” the system it is driven by self-interest rather than the common good. 

If we are serious about maximising parental choice the government should drop the list of exceptions above and have the Ministry of Education conduct all balloting.



  1. Tim O’Connor has certainly forgotten what it is to be a public servant and who pays him. Or why he joined the teaching profession in the first place.

    Time he was shown the door by the Ministry.

  2. What is worse elitisms or white flight? We had zoning before and many of the state housing areas have been gentrified thanks to the National party. The ghetto state housing areas where the State Housing Corporation aka HNZ, now Kainga Ora put the poor, Maori and PI are now flushed with posh expensive homes well out of the reach of too many NZers.

  3. With old boys of AGS such as Roger Douglas, Richard Prebble, David Seymour, et al, little wonder the school is now dubbed the fACTory!
    The ‘Tory’ bit can apply to such as AGS old boy and once-Head Prefect, Jonathan Coleman who did his best to run down the public health system when Minister of Health and then suddenly resigned when the Nats lost power to become CEO of a private health conglomerate.
    Say no more.

  4. How about addressing why so many families climb over each other, move into areas they can’t afford and the like just to get a better school for the children – what is it that those other schools aren’t offering? Why can’t the MoE drive the culture of excellence that AGS and others like them (think Christchurch, Takapuna, etc) deliver consistently which attracts so many parents?

    Here’s a really crazy idea, how about some grammar schools of old where all can apply with only the best and brightest given places and then educated to a really high standard? This could be managed by the MoE so no funny business by schools just pure academic ability be the child white, brown or whatever. It worked in the past and drove genuine social transformation as it was truly a meritocratic system.

    It’s never made sense to me that we seem to want to keep the next generation stupider than the one before rather than pursuing excellence to make sure the next lot through are smarter and better informed.

    • Yeti “… what is it that those other schools aren’t offering ?” Exactly. It is an indictment of our education system that parents wanting to give their children the best shot, can only find one state school in Auckland which they seem to think can provide it This situation is New Zealand’s children – and our future – being failed yet again, on yet another front. The question we need to ask is, “Why, Minister ? “

  5. Grammar is elite, but in the supporting woke ideal of elite.

    Grammar demographics even in 2017, show that it is not a ‘white school’ because 50% of attendees are not white, it’s full of exciting ethnic diversity!!!

    The 2017 ERO report shows that in 2017, 38% of all students were Asian, 6% Pacific Island, 6% Maori, (aka 50% non Pakeha/European) 46% Pakeha, 3% European, 1% other.

    Depending on the demographic of the 1% other, it could be 50:50 or 51:49%!

    With the raging property prices since 2017 and immigration explosion, my guess is that Auckland Grammar’s demographics are already tipped well in the woke’s favour of ‘diversity’.

    Grammer is the ‘perfect’ school that the woke want in NZ! Diverse in colour but not in class or mentality, for the new leaders of NZ!

    Why knock it.

    Auckland has it’s plan in place now for decades with demand led policy led by the lefties like Mayor Brown to get rid of the stale and pale in favour of more right wing policy but diverse leaders! (with mistress helping his decision making)

  6. I believe it was Helen Clark’s government that reintroduced school zoning to New Zealand, so that even the brightest kid in South Auckland can never aspire to gain admittance to Auckland Grammar, because his parents live out of zone. I suppose one has to keep the hoipolloi from having aspirations above their station in life.

    Of course this has pushed up property prices in ‘grammar zone’, which is quite nice if you own property, say, near Mount Eden. 😉

      • Yes – but if America buys the All Blacks, the road ahead could get slippery. For years l’ve been telling extra tall young guys to try for basketball scholarships at USA universities – feeling a bit squeamish about it now.

        • Rugby is dying on its feet in NZ. The poor financial state of the professional game today is a reflection of the rot in the clubs that started maybe 20 years ago.

          In essence rugby is unfashionable among the middle class youth. They’re having more fun mountain biking, sailing, kayaking and kite boarding instead.

          Let it die I say: it’s a stupid game where the biggest guy wins and can leave a person with lifelong injuries, including a wheelchair.

  7. Last year the Herald reported a kerfuffle about secondary schools sport.

    I was astounded at a comment from the headmaster of Auckland Grammar:
    “One has to wonder what School Sport NZ is thinking,” he continued. “I would have hoped that the body’s primary interest was the welfare of our students, not the commoditisation of them.”

    The Herald did not publish my letter about the parody Tim O’Connor was playing out. That school for generations has been one of the kings (pun intended) of commodifying kids for the aggrandisement of the institution.

    Wait till there’s an Act/National Government after the next election and Act can institute its education policies. Zones? Hell no, people will have choices. Well teachers will have the choices. They will choose whom they want.

  8. This is as disturbing as I’ve read for a while. All parties shame themselves. Disgusting. I’m going to give Mr. Minto a free pass because I always thought he was looking in the right direction, even when I disagreed with his ideas. If the story is true, these people from AGS have admitted their culture is in decline and decay. Teachers’ ears everywhere will also be burning from the insult. For Labour to go for the children of former students link while ignoring the rest, is vulgar. “The warrior does not need to break his opponents sword” I think is the old saying. It’d be dishonourable. So many old fashioned words today, but what else is there for it? It’s as racist and corrupt as what the failing colonial enemy was doing. Laws based on revenge fantasies, made only as weapons to use against “undesirables”, passed from party to party to use on a whim. Education as indoctrination. Criminally insane, is how I described Labour, and my opinion is confirmed. There are plenty ways to solve this problem, but the method they choose – just like the two-faced tinkering with housing – exposes what they are actually up to. They’re even doing it in a way that another party could use it against them. Insane! The existing 10% buffer between a National Act or Labour coalition at the next election is not going to be enough.

  9. Auckland Grammar’s stifling attitude is that of a school stuck in the past. I don’t feel personally that the children of former students should have any more right than anyone else to attend this school or any other school. What is meant to matter is grades, the attitude and character of an individual, and their willingness to get along with their schoolmates.

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