Teaching and Learning at Westlake Boys

View Frequently asked questions

Teaching and Learning at Westlake Boys High School


Students are at the heart of our teaching and learning at Westlake Boys High School. We are committed to learning in the classroom that recognises the cultural knowledge and experience each student brings, and grows from strong relationships between teachers and students.  Teaching and Learning is inquiry-led and embraces ako as a core principle, and our inclusive, bi-cultural learning environment enables all of our young men to develop the values, knowledge and competencies needed to be creative, connected and confident NZ and International citizens.

Our teachers at Westlake are dedicated to ensuring that each student aims high academically and achieves his potential through a variety of authentic learning opportunities in each subject area. Through a mix of direct instruction, guidance, collaborative or individual inquiry and questioning, students are encouraged to become curious thinkers, develop creative knowledge and reflect on how they are learning. Important aspects of this are differentiated learning, student goal setting and student subject literacy and numeracy.

Structure of learning

Throughout his junior years a student will have an opportunity to study within all the learning areas equally. Our young men will also have Hauora, Media and Society and Finance classes aimed at developing their understanding of their place in society and challenging them to think about issues in their world. In the senior years our students are offered a wide range of learning opportunities and challenges through the different learning areas, and through a variety of pathways within the NCEA framework.  All our students are encouraged to study a range of subjects and to develop to their full academic potential.


23 July 2015

Review of Westlake Boys High School Curriculum

Dear Parent / Guardian

I am writing to you to talk about how we are planning to develop our curriculum at Westlake Boys High School. Every year, we review what we teach and how we teach it. We talk to staff and students, we look at data, and we look carefully at best practice in New Zealand and overseas. The school looks at the way our overall curriculum works – what subjects we offer and how we structure the choices students have – and departments look at how individual courses work. It’s a very detailed, thorough process.

The past two years have seen us conduct a particularly wide-ranging review. We have been delighted by the results achieved by our students in recent years. In 2014, our students achieved more NCEA Scholarships than any other school in the country, two of our students were in the top three students in New Zealand, our Cambridge results have remained strong, and our NCEA results have improved year after year. We know that our boys achieve to an exceptionally high standard, and we are very proud of their achievements. Last year, we were visited by the Education Review Office, and they were also very pleased by what they saw of our school and especially by the ways we review our curriculum.

Over the past few years, we have also broadened our curriculum. We have added over 30 courses since 2009, as well as making some structural changes to the choices our students can make. We have been guided by our desire to make sure that our young men experience as broad and as challenging a programme as possible, preparing each of them for their future lives. We think we have been successful in this, but we now need to make sure that the next step of the evolution of our curriculum prepares the school for the next ten, twenty years.

We have, therefore, decided to implement the recommendations of our Curriculum Review in full. This means that we will be making some changes to our Year 10 curriculum to ensure that all of our young men have access to a broad range of subjects. It also means that we will be making sure that we are developing pathways for the full range of our students all the way to Year 13. Your sons will start to see gradual changes in these areas in 2017: they are part of the way we can ensure that the school continues to ensure excellence for all students, offers a broad and balanced education for everyone, helps those who will benefit from additional support, and is committed to biculturalism in a multicultural, multilingual environment.

One of the central recommendations of the review is that all of our students will follow the NCEA pathway, which means that Cambridge courses will no longer be offered to new students at Westlake Boys. All of those students who are already at the school, and who would previously have followed the Cambridge pathway, will be able to do so. But the last year for Year 11 courses in Cambridge will be 2017; the last year for Year 12 courses will be 2018; and the last year for Year 13 courses will be 2019. All of our students who are in Year 9 in 2016 will follow an NCEA pathway all the way through to Year 13.

We are very excited by this development. Cambridge has worked well for our school, and we are pleased that, for eleven years now, it has been part of our story. The time is now right for us to embrace our country’s national qualification fully, ensuring that our young men experience an holistic education shaped by the unique identity of New Zealand. It is an excellent system; most of our boys are already achieving excellent results in the pathway; our students already achieve superbly in New Zealand Scholarship examinations. We are confident that this move will allow us to build a curriculum that will be strong, varied and cohesive, helping our young men develop outstanding skills and achieve exceptional results.

As we develop our curriculum, our central philosophy will not change. We are committed to making sure that our young men achieve excellence in their academic work, in competitive sports, in their cultural activities, and in everything else they do as a school. We are a school with very high expectations, where manners matter, and where our central job is to make sure that students leave our school as fine young men. We want them to be interested in the wider world and to be interesting people. We know that implementing all the recommendations of the Curriculum Review will make our curriculum stronger, and that this will make our school even stronger.

If you have any questions about the review, and about the changes we are making, please feel free to contact me at the school. You might also be interested in the information contained here.
Yours faithfully

David Ferguson



Frequently asked questions

What are the recommendations of the Curriculum Review?

There are a number of recommendations, and we are working on the implementation of them at the moment, but they could be summarized as:

  • We will make sure that all of our courses are more focused on building students’ skills and “key competencies” that they can apply in any and all situations. This will include courses that include elements from more than one subject area.
  • We will work on developing the range of teaching and learning styles that our students experience, paying particular attention to the area of biculturalism in a multicultural, multilingual environment.
  • We will phase out Cambridge exams: the last IGCSE exams will be in 2017; the last Year 12 AS Level exams will be in 2018; the last A Level exams will be in 2019.
  • We will change our Year 10 curriculum to make sure that students experience a wider range of subjects than before. More students will study Languages, and Arts and Technology subjects than before.
  • Our accelerate pathway will involve more students and more subjects. It will be an NCEA pathway and will lead to Scholarship.
  • We will continue to prioritise the learning of those students who need different support, or different pathways: this includes students who have literacy or numeracy needs, students for whom English is a second language, or groups of students who have not previously achieved as highly as other groups in the past.

So our curriculum, which is already successful, will build in strength, as students develop a wider range of skills in a wider range of subjects. And the school will focus on the needs of all learners, building pathways to enable all of our young men to achieve beyond their expectations.

We realise that you may have particular questions about the decision to phase out Cambridge assessments: we have answered some of your questions below:

Why are we making this change when we are doing so well?

We introduced Cambridge at a time when we felt that NCEA was not able to challenge our most able students. NCEA has evolved since then. We have seen the introduction of level endorsements and subject endorsements, giving our students challenges that they have met with increasing vigour and confidence. Scholarship has also given NCEA an aspirational target for our more able students.

CIE courses were also not designed with the principles and values of the New Zealand Curriculum in mind; and they are content-heavy to the extent that they restrict the teaching and learning approaches that can be adopted. This means that we cannot develop students’ skills – their thinking abilities, their capacity to relate to others, their ability to manage themselves, their uses of languages, symbols and texts, and their commitment to participating and contributing to society – in the ways that we want to.

NCEA also allows us to offer a much broader curriculum in the senior school. Cambridge students can take only four subjects in Years 12 and 13, which means that students have a very limited range of choices. Most students limit their choices to English, Maths and the sciences. The impact is to limit students’ education in the senior years, and depress the numbers of students taking Arts, Languages, Technology, Social Sciences and Commerce subjects. This limits their opportunities for lifelong learning.

Cambridge has served a purpose for our school. Now it is time to embrace New Zealand’s national qualification, and to make sure that our young men are equipped in every way for the future as New Zealanders, and as global citizens. NCEA is designed to do both of these things.

How soon will this happen and will it affect my son?

No current students will be affected by this change. New students coming into the school in Year 9 in 2016 will be the first cohort through taking NCEA-only pathways. All current students will continue on the pathways they have already started.

Does this mean that “streaming” will change?

In the junior school, our current banding arrangements will continue as before, with students placed in ability-based classes in English, Maths, Science and Social Studies. In other junior classes, which are mixed ability, there will be no change. In the senior school, we will continue to develop the range of courses we offer within NCEA. Our more able students will be taking courses especially designed for them; those students who have different levels of academic ability will be in the right courses for them. This is almost exactly what we have now: we will just be using NCEA to create these ‘extension’ classes. In other courses, where we do not currently stream students – some classes have both NCEA and CIE taught within them at the moment – we will continue as before. There will actually be more opportunities to group students by ability in those classes than there has been previously.

How can we ensure that academic excellence and rigour remains at the centre of our boys’ education?

We have high expectations of every student, and the ethos of academic excellence runs through the school. Our teachers will develop courses for our more able students that are designed specifically for them, and these courses will use NCEA the way it is intended to be used: assessments will be measures of standards that students have reached, and we will teach beyond the assessments where desirable. We already do this in some areas of the school. The school is committed to this. We want to be the best school in New Zealand, and that is a clear vision for us.

Will competition disappear as a result of this change?

Absolutely not. We know boys are competitive, and we will continue to use this engage and challenge them. We are committed to a vision of education in which boys compete primarily with themselves to improve, and our school will continue to encourage boys to compete against each other. This will be no different in an NCEA-only school than it is in a dual pathway school. In fact, removing Cambridge will enable all boys to measure their achievements against clear standards, and against each other.

Will NCEA be able to challenge our most able students?

Yes. It is a well-designed, New Zealand qualification for all students. The most successful Scholarship school in the country since 2004, Wellington College, a school that shares our ethos and approach to education, is an NCEA school. They extend and accelerate their most able students, and do so with great success. We will, we think, be able to do just as well, and have a clear idea of the pathways our most able students will take.

What will these pathways look like?

Our more academically able students will be extended in Year 9, and will begin taking some NCEA Level 1 standards in Year 10; in Year 11, they will take some Level 1 and some Level 2 standards in subjects where they are strong; in Year 12, they will take some Level 2 and some Level 3 standards [although not enough Level 3 standards to pass Level 3 overall] in those subjects in which they are strong; in Year 13, they will take a some Level 3 standards and will also prepare for Scholarship. The nature of Scholarship, with its focus on synthesis and evaluative skills, means that this final year will be a rich, challenging, pre-university year that we can be very excited about. The new extension programmes will bring in far more subjects than before, and will be flexible and suited to a much larger group of students.

Will the change make it harder for my son to get into overseas universities?

No. If your son wishes to do this, he will find it easier through NCEA. In Australia, NCEA is understood and catered for; in the UK, universities have NCEA tariffs that are clear and achievable; in the US, the assessment you take makes no difference, but greater breadth is often required; in Korea, students have to sit university exams anyway.

What will this lead to?

We had the highest number of Scholarships of any school in New Zealand last year, and the second highest by any school ever. Our results will improve further, and we hope to be recognised as the best NCEA school in New Zealand as well as the best Scholarship school. Our students already achieve better results than boys in any other local schools.

We also have a reputation for producing fine, respectful young men who are rounded individuals, excelling in the classroom, on the playing field and in the concert hall. None of this will change. We should remember that Cambridge has been with us only for just over a decade: the school’s reputation rests on a long, fine history as well as on its recent achievements.

Will it help our young men be more prepared for the future?

Very definitely. At the level of teaching and learning, NCEA encourages students to be active, involved, connected, reflective problem solvers, and our curriculum from Year 9 to 13 can now be built around this. These skills are part of the school’s ethos, and part of the kind of young man we are committed to helping build. The assessment system, with its focus on internal and external assessments, prepares students for both types of assessment prevalent in universities and in life. And the adaptability of the programme can prepare students for every kind of future they may have. Above all, NCEA requires our most able students to develop independent learning skills, something they will need to develop for the rest of their lives. And, of course, the breadth of subjects offered through NCEA offers students the chance to develop new loves, new passions that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.

So can you summarise for me the reasons for the change?

Moving to a single, NCEA pathway means:

  • Greater flexibility in the pathways we offer students
  • A more holistic, varied, broad education in the senior school for all of our students
  • A much more convincing alignment with the New Zealand Curriculum
  • A more coherent curriculum from the junior to the senior school
  •  Greater commitment to developing teaching and learning strategies and developing our biculturalism in a multicultural, multilingual environment
  • Greater potential for growth in the number of Scholarships the school achieves
  • The chance to be the best, highest-achieving NCEA school in New Zealand