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The Turnaround Of Auckland Girls' Grammar School

Auckland Girls’ Grammar School has delivered outstanding academic results for 2023.

All its numbers have sky-rocketed but the school’s big “boast” number has it pushing 80 percent (78.5 at time of writing) for University Entrance success – when the national average of UE pass marks for schools is just 46 percent.

When all final numbers are in, AGGS expects its average to rise even more.

“We have a couple of recount considerations still to come - we’re going to be incredibly close to 80 percent. Which is extraordinary,” says Deputy Principal Gavin Morgan.

“Our numbers just keep growing year-on-year. Sixty-four percent back in 2019. And now knocking on the 80 percent mark in 2023. Again, it is extraordinary.”

The constant improvement has come under the reign of Principal Ngaire Ashmore.

“Every year in my seven years at Auckland Girls’ it’s been great, we’ve increased and we’ve been really proud,” says Ashmore. “But this is the first year where we are absolutely over the moon.

“We feel so good – incredible - about where we have landed this year.”

AGGS is also shouting loud and proud about the stats for their Maori and Pacific students.

Seventy-four percent of Maori Students and 75 percent of Pacific Students achieved UE at AGGS – soaring above the national averages of 29 and 27 percent respectively.

“Everyone’s in this realm of it’s so doom and gloom and bad for Maori and Pacific students,” Ashmore reflects. “And here is a story that bucks that trend. In fact it reverses the rhetoric completely.”

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AGGS’ steady increase is across the board. Eighty percent NCEA level 1, 91 percent NCEA level 2, 86 percent NCEA level 3 and – of course – the almost 80 percent for UE.

So how has a school previously challenged to reach good numbers turned around so dramatically? Let’s not forget that when Ashmore started at Auckland Girls’ the school was under Limited Statutory Management. Things were grim.

Now, under Ashmore and her Senior Leadership Team, AGGS experiments with bespoke programmes for each and every student. You won’t find ‘Rinse/Repeat’ in the vocab of any staff member at Auckland Girls’.

Morgan explains: “We look really carefully at how we respond to the needs of every girl. And in-turn, the quality of the qualification improves.

“We also involve the students. We talked to those who achieved merits and excellences last year to get their feedback and something that came through was that they didn’t always believe their teacher believed they’d enjoy success. So we spent more time looking at the relationship between teacher and student - because it doesn’t matter if I think I have belief and expectation for my students, if they ultimately think I don’t.”

2024 Head Girl Samarah Basir, who’s entering Law School next year, is testament to the success of this evolving AGGS ethos.

“The Staff are incredibly prepared and they’re incredibly kind .. and they’re always willing to help us,’ Basir says. “They’re not only there as a staff member, but as your friend too - and I think that the connections they make with every student definitely helps us succeed and not only get excellence in our education – but know that we are looked after as well.”

Co-Head Girl Delilah Vale agrees: “From year nine the teachers are very vocal about all the opportunities and possible career pathways so when we enter senior school we’re not overwhelmed. And during senior school our teachers are there to steer us into the right subjects to get into the right uni courses for our careers.”

And Vale’s career plan?

“When I leave school I’m hoping to get into Auckland uni for Bio-med and then I’m going to apply from there into a bachelor of surgery and medicine and I hope to be a surgeon.”

Morgan and Ashmore say the shift to a more personal approach involves not only teachers but also mentors and tutors.

“We’re all in this together,” explains Ashmore. “Everyone involved continues to work with the student at every level. There’s follow up and follow through. Mentors, Deans and the student herself all doing their job and their best. This is the success of everyone in the organisation working collectively.”

Morgan adds: “Personalised, individual interactions, because that’s what the girls told us they needed. I mean, isn’t it what we all need – reassurance along the way, experiencing micro successes and then ultimately it manifests as credits - and before-you-know-it you’re over the line.”

Bravely, it also meant work with students outside of the classroom. And – in some cases - outside of the school grounds.

Morgan explains. “The identification of students who needed help outside of school hours, essentially. Maybe it’s further support and further mentoring, maybe a tailored revision programme or even the help to prioritise – it all helps bring success, confidence and results.”

Achieving such high numbers puts AGGS on an even playing field with its inner-city rivals heading into 2024 for perhaps the first time.

“We compete against schools like Epsom Girls, private schools like Dio and St Cuths, St Mary’s, Marist … and I think we’ve always felt a little bit that we are the poor cousins, “ says Ashmore. “And I think these results indicate we are now right on par for academic achievement.

“We’re really, really proud to be able to say if you choose Auckland Girls’ you will get an absolutely amazing education and the possibility of achieving at the highest level.”

Oh, and don’t think such remarkable success means Ashmore and her team will rest on their laurels. They’re already thinking where-to from here.

Morgan reiterates: “It’s reassuring for us, it’s reaffirming but most of all, it’s really exciting. Because not only are you trying to raise student expectations, you’re trying to raise teacher and community expectations about what the girls are indeed capable of – of what’s possible for them.”

Ashmore nods: “ What we know is that we can do this. And that we have a proven track record now. We want to continue to grow. STEM is an area we want to continue to grow (Science, Tech, Engineering, Maths). Student Achievement is an area that doesn’t stop, so we are continually developing, refining, understanding what works best.

“We’ve had an increase in our student roll, which has been enormous, particularly in our local community - Our local geographical community - so we’re onwards and upwards from hereon in!”

© Scoop Media

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