WATCH: In the heart of Christchurch is a Designated Character high school. What makes it unique? And should there be more like it? Frank Film visits Hagley College

Paddy Grant was a 27-year-old truck driver when he rocked up to Christchurch’s Hagley High School, as it was then known.

It was 1974, the city had just hosted the Commonwealth Games, and Grant was about to make history of his own by enrolling as Hagley’s first adult student and, according to school staff, the first in New Zealand.

Grant, who appears in Frank Film’s Changing South episode on Hagley College, says at the time he was in a job he hated. “I was also a dad – a very proud one – and I felt like I needed a different life.”

He wanted to attend the University of Otago’s medical school but needed a secondary school bursary qualification. Hagley’s principal at the time, Ian Leggat, encouraged Grant’s enrolment, with a few stipulations.

“It was taken I would not be wearing a uniform,” recalls Grant, “and that I could go to the staffroom to smoke a cigarette.”

Today, around 250 learners aged 19 and over study alongside high school-age students.The current principal, Mike Fowler, proudly says Hagley has “always been outside the square.”

It’s also one of the most ethnically diverse secondary schools in the country.

Hagley has Ministry of Education ‘Designated Character’ status, awarded to schools which offer unique programmes and courses not available in other schools.

Each year, hundreds of senior students migrate from other high schools to Hagley to complete their secondary schooling. Some of these students have exhausted their education options and deputy principal Rowan Milburn admits Hagley has been regarded as a place of last resort.

Fowler says for those “who’ve had mixed experiences at previous schools or previous learning, if anything’s going to work for them it’s this place.”

A sentiment supported by a student in Hagley’s Catch-Up College. “If I have any friends that are giving up on school, I tell them, give it a go at Hagley.”

* Made with the support of NZ on Air *

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