Sold on NZ

2nd March 2001 at 00:00
Campbell Malonequit Britain to take charge of a moribund department in a New Zealand school. Now hisentrepreneurial approach to raising standards has landed him a prestigious national award. Sarah Catherall reports

When Campbell Malone returned from a 300-mile trip to speak at a headteachers' conference, he boasted to his students that not only had he spent less than NZ$1 (about 30p) but he had also raised money for charity.

The technology teacher - who started his career as a joiner's apprentice on the Glasgow shipyards but now heads a technology department in New Zealand - had his face splashed across his adopted country's national newspapers. But, most importantly, his efforts won the respect of his pupils, a poorly motivated bunch from low-income backgrounds.

Such inspirational stunts are nothing new to Mr Malone, who is one of six teachers working in New Zealand to win a prestigious national excellence in teaching award, and who, in the next fortnight, finds out if he has won one of two professional development awards, which would bring him a $5,000 (pound;1,490) grant.

The awards, run by the Australian Scholarship Group, a non-profit-making parents' organisation, were set up to reward high-achieving teachers and pupils. The self-proclaimed maverick Scotsman - he describes his teaching style as "like Billy Connolly without the swearing" - was nominated from New Zealand's 40,000 teachers for saving a dying department and dramatically lifting student achievement.

Mr Malone arrived at Makoura College, in Masterton, a rural service town about two hours north of the capital, Wellington, to take up a job as head of the technology department in 1996. He found only 5 per cent of the fifth-form students had passed workshop technology in the School Certificate exams - the equivalent of GCSE - the year before. The college roll was falling and the 380-strong school population suffered the sort of problems typical of low-income schools. The technology department had been bled of staff and equipment and was in such a state that the college had considered abandoning workshop technology and simply teaching graphics.

Recalling the first of many publicity stunts to inspire pupils, Mr Malone says: "I knew I had to make an impression. So I told my class I'd go to Auckland on just a dollar. I persuaded an airline to fly me there, I was put up in a hotel, I had my meals and taxis paid for, and I brought $180 back, which I donated to the Princess Diana charity fund."

By the mid-Nineties, Mr Malone who worked as a marketing manager for a British-based salmon export company before training as a teacher at Nottingham Trent University, had been teaching design technology for three years at Cherry Willingham comprehensive in Lincoln. Then he spotted an advertisement in The TES for a department head in New Zealand. He had never been there - all he knew was that it was a clean, green land famous for bungee-jumping - nor had he heard of Masterton, with a population of just 20,000. But he was seeking to shift his family in search of a better lifestyle. "I thought, 'I want that job', and I did a lot of research for it," he says.

Cherry Willingham was middle-class, with fewer than 400 pupils. Makoura is about the same size, but the similarities end there. A third of his students are Maori or Pacific Islanders, with an average family income of about pound;6,000 a year. Many students are being brought up on welfare by only one parent. "I'd never worked with any Maori kids in England, and it's a major difference. But the students are generally quite laid back."

In the past four years, his imaginative approach has regularly made the headlines. He has successfully marketed the college, the students and their products. In one year, his graphics class won a total of NZ$5,000 (pound;1,49) and 350 Easter eggs in national competitions.

One Valentine's Day, he brought in representatives from national greeting card companies to judge more than 100 student designs, including pop-up cupids and animated arrows through hearts. Rocking horses made by one class sold for up to $200 each, including an order from Canada. "The students were so enthusiastic that I sometimes had trouble getting them to go home in the evening," he says.

Two years ago, he made the finals of another prestigious award, New Zealand Entrepreneur of the Year, in the "innovative marketing in a school environment" category. His "innovation" was to help stabilise a falling roll by generating positive publicity for the college.

While some teachers balk at his entrepreneurial approach, he says offering the students the chance to win prizes or sell their products gives them an incentive to learn and strive to be the best.

And his efforts have paid off. Last year, all 23 students in his fifth-form workshop technology class passed School Certificate, including a quarter with special needs. Many passed only one subject in the national examinations - Mr Malone's. After virtually being assigned to the grave, design technology is now the most popular subject at the school. Three graduates of last year's design technology classes won building apprenticeships in the local community.

Selection for the awards takes two years, as parents and senior students nominate 350 teachers at primary and secondary schools, from which 20 regional finalists are chosen.

Mr Malone had to submit a 3,000-word paper - his chosen subject was the entrepreneurial teacher - and give a presentation before a selection panel of educators.

Convenor of the awards Pat Lynch, a former headteacher and the head of the Catholic Education Office, says Mr Malone has exceptional talent. "He's an extremely inspirational human being. He has captivated youngsters in ways that other teachers haven't been able to over the years. He thinks absolutely outside the square and his skills at motivating kids are the best."

The panel was particularly impressed by his efforts to introduce individualised learning programmes for students and involve parents. "He gets into the hearts of the kids and their spirits," says Pat Lynch.

At his initial job interview - conducted by phone - Mr Malone so impressed Makoura, particularly with his knowledge of the area and the school, that he landed the job without ever visiting the country. Deputy head Chris Scott, another expatriate, who came to New Zealand from Middlesbrough, says the goal was to save the department and lift standards. "Not all overseas teachers adjust immediately, and some have expectations that can't be fulfilled. In some cases New Zealand is under-resourced and people coming from schools with new equipment can be disappointed. But we sensed he would fit in."

Mr Malone did not quite realise what awaited him. He arrived in New Zealand with his family - wife Sandra, and their children, Rory and Naomi - and, he says, "I thought 'Oh my goodness, what have we done?' Masterton was like a small Scottish village, but I felt as though I had stepped back in time." On his first day at the college, he found the technology workshop had been vandalised and a lot of equipment stolen. "But I just saw it as a challenge."

It hasn't been all smooth running, though. His family found the first six months trying, his wife in particular missing her family. And the falling New Zealand dollar means his NZ$55,000 (pound;16,400) salary - plus NZ$5,000 (pound;1,490) for an evening class - is far lower than the pound;21,000 he earned with less responsibility in Britain. But living is cheaper. "I work long hours. But the lifestyle is superior. It's a great place to raise a family," he says.

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