A few years ago a friend of my mother's enrolled her son at one of Auckland's prestigious high schools. She wasn't all happy when she found out her son was regularly being beaten up during his extra-circular activities. Being someone with plenty of educational qualifications after her name she had absolutely no qualms with marching up to the school and raising her problems with senior managers at the school. The managers didn't have a problem with what was happening saying it was all part of 'school tradition.' She was horrified and removed her son from the school.
So perhaps when I hear phrases from the heads of schools that they are 'losing their history and character' because they can't select the children of former pupils my immediate reaction is that they are actually mean 'there be too many asians at our school.'.
But why is it that parents are still so determined to send their kids to these schools when educational research tells us that the quality of individual teachers is far more important than they type of school they attend.
Part of it is to do with creating an impression that the local public high school will not provide the 'right' environment for achievement is often something these schools in particular are very happy to cultivate in order to weed out 'undesirable' pupils. Private schools are of course free to do so, but state schools do have a responsibility to take in all-comers. What has always bothered me about creating 'winner' schools is what happens to the 'loser' schools and the students who for whatever reason (distance, limited academic achievement, money for transport, parents don't know about the 'good' schools) can't get in. Moreover how many other parents have had to put up with shoddy treatment of their kids in the name of 'tradition' and have been too scared to make a fuss by these mighty educational establishments.
A few years prominent academic suggested that perhaps Auckland should follow the example of several American universities that give automatic entry to the top 10% of graduating high school class as a way to reverse Auckland's bussing patterns. Perhaps she was on to something.