School Insight: Saint Kentigern College

Is there anyone who has had personal experience with Saint Kentigern College either in the capacity of student, parent, or staff member?

I’m interested in learning more about the school and its culture, in particular:

-Extracurriculars available
-Leadership and volunteer opportunities
-Academic structure (curriculum / how are classes categorised/streamed
-School tradition and culture
-Social aspect / inclusivity

What are the best parts about attending Saint Kentigern College? In addition, what are some of the weaknesses (if any).

What are some of the reasons that I might choose SKC over other great Girls/Boys schools in Auckland?

I attended St Kentigern College from 2011 to 2015. As someone who had grown up attending the local primary and intermediate, I wasn’t sure that a private school would be the right fit for me, and I was pleasantly surprised. The culture at St Kentigern College is something that I believe is truly unique, and looking back, I really could not picture myself being at any other school.

The college is well known for its wide range of extra-curriculars. There is a strong emphasis on sports, but I found that the arts were well supported and encouraged also. We have a large campus which means that the fields are well utilised on the weekends with football games, and many of the students come out to support their friends and siblings. The first XV rugby games are always packed with students coming to support the “blue”.

The college has several houses, each of which new students are sorted into. Your tutor group consists of a handful of people in your year from the same house, allocated to a teacher for the whole five years of the college. I personally found having this group made year 9 an easier transition, as my tutor was always very helpful and informative.

In year 13, a team of prefects is selected by student and teacher vote. This is probably the best opportunity for leadership in the college as it allows the older students to interact with the younger ones in events like house music, athletics day and swimming sports. There are leadership opportunities in the arts, sports, service and pastoral aspects of the college.

There are plenty of options to volunteer at the college. The 40 hr famine becomes a huge event every year and there are often speakers in assemblies that tell us about projects overseas we can help out with. The Habitat for Humanity trip takes a team of year 13 students to help build a house somewhere that really needs it.

The college is co-educational, with boys and girls taught separately for year 9 and 10 and then together from year 11 onwards. Classes in year 9 and 10 are streamed. Students can choose to take NCEA (in year 11) or IB (in year 12). I was one of 36 IB students, which was a very different dynamic to NCEA. I did feel like we were better catered for academically, (they tend to have the best teachers teaching IB), and the smaller classes meant that I felt free to ask questions. There is unfortunately still a lot of stigma attached to the IB diploma programme (“It’s only for smart students”, “Isn’t that really hard?”), and the college hasn’t done much to change that, but from my own experience I think that IB was very much worth doing. I felt that I was better prepared for my first year of university and I am glad that the college offers the option (for those of us who aren’t too scared of a challenge!).

Saint Kentigern College is a private Presbyterian School, situated on a sprawling campus in Pakuranga. The College boasts a mixed-gender roll of over 2000 students, and dual academic pathways are offered in the form of the IB Diploma and NCEA. While academics are important to the College, many argue that sport plays a larger role in defining the culture of the school - and indeed Saint Kentigern is widely renowned for its strong rugby, football and endurance sport programs.

Academically, there are a number of options for students. In Year 11, NCEA Level One is the required qualification, but in Year 12 students can opt to take either the IB Diploma, or NCEA Level 2 and 3 for the following years. The school traditionally achieves exceptionally high UE and NCEA pass rates/endorsement rates. In IB, 25% of students in 2016 scored 40+ Diploma points - significantly higher than the 4% world average, and among the highest in the world, despite being a relatively small program (~30 kids for my group, up to 54 for the class of 2018).

While this system provides more flexibility than many competing schools, a few problems arise. Namely, very few subjects are able to be taken at an accelerated rate. At schools like Westlake, students are able to be accelerated to complete NCEA Level 3 completely in Year 12, thus leaving the remaining year for NZQA Scholarship Examinations. At Saint Kentigern, this is not an option - which means Scholarship subjects are taught after school, limiting the number of students available to take them. Personally, because I was always training after school for cycling, I was forced to self-teach many of the Scholarships I wanted to take. During my time, Maths was able to be accelerated, and now Sciences are being accelerated, but in comparison to some schools where the entire NCEA Level can be taken a year in advance, this is limiting for top academics.

The rationale for behind restricting subject acceleration is crafting well rounded, normal students, as opposed to those who focus narrowly on their studies, but I definitely feel that the school could do more to support pure academic students, as they do very effectively with their pure sporting students through the Sports Academy.

On the topic of sport, Saint Kentigern excels. The sporting program benefits from the generous campus facilities. There are many well drained fields, providing more than adequate space for rugby, hockey, golf, football, cricket, tennis, athletics, petanque, lacrosse and rowing land sessions.

The College is certainly well known for it’s rugby program, largely regarded as the best in the country and the recipient of much funding and scholarship opportunities, but this definitely doesn’t mean that other sports aren’t awesome. I was personally heavily involved in the cycling and triathlon programs, which have traditionally been among the strongest in the country. The College boasts numerous national and world champions as current students as of 2016, and holds many national records. If I had to make a criticism of the excellent sports program at SKC, I’d argue that it’s important to spread the focus on rugby among the plethora of other sports that the College excels at. It’s certainly a sentiment shared by non-rugby playing students, despite the First XV being a definite source of school pride - rugby is the decidedly premier sport at the school.

While domestic tertiary support is strong, the school offers little support for international applicants. The one guidance counsellor does a great job, but her roles are spread thin between everything from getting Year 12 graduating students into trades, to dealing with Ivy League admissions. When compared to schools like King’s College, where there are 3 different guidance counsellors, it’s little surprise that Saint Kentigern historically has more limited international applicant success. I personally feel that the school could do a better job supporting aspiring students - there are definitely some high caliber kids and the extra support would not only help their chances, but boost the reputation of the school, too.

Speaking of reputation, the school is widely known for its excellent campus. While other schools like King’s College match the quality of facilities with SKC, no other school in the country has the same facilities and land space. Indeed, many share the view that the school could expand to 3000 students without undue strain on the campus simply because of the huge size. The 2017 cohort of 2048 students benefit from a beautiful array of drained fields, awesome rowing sheds and plethora of tennis courts. There are only a few facilities the College lacks, namely a swimming complex like that at King’s Prep, and a proper athletics track, like that at King’s College. There is also some discussion of putting in a dedicated Velodrome at the College, which would be an awesome addition - much as the Avantidrome has been at Saint Peter’s in Cambridge.

As for academic and arts facilities, the Arts Department has the use of several great drama classrooms, and also the Elliot Hall - one of the older and more historic buildings on the campus. English, Commerce, Science and Mathematics each have their own respective blocks, which are all conducive to an awesome learning experience. Even more niche subjects like Horticulture have their own buildings dotted around the campus, and currently upgrades are taking place on the already impressive Sports Centre.

Overall, I loved my time at Saint Kentigern College. I spent a long time deliberating between SKC, King’s and Auckland Grammar after attending Saint Kentigern Prep School, but I’ve never once been disappointed with my choice.