Great question, good on you for putting in the effort to consider your options! I’m a recent graduate of Westlake Boys, where I had a couple of leadership roles and was quite involved with much of what they had to offer there.
In terms of an overall picture, Westlake Boys is one of the best public schools in the country, and I’d really recommend it for almost anyone. As far as student achievement is concerned, it’s certainly right up there with the best schools of any sort in the country.
To give you a bit of an idea:
1) In 2014, WBHS had the best NZQA Scholarship results in the country, and has consistently been in the top 4 schools for the last few years
2) Almost all of the top sports teams are nationally ranked, and most have won national titles (or come very close!) in the last few years
3) As a boys’ school, it punches well above its weight as far as music and culture is concerned – these departments tend to join forces with Westlake Girls, and together they are generally seen as the highest achieving musical school in the country. In 2016, it achieved a clean sweep at both the KBB and national Big Sing competitions. Other cultural activities such as stage productions and Kapa Haka are not far behind this level of achievement.
The culture at the school is a really positive one. There’s a really big emphasis on brotherhood, and pushing each other to do their best. In my opinion, one of the most valuable events for achieving this is the House Haka competition they run every year, where the six houses compete for a coveted title of being the best at the school haka. I’ll be frank in admitting that not all students are as motivated as others; to some extent this is unavoidable given that it’s a public school, but I’d argue the school sometimes doesn’t do enough to motivate the middle to lower achievers. In my time, though, I had friends from a whole bunch of different backgrounds, and in general I can vouch for everyone being really nice and friendly. Also, if you want to do well, then it’s certainly a place where you can find plenty of opportunity.
In terms of academic structure, it’s pretty rigorous. The management stress the idea that “boys learn best in boys’ schools”, largely because of the idea of competition. From year 9, students are graded on their entrance tests and put into one of 15 classes, ranked from top to bottom. After Year 9 mid-year and end of year exams, students are reshuffled according to their grades again. One of the controversial calls in recent times was the removal of Cambridge exams from the curriculum; the class of 2019 will be the last to sit A2’s, so new students are now put on NCEA primer courses. Because of this, there is still a bit of experimentation as far as accelerate courses are concerned, but there is a big focus on NZQA Scholarship exams. Top students are encouraged to sit them from Year 11 onwards, and as mentioned earlier the school has had a decent level of achievement in this area.
Students are really encouraged to get involved with extra-curriculars during their time at the school. Sport and music are the two activities that tend to be emphasised, but there are a large number of clubs and groups that cater to almost any interest. More academic students often opt for debating and Model UN, and also tend to run for spots on the various student councils. As I say, though, there’s something for everyone – from Magic The Gathering to distance running to petanque.
Overall, if I was to summarise the best and worst parts of my experience at WBHS, I’d definitely say its greatest strength is the amount of opportunity offered to its students when they’re willing to put in the extra effort. It really does deserve commendation for punching above its relative status as a public school, and providing opportunities in line with what could be expected at many of the country’s top private schools. Perhaps one of the weaknesses I noticed was a lack of attention given to the ‘average’ student, but in a school of 2300, this could be seen as expected, and as I mentioned before if you’re willing to put in a decent amount of effort it gives you the resources to go far. It’s very much a world class school and I’d happily recommend it to anyone motivated enough to carefully consider their options, as you seem to be!