School Insight: Westlake Boys' High School

Is there anyone who has had personal experience with Westlake Boys’ High School 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
-Anything else applicable/useful

What are the best parts about attending Westlake Boys’ High School? In addition, what are some of the weaknesses (if any).

What are some of the reasons that I’d choose Westlake over other top Auckland schools?

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!

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I’m a Westlake Old Boy and was Dux of Westlake Boys’ High School in 2011, so will share my experience from back then here.

Westlake is an incredible school with a competitive and ambitious culture that myself and many others feel privileged to have been a part of. Below, I describe each of the aspects you’re asking about:


As a large school with over 2,000 boys, there really is enough extracurriculars available for everyone. Westlake is particularly famous for its strong musical standing, whether the various orchestras and bands that regularly win national awards, to the Voicemale Choir which is almost always the top-rated male choir in the country. In addition to music, it is also known to be very strong in Debating, Rowing, Cycling, Badminton, Basketball, Table Tennis and a range of other sports as would be expected in a large boys-only school. Westlake is very active with its student interest groups/clubs on each topic too, so there is no lack of options in this department.

Academic Structure

While it traditionally was split between NCEA and CIE curriculums, they have now moved to purely NCEA curriculum, primarily for the increased focus on NZQA Scholarship exams which are based on the NCEA curriculum. While many students and parents who prefer Cambridge over NCEA do not see this news as positive, I personally see it as a great move, given how great an opportunity Scholarship exams are and the excellent preparation Westlake now has geared towards Scholarship. This makes the experience

There is also thorough streaming of subjects based on yearly performance as would be expected from a large, competitive school, which allows one to surround themselves with people of similar capabilities to themselves to make sure you are always pushing yourself.


With regards to weaknesses, the one major one would be if studying CIE is a priority over NCEA. As an example, I find CIE Biology a more useful, interesting subject than NCEA Biology because of its larger focus on human biology as compared to plant biology/evolution, thus preparing students slightly better for the content in Health Sciences First Year at Otago or Biomedical Science/Health Science at Auckland University.

It is a slight advantage for CIE here, with about 1-2 weeks of University Content covered while in school, though this wouldn’t personally turn me away from what I believe would be a more intellectually challenging combo of NCEA and NZQA Scholarship Exams. I strongly believe School is more about learning how to learn than it is about the content given that University content can cover 1 term of school in a week, so any small content differences are a minor point in comparison to the value of intellectual challenge.


I would recommend Westlake for the ambitious competitive environment, over Rangitoto College for being a potentially more focussed experience as a boys-only school and over Auckland Grammar School for its bigger focus and better alignment with NZQA Scholarship Exams.

@r.cahill went to Westlake and might have some insight to share!

I graduated Westlake in the class of 2014 and I’ll be happy to share some insight to what it was like to attend during those 5 years.

Extracurriculars Available :
Westlake has a large pool of extracurricular activities made available for everyone in the student body. Music and culture is a large part of Westlake’s identity, no matter where your interest in music lies, Westlake is bound to have a musical group that caters to your needs. The school celebrates the cultures of it’s students by hosting performance evenings such as Chinese night, Korean night and International Cultural Night. In terms of sports, Westlake has a wide variety of sports available with many teams at different levels, if you wanted to play a social sport you could easily find a team or create a team with your friends. If you wanted to play at a competitive level, you can try out for a team and the coaches will place you at a grading level appropriately.

Leadership and Volunteering :
Westlake has a Careers council up and running, other than giving guidance for which career pathway to take, the council also helped students to find volunteering work, this could range from working at a hospice store or visiting the local retirement home. There are also a wide range of different leadership roles in Westlake, it isn’t limited to prefecture and senior student roles. Westlake has a multitude of clubs and committees that you could be a part of, resulting in many leadership roles available for anyone. You could be the leaders of a culture committee, the weekly school paper or even the robotics club. Regardless of what committee, it offers a different way to develop different leadership skills. You can even take the initiative to start your own club or committee if you feel like the school is missing anything, the headmaster and deputy headmaster’s are approachable and open to the idea.

School Tradition and Culture :
The school has a competitive environment, students are streamed into classes depending on their academic results, and the student body is split into 6 different houses that compete with each other throughout the year . Your first week at Westlake will always include the school Haka, it’s a highlight of the year as you can really see the passion and pride the student’s all have for their house and school. The most notable experience you can gain from WBHS is the brotherhood of the school and the friendships that you will gain at the end of your high school years.

Social aspect / inclusitivity :
Because of the streaming in Westlake, often than not you will end up spending a lot of time with the same people who take similar classes to you. Back when Westlake still did Cambridge, I found that Cambridge students would often hang out with other Cambridge students, and NCEA students the same. This did cause some division within the school, but Westlake has now removed Cambridge from the curriculum.

Overall, I enjoyed my high school experience at Westlake and would highly recommend you to consider Westlake as a school, not only for it’s strong focus on academics but also the environment it provides for young boys to grow.

I attended Westlake Boys from '03 to '08 after my parents weighed up the option of moving in zone for Auckland Grammar before deciding to stay in the North Shore. Here’s my take on Westlake for someone who is considering applying and attending university overseas in the US or UK:

  • Although WBHS no longer offers Cambridge, there are several ways to academic differentiate and push yourself beyond the workload of a regular student (NCEA Scholarship, Advanced Placement, Olympiad, entering academic competitions offered through and outside school, etc).

  • It seems that WBHS is becoming more supportive of students with overseas university ambitions. Last year, an admissions officer from Harvard came to Westlake to deliver a talk to students and parents. This year, a select group of students will be embarking on a university campus tour in the US organised by the school.

  • Though not very common during my time, top graduates do end up at top universities in the US and UK. Last year’s Dux was accepted by Harvard, and both the Douglas Myers and Girdler’s scholarships to Cambridge University (the only 2 available nationwide in NZ) were offered to 2 students in my year level.

  • Students in accelerate classes are assigned the best teachers who have taught students who have attained Top in NZ and/or Top in the World awards for CIE and Premier / Outstanding Scholars for NCEA.

  • The cohort size is big enough (around 450 students in each year level) to open numerous leadership opportunities not limited to Head Boy / Deputy Head Boy / Prefect.

  • When WBHS stopped offering CIE, this may have encouraged prospective students (especially the academically ambitious ones) to attend a school that does. As your rank in class (i.e. how you perform relative to your cohort and academic environment) is one of the important factors that admission officers consider, I would personally say that it’s easier to stand out at Westlake from a competitive perspective than at a school like Auckland Grammar or Maclean’s (although the calibre of students at the very top are comparable across these schools in their academic ability and university destination).