Inner city schools have rich cultural heritage

Issue: Volume 100, Number 13

Posted: 14 October 2021
Reference #: 1HAQQe

Two Wellington schools in suburbs named after Queen Victoria and James Cook have been cultural melting pots for many decades.

Mount Victoria and Mount Cook hug the city on its south and eastern flanks. Clyde Quay School (Mt Victoria/Matairangi) and Mt Cook School were amongst Wellington’s earliest schools, alongside Te Aro School, Karori Normal School and Newtown School.

From at least the 1960s, both inner-city schools were culturally diverse, with Greek and Chinese families settling in the surrounding neighbourhoods.

Early history of diversity

Former and current Mount Cook School principals, Sandra McCallum and Lliam Carran with the school’s foundation stone.

Former and current Mount Cook School principals, Sandra McCallum and Lliam Carran with the school’s foundation stone.

Chinese settlement in Haining and Frederick Streets near Mt Cook School began in the latter half of the 19th century and it’s not hard to imagine that there was cultural diversity at the school from its earliest years.

Sandra McCallum was principal from 2004 to 2018 and says she felt privileged to be part of a culture of inclusion and celebration of diversity.

“This culture had been developing over the previous 10 years and over time had come to be the school’s kaupapa.

“The school has always been really diverse. The school had had former refugees for over 40 years – Vietnamese and Cambodian to begin with, followed by families from Africa and the Middle East, and over time other countries,” she says.

Celebrating identity

Sandra says people used to say “Mt Cook School does such a great job of integration” and she would disagree.

“I would say, ‘The words are inclusion and celebration, not assimilation and integration. Identity is what we talked about – who are we, what is important to us, what do we have in common and what are our differences?’”

The school’s values and culture continuously evolved and Sandra says there was a key focus on relationships.

“We wanted to make everybody feel welcome and valued from the timethey walked into the school,” she says.

Sandra met with each community with interpreters to ensure she understood what parents wanted for their tamariki. The school also made a big effort to have school reports translated into the first language of their children.

“They wanted their kids to be happy, to be really nice human beings, to be respectful and tolerant, to have friends across communities and they wanted their kids to be loved,” says Sandra.

Collaboration and commitment

When a new curriculum was introduced in the early 2000s, there was a lot of consultation with the school’s various communities.
The school’s vision, values and professional development was a collaboration, with decisions made as a collective, which led to a strong sense of community and commitment to the school as a whole, explains Sandra.

“Teachers did not feel as though they had to manage alone in their classes. Each week at staff meeting, there was an opportunity for teachers to discuss how things were going and access the collective wisdom of their colleagues,” she says.

Diana Woods recently retired as ESOL teacher at the school after 27 years and was a strong advocate for her ākonga. Along with their colleagues, she and Sandra shared the belief that every child has the right to a quality education and brings richness and potential that can be celebrated and nurtured from the day they are enrolled.

“We learned to take time and observe each tamariki as she/he started school. We had ongoing conversations at every staff meeting about what we were noticing. It was deliberate: watch, see and decide. Sometimes it was over quite a long period of time before we got to know what was appropriate for the individual.

“Every culture has a lens through which it views the world. We listened to the kōrero of our communities and through this, worked tirelessly to nurture an environment in which everyone had a voice, felt valued and able to contribute,” explains Sandra.

Continuum of language learning

Today, about 50 percent of Mt Cook School’s tamariki, from 40 different ethnic groups, speak a different language at home, says principal Lliam Carran.

“All of our teaching is done through the lens of understanding that there is a continuum of English language learning at our school.

“We do a lot of play at school up until Year 3 and that’s to do with promoting oral language, so it’s about children talking with children, and teachers and adults sitting down and listening and talking. It definitely makes a difference for our ESOL children, having that time to talk and listen to a group.”

Celebrating difference

Lliam says that with so many different ethnic and cultural groups, many children and their families don’t have any connections with each other and the school works hard to build connections and community.

“We spend a lot of time talking about our Mt Cook community and we work really hard to connect our families with events because they often don’t have an understanding of each other. We talk about how our differences are to be celebrated and they make it a nice, exciting, interesting place to be.”

Lliam believes this approach creates empathetic young people.

“We have students come through the school who are incredibly empathetic because they’ve spent their whole time working with others who are different from them, and understanding that other child’s context. So you can see how empathetic they are around other children, and how they have a real sense of the normalcy of people being different from them, and of that being interesting.

“I’ve been at Mt Cook for 14 years – I began teaching here. For me, it’s about the meaningful connections with children and seeing them come back to school from college, or years later and being amazed where they’ve got to. It’s quite incredible, we have children come into school quite regularly to reconnect. We know how difficult, or hard it was at one point for them,” he says.

For the future

While teaching pedagogy may change in the future, Lliam believes that children will always need the same things.

“I think an element of it will always be the same and being a part of community and children spending time and working together, always needs to be there. If that ever changed, I think that we would lose something essential to the development of our children.” 


There’s a strong bond between Huyen and Nhung, former ESOL students at Mt Cook School.

There’s a strong bond between Huyen and Nhung, former ESOL students at Mt Cook School.

Nhung and Huyen, former students at Mt Cook School, are both from Vietnam. Now at Wellington High School and Wellington East Girls’ College, respectively, the connection through their shared ESOL journey means their bond is still strong.

What do you remember from your first weeks at Mt Cook School?

“People were very inclusive. The kids would always try to communicate and hang out with each other, and the teachers were very nice and supportive,” says Huyen.

Nhung agrees. “It was really inclusive and nice. It was an easy environment to get used to because everyone’s different and it’s just really welcoming because no one judges you.”

 What were the best parts of being at Mt Cook School?

“Definitely spending a lot of time with friends – no one judged you or told you what to do. The teachers really supported you,” says Huyen.

Nhung explains further, saying teachers never put too much pressure on them to learn things. “They didn’t push you but really let you take your time in learning and now, at high school, you don’t get so stressed. Not that you shouldn’t do your work, but yeah, there’s not so much pressure.”

Speaking about Diana Woods, Nhung says she was a great ESOL teacher. “Like, I’ve only been with her for one year, but she taught me a lot of stuff and the lessons were always fun. You always have this excitement every time you walk into her class.”

Huyen adds that Diana could always understand them.
“It was very calm, and when I first came, she was so nice. She is hard to understand sometimes, and sometimes I don’t even understand myself, but when I talked she would understand me and know what I am taking about.”

How has Mt Cook School helped you become the person you are today?

Nhung says one of the best things about learning with Diana is how she helped them express themselves.

“So when you go on to, like, high school, the lessons she gave you help you communicate with people and, get to know them and so you feel more comfortable around all of them.”

They both talk about how good it was to be part of such a culturally diverse school.

“You know more about people around you, the culture, what they do and stuff,” says Huyen.

Nhung agrees. “At a multicultural school, one person can teach you something, and you can teach them something back. It’s a learning experience. And it’s easier to learn things through communication.”

Many of the former ESOL students are still good friends, even at different high schools.

“[ESOL] is how we met our group. It’s really cool and we still talk and hang out,” says Nhung.

Principal Lliam adds to the kōrero around lifelong friendship.

“You see those groups that were working with Diane in the ESOL room and how tight they become. It’s really lovely how close that bond is. They don’t all speak the same language but it’s such a connection through that learning.”


Difference is the norm at Clyde Quay School

The Education Gazette’s Eleni Hilder is a former pupil of Clyde Quay School.

The Education Gazette’s Eleni Hilder is a former pupil of Clyde Quay School.

Eleni Hilder (nee Giannoulis) attended Clyde Quay School in the early 1970s, when many Greek families moved from Newtown to Mount Victoria to live near the Greek Orthodox Church in Hania Street (Lloyd Street).

She remembers a strong sense of community and says that many of her friends were Greek as they lived in the same neighbourhood and spent a lot of time with each other after school, at weekends and in the holidays.

“I didn’t feel any pressure to fit in as a Kiwi kid, there was no bullying. I felt supported knowing there were other Greek children speaking my language and knowing my culture.

“To me, some of the other Greek kids were like family. Older kids would walk us home, and when I was older, I would walk younger kids home. Mums would rely on the older Greek girls in the neighbourhood to take the younger ones home after school,” she explains.

Eleni and her friends attended Greek School after school in a classroom at Clyde Quay School, and parents attended classes there at night.

“The school was a bit of a hub – they would meet other Greek mothers who were relying on one another to get the kids from A to B because they were all working. During school holidays, the mothers that were at home would look after the kids – there was that sense of community,” she says.

TeaoMāoripart and parcel of school

Pākehā children are now in the minority at Clyde Quay School, with at least one third of children being rich in their own language, culture and identity, says principal, Liz Patara (Te Arawa, Ngāti Ueunukukopako, Ngāti Whakaue).

The school has become more culturally and ethnically diverse since Liz arrived as principal in 1999 and she says it’s the reason she has stayed at the school. From the start, she was also very impressed that every teacher was comfortable with teaching basic te reo Māori me ōna tikanga (language and customs).  

“At that time, that wasn’t common in Wellington schools where Māori children were the minority. Here, there was little resistance to tangata whenua aspirations; in fact, the community expected it.

“Their language, identity, culture was foregrounded in school and every teacher was willing to have basic knowledge and proficiency in te reo Māori. It was a given that te ao Māori was going to be part of the culture of the school,” she explains.  

Liz says that te ao Māori is very much part and parcel of the school fabric.  

“For migrant children who might have a second or third language, I don’t think they see learning Māori as strange. In fact, they take it on board very easily, as another language, another culture,” she says. 

“It’s important they have some knowledge of Māori because that’s who we are as Aotearoa New Zealanders. We can’t go anywhere else for our culture, reo and identity – this is it. It’s rightfully part of being a citizen of Aotearoa NZ.

“The Treaty of Waitangi is about participation, protection and partnership. It’s a right for Māori and tauiwi [non-Māori], so it should be part of who we are and what we do in our schools.”

Tamariki with principal Liz Patara.

Tamariki with principal Liz Patara.

Diversity a strength

The cumulative effect of offering tamariki a diverse range of experiences normalises difference, argues Liz.

“When you add all these components together – hearing different languages, seeing different-looking people, knowing we are different in multiple ways, and you celebrate festivals important to respective whānau, it strengthens the notion of difference as normal. 

“One of my tests is, ‘how comfortable are the kids from different cultural groups, speaking to their friends from the same culture in their mother tongue at school?’ That has grown stronger here. So, if a new Polish child arrives, and we have other Polish children in the school – we’ll buddy them up. We’ve done this a lot to help make new children feel comfortable and settle into our kura.”  

Liz believes a combination of all those aspects of diversity creates an environment that strengthens the culture of the school. 

“Our tamariki don’t think it’s unusual that I get up in assembly and speak Māori or greet them in several different languages. It teaches them that it’s okay to speak a different language and it’s not unusual that you hear this in our school.”


Education Gazette asked tamariki at Clyde Quay School what they enjoyed about learning different languages and being surrounded by cultural diversity.

“You can communicate to your friends. Say I speak Spanish and my friend speaks Indonesian. If I learn Indonesian, we can speak to them fluently and they will understand as well. The diversity is just very cool we can celebrate different cultures as well.” Varun, Year 5, Indian-Telegu

Yashi sayas learning different languages means you can understand and help people.

Yashi sayas learning different languages means you can understand and help people.

“I like learning languages, because you can learn different things from them, and if you can understand other people, you can help them.” Yashi, Year 4, Chinese

“Learning languages is really good to go to different countries and understand them. I also like celebrating cultures. In my culture, we celebrate Diwali and people always say that it’s fun and it brings me really good vibes.” Saadhana, Year 4, Indian-Tamil

“I like learning different languages because they’re so diverse and we can communicate more effectively with others. I have learned Greek and te reo Māori. I really enjoyed learning the mythology and stories like that.” Barnaby, Year 6, Pākehā New Zealander

“I like learning other languages because you can help people, and you can communicate with more people like in your class.” Alexia, Year 4, Samoan

“I really like learning different languages because there are so many ways other people see the world. Sometimes in different languages, there’ll be different ways of saying things instead of just different words. Being at this school is cool because you get to know everybody, and you don’t just know about you.” Sopho, Year 8, Greek/Māori

“All my friends speak different languages. I have a teacher helping me learn Hindi, and when I turn seven and eight, we learn, like, Mandarin and French. And here we are also learning Māori. Diversity is great because you can learn how others speak, and you can then communicate with them.” Akshara, Year 5, Indian-Tamil

“Languages are important, because I come from China and my English is more good from being here. I have learned English, French and Māori.” Chenxi, Year 7, Chinese

Barnaby has learned Greek and te reo Māori.

Barnaby has learned Greek and te reo Māori.

“What I love about this school and languages is that it’s so diverse. At this school it’s really cool because you get the opportunity to learn about so many different cultures, about so many different people. It’s cool to learn different things, especially if you’re going to live in different countries.” Charlotte, Year 5, Māori

“What I like about learning different languages is that it’s all new to you – even just using some simple sentences like ‘hello’ or ‘how are you?’. It’s really cool to learn how to say that to people. If I had to choose one thing about learning cultures, it would definitely be what they eat in a day.” Isabel, Year 6, Indonesian American

“It takes us to another world when we learn other languages, and it’s quite comforting what people have here – as if they’re from the family.” Holly, Year 4, Irish


Overcrowded inner-city schools 

During the Victorian and Edwardian eras, Mount Victoria and Mount Cook became favoured by Wellington's elite and many palatial mansions were built on the hillsides.  

Te Aro Pā, located below Mount Victoria, was established around the 1820s and covered about two hectares by the 1840s. Ngāti Ruanui and Taranaki iwi lived there until 1870 when the land was subdivided and sold to the New Zealand Company, in what historians say was an unscrupulous purchase.   

Three schools into one 

Founded in 1875, Mt Cook School had separate boys’, girls’ and infants’ departments. In 1915, there were 341 boys, 271 girls and 318 infants. At about the turn of the century, the three schools came under joint control, and in 1926 they were amalgamated into one co-educational school. 

In 1926, The New Zealand Times covered the opening of the school for pupils in standards two to six, saying, "A most up-to-date building is the new Mount Cook public school”. It was described as airy and substantial, with plenty of ventilation and "the lighting too, is on the newest methods”. 

However, in 1928, a deputation told the Minister of Education and MP for Wellington Central, Peter Fraser, that "two hundred children were accommodated in the infant school, while the conveniences were a menace and a scandal being too near the main building, and too small".   

Pupils and teachers outside Mount Cook Infant School, Wellington. Dominion Post (Newspaper): Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post and Dominion newspapers. Ref: EP/1975/3057/21. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.  **digit

Pupils and teachers outside Mount Cook Infant School, Wellington. Dominion Post (Newspaper): Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post and Dominion newspapers. Ref: EP/1975/3057/21. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. **digital link** /records/23076463(external link)

The school has long been known as the go-to school for technology subjects in the area and in 1927, the Wellington Education Board was calling for tenders for the erection of a Manual Training School. 

In 1937, by then Prime Minister and Minister of Education, Peter Fraser officiated at the installation of a radio set that comprised “a handsome console, all-wave receiver, with gramophone combination”. The headmaster, Mr Dempsey, said, "While nothing could replace the personal contact between teacher and scholar, there was no doubt that radio and film projectors would take their place in the educational system of the future." 

Calls for more accommodation 

Clyde Quay School (founded 1889) began life near the waterfront where the Wellington Central Fire Station is located. From the beginning, the school was popular, as half of Te Aro Flat and most of Courtney Place were residential. Children from crowded boarding houses and workers cottages, as well as the developing suburbs of Mount Victoria and Roseneath swelled the roll.  

In 1895, more than 600 children were involved in planting an adjacent reserve with Norfolk pine and pōhutakawa trees. 

A 1915 report in The Dominion noted that as the population of the area had increased enormously, there were 280 children in three classrooms in the Infant School and there was a dire need to enlarge the school because “the spectacle may be seen any day of three classes of little boys and girls assembled in one room learning different lessons”. (The Dominion, 4 December 1915). 

By 1920, the school’s overflow roll was housed in a large marquee and there were calls for more accommodation, with a government grant of £1,200. Unfortunately, the proposed site selected for overflow accommodation was next to the city morgue and ‘refuse destructor’, which attracted strong protest. It was suggested that two vacant sections in Elizabeth Street were purchased instead.    

 Construction of new Clyde Quay School building in Mt Victoria, Wellington (1935). Evening post (Newspaper. 1865-2002) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: PAColl-7796-86. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zeala

Construction of new Clyde Quay School building in Mt Victoria, Wellington (1935). Evening post (Newspaper. 1865-2002) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: PAColl-7796-86. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22841385(external link)

On December 20, 1935, the original Clyde Quay School closed its doors because, according to The Evening Post, “To find a fresh site for a school is easier than to find a suitable site for a central fire brigade station”. The school relocated to its present site in Elizabeth Street, where the infant department had been located since 1923.  

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:32 am, 14 October 2021

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