Charter School investigation: Vanguard Military School Part One

In my new series investigating Vanguard Military School, I once again ask the questions and report back the answers without spin. Today’s article is based on my interview with Vanguard chief executive, Nick Hyde.

Vanguard Military school’s impressive NCEA results were not included in the newspaper article.

Within ten minutes of arriving at Vanguard, I had been told the bad news and the good news.

The bad news:

The day before my interview with Nick, The Herald published Auckland schools’ NCEA results and left? Vanguard Military school off the table. Vanguard was the only school out of the approximately 80 schools in Auckland that was left off.

The good news:

Vanguard achieved a 96.2% pass rate at NCEA Level 1 and a 100% pass rate at NCEA Level 2.

Both these results are well above the average for secondary schools across the country and a result like that after only one year of operation is unarguably newsworthy. When the omission was brought to The Herald’s attention they told Nick that it was because they hadn’t been provided with a full set of data. Vanguard confirmed that NZQA who hold all the results had sent them to the Herald. The Herald then updated the table on line to include Vanguard’s results. It was of course far too late for the paper version which had omitted Vanguard’s results from its table.?

Our results put us at 11th in Auckland at level one and 1st equal at level 2. Many people out there in the public domain would have been very keen on seeing our school measured against other schools. I have harped on about trying to make Vanguard a top ten school in Auckland over a five year period. To be 11th after the first year in one area and first equal in another is totally outstanding.


Framed Photo on the wall at Vanguard Military School.

Framed Photo on the wall at Vanguard Military School.

Describe your model to me.

A lot of it is based on the fact that we wanted to have a school with a larger amount of structure and discipline in it. I guess it is ‘old school’ mentality in how we go about things. We wanted to make sure that the kids were well behaved, that the teachers were respected, that teaching staff could come into any classroom environment and feel safe and in charge. We wanted to make sure that if there were any incidences it would be dealt with in a suitable manner and if they couldn’t deal with it themselves that the Deputy Principal or Principal would be on hand to deal with the situation immediately.

Hearing stories of staff being assaulted or sworn at, things like that is to me absolutely unacceptable. I don’t know how they do it, how do they go back into that classroom and feel valuable when kids don’t respect what they are trying to achieve?

Sign on Nick's office door at Vanguard Military School

Sign on Nick Hyde’s office door at Vanguard Military School


What is your background?

I am the C.E.O. I am not a teacher. I have been involved with the running of educational facilities for the last 14-15 years. The precursor to what we have here at Vanguard was A.T.C Military Prep School. (Advanced Training Centre)

So basically I have been running a P.T.E which had been looking after kids who had left school very early with little or no education. What we have been doing is getting them up-skilled to level 1 and level 2 and training them in a military style environment doing a lot of physical training with them as well and a lot of them were joining the Army, Navy or Air force.

So you had these kids who were 16-17 exiting school with no qualifications and within 6-12 months we were getting them their qualifications, they were entering service in the Army and suddenly they were on $40,000 a year. Now that is a massive win for our country.

It was those experiences and working in areas like Kaitaia, Kaikohe, Dargaville, Whangarei, Hamilton and a larger branch here in Auckland that have managed to shape my ideas of what we could be doing better for a certain demographic in the education sector.

So have you been working in a similar area to where I last worked, with kids who are out of the State school system?

Yes absolutely.

Who have been kicked out because they are not succeeding?

Or they just drop out or personal reasons have forced them. One of the benefits of having a school like Vanguard with no zone is the amount of victims of bullying we get here. Can you imagine if there was one school zone and they go there and they are being bullied and nothing is happening about it? They say, ” Mum I don’t want to go to school any more.” What do you do? Well unless you have got thousands of dollars to spend to send them to a private school you don’t have any other option.

For me it was Home Schooling and that wasn’t an ideal option.

Vanguard provides an absolute opportunity for people to say look, I didn’t like the school environment, I was being bullied or I didn’t like what was going on, and maybe they made some bad choices too. But it has allowed them to have a new environment and? a fresh start. It is an opportunity that we reinforce on them, this is an opportunity that you’d better grasp with both hands.

So the kids here they obviously have come from other schools but do you also take kids who have been expelled or suspended?

Yes we do. Last year 11 students had been expelled or suspended from previous schools. This year we have got about 3 or 4 kids who have been home schooled previously.

For kids who have been expelled that usually means the end of the road as no other State school will take them.

That’s right and we take them all.

And yet you came eleventh in Auckland at level one and first equal at level 2.

That’s right, it is the environment and that is one of the criticisms when we first set up, what is a Partnership school doing in Albany? My vision has always been that you have got to take kids out of their environment that is not working for them and give them a new environment. It does mean that some of the kids have to travel a large distance but there is their commitment instantly.

It also means that the kids who found themselves in trouble with their previous peer group are already on a bus or a train, they are already over this side of the bridge for a lot of them or from West Auckland or wherever by the time their mates get up at 8.30am and say, ” How about we wag school? “They are already here and they are on parade. So we have removed that one straight away.

It means that whatever baggage they are carrying when they walk through these gates it’s all changed. You are not the victim of bullying any more, you have a fresh chance, you are not being labelled anything that you might have been in your old school. You are a new person, you can set the tone here.

?We have Sections as you can see on the board here.

* Students can earn points for their section in a number of ways. There are points for attendance to discourage truancy. There are points for academic achievement as well as sporting achievement.

Inter-section competition score board Vanguard Military school.

Inter-section competition score board Vanguard Military school.

They are all put into Sections named after Victoria Cross winners.


Vanguard Military School Section signs.

They are small groups. It is personal, each section has a teacher in charge of them in charge of their pastoral care. They are told to look after these kids like they are their own.

I know with gangs part of the attraction is that it is like a family and you all look after each other.

The whole school is a family. We talk about the Vanguard family and it is not us as staff versus them. It is, ” We are your biggest fans. We are here to help you.”

We have to deal with a number of situations which are probably outside the realms of what teachers do. It is how you manage those. We bring in the parents when things are starting to escalate so that we can get to a point before we have to deal with something major. It is also making phone calls to say,” Your son or daughter is doing great,” some positive feedback.

Who is doing this?

The teachers, each teacher has a Section. We try to make sure that they teach them at least twice so that you know these kids inside out for that year and that means when you are talking to their parents you can say I have seen them in Maths and I have seen them in this. I try to employ staff who can teach more than one subject because if I am organising Ward Section and you can teach Maths and Engineering then I make sure that Ward Section are all in your Maths class and all in your Engineering class.

Could you tell me what the differences are between you and a Principal in regards to your duties?

Obviously I do have a Principal so it is a divided role. My role is to resource the school. It is to do with strategic planning.

So you are like a Business Manager?

Exactly. If you think about it Principals are teachers, they didn’t come in with any business background. So I run the budget. There is no budget for our HODs to worry about.

I have tried to make the school that teachers teach and they can spend their time planning and putting on great lessons, not pushing paper like I do. I and my PA run the facilities, run the resourcing, deal with MOE, deal with NZQA, do all these things that allows the Principal to worry about the academic side of things.

I also monitor all the results we are getting. I talk to the HOD and say, ” look so and so is struggling how can we best set them up?” I use a spread sheet to track student’s progress. I am staggered other schools don’t do this kind of thing. I am staggered they don’t individually track every single student.

I’m trying to make sure we have money to invest in the kids, hence free uniforms and transport. We are the only school in the country who paid the exam fees for every kid.

What is the point of trying to get these kids educated if by default because of a lack of money they are not going to get their results?

The critics are saying you are getting more money than other schools. You are telling me all these wonderful things you are doing, how can you possibly afford this? How are you saving money or managing your money so that you can pay for exam fees?

I am used to receiving a grant from the government and having to deliver something, that is my past 15 years experience. You cut your cloth accordingly. We don’t teach Spanish or anything else outside our narrow curriculum. Our Science programme is compulsory Science at level one. If you want to carry on you take Bio at level 2 and 3 to save money. We don’t have an Orchestra, we don’t have a Sports Pavillion, we don’t buy million dollar hockey turf like other schools do. When you think about the resources they put into things like Sports and Music and drama… We have cut our cloth to say that we will be an academic school. Maths and English and Science and P.E are all compulsory here.

So do you have no Drama?


The Middle Charter schools I visited, they use local facilities, swimming pools and sports fields. How do you do it?

We use Rosedale Park down the road. We hire the Millennium Institute to run on the track for our P.E programme. We do camps up at Matakana. There is no way in the world with the money provided to us that we could afford sports fields.

So you lease the buildings you don’t own them?

Yes, though it would be cheaper to own the facility if we could afford to do that but the critics are against us owning property.

When I look at the money I receive and I look at the 6.3 Million on Southern Cross Campus for a Trades? Academy. Albany Senior High was built for 60 Million. Ours is a drop in the hat. When I consider the added value we are doing for kids across the country…

We are picking up a vast majority of kids who would not pass if they weren’t in this environment. Last year 31 of our 100 or so kids had previously failed already. They then passed. Isn’t the benefit to our country huge?

These kids are going to go on and they are going to get jobs and earn money and pay taxes. They are not going to be on benefits or in jail. We are trying to produce productive citizens and I believe that is what our role is.

Same day, same time next Week is Part Two of my Charter School 
investigation of Vanguard Military School. In Part Two I will 
cover the second part of my interview with Vanguard C.E.O 
Nick Hyde as well as my interview with Vanguard Principal,
Rockley Montgomery.