Waiopehu College

Mark Robinson
Waiopehu College Principal Mark Robinson

Reflecting over the last two years of the pandemic, principal of Waiopehu College Mark Robinson says it been characterised by “responding, adapting and being flexible to the challenges that it has presented”.  During 2020 and 2021 it was relatively manageable for the school and acknowledges the good leadership and direction from the Ministry of Education. “Through the Bulletins, with the clarity of information, through the procedures and in some cases the policy changes, it made it clear for schools how to operate.”

Waiopehu College adopted a high trust model in the way they responded to Covid especially during the lockdowns which meant that they weren’t prescriptive with staff and realised that it was a real privilege to be invited into the homes of their whānau. They had to adapt the ways in which they engaged with their community that included communicating very clearly the hybrid learning programmes with students and whānau, meeting with staff digitally once a week, form tutors touching base with students to see how they were coping, and subject work being posted by teachers on google classrooms by 9am each day. 

Mark identifies that the biggest challenge has been dealing with the pandemic once Covid was in the school and community.  There were times when 35% of staff were absent due to sickness or having to be in isolation.  More students have disconnected from their education, having not re-engaged with their learning after they have got behind with their achievement.  There is also a greater prevalence of senior students being involved in significant after-school employment to assist with reduced family income.

“If we are continuing to think that school is normal for our students – it isn’t. 2022 has been the most disruptive and least normal year for students,” says Mark.  He feels that there is a drive from the government and even a number of agencies within the education sector, to return to what was normal, and his view is that “schools are further away from normal than in 2019”.  He continues, “The most important thing for our students is to engage, to connect, to belong, to be well and for their families to be well.  If we get that right then we will get the outcomes.”

In 2020 major changes were made to the school curriculum that were future focused and empowered “students to be more creative, ingenious, sociable, and adaptable”.  Students take more ownership of their learning by having more choice to pursue areas that interest them. For young people to move beyond the impacts of the pandemic, helping them to reconnect with life and their learning that is meaningful and increasingly in their control, is what will make the difference. 

Mark is motivated to remove barriers to learning for his students and is grateful for investment from the local Te Hinaki Education Trust that has enabled the school to provide additional digital devices for students where there has been a need. “However the digital divide is still something we need to have a serious conversation about,” he is quick to add.

“Food poverty is no longer a conversation that we have to have at school due to the Ka Ora Ka Ako  Healthy School Lunches programmes.”  In fact during the 2021 lockdown, the school was able to provide 300 food parcels to its community to make sure people were looked after. 

Despite the disruption caused by the pandemic, Mark is excited for the future of the school and says with the newly developed curriculum, coupled with growing the level of pedagogy for the teachers (through involvement with the Manaiakalani Education Trust), and ensuring students have digital devices, “it is not only going to lift outcomes for our students, it is going to reconnect and reengage those that have become disconnected”. 

The Waiopehu College community likens itself to being a large family. Everyone experiences life together and supports each other. The overarching message that Mark and his team encourage their students with is: “We’ve got this, we’ve got your back, get to school and the worst thing you can do is sit at home and bury your heads and think it’s all going to go away… unfortunately it’s not, so we are living with it.  We can do this!”


About the school

Waiopehu College



School type

Year 9-13 co-educational state secondary school

Approximate roll



Mark Robinson

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Waiopehu College - Home

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