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An inspiring part of my job at this time of year is attending our College prizegivings. I do not make every College, every year, due to clashes with each other and commitments in Parliament. But each year I come away buzzing with optimism for the future from the achievements of our young people and a deep respect for the work of our 600 teachers.

The part I find most extraordinary with our schools of today is the diversity of their programmes. The opportunities stretch beyond the traditional academics and sports available to my generation. I see it in the arts and musical talents, the sophistication of today’s trade and science programmes and in the huge range of sports. I love the way this diversity is allowing more of our young people to find the niche in which their talents can shine but such achievement also takes a huge commitment from teachers.

An example is the Future Problem Solving programme. Last year the Nelson College Junior team won the nationals and went on to come fourth in the international competition in the US. The success largely rests on the dedication of an amazing teacher, Sarah Watts.   

Another example of such dedication is Emma Hunter at Nelson College for Girls and her specialist Bronte House programme for girls at risk. I mention Sarah and Emma because I know them personally through my own family and have seen the sacrifices they make to give their pupils so much. They are just two out of hundreds of teachers in our region who make an extraordinary commitment.

We also need to acknowledge that our teachers today are carrying a more complicated mix of challenges. We have more students with special needs. Technology is making our youth more connected but this is also adding problems. Mental health issues are on the rise throughout the western world. We are rightly getting more support into schools to assist with these problems, but I am continuously impressed by how far our teachers are going to help.

This positive rave about our Nelson teachers is not intended to take sides in the current dispute with the Government over pay. I do believe teachers deserve a healthy increase but I am no fan of the disruption and waste that goes with strikes. My hope is that common sense prevails and a practical deal is done.

My message as the school years comes to an end is one of gratitude. The excellence our schools and colleges provides is part of Nelson’s success story. Nelson College, Nelson College for Girls, Nayland, Waimea and Garin have different strengths but each are stunning secondary schools. We can also take pride in our network of good primary and intermediate schools. We need to give our school boards, Principals and mostly our teachers, a strong message of encouragement and thanks. They do a great job.  

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