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Home Features Education Systems Alwyn Poole: Charter schools are helping children who struggled previously

Alwyn Poole: Charter schools are helping children who struggled previously

Since the change of government there have been two key statements on education. One is that National Standards will go. The standards have the highly likely effect of narrowing the curriculum and have been very ineffective in bringing about change.

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Statistics show students at West Auckland Middle School are making 1.5 years’ worth of progress in maths and reading for each year spent there. Photo / Supplied

Since the change of government there have been two key statements on education. One is that National Standards will go. The standards have the highly likely effect of narrowing the curriculum and have been very ineffective in bringing about change.

Chris Hipkins is right; they are best consigned to history, but parents do need to hear accurately and in plain language from schools about how their children are doing on a range of measures.

The other question is; what will happen to the schools currently known as partnership or charter schools?

Some vested interest organisations are clearly seeking the closure of these schools, most of which are succeeding in improving education outcomes for groups of children that were struggling previously.

The people who would advocate closing them are the same people who fought desperately to keep a school of nine students in Nelson open, and who fought to keep some of the schools in Christchurch open – in both cases for excellent reasons.

The organisations would be best advised to look hard at how they can improve what is happening in 2600 schools rather than deflecting attention on to a small group of schools that are working and showing progress for the children there.

The charter schools policy has been administered poorly and has also been stung by ongoing misinformation. Despite that, and through a tremendous amount of hard work, there has been significant success that the new Government could enhance in ways that are a better fit with the New Zealand system as a whole.

The criticisms levelled at the schools are largely unfounded. They teach the New Zealand curriculum, almost all of the teachers are registered and well qualified, almost all the schools are not-for-profit and the overall funding levels on a cost-to-taxpayer basis match relatively small decile 1-3 schools (with the exception of getting only 5-7 per cent of state start-up funding). So there are few genuine barriers to co-operation.

There are areas where there could be immediate change and improvement. The schools could be allowed to become a part of “communities of learning” (Minister Parata denied them that) and to apply for the teacher-led innovation fund.

They should be eligible for the funding increments for vulnerable children (also denied by the previous Government) as many of the children fit in that category. The should be able to expand and be funded for expansion as state schools are, as opposed to some having large waiting lists and having to ballot families out each year.

The new Minister of Education and the associate ministers are passionate and intelligent people who know a successful school when they see it and are keen to see ongoing improvements for New Zealand children. They would do well to look to enhance the place of these innovative niche schools even if that involves some changes to the policy.

Charter schools are not faceless, impersonal entities. For example, South Auckland Middle School has 180 students who are statistically decile 1, and 93 per cent are Maori or Pasifika. It has 100 students on its waiting list.

Middle School West Auckland has 200 students (240 in 2018) with similar demographics to South Auckland Middle School. At one point at West Auckland we were working with 25 students who had been excluded or “Kiwi excluded” from previous schools (some from a number of schools). Twenty of those have fully settled alongside our other students and succeeded over the growing time period.

Middle School West Auckland went through a difficult first year but through 2016-17 has developed into a thriving, vibrant and excellently led and staffed school.

The students come to us with a range of developed abilities but on average start with us at Year 7 with 35-40 per cent of them “at or above standard” (best approximation is three years behind). Our stats show that they are making 1.5 years worth of progress in maths and reading for each year with us.

Those are just the basics. They are also excelling through the rich tasks and broad opportunities we provide. We are not-for-profit, our ERO reports are good and we have just observed some absolutely outstanding data from students and family surveys by an external evaluator.

As we move towards 2018 we will be working with 420 students and we also work closely with their families who are telling us they are feeling hope for the first time for many of these children and very much feel a part of our schools.

Their children are more aspirational and succeeding in breaking out of embedded cycles. They are telling us they want to go to university, to study, to travel, to perform and to both give back and become leaders in their societies.

“Closing charter schools” is not a sterile action against faceless organisations. It would be an action that would deeply affect some families and communities that are beginning to thrive in a way they had lost hope that they could.

Many of these families are those who have been in the bottom of New Zealand’s education statistics for generations and have now found a ladder to get out of the hole. Working to enhance these schools is a much better option and we look forward to the new Government doing just that.

Maybe one of the first things a new Minister of Education could ask from the ministry is for the Villa Education Trust survey data from the latest external evaluation. We would agree to its release.

Alwyn Poole of the Villa Education Trust is academic manager of the Mt Hobson Middle School and academic adviser to South Auckland Middle School and Middle School West Auckland.

 Source: NZ Herald 

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