The secondary teachers’ union PPTA has accused Te Kura of behaving like a big business, despite its important public role of providing distance education to isolated New Zealand students.

The accusations appeared in the latest issue of PPTA News and centre around the school’s spending on overseas travel for management staff, underfunding of PLD for teaching staff, and overt ambitions to become a Community of Online Learning (COOL).

The article ‘Correspondence School’s corporate turn could hurt’ cites figures released through the Official Information Act (OIA) that show the school’s board has spent more than half a million dollars on overseas travel to a range of countries including the US and UK, China, Bangladesh, South Africa and Spain.

PPTA concerns about COOLs legislation, including the lack of sector consultation, the risk of privatisation to public education and the unknown effects of online schools on young people, have been well publicised.

As described in the article, union members at Te Kura have raised concerns about COOLs, with a number making submissions to the Education and Science Select Committee opposing changes to the Education (Update) Amendment Bill that would introduce the online schools.

Other concerns highlighted include a complaint that a Te Kura teacher was told to self-fund a subject-specific conference because such PLD ‘was not in the budget,’ and the fact that the school is unusual in that it has one of the only boards of trustees with no staff representation.

Education Central asked Te Kura to respond to these claims, and board chair Karen Sewell begins by highlighting the scope of the work done by the institution.

“Te Kura enrols more than 23,000 students annually, has approximately 475 full-time equivalent staff and a budget of $54 million. An average of less than half a per cent per year of our overall budget was spent on international travel between 2014-2016. All our overseas travel is explicitly aligned with our three strategic priorities, it’s all approved in advance by the board and staff report back to us and their colleagues on their return,” she says.

Sewell maintains that staff PLD is a priority and a budget of $1,419,399 has this year been set aside for this purpose.

“Of that, $341,150 was budgeted for curriculum based PLD. Still, not all staff members can attend all PLD events because we need to share the opportunities and be strategic in our spending.”

“Because of the complexity and diversity of Te Kura’s roll, it has been necessary for us to contract offshore IT suppliers and for staff to travel to attend our major IT provider user conferences. This attendance is important to ensure that Te Kura’s priorities are considered in IT upgrades and new developments; to negotiate contracts; and participate in training on new applications,” she says.

Sewell highlights Te Kura’s work in future-oriented teaching and learning.

“Because professional development in this is not available in New Zealand, our staff have travelled overseas travel for this opportunity, which is beginning to transform our organisation to enhance the learning experiences of our priority learners.

“Other travel has been at the invitation of the Commonwealth of Learning to assist developing commonwealth countries to implement distance education. A large part of this cost has been subsidised by the Commonwealth, and our Board has also contributed as part of our international aid obligations.”

Te Kura’s board is appointed by the Minister of Education, and except for a two-year period, staff representatives have not been appointed since 2004, says Sewell.

“In 2013, the Te Kura board itself invited staff to nominate a staff representative to the board. This representative has the same ex-officio status as the Chief Executive, and travels to our regional offices and meets staff prior to meetings to take any questions or issues raised to the board.”

She says the PPTA did not ask Te Kura for clarification or comment before the article in PPTA News was published this week.

“Many of the other references in this newsletter are not accurate. I intend to inform the PPTA of this and provide them with the correct information, so they can share this with their members,” she says.

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