By: Simon Collins
A national battle over proposed radical changes to the school system kicks off this week with the first of more than 70 public meetings.
National Party education spokeswoman Nikki Kaye has unveiled plans to hold 40 public meetings from Kerikeri to Stewart Island, starting in Hamilton this Friday.
The taskforce which proposed the changes, led by former principal Bali Haque, has also announced 32 public meetings and an online survey seeking public input on 58 questions.
National Party leader Simon Bridges drew the battle lines on the proposed reforms last week, promising in his State of the Nation speech to “fight the Government’s plans to entirely centralise education, disempower boards of trustees and reduce choice and the sense of community in schools”.
Auckland Grammar School headmaster Tim O’Connor, who is fiercely opposed to the reforms, said he would be inviting other schools to join him in a public campaign aimed at making the reforms voluntary, allowing some schools to opt out of them.
But Haque said he still hoped to reach a national “consensus” before the taskforce presents its final report to Education Minister Chris Hipkins on April 30.
“We are an independent taskforce,” he said. “We are keen to talk across the political spectrum to take this out of the political realm, and we want to develop consensus.”
The taskforce’s key proposal is that about 20 regional education hubs should “assume all the legal responsibilities and liabilities currently held by school boards of trustees”.
Education lawyer Carol Anderson said the boards’ key powers to be transferred to hubs would be:
- Employment of the principal and teachers. The taskforce proposes that boards would retain up to half the members of a selection panel for the principal, and would have a final veto over appointments, but principals would be appointed for five-year terms and might then be moved to other schools.
- Finance. Principals would still manage the school’s operations grant, but the hub would have to approve the school’s annual budget.
- Property. Hubs would take over property maintenance but would have discretion to delegate this back to schools judged to be competent.
- Suspensions and expulsions. Hubs would take over processes as soon as a student is suspended.
Kaye has been careful not to oppose all the changes.
“There are wider issues around our education system where National totally believes there needs to be change, like more equitable funding,” she said.
“We support changes around learning support,” she added.
“I think there are changes that need to be made in terms of the way property is run. We had some plans in the works on that.”
But she said there were “multiple ways to address those issues” apart from the Haque proposals.
O’Connor said Haque proposed a “one-size-fits-all model that will remove parental input into school governance and the freedom to choose a style of education that suits different children and young adults”.
“As a group we will use a variety of mediums of media, lobbying, parental meetings, parental messaging and encouraging all in our extended communities to make their views clear,” he said.
“Ironically our schools will show just how we do collaborate under Tomorrow’s Schools and that creating an entirely new model using the taxes of everyday New Zealanders is unwarranted and wasteful.”
Source: NZ Herald