By: Simon Collins
Two of New Zealand’s biggest schools are vowing to resist proposals to transfer powers over schools from boards of trustees to “bureaucrats”.
Avondale College principal Brent Lewis said the proposal by a ministerial taskforce to give appointed regional boards all the legal responsibilities now held by elected school boards was “Stalinist”.
Auckland Grammar School headmaster Tim O’Connor said the proposal “needs to be resisted at all costs”.
“It is a serious attack on state education and on every child’s life chances. We’ll just have to work to ensure that it doesn’t proceed,” he said.
Ironically, however, the proposal has been welcomed by School Trustees Association president Lorraine Kerr, who said boards would be glad to hand over “compliance” tasks such as health and safety, employment and property maintenance.
“Taking those away might help boards concentrate on making the right decisions to ensure that every child in every school is supported to their potential without the distraction of all the compliance things we have to do,” she said.
“Actually the board meeting would revolve around student achievement and what we are doing about it.”
The taskforce led by former principal Bali Haque has recommended that about 20 regional education boards, or “hubs”, should “assume all the legal responsibilities and liabilities currently held by school boards of trustees”.
The taskforce’s radical report also recommends abolishing intermediate schools, creating junior and senior colleges, putting limits on school out-of-zone enrolments and requests for parental “donations”, and scrapping the Education Review Office (ERO) and the NZ Qualifications Authority (NZQA).
Principals Federation president Whetu Cormick said principals would welcome more support from the new hubs, but would be “challenged” by a proposal to rotate principals around schools with only five-year terms in each school.
O’Connor said the five-year term was “a very disrespectful attack on school leadership”.
“A five-year term simply destabilises a principal’s ability to lead a school, and I think it destabilises staff and students as well,” he said.
At Avondale College, where 1600 out of 2600 students in March this year came from outside its zone, Lewis said the proposed limits on out-of-zone enrolments could doom the Labour-led Government.
“If we apply this model, we will force large numbers of people to go to schools they don’t want to go to,” he said.
“The political cost of that will be extremely high. You can do many things in New Zealand, but if you mess with people’s children and their life opportunities, then good luck to you.”
He said schools needed to be nimble to respond to social and economic changes – “and bureaucracies are almost the antithesis of that”.
Northcross Intermediate School principal Jonathon Tredray, representing the Association of Intermediate and Middle Schools, welcomed the proposal to create larger junior colleges covering Years 9 and 10 as well as the intermediates’ current Years 7 and 8.
“We get our students to a certain stage and then we whip them on to secondary school,” he said.
“If we could have them for another year or two, I really see the benefits in that. I think it’s a proactive move.”
But Cormick, who is also a former intermediate school principal, said scrapping the intermediates would be “a challenging notion for most school principals”.
“I know the very good work that intermediates do,” he said.
“Moving to a middle school idea is going to need really deep conversation. Is that going to be the panacea?”
Teachers’ unions embraced the report. Post Primary Teachers Association (PPTA) president Jack Boyle said it “has put a spring in our step at the end of a difficult year”.
“We support many aspects of the report, and are especially interested in working with the government to develop the hub concept. Teachers believe this could be an important tool to achieve equity within and across communities,” he said.
“Taking the responsibility for employment off the plates of boards of trustees may well resolve many of the systemic issues PPTA often deals with.”
University of Auckland Professor Peter O’Connor, speaking for the Child Poverty Action Group, said Haque’s taskforce “should be congratulated for embracing the chance for generational change”.
“The report systematically sets about dismantling the competitive model that established the way in which NZ schools have operated since the 1980s,” he said.
“The proposed dismantling of the competitive business model that has shackled the education system for too long should be welcomed by parents who can embrace a new system that, rather than focusing on choice of ‘the right school’ is built on the idea that every school should be an excellent school all parents can trust sending their child to.”
But National Party education spokeswoman Nikki Kaye said she had “serious concerns” about the proposal to transfer powers from school trustees to the regional “hubs”.
“There are really serious concerns about the concentration of power that will rest with officials over principals and schools,” she said.
Act Party leader David Seymour said the taskforce’s “stale ideas” would “reduce the self-determination of individual schools by removing a number of their core responsibilities”.
“This is an intrusion on the autonomy of schools and will undermine communities’ ability to develop their own property by removing it and placing it in the hands of a remote bureaucracy,” he said.
The report is open for public submissions until April 7 and Haque said the taskforce had deliberately left some details open, such as the limits that might be placed on out-of-zone enrolments and parental donations.
“What we are going to do is go out with this report and consult further, we don’t want to be diving in and pulling figures out of the hat,” he said.
“All of the recommendations in this report are subject to change depending on the consultation.”
Source: NZ Herald