By: Audrey Young & Lucy Bennett

Sir Toby Curtis talks about the end of partnerships schools after speaking to the education select committee at Parliament. Video by Audrey Young

Respected educationist Sir Toby Curtis has accused the Government of “bullying” behaviour over ending charter schools and called on the Prime Minister to show some “aroha”.

“”I’m sure she’ll understand the meaning of ‘te aroha’, which she has given the name to her child,” Curtis said. “I think this situation is calling for a bit of aroha in terms of how we think and how we move forward.”

Curtis, a former Auckland College of Education Primary Teacher Education director and faculty dean of the Auckland Institute of Technology, was appearing before the education select committee asking it to shelve legislation that abolishes charter schools, also known as partnership schools.

He was joined by John Shewan, a former deputy chairman of the statutory board that authorised the schools.

Sir Toby and fellow educationist Dame Iritana Tawhiwhirangi have just lodged a Treaty of Waitangi claim alleging the Crown’s actions in closing partnership schools will have a disproportionately detrimental effect on Māori.

Shewan first used the term “bullying” when talking to the select committee but it was also picked up by Curtis.

“It is one of the most skilful forms of bullying that I know,” Curtis said. “It’s very well done. A lot of people wouldn’t realise it is bullying but it is political bullying as far as I’m concerned.”

Green MP Chloe Swarbrick told Curtis the allegation of “bullying” was serious and substantive and asked for examples.

“You understand obviously that the press is here this morning and that’s the stuff which is going to be reported.”

Curtis replied: “If the minister hasn’t gone to the schools to talk to the people in the schools, if the minister hasn’t gone and spoken to the parents, if the ministry hasn’t gone to the schools and talked properly to the teachers, if the ministry hasn’t done their job properly, I’m left with no other view other than that this a process of bullying that we have never had or experienced in this country.”

He said the charter schools were the first Pakeha process that had succeeded with Maori children.

New Zealand First MP Mark Patterson asked why charter schools couldn’t just carry on as special character schools.

But Shewan said the framework of special character schools was not designed for the type of package that partnership schools had to be flexible and to innovate, to have bulk funding and to pay for the staff they wanted.

“There is a series of freedoms and flexibilities which we think, particularly in relationship to Maori students, are resulting in success.

“They will wither on the vine, in my view, if that special character framework is put around them.”

In a statement supporting the Treaty of Waitangi claim, Curtis said most of the 1500 students at the charter schools being shut down were Māori, many of whom had enrolled to get a fresh start in education and get their lives back on track.

Six of the 11 partnership schools (Kura Hourua) now in operation had 87-100 per cent Māori rolls.

“The rights of these students to make that choice and the rights of parents and whanau to choose and support what’s best for their children are being taken away,” Curtis said.

Tawhiwhirangi said there had been a “total lack of consultation” with the schools and their students’ whanau.

“This Government has ridden roughshod over the futures of these young people in spite of claiming that they are placing a priority on helping our most vulnerable children.

“The evidence shows that Kura Hourua have been delivering very positive results for Māori students who for decades have been falling through the gaps,” she said.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins introduced the Education Amendment Bill, spelling the end of charter schools, in February.

All existing charter schools applied to become state or integrated schools.

So far Hipkins has approved only Albany’s Vanguard Military School to convert to a state school with designated character.

He has promised to decide by the end of the month on applications from nine others to become designated character state schools and from two – Te Kura Māori o Waatea in Māngere and the proposed new Tūranga Tangata Rite in Gisborne – to become integrated schools similar to Catholic schools.

Act leader David Seymour said partnership schools lost their funding flexibility, were forced to have union contracts and lost their flexibility of management structure.

“They basically can’t do any of the things that have made kids want to go to partnership schools in the first place.

“Sir Toby feels that Maori have been ripped off under the Treaty for 178 years and the partnership schools contracts are just another rip-off as far as he is concerned. I can sympathise with his view. I support him.”

Source: NZ Herald


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