Vanguard Military School is the first charter school to apply to become a school of designated character, seemingly paving the way for the other ten charter schools to follow suit. However the provider of two other charter schools believes the Ministry is positioning itself to close any charter school that fails to apply for designated character status by the deadline.

The Education Amendment Bill, which will remove the charter school model from legislation, is on track to come into law in September.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins says charter schools have until 1 May to put in their applications to become schools of designated character in 2019. Hipkins says the Ministry has been in discussions with charter schools about this process and they have been informed of the 1 May deadline.

Vanguard Military School is the first charter school to take this step. Chief executive officer Nick Hyde  says Vanguard applied to become a designated special character school in an effort to secure its long-term future. Hyde says he has had no pressure from the Ministry around deadlines.

However, Villa Education Trust (VET), which operates two other charter schools, says the Government is forcing them into a corner. VET director Alwyn Poole says despite what the Minister says, “there is no process happening”.

“We feel today that the Prime Minister and the Minister used the Vanguard application to position themselves to say – ‘Oh well, others didn’t get an application in on time, therefore we had no choice but to close them’,” says Poole.

“We are totally in the dark about many of the potential features of designated character/integrated schools and still have only had one full meeting with the main Ministry people.”

Poole notes that at this meeting, VET discussed with the Ministry necessary changes to the designated character schools legislation before they would consider applying.

“To date we have not had confirmed by the Ministry that they have even presented our comments to the Minister. Last time we checked they had not,” says Poole.

“We are not even close to being able to work through due process on the sustainability of an alternative model to the one we have.”

Meanwhile ACT Leader David Seymour says the Ministry is suppressing the recent evaluation of the charter schools model conducted by Martin Jenkins, which he says “by all accounts is glowing”.

Poole agrees.

“It will be interesting to see when they choose to release the Martin Jenkins report given that it shows the VET in outstanding light.”

As for Vanguard, consultation with schools in its area will now begin, in accordance with section 157 of the Education Act 1989, which specifies that consultation is required when changes to the local state schooling network are being considered. Decisions will be made in July this year, and if accepted, Vanguard will become a school of designated character next year.

A school of designated character is a state school that has a particular character which sets it apart from ordinary state schools.

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