Bay of Plenty locals met at Tauranga Boys’ College earlier this week for one of the Tomorrow’s Schools Review taskforce’s public consultation meetings.

The meeting was led by two of the taskforce members Dr Cathy Wylie and Professor Mere Berryman, who started the evening with a comprehensive overview of the process, the report and what they are aiming to achieve.

What they are ultimately trying to achieve is this: a closure of the gap between the ‘winner’ and ‘loser’ schools that have emerged as a result of the Tomorrow’s Schools system.

But there’s another gap at play here.

While few dispute the problem of inequity that exists in our schools and society, many are not convinced the taskforce report’s recommendations will solve this problem.

And this was where the audience’s questions gravitated.

Board chair of Bellevue School, Matthew King was concerned about taking the power away from boards of trustees who are generally better positioned to advocate for the needs of their schools and placing that power in the hands of Education Hubs overseeing large numbers of schools.

“If you’re going to centralise it, if you’re going to regionalise it, where are these experts going to come from and how are they going to advocate for our schools?”

Wylie says the recommendations still allow for boards to take an active role in their schools. But she makes no bones about the fact that many boards have made poor decisions as well. The report is essentially trying to find some middle ground in school governance by bringing in the Education Hubs.

“People can be great advocates for their schools but they can get things wrong as well,” she says.

“We don’t see a system where a property expert makes decisions without consulting their schools.”

Property is the only area that Education Hubs would be able to delegate back to boards, but only if boards could prove they were extremely well-equipped in this area. Decisions around finance, student discipline, and principal recruitment would rest with the Hubs.

There are clearly many question marks still hovering over the Hubs idea. Among them, could schools and boards choose whether they can opt in or out of Hub services?

This has become a go-to question at Tomorrow’s Schools review meetings. The logic goes something like this: a school might be governing itself beautifully in financial matters, perhaps thanks to the expertise of a Chief Commercial Officer who sits on the board, but it is out of its depth with handling a sensitive staff issue; therefore it would require Hub support with human resources services but not financial.

This would appear to be a good compromise, however the taskforce doesn’t see it that way.

Wylie says an opt-in approach would be in contrast to the collaborative nature of the Hubs. The whole premise hinges on the Hubs working across schools and schools working together.

Another question: will the Hubs be filled with ex-Ministry of Education people?

The taskforce says not necessarily. Regional Ministry offices will be disestablished and the Hubs will recruit the best people for the positions available, primarily educators. However, there are a lot of good people working in the Ministry who have been stifled by the current system, says Wylie.

“I think we’ve got to think outside the box when it comes to the Hubs,” says Berryman, “They’re not necessarily shiny buildings.”

It was good to see the questions start to dive a little deeper into the detail of the report.

There were questions about how the review would support curriculum and pedagogy.

Wylie said the taskforce was dismayed at the current approach to curriculum support.

“Curriculum support in the Ministry of Education is threadbare,” she says.

The taskforce wants to see a better system of supporting curriculum, pedagogy and excellent practice. A more collaborative approach would help steer schools away from the “patchiness of innovation” that currently exists.

Rick Whalley from the Virtual Learning Network (VLN) thinks the report is too light on flexible learning initiatives like those offered by VLN.

Wylie agrees.

“We didn’t pay enough attention to VLN in our recommendations,” she says.

It’s clear the taskforce is open to feedback like this. It’s clear they want to get it right.

“It says in the text if we get it right,” says Berryman, “I’m going to say when we get it right.”

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