A Government takeover of school zoning may lock more students into attending their local schools – although schools that take out-of-zone students hope they will still be allowed to do so.

A new Education Support Agency will take over zoning and enrolment schemes from the boards of individual schools in the next 18 months to two years, under a new plan for running schools unveiled by Education Minister Chris Hipkins.

Existing students, including 17,000 Auckland secondary school students who currently live outside the zones of the schools they attend, are expected to be “grandparented” so they don’t have to change schools.

But Hipkins’ policy document says the current system where schools draw up their own zones has meant “schools can manipulate the enrolment zone based on areas they most wish to take students from, for example making zones that include high socio-economic neighbourhoods and exclude closer, more disadvantaged neighbourhoods”.

He told Cabinet that “a centralised approach will also enable the development of a more effective national network of enrolment zones and a holistic view of population trends and capacity in the system”.

The zoning takeover is the most significant change in the final outcome of a review of school governance that began with a taskforce proposal a year ago for regional education “hubs” to take over “all the legal responsibilities and liabilities currently held by school boards of trustees”.

After an outcry from many schools and the National Party, the Government has decided to leave school boards with all their existing powers except zoning.

The Ministry of Education will also “offer” to take over property issues from school boards, but Hipkins said schools that wanted to keep control of their own property would still be allowed to do so.

School boards will also keep control of suspensions and expulsions, but students and parents will be given a right to appeal to independent panels over suspensions and other issues creating “serious disputes” such as racism, discrimination and physical and emotional safety.

Auckland Primary Principals Association vice-president Stephen Lethbridge said it was disheartening that the original taskforce proposals had been “watered down” so much that they would have little impact on many schools.

His school, Pt Chevalier Primary, is already full with in-zone students so it will not be affected by the zoning changes, but he supports the change in principle.

“I think for equity, kids need to go to their local schools and there needs to be support for all schools,” he said.

Secondary Principals Association president Deidre Shea said the zoning change would be contentious in some places, but she did not expect it would affect her school, Onehunga High School, even though 53 per cent of its students last year came from outside its zone – mainly from Māngere.

“I just read it like instead of schools consulting people on their zones, it will be done by a ministry body, but within the rules schools have a right to accept students from out of zone,” she said.

“I think it’s more about changing those zones, that is the issue. In some communities where the in-zone demand exceeds the capacity of the school, then yes, there will be changes.”

Massey High School principal Glen Denham said parents would still find ways to send their children to the schools they wanted.

Glen Denham, pictured with students Eric Williams (rear) and Shakerah Zakeri, says parents will always get their children into the schools they want. Photo / File

“I believe every kid should go to a great local school,” he said.

“But if someone wants to send their child to a school somewhere else, that is just going to happen.

“It’s all very well to say it [zoning] is going to be held regionally. It just seems to me another big layer of bureaucracy in the middle.”

Auckland Grammar School headmaster Tim O’Connor commended Hipkins for scrapping the proposed “hubs” but said he had “failed to present a definitive way forward”.

“It is disappointing that after over 12 months of consultation what has been presented is scant information that supports new ideologies to promote the centralisation of enrolment schemes, zoning and property,” he said.

“While it is positive that schools will continue to be governed by their local communities, it is concerning that these key components of governance have been shifted to central control.”

NZ Herald

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