Peter O’Connor is deeply concerned that inequality defines New Zealand’s education system. He places the blame with the Tomorrow’s Schools system, introduced in the late 1980s.
“If we think about the philosophical beginnings of Tomorrow’s Schools it was essentially to set [schools] off on their own, adrift,” he said.
“If you go back to the 1999 Labour Party manifesto they talked about winner and loser schools – that was the language they used. If you don’t succeed, that’s because that’s how the market works.
“If we think back to those crazy 1980s, 1990s days, it was all about ‘let the market sort it out’. We all know how disastrous that has been for the country. Haven’t we gone past that?”
Change, to O’Connor’s thinking, is needed, and needed urgently. He applauded the taskforce’s report for proposing ideas that could bring about this change.
O’Connor said it’s time to shift from thinking about success as an individual person to how we can thrive as a nation. He believes education should be viewed as a public good rather than an individual achievement.
He points to the way that Christchurch schools rallied together after the earthquakes.
“I think about the way they organically worked as hubs,” he says. “There’s a huge amount to be learned when schools work not just for themselves.”
Other panellists agreed with the need for more collaboration. NZEI Te Riu Roa President Lynda Stuart said we need to see a cultural shift from “my school” to “our schools”.
O’Connor said the Tomorrow’s Schools reforms were not just about lifting achievement, but about bridging the divide.
This idea was challenged by suggestions that the report, with its emphasis on redistributing resources to meet the needs of New Zealand’s most disadvantaged students, doesn’t serve schools and boards of trustees that are operating effectively under the current system.
This view has dominated other discussions on the Tomorrow’s Schools reforms with many schools, particularly high decile secondary schools, voicing their concerns that they would not be well served by the Education Hubs and their various services.
O’Connor was quick to dismiss the notion: “Oh, the squealing whine of the privileged.”
Panellist Bali Haque, the chair of the taskforce, was clear on what the reforms needed to ultimately achieve.
“This is around social justice for our children, fundamentally.”
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