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Opinion: Alwyn Poole – Crushing of the charter school model hurts the poorest

The New Zealand education system is in major trouble writes Alwyn Poole.



The government is closing the door on charter schools saying there is no place for them in the New Zealand education system – so why the change and what happens to those already operating?

The New Zealand education system is in major trouble.

The gaps between New Zealand’s Asian population (67 per cent of school leavers with UE), European (44 per cent), Pasifika (22 per cent) and Māori (19 per cent) are a national disgrace and we have given up on believing it can be different.

We are sliding rapidly in international measures and our schools are among the worst in the OECD for closing the gaps. Socio-economic advantage has a stronger impact on achievement in New Zealand than many OECD countries.

Our best university is no longer in the top 100 in the world. Teacher’s training is a mess — the entry bar far too low for primary training and the opportunity cost of another year without pay means the best university graduates won’t even give teaching a second thought.

The latest pay rounds have turned into massive whine-fests and many teachers are simply putting off anyone looking for a positive profession to be involved in.

We have not recognised how the world has changed. If the education system was once a performance car it was built in the 1950s.

Successive governments have crashed and bashed it and worn down the engine, the Ministry of Education sits firmly on the bonnet and the unions have run off with the keys.

Those establishments continue to preserve their power and the children miss out, especially the vulnerable.

Legislation has now crushed the charter school model. In one sense it will mean very little. Those highly irrational sorts in education who were entirely triggered by innovation will be able to go back to their knitting. The established charter schools will continue to run under a different model because the good people who set them up will stay around, at least for a little while.

The two Villa Education Trust Schools will still have 15 pupils per class, provide uniforms, stationery and IT and ask for no donations — and upset many schools who could use their operation funding to do the same but choose not to.

Experts had concluded the model had significant success factors that ideologues like Associate Minister for Education Tracey Martin could not grasp.

The schools will continue in another form so what has been lost? On a ground level it may not be obvious for a while. The innovators will commit to at least see the new form up and running and the Government could mitigate against the loss of freedoms from the removal of bulk funding, a different governance model and being able to have staff outside the collective contract.

The ministry may also come to grips with the need to be less controlling and conformist. A better “designated character schools” policy and establishment process, if developed as promised, may effectively see an expansion of some of the successful operations.

Something much bigger has been lost however. That is a sense in New Zealand that creative people and social entrepreneurs (let alone philanthropists) are not welcomed by the stale and outdated educational establishment of our country.

Our ageing teaching population, our massive educational bureaucracy, many of the failing schools, the teacher unions, bizarre social media sites and blinkered politicians who use slogans and parrot nonsense to attempt to impress those in their own bubble, all lost the plot over 12 out of 2600 schools.

It came to a head in Parliament when some politicians felt they were naming and shaming these individuals and organisations in the House. One said that they had treated children “like dogs” and the Minister of Education even used the word “dodgy”.

The messages: If you are an educator who thinks there may be different ways of doing things, keep your head well down. To families; you better hope that your child fits the one-size-fits-all model or that you have enough financial means to make some choices in terms of where you live or schools you can access.

To those that don’t — including many of our Māori and Pasifika families — the inequities will be perpetuated in succeeding generations.

The New Zealand political and education system has sent a strong message to the nation. They are going to keep on with the 1950s jalopy (no Tesla for them) and pretty soon we will be well short of drivers, let alone good ones.

Alwyn Poole‘s Villa Education Trust runs three schools in Auckland. Two of them were charter schools.

Source: NZ Herald


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