On a recent TVNZ Q&A panel I was asked the hypothetical: “If you were the Minister of Education what would you change tomorrow?” While initially I thought of Fiddler on the Roof (as in “daidle deedle”) the question is a good one as Education must rank as one of the portfolios that affects every New Zealander and our nation’s future. As taxpayers we also pay for it – not “the government” as they like to tell us. What an incredible privilege it would be to hold such a role – especially the opportunity to bring transformational change for those that need it most.

It is also an incredibly urgent role. Every 1year a cohort leaves our school system and we have either enabled eagles or provided a pathway for lemmings. Very few who have failed in our system take second chance opportunities. A recent NZ Initiative report noted that currently the major determinants of school success are family wealth and the education background of parents. This could be taken to be explanatory of the fact that only 20% of Maori, Pasifika and lower income school-leavers get University Entrance. However, the only thing the report actually explains is that our system is failing those children and this government is planning to do nothing about it. There are schools in New Zealand where less than 10% of the survivors to Year 13 get UE. The Tomorrow’s Schools Review report doesn’t even step near the causes or suggest relevant improvements. In nearly 18 months as Minister Chris Hipkins has done nothing transformational and suggested no ideas except “all schools should be good schools”. He brings no inspiration, shows no urgency and has to seriously ask himself why he has consigned two more cohorts to have such a high proportion of lemmings.

My answers to the original questioned posed seem like straight logic. Super-fund the decile 1-3 schools. Provide Principals in those schools with a Business Manager to take care of resourcing, contracts, etc – allowing them to fully focus on academics. Trust these Principals with significant incentive payments to attract and keep great teachers. Limit class size to 15. Help the families – provide uniform, stationery and IT and don’t ask for donations. Make every year urgent in these schools but also have a 13 year plan so that by the end of that these young people, who will go on to parent the next generation have education levels, that don’t offer up an excuse for our school system. The secondary teacher shortage is qualitative as well as quantitative. To attract great degree graduates and second career people they must be paid to train as it is no longer tenable to have them without a year of income in a high employment economy and with so many international opportunities.

I had high hopes for the Labour government in terms of education. As well as Hipkins they have a very capable Maori and Pasifika contingent in their caucus who I assumed would be passionate, outspoken and active in this cause on a weekly basis. It is now hard to avoid a hypothesis that the votes of these families are taken for granted as they see retention of power as more important than transformation.

When we opened Partnership/Charter schools Hipkins said there was no need for that policy as we could have opened under Labour as a Designated Character School. The Prime Minister has also promised work and innovation in this area. We are currently proposing such a school in Northland. We will see if they keep their word.

I came from a family where my grandmother had 13 kids and lived in Aramoho (Wanganui). My parents left school at 14. Karen, my wife and our Trust CEO, comes from a family where her late dad spent six years in Holland – as a child – under Nazi rule. We owe plenty to a few who back in the 1980s and 90s believed Education is about change. I’ll never be the Minister but the current one would do well to adopt the same view.


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