Education Minister Chris Hipkins has just appointed a high-level taskforce of five people to lead the review of Tomorrow’s Schools — the school governance structure that has been in place since the 1980s.

The review is about repurposing schools for the 21st century and it requires, by definition, new and innovative thinking. The panel is thus tasked with looking at “the changes needed to governance, management and administration to better support all learners throughout their schooling” .

To date, the taskforce comprises Bali Haque as chairman (independent consultant who has worked for NZQA, NZ Principals’ Association, PPTA), Dr Cathy Wylie (NZ Council for Educational Research), Professor Mere Berryman (Waikato University and Te Kotahitanga), Professor John O’Neill (Massey University and NZ Association for Research in Education), and Barbara Ala’alatoa (chair of the Education Council).

Each is esteemed and respected within the education community and, as a group, they also appear reasonably diverse.

However, a closer look reveals that they are all representatives of educational institutions, most of which are partially or entirely funded by the Ministry of Education or the Government in some way. As a group then, they largely represent existing sectoral interests.

The Government has signalled it wants a review of the system and to bring in new thinking. I absolutely applaud this aim and think it is long overdue — but the aim is not reflected in a taskforce that is wholly representative of the system itself.

As a person “inside the tent” of education myself, I think it is imperative to have outside input into a systemic review such as this. Representation is also needed from other sectors with youth interests at heart.

I do not suggest that the taskforce should be led by non-experts or overwhelmed by the perspectives of those who do not understand educational research and practice, but some input at the highest level from people outside mainstream schooling seems necessary.

This could include, for example, leaders in migration and super diversity, or experts in alternative education and social work (many such practitioners see first-hand the failures of the current system because they work with youth who are underserved by or excluded from schools).

And what about Maori medium education (also serving the needs of communities that have been disfranchised by the current system) or experts in health and wellbeing?

In addition, not one member could be considered in any way young or even — to borrow Jacinda Ardern’s term — “youth adjacent”. This suggests the views of young people (or even young teachers) are unlikely to shape the review.

None of the members seems to be an expert in the key issues topping the lists of schools and parents, namely: bullying, online environments, the digital curriculum, gender and sexuality, mental health, and student wellbeing more broadly.

Where is the evidence that the taskforce will employ 21st century thinking when, as a group, they are heavily invested in, and representative of, institutions that reinforce and benefit from the status quo?

The minister and the taskforce will no doubt respond that more diverse groups will be involved in the next stages of the consultative process. Be that as it may, if the high-level taskforce group sets an initially narrow agenda based on members’ own expertise then this review will be a waste of time.

As the black American poet Audrey Lorde rightly stated: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” If we only have insiders reviewing the system, real change is unlikely.

Associate Professor Katie Fitzpatrick is a lecturer in health, physical and sexuality education at the University of Auckland’s faculty of education and social work.

Source: NZ Herald

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