Jude Barback has written a series of informative articles on Aotearoa’s Kura Hourua partnership schools. The articles, dated May 2014, February 2017 and July 2018, track the life cycle of the Kura Hourua model and illustrate how it aspired to facilitate innovation in our education sector.
The 2014 article observed that Manurewa’s South Auckland Middle School was able to attract students from as far afield as Mt Albert and Te Atatu Peninsula. While stories of the lengths some parents will go to to send their children to well-known schools are common place, it is worth celebrating that an unproven, state-funded South Auckland school was able to mimic some of that pulling power.
Presumably the reason for the school’s success was that its pupils and their families saw it as the best fit for their particular needs. Facilitating a greater variety of schools, so that more students can find a school that suits them, was a key objective of the Kura Hourua model.
The 2014 article also noted that the school was located in a repurposed building. One way that the Kura Hourua model sought to fund innovation was to enable schools to reprioritise money by eschewing greenfield developments and large school grounds.
Ms Barback’s 2017 article shows what can be achieved when schools control how they allocate their funding. Utilising this funding flexibility, South Auckland Middle School sought to reduce its class sizes to 15 students and pay teachers more than their colleagues in traditional public schools.
In circumstances where class sizes and pay are two of the teacher unions’ greatest complaints, it seems counter-intuitive that they have been so persistent in their opposition to the Kura Hourua model.
Another feature of the Kura Hourua model was a willingness to close unsuccessful schools. Occasional failure is unavoidable. A key issue for the education sector is whether we perpetuate the damage failing schools cause to students by keeping those schools running while we try to rehabilitate them, or whether we close them so that something new can take their place. The Kura Hourua model supported the idea that students and their families should be able to vote with their feet and that it is natural that schools will come and go. As the 2017 article notes, a partnership school was closed after running into difficulties. By contrast, the article reports that the PPTA objected to partnership schools opening in areas where state schools had excess capacity.
The most recent article reports on the Treaty of Waitangi claim lodged by Sir Toby Curtis and others challenging the adequacy of the government’s consultation surrounding its decision to end the Kura Hourua model. The claim shows the strength of feeling amongst some of those who had high hopes for partnership schools.
It is regrettable that the Labour/Green/New Zealand First government has decided to end a much-needed attempt to promote innovation in our education system. The end of term four will be a sad day; particularly for those students, families and educators who had found a welcome home at partnership schools.
Lukas Schroeter is an expat Kiwi and product of the New Zealand education system who has followed the Kura Hourua partnership schools debate with interest.