I generally support this government in their recognition of the crucial issues in our society. But as the Kiwibuild fiasco has illustrated, they can’t just wave a magic wand and decree that the issues be resolved.
It is not about throwing money at social ills or making decrees that things must improve. The issue is ensuring correct resources and incentives are in place. It is not about more government. It is about smarter government. 

The proposed Reforms of Tomorrow’s Schools are a good case study. The establishment of education hubs to ensure greater equality of opportunity in our schools has merit. But the crucial point needs to be whether this benefits all schools rather than imposes a “one size fits all” approach to schooling in New Zealand.

I am not a free market zealot. But I am an advocate of freedom of choice. I am a student of history, and history shows that societies that provide freedom to their citizens and are pluralistic in their thinking are those that prosper in giving their citizens a higher standard of living. People generally know what is best for themselves and their families. Governments don’t have all the answers. We should be wary of those who suggest otherwise.

The implementation of the proposed school system reforms face significant challenges in terms of resourcing. Where are the quality administrators going to come from to staff the hubs? It is likely they will be existing school administrators. This will leave gaping holes in our current schooling system which is already struggling to attract and retain quality staff.

But my biggest concern is the element of compulsion. An education system must be pluralistic. It must provide a variety of choice for parents and students. There is no “right answer” about what is the best system for educating our young people. There must be a variety of choice. The problem of a market-driven competitive schooling system is that it gives those at the bottom of the ladder little choice, and lower quality schools. The problem of a government controlled system is that it reduces choice and can stifle innovation and diversity. The answer lies somewhere in between.

Our current schooling system is unfair. The better schools are able to attract and retain the better teachers and administrators. They have access to greater skill levels on their Boards of Trustees. They have greater access to extra funding from fees, alumni and donations.  This issue is magnified because teaching is no longer regarded as a feasible career choice by many young people.  A competitive schooling system magnifies the inequalities in our society.

The proposed reforms make a lot of sense. But here is the crucial point. There is no need to inflict them on all schools. The mantra of compulsion is what rankles with many people. If the proposed hubs will be so beneficial to those schools that opt in, this will be proven with time. Pluralism provides a basis of comparison.

I am supportive  of the measures proposed to raise the performance of those schools that are struggling. I like the idea of providing new career pathways for teachers and administrators to share their expertise and experience with struggling schools. Provided this is remunerated and entirely voluntary. But we need to move on from a “one size fits all” approach to schooling.

Alternatives could include an “opt in, opt out” model or a trialling of hubs in those areas that are struggling.

Most importantly we need to ensure all our schools are staffed by quality teachers and administrators. Unless we increase the overall talent pool in our school staff rooms these proposed changes will be largely irrelevant .

Peter Lyons teaches Economics at Saint Peter’s College in Epsom and has written several Economics texts.

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