Catherine Isaac. Photo / File

The independent board appointed by the National government to advise on and monitor partnership schools has stood down.

The chairwoman of the Partnership Schools Working Group, Catherine Isaac, notified partnership schools around the country, as well as the minister of education, of the board’s decision today.

A representative of Rotorua’s first and only partnership school, Te Rangihakahaka, which opened this year, Roana Bennett, said she admired the way the board was taking a stand.

“I admire what they’re doing in regards to the principle and taking the stand they are,” Bennett said.

“I’m sorry to see that group of highly capable people stand back and I think they did an exceptional job.”

Isaac said in her email to schools the board would stand down on the expiry of the current terms of appointment on March 1.

“In other words we will not be available for reappointment,” Isaac said in a statement to the Rotorua Daily Post.

“We have made this decision because we do not wish to contribute to dismantling an initiative which we know is achieving so much for students, and for which there is great demand.”

The independent board was appointed five years ago to provide advice and recommendations on which school applications should be considered for contracts. It is accountable for the overall monitoring of the education performance and achievement progress of the nation’s partnership schools.

Pou matangirua (principal) Renee Gillies (back left) with Te Rangihakahaka foundation students Leon De Souza, 7, and Raukura Kahukiwa. Photo / File

The announcement follows plans by the Labour government to introduce the Education Amendment Bill. The bill would end the previous government’s “charter schools experiments” among other things.

Isaac wrote the board’s primary concern was around the interests and wellbeing of students and their ability to succeed in education.

“All the members of the Board, past and present, accepted appointment to the Board because they had a strong interest in and commitment to the concept of providing innovative opportunities for educational success for disadvantaged or marginalised children who are failing in the regular state school system,” she said.

“We believe however that the interests of these students and their whanau have not been taken into account in this decision.”

Bennett said the rush to potentially close partnership schools was a “knee jerk reaction”.

Education minister Chris Hipkins says the board’s announcement did not come as a surprise. Photo / File

“There is evidence to show that Partnership Schools are working – and they are working particularly well for Maori and the Pacific Island community,” Bennett said.

Bennett said the Te Taumata o Ngati Whakaue Iho-Ake Trust, which governs the school, wasn’t concerned it faced closure.

She said she thought the board could have contributed more to the partnership school scene if they had continued.

Education minister Chris Hipkins said the decision, which the ministry learned of yesterday, had not come as a surprise as Isaac told him her intentions in January.

“We strongly refute Catherine Isaac’s claims that the interests of students and their families have not been taken into account,” Hipkins said.

“The Ministry of Education is negotiating with existing schools in good faith in a process that aims to transition them into the state education system or to become private schools. We want minimum disruption for the students and are hopeful that the outcomes will be positive.”

Hipkins said the ministry was working towards putting in place “transitional board arrangements” by the end of March and thanked the board for its service.

Isaac said a shift to a state school model would remove the flexibility and accountability that made partnership schools so successful.

Sir Toby Curtis, the board’s cultural advisor said partnership schools were a lifeline for some students.

“These children who are in partnership schools were assessed in a way that was not being academically inclined,” Sir Toby said.

“When they became members of partnership schools they changed from being non-academically inclined to very, very strong achievers.

“If they didn’t come to these schools many would end up on the scrap heap.”

Sir Toby said the proposed changes to partnership schools affected people.

“The first thing I believe a minister must take into account is changes affect people. Sometimes you can make changes as though these people weren’t of value and that seems to be the case in how partnership schools are being handled.”

Source: Rotorua Daily Post

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