With due respect to the Prime Minister of New Zealand and all concerned;

I am a 65-year-old grandmother and great grandmother and this is the first time in my life I have ever written to either the media or the New Zealand government and I do so with extreme concern and dismay.

Over my lifetime I have watched both my children and grandchildren struggle to receive an education delivered the way they need to learn. The same opportunity that is given to the 80 per cent of other New Zealand children. My grandchildren are part of the 20 per cent of New Zealanders who have some form of disability, in their case this relates to their learning. They are wired differently and in the minority, but they do matter. In the past, two of the oldest grandchildren with similar challenges, passed through their local school with very poor social and educational outcomes, due to a system which failed them miserably with abysmal special needs support. Today, both are struggling with their mental health and ability to gain work, at a cost to the taxpayer. It is obvious one size does not fit all.

These children and young people have the right to succeed in life. Two of my younger grandchildren were given this opportunity by the Villa Education Trust. Over the last four years we watched in awe at the progress these young people made while at South Auckland Middle School. They started SAMS insecure, lacking in confidence in themselves and their ability. Failing miserably educationally and socially, and falling through the cracks at their previous schools, they transformed into leaders at SAMS, achieving regularly at Merit and Excellence levels. They are now creative, innovative positive role models.

Most importantly, they have gained a high level of self-belief and now have the confidence to base their future endeavours upon. Having now transitioned into Senior colleges, SAMS has equipped and prepared them to reach their potential and positioned them to become productive members of our community. One has built their own blossoming business at fifteen and a half; and recently met with you Jacinda, at the Prime Minister’s Youth Awards dinner.

I am at a loss to understand why you would undo something that has proven to be exactly what these young people need. I see charter schools as the fence at the top of the cliff instead of the ambulance at the bottom. Please, this is money well spent. As a tax payer for 50 years I can’t express enough how much I would pay to see more young people go through Villa Education Trust schools. It is a success story! I realise this is a simplistic way of viewing things, however future funding for well-run charter schools could equate to less funding required for prison and mental health services in the future. In my opinion, it must be cost effective to keep these schools running when you consider the possible negative social outcomes these schools are addressing.

When weighed against the cost of our horrendous youth suicide statistics we must ask what investment are we really willing to make to ensure the future of New Zealand? Because these young people are as much a part of our future as any. SAMS has created an extended family environment where young people feel accepted, valued and a can develop an often much needed sense of belonging. They set high educational standards and expectations and the young people rise to the occasion. Pupils are given respect and become respectful in return. At SAMS EQ seems to be as important as IQ. They attend to the needs of the whole person. My grandchildren now dare to dream and have set high expectations and goals for themselves. Compared to their cousins who were not given this opportunity, the difference in personal growth achieved, has been a stark commentary on the inability of our mainstream educational system to offer an equitable education to everyone.

The staff at SAMS are well qualified and amazingly committed, going way beyond the call of duty to ensure no one gets left behind. There was a genuine sense of aroha at every school event I attended. The school culture encourages empathy, caring and individual accountability, and I consider this a credit to the staff and the leadership of the Villa Education Trust.

I have watched governments come and go in my lifetime, and have been disappointed many times by short sighted policies. But I was hopeful that this government would put ideology aside and sincerely care about every New Zealander as they promised. I was stunned tonight to hear it had been reported that Chris Hipkins stated charter schools cherry pick for success. Well if that’s true, they ‘cherry pick’ vulnerable young people who are failing in the mainstream system and more often than not, come from disadvantaged homes. The fact that they can produce ‘successes’ only proves what they are doing is working.

How do we target child poverty? Could one of the ways be by producing independent, solution focussed learners who can navigate life successfully, use their initiative and be productive citizens rather than a drain on our social service system. How anyone could accuse charter schools of elitism is beyond me.

I am not normally a particularly politically vocal person, but I have always voted as part of my responsibility as a New Zealand citizen and trusted our system, although not perfect, to be a fair and just one. I sincerely hope this government doesn’t bow to pressure from anyone who holds uniformed or misinformed prejudice against charter schools. Please let common sense prevail. Why waste possibly ‘up to a million’ to compensate schools who produce excellent results, to close? See the investment in charter schools for what it is an opportunity to turn lives around. As a society we will all benefit.

I am not an education professional and may be viewing this from an emotional perspective, but as far as I can see the results speak for themselves. If you have any doubts, talk to the schools the senior pupils transition into. Charter schools can and do work under the current structure so why try to fix something that isn’t broken?

I strongly oppose any change that would disenfranchise these young people of the right to an education which works for them, no matter how small in number.

Respectfully Prime Minister, you promised “a government for all New Zealanders – an empathetic government to improve the lives of the country’s most vulnerable people”. I am struggling to see how this proposed change is congruent with your stated vision?

Yours sincerely,

Alison Ross


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