By: Simon Collins
Battle lines are drawn over a proposed radical shake-up of the education system which has brought excited praise from liberals but condemnation as “Stalinist” from more traditional schools.
“This is a big, bold and brave move from the taskforce and we welcome it,” said NZ Educational Institute president Lynda Stuart. “We are excited by the opportunities.”
But Auckland Grammar School headmaster Tim O’Connor said the report, by a taskforce led by former principal Bali Haque, “needs to be resisted at all costs”.
“It is a serious attack on state education and on every child’s life chances. We’ll just have to work to ensure that it doesn’t proceed,” he said.
Avondale College principal Brent Lewis said a proposal to transfer all the legal responsibilities of school boards of trustees from elected boards to appointed regional hubs was “real Stalinist stuff”.
The taskforce would reverse key changes made in the last big reforms known as “Tomorrow’s Schools” in 1989, when regional education boards were abolished and every school was given control of its operations budget and staff appointments.
Haque proposes to resurrect about 20 regional “hubs”, each responsible for about 125 schools. The hubs would employ principals and teachers, assigning principals to schools for five-year terms and then potentially moving them around to where their skills are most needed.
The hubs would manage the size of all their schools, putting limits on the numbers of out-of-zone students.
School boards would also lose the power to expel students. The hubs would take over the process as soon as any student is suspended.
The funding system would be changed to double the extra funds for more disadvantaged students from 3 per cent of total funding now to 6 per cent, and schools in richer areas would not be allowed to make up for this by asking parents for big “donations”.
The taskforce also proposes abolishing intermediate schools and encouraging either junior colleges (Years 7-10) and senior colleges (Years 11-13), or full primary schools (Years 1-8) and full secondaries above them.
Ironically the changes were welcomed by school trustees, whose powers would be emasculated. School Trustees Association president Lorraine Kerr said boards would be glad to hand over “compliance” tasks such as health and safety, employment and property maintenance.
“Taking those away might help boards concentrate on making the right decisions to ensure that every child in every school is supported to their potential without the distraction of all the compliance things we have to do,” she said.
“Actually the board meeting would revolve around student achievement and what we are doing about it.”
Principals Federation president Whetu Cormick said principals would welcome more support from the new hubs, but would be “challenged” by the proposed five-year terms and the abolition of intermediates.
Secondary Principals Association vice-president Deidre Shea, of Onehunga High School, said she was excited by the extra support that schools would get from the proposed hubs.
She said the current system of letting school boards appoint principals had led to bad decisions in some cases and students had suffered. But there would be debate over whether the taskforce had got the balance right.
She also supported tightening up on out-of-zone students.
“The logic of it is well understood, it’s around having effective provision of education in each community, and about the rationalisation of resources – and we all want to be able to get to work in the morning with less traffic!”
IHC advocacy director Trish Grant said parents of disabled children would welcome having the hubs to review school decisions on which students they enrolled or expelled.
“It brings a level of external oversight,” she said. “Whether that is enough is another question.”
The report is open for public submissions until April 7.
Source: NZ Herald