Principals, teachers, parents, board chairs, union reps, Ministry of Education officials, and education professionals got the opportunity to pick the brains of the author of the Tomorrow’s Schools Review Report at Education Central’s ChalkTalk event last night in Wellington.
Tomorrow’s Schools Review Taskforce chair Bali Haque was joined by NZEI Te Riu Roa’s president Lynda Stuart, School Trustees Association president Lorraine Kerr, University of Auckland’s Professor Peter O’Connor, and Wellington High School deputy principal Karen Spencer in a panel discussion on the proposed reforms.
With numbers strictly limited to 50 places, the discussion took on a relaxed, intimate vibe as people debated the ins and outs of New Zealand’s most significant education reform in decades.
Moderated by Education Central editor Jude Barback, the debate darted across various aspects of the report, but most attention was given to the issues at the heart of the review: essentially tackling the inequality in our education system.
Professor Peter O’Connor made reference to the “winner and loser” schools that have emerged as a product of Tomorrow’s Schools and said drastic change was needed to turn things around for our most disadvantaged children and young people.
As in other forums held thus far, this notion was challenged by suggestions that the report, with its emphasis on redistributing resources to meet the needs of our priority students, doesn’t serve schools and boards that are operating effectively under the current system.
Some discussion was given to whether schools should be able to opt in to the services provided by the Education Hubs, effectively giving high-functioning boards the opportunity to continue operating as they currently are.
Bali Haque considered this variation, but ultimately dismissed it. He stressed that the Education Hubs were an essential part of the proposal and the merit in the hubs was that they would see a shift from schools operating as single entities to collaborative communities of schools. Without the hubs, it won’t work, he said.
Lynda Stuart agreed it was important the rhetoric was shifted from “my school” to “our schools”. Lorraine Kerr dismissed the notion that this change would dissolve community and parental input in schools. There was even the suggestion that more parents might stand for their school boards if the pressures of making finance, property and disciplinary decisions were removed.
Karen Spencer believed there was scope for Kahui Ako (Communities of Learning) to operate within the proposed hubs model, although she welcomed the taskforce’s push for more flexibility in how Kahui Ako currently operate.
Another key point to emerge from the discussions was the need for education to no longer be the political football that it has become. Haque implored the audience to contribute to the consultation process by requesting cross-party agreement on the outcomes of the review.
Discussions around other aspects of the review which have previously sparked controversy, like the five-year principal contracts and the phasing out of intermediate schools, were more tempered.
Karen Spencer defended the taskforce’s recommendation around the principal contracts, saying that the report wasn’t proposing to push principals out of their schools against their will. The audience shared different views on how a potential shift from serving a school to serving a community and a system might play out in different parts of the country.
The “elephant in the room”, as one audience member put described it, was the lack of sufficient resourcing for education. Changing from under-resourced boards to under-resourced education hubs was not the answer.
— Education Central (@EdCentralNZ) February 27, 2019
And on that, everyone agreed there was a need for more funding to allow the sector to flourish, whatever shape the changes might eventually take.
Chalktalks was proudly brought to you by the University of Auckland.