The biggest recommendations on the table are an attempt to bring more consistency to school governance.
The taskforce found that the quality of governance varies greatly around the country. While some boards of trustees execute their financial, legal and employment duties with finesse, others find themselves out of their depth. The nature of parent representation is such that some communities will yield board with a rich mix of skill-sets and experience, while others will struggle to get enough parents with the willingness or aptitude to serve their school as a trustee.
The taskforce’s proposed solution is to introduce Education Hubs to take responsibility for property, employment, advisory services, professional development, and allocating Government funding –leaving schools to focus on education. Hubs would automatically delegate back responsibility of property development (through 5YA), operational grants and staffing entitlements and recruitment to principals.
Boards would no longer be responsible for appointing their principal (although they will be involved), or making decisions on student suspensions, exclusions or expulsions. Instead boards would focus on student achievement and community engagement.
The proposal is for 20 hubs, each hub working with 125 regionally-grouped schools. The hubs would be independent, but monitored by the Ministry of Education – in fact they would replace regional Ministry offices. They are essentially intermediaries between the Government and schools.
The hubs would have a Ministerial appointed governance board, with no elected positions; the focus is on organisation, rather than school representation.
By stripping boards of trustees of their power, are we preparing schools with effective boards to go backwards?
A Stuff correspondent certainly thinks so.
“Having off-site pencil-pushers controlling things just does not work, you just end up with civil servants with big egos. My children’s school is run very well, its budget well managed. I could see the Hub taking equipment from well-run schools and giving it to schools that keep blowing their budget on unnecessary school trips.”
Alwyn Poole agrees high-performing schools shouldn’t be penalised.
“The schools that are flying in New Zealand should be given more freedom – not less. That other schools are faltering is not their fault or problem.”
But another Stuff correspondent points out that Education Hubs will help even out the resources available to schools.
“Do you think that your kids are more entitled to a good education because you are well off than the kids in deprived areas? If so, pay for them yourself and don’t expect me as a taxpayer to pay for your privileged position. It is about bringing up the strugglers which is for the good of all. Your kids will manage anyway.”
NZSTA president Lorraine Kerr thinks the Hubs have the potential to allow boards to be more effective.
“An ideal outcome will be enough change to enable school boards of trustees to perform their strategic governance role on behalf of the local community without constantly getting tied up in the compliance aspects of running the ‘business’ activities of the school.”
A closer reading of the report reveals that there is likely to be some fluidity with how Hubs work with boards and it may transpire that competent boards end up continuing to have a good deal of control.
PPTA president Jack Boyle says taking the responsibility for employment off the plates of boards of trustees may well resolve many of the systemic issues with which the unions deal.
Are the Education Hubs adding another layer of bureaucracy?
National education spokesperson Nikki Kaye says Education Hubs would “transfer more responsibilities from parents to bureaucrats” and disempower community decisions on schools.
Alwyn Poole agrees, saying, “The very last thing that schools in New Zealand need is another layer of bureaucracy and control.”
And some people on media forums have questioned the need to retain boards of trustees at all under the proposed new model, as they will just add another layer of reporting and compliance for Principals.
However, discussing the reforms via a DisruptED podcast, Albany Senior High School principal Claire Amos says she thinks the intention is actually to take some of the bureaucracy out of the schools.
“I get the sense they want principals and school leaders to be leaders of learning and shifting them away from being property managers and that business side of things. I don’t think we’re seeing a complete move away from self-governing schools by any means but maybe we’re seeing a more supported version of self-governing schools.”
Academy for Gifted Education principal Steve Mouldey, who co-hosted the podcast, agrees, saying it’s allowing schools to focus on the more core-specific roles of schools.
“I guess the intention is to try and take out what is a real pressure of the system and to maintain what is good about our independence. I don’t think anyone wants schools to become cookie cutters.”
What will it cost to set up Education Hubs and where are these people coming from?
This has been a common question since the report’s release but one with few answers at this stage.
As Principals’ Federation president Whetu Cormick says, “At this stage we don’t know whether there is sufficient money in the education budget to support the work of the hubs. These and other details will need to be thrashed out during the next consultation phase.”