Education Minister Chris Hipkins has appointed “a diverse group of knowledgeable and passionate New Zealanders” to help guide the reform of the education system.

The group, led by Children’s Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft, includes former National education minister Sir Lockwood Smith, former Labour minister Marian Hobbs, Victoria University professor Rawinia Higgins, Pacific health consultant Debbie Ryan, Auckland University of Technology professor Welby Ings, playwright Etta Bollinger, and the chief executive of the Centre for Gifted Education, Deborah Walker.

Hipkins announced the group in Christchurch over the weekend at the first of two education summits.

“Every single one of this group is a leader in their own right and all are passionate advocates for great education,” he said.

“They will provide a high-level overview to connect the vision from the education summits and national conversation with the development and delivery of the Government’s strategic education work plan during 2018, which includes Tomorrow’s Schools and the NCEA Review.

“The group is a key component in our approach to democratise the vitally important process of improving and modernising our education system to set it up for the next 30 years.”

Judge Andrew Becroft says the challenge of providing a world-leading education system is an issue for the whole community and will need the perspectives of all of us, including the voices of children and young people.

“As an advisory group, we are tasked with ensuring all of these voices and perspectives are heard and acted upon, across the full spectrum of the work that government is doing in education.

“In that sense, the group is both guardian of these voices, and a watchdog in the best sense. We intend to hold their feet to the fire to ensure that the future of education in New Zealand reflects what people are sharing.”

Dr Welby Ings, who authored the popular book Disobedient Teaching, said the group’s brief is to hold the government accountable to what people are saying.

“The group is ideologically rich and diverse but joined by a genuine concern that as a nation, we might co-design a richer, world-leading education system built on collective aspiration and insight.”

Ings says the education summits are a visceral break with tradition.

“The events are not run as ‘present and question sessions’ but building on the potentials of design thinking, people collectively share and talk their way through issues. There are no keynotes or elevated experts. Everybody attending is understood as an experienced expert and their lived experience becomes the substance of decision making. Every voice gets the same status. I think this is important because we are doing something important here. The idea is that teachers might co-create education policy, not just be an occasionally consulted adjunct.”
Some eyebrows were raised over Sir Lockwood Smith’s inclusion on the group.

Tertiary Education Union president Sandra Grey said she was surprised to see Smith’s name on the panel.

“It seems sensible to try a cross-party approach to these changes, but we do wonder whether having someone so clearly at odds with the current Government’ approach…is a wise choice.

However, according to the Herald, Principals’ Federation president Whetu Cormick and Post Primary Teachers’ Association president Jack Boyle have both welcomed Smith’s appointment, with Cormick making the point that “education should not be a political football”.

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