Charter schools in New Zealand

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Charter schools in New Zealand, labelled as 'Partnership Schools', were allowed for after an agreement between the National Party and the ACT Party following the 2011 general election. The controversial legislation passed with a five vote majority.

Tomorrow's Schools[edit]

In 1989, the Fourth Labour Government reformed the state (public) school system in what was known as the "Tomorrow's Schools" reforms. Blaming the amount of centralised bureaucracy for slipping school standards, the government disestablished the Department of Education, replacing it with the smaller Ministry of Education and moving the governance of state schools to their individual school communities.[1] State schools under Tomorrow's Schools have many similarities to international charter schools, but with several major differences, most notably being crown entities, meaning they are government-owned and retain the strong governmental and parliamentary oversight and control in common with other New Zealand crown entities.

Each state school in New Zealand is governed by an elected board of trustees, consisting of the school principal ex officio, 3-7 trustees elected by parents of the school's students, one staff trustee elected by the school staff, and in secondary schools, one student trustee elected by the students. Each board of trustees has a charter agreement with the Government, renewed annually, setting its mission, aims, objectives, directions and targets in giving effect both the Government's and the board's priorities. The board receives funding from the Government to cover the costs of operating and maintaining the school, although teaching staff salaries are still set and paid centrally. Each board has the freedom to operate the school how it sees fit, but are still bound by multiple legal obligations, including: having to teach the New Zealand Curriculum, having to employ trained and registered teaching staff, having a nationally-fixed school year, and having to be accountable to the Government and to the school community. All New Zealand schools (state and private) must undergo regular external reviews by the Education Review Office (ERO), although state school reviews focus more on the quality of education delivered whereas private school ones focus more on legal compliance. State schools also cannot be selective and must enrol any student, unless they operate an overcrowding prevention scheme, in which case only students living in a defined local area are accepted openly with students outside the area being accepted through secret ballot in the following order: siblings of current students, siblings of former students, children of former students, children of school staff, all others.

There are several variations on the Tomorrow's Schools model, the largest of which is state-integrated schools. State-integrated schools are parochial schools or private schools that have been "integrated" into the state school system under the Private Schools Conditional Integration Act 1975,[2] usually because they have run into financial difficulty. These schools are run the same as state schools, but they are allowed to retain their special character. Proprietors of the school (e.g. the Catholic Church in the case of a Catholic school) own the integrated school facilities and sit on the school's board of trustees, but they do not receive government funds to maintain separation of church and state, and subsequently require parents to pay "attendance dues" for upkeep of the facilities.

Partnership schools / kura hourua[edit]

Following the 2011 general election, the National Party in return for confidence and supply announced it would pick up an ACT Party policy of setting up charter schools in southern Auckland and eastern Christchurch within three years. This followed the appointment of Lesley Longstone as the new Secretary of Education, who has experience in England with charter schools, although Longstone resigned in November 2012 after falling out with Education Minister Hekia Parata over the error-ridden Novopay payroll system. The National-ACT alliance intends to set up charter schools as alternatives to state schools. Schools would be operated by private businesses or organisations such as a new age church and tribal groups, and would be directly accountable for performance to the organizations running them. The schools would receive state funding and private donations, but have the same freedoms as private schools in matters such as in setting the curriculum, length of the school year and teachers' pay. Teaching staff would also not have to be registered or even formally trained (although they would still require police clearance). Charter schools would still be subject to triennial external reviews by ERO, and the government would still have the power to intervene if there are serious problems, either taking over from the sponsor for a period of time or sacking them altogether.[3] Unlike state schools, charter schools would not be subject to either Ombudsman scrutiny or the Official Information Act 1982. However in April 2013, it was also announced that charter schools would be subject to Ombudsman scrutiny on matters relating to suspensions and expulsions (other than the Ombudsman, the only other way to appeal a suspension or expulsion is through the court system).

The plan was heavily criticised by the opposition Labour and Green parties, the main teachers' professional associations – the NZEI and the PPTA – and the general public. Most of the opposition was over the idea of unregistered and untrained teachers having direct contact with students, and the lack of accountability through the Ombudsman and the Official Information Act. In April 2012, Massey University released a report highly critical of the proposed charter school model, claiming there was no international evidence to support claims that charter schools do better and all they would do is increase segregation.[4] In September 2012, Minister of Education Hekia Parata announced that many schools in Christchurch would be closed or amalgamated, largely due to population changes and damaged facilities following the February 2011 earthquake. However, parents, teachers and students protested at the changes for going too far, and feared that the closures were being used as an excuse to start charter schools. In June 2013, the closed school sites were put up for sale, with charter schools and property development among the proposed uses.[5]

The Education Amendment Bill to allow charter schools, rebranded partnership schools / kura hourua, was introduced on October 15, 2012 and passed its first reading three days later 63 votes to 56. The bill was referred to the Education and Science select committee for closer scrutiny and public submissions, with the committee reporting back in April 2013 that the bill should proceed with amendments.[6] After the report was released, United Future MP Peter Dunne announced he was pulling support for charter schools, leaving only the National, Act and Maori Parties supporting the bill.[7] The bill passed its third reading on June 4, 2013, 62 votes to 57. During the select committee stage, the Labour Party announced that if elected to government at the 2014 general election, it would introduce provisions to require charter schools to employ registered teachers and make the schools fully accountable to the Ombudsmen and the Official Information Act. It would also not allow any new charter schools and would not guarantee future funding or integration to any existing schools, leaving them either to continue as private schools or close altogether.[8]

In May 2013, the PPTA published in its staff newsletter a list of 21 parties it believed were interested in the charter school programme, which included a high proportion of religious groups.[9] The Ministry of Education refused to release the full list of 36 interested parties, however in July 2013, the Ombudsman overruled the MoE and forced them to release the list as soon as possible.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Adams, Mark (January 2009). Tomorrow’s schools Today: New Zealand’s Experiment 20 years on (Report). Mercatus Center, George Mason University. Retrieved 23 July 2013.
  2. ^ Private Schools Conditional Integration Act 1975
  3. ^ Cheng, Derek (December 6, 2011). "What are charter schools?". The New Zealand Herald (Auckland). Retrieved January 21, 2012. 
  4. ^ "Charter schools make things worse - study". 3 News New Zealand. April 13, 2012. Retrieved June 22, 2013. 
  5. ^ McDonald, Liz (June 3, 2013). "Shuttered Chch schools to be in demand". 
  6. ^ "Education Amendment Bill -- Bills -- Legislation". New Zealand Parliament. October 18, 2012. Retrieved January 27, 2013. 
  7. ^ "Dunne against charter schools". 3 News NZ. April 18, 2013. 
  8. ^ "Education Amendment Bill -- As reported from the Education and Science Committee". New Zealand Parliament. Retrieved June 26, 2013. [dead link]
  9. ^ Shadwell, Talia (May 21, 2013). "PPTA outs charter school hopefuls". 
  10. ^ Shuttleworth, Kate (25 July 2013). "Ministry ordered to release names of charter school applicants". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 26 July 2013. 

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