Guest Post: Bureaucracy gone mad – what would National say if Labour was doing this?

April 8th, 2016 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

A guest post from the PPTA:

Earlier this year the Secretary of Education, Peter Hughes, had his regular grilling by the Education and Science Select Committee.

Maurice Williamson, who’s not usually the most engaged MP on the committee, asked a question along the lines of “In all the years I’ve been an MP I’ve had principals come to me complaining about the Ministry of Education giving them pointless paperwork that doesn’t help students or make schools run any better. What’s the Ministry doing to address this?”

Hughes, as usual, gave a reassuring and well organised answer which placated Williamson and sent a ‘no story here, move along’ signal to the media.

But as this piece from Jo Moir in the Dominion on Saturday showed, schools, and in fact anyone else who works with kids, are potentially facing a blizzard of paperwork in the next few months, and it’s exactly the sort of bureaucratic, box ticking nonsense that will send principals howling to local MPs like Williamson, and for good reason.

Its genesis is the “Children’s Action Plan Directorate” and the “Children’s Workforce Core Competencies Framework”, which emerged from Paula Bennett’s 2012 White Paper on Vulnerable Children.

The draft framework, which is going through final consultation at the moment, contains six domains, 30 indicators and five tiers, describing what everyone who works with kids, from volunteer cricket coaches to paediatricians will have to know and do – and as the document says, these competencies will be “mandated” and “measured”.

Along with those in Dominion Post, a few other examples of the indicators include:

‘Understand the effects of non-verbal communication such as body language, and that different cultures use and interpret body language in different ways’

‘Understand the content of the core competencies framework and can apply the descriptors in self-assessment…’

‘Understand relevant global policy and national legislation to protect children, including the UN declaration on the Rights of the Child, the Vulnerable Children’s Act…’

And pages and pages more of this.

Like rather a lot of what this government is up to, it’s an interesting exercise to consider what the National Party would be saying about this if Labour was in power and doing the same thing.  Key’s speeches in 2006-2007 were peppered with “suffocating Wellington bureaucracy” and “over regulation”, and he wasn’t promising more of it.

A few months ago the Rebstock-led report on CYFs, welcomed by Minister Tolley and about to be responded to with sweeping changes, included a main recommendation about “allowing staff to use their professional judgment … to support children based on clear principles, rather than rules, compliance and time-driven practice.” The contrast with the ‘competency framework’ is stark.

But most unfortunately, it’s hard to find anyone who works with kids who believes that this is going to help. Many teachers, nurses or others who work with young people could do with training to know what to look for in terms of signs of illness or abuse, and what to do about it. But this checklist doesn’t offer that. 

Instead it seems to be the approach that public servants take when they don’t have enough funding to do anything really worthwhile, but do have just enough to hold some meetings, print a few pamphlets and make a website – and then pass the work onto people who are already far busier than they are.

I think everyone agrees we need to do better in protecting vulnerable children. But whether this framework is the answer is quite another issue.

A split in the PPTA?

December 9th, 2015 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The case has caused some division within the union. The Herald understands the PPTA Onehunga High School branch approved a motion supporting the Teach First programme, and objecting to the PPTA’s legal action.

The branch chair could not be reached for comment, and principal Deidre Shea referred questions on Teach First to the ministry.

PPTA president Angela Roberts said she was aware of some concerns and could understand why some members felt the union had been “a bit heavy-handed”.

I suspect Onehunga High School is one of those schools that has Teach First graduates and has found them wonderful. It is no surprise they would be unhappy with the PPTA’s lawsuit.

Has PPTA killed off Teach First?

December 6th, 2015 at 7:25 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

School principals plans for next year have been thrown into disarray as a groundbreaking teacher training programme is ruled illegal.

The scheme enables high-achieving university graduates to do an intensive, six-week course before they start work in low decile schools, training on the job for two years. Principals and parents have praised the scheme but the Post-Primary Teachers’ Association (PPTA) filed a legal challenge.

The Employment Relations Authority ruled teacher graduates were illegally appointed to jobs through the government-funded Teach First New Zealand programme, disadvantaging qualified teachers who were excluded from the roles.

The Government has committed $6.4 million over four years to the programme, about to start training it’s third batch of graduates, but the Post-Primary Teachers’ Association (PPTA) filed a legal challenge.

Post-Primary Teachers’ Association president Angela Roberts says Teach First operators ignored New Zealand’s employment laws when it set up here.

The 50 or so teachers already posted to schools face uncertainty over future employment and it’s unclear if the future teaching posts of graduates about to start their six-week course will be suspended while the Ministry of Education and Teach First resolve the issues.

Northland College principal Jim Luders, one of 20 school heads to file affidavits in support of the trainee teachers, said he was “deeply disappointed” in the PPTA for taking the action.

“Every single Teach First candidate we’ve had has just been outstanding, they are so thorough, so hard-working and so resilient, it’s unbelievable. Our kids get major benefit from them.

“I put my kids first, and for my kids, these guys [Teach First trainees] are outstanding. This is the best thing for kids in low decile kids and this system works.”

How very sad. We often hear from the teacher unions that we need to spend more money on getting great teachers into low decile schools. We have a programme that does exactly that – gets some of the best graduates in NZ agreeing to spend two years teaching in low decile schools, and it gets blocked because basically they’re not union members.

UPDATE: PPTA have said that many trainees were PPTA members and that they back Teach First, just not how it has been implemented.

PPTA sees sense

October 2nd, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The secondary teachers union will drop a proposed move to ban foreign qualifications, saying it was proving a “distraction” from the real issues around NCEA.

A Post-Primary Teachers’ Association paper titled “The NCEA: Can it be saved” previously included lobbying for a ban of Cambridge and International Baccalaureate, alongside a series of other recommendations around how to ensure NCEA remained workable and robust.

The proposed ban has been hotly debated since it was raised, with NCEA supporters arguing foreign examinations undermined our local qualification, while Cambridge supporters argued its system was more robust, and there needed to be a choice.

PPTA members today voted for the paper at their national conference in Wellington, without the recommendation included after executive members decided to remove it.

A good move from the PPTA. Their own credibility would have been badly damaged if they had endorsed the proposal to advocate a ban of foreign qualifications.

Some schools choose to offer international qualifications such as Cambridge. That is a choice their community of parents makes. They should have that choice.

PPTA confirms they want to ban international qualifications

September 21st, 2015 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Head of the PPTA, Angela Roberts, said it wanted Cambridge gone as it was undermining NCEA, and was calling for a ban.

So sad.

PPTA wants to ban international school qualifications

August 26th, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

It said schools offering Cambridge and IB made public assertions that portrayed the NCEA as not challenging or lacking credibility – which was not true – and therefore should be banned as it was further undermining the local qualification.

I’m used to outrageously bad proposals in education, but this might take the cake. Because some parents and schools hold Cambridge and International Baccalaureate in higher esteem than NCEA, the PPTA’s answer is to ban them!!!

Do their political allies in Labour and Greens agree with them?

And as for NCEA?

The union said it would only continue to support NCEA if changes were made to ensure it retained its quality and fairness.

And what do they mean by that?

These included the removal of the government target

So no accountability.

less required moderation

Which means it is less fair. Also ironically the NZEI argues national standards do not have enough moderation while PPTA says NCEA has too much moderation.

reduction in the dominance of universities over the qualification

So less quality.

and a ban on international qualifications such as Cambridge and International Baccalaureate

And no choice.

I look forward to Labour campaigning on this in 2017.

The shameful teacher boycoot

August 6th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

When Chief Petty Officer Kelly Kahukiwa left the navy to teach in Northland he did not know what a charter school was.

Now, because he had a job at a Whangarei charter school, the student teacher is caught between a teachers’ union and a controversial government policy that has left him blacklisted from training at state schools. It comes after the Post Primary Teachers Association (PPTA) said its members will not work with employees of charter schools.

Mr Kahukiwa started teaching te reo Maori and music at Te Kura Hourua O Whangarei Terenga Paraoa in Whangarei at the start of the year. He sought out the school after meeting some of its students at the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Cassino in Italy last May, where he was with the Royal New Zealand Navy.

“All of us in the military, when we met those kids, we knew there was something special going on,” he said.

“I just thought, oh well, whatever a charter school is it works for these kids, I want to be part of it.”

Mr Kahukiwa said the first he knew of any issues was three days into his next placement, at Tikipunga High School in May. Once the school found out he was from a charter school, the board asked him not to return.

“I was just astounded,” he said. “I had no idea why or what was going on. I’m just one teacher trying to do what [the PPTA members] all joined for, which is educate kids, uplift the kids and share my skills.”

PPTA members should be ashamed that they are treating someone who wants to educate kids, so poorly. It’s appalling.

David Seymour also comments:

The case of the trainee teacher caught in the political campaigning of the PPTA is a national disgrace, says ACT Leader David Seymour.

“The PPTA doesn’t seem to understand that whether a teacher is employed in the state sector, an integrated school, or a partnership school, they are employed by taxpayers. And as taxpayers we elect governments to take decisions on our behalf,” said Mr Seymour.

“The PPTA blog, Pigeonhole, has summarised the rationale for the union’s campaign of discrimination against all staff or trainee teachers associated with Partnership Schools. Its commentary is a welter of misinformation and inaccuracy.

“But there is one very revealing comment: ‘It’s perfectly legal to choose not to employ or work with people on the basis of their current employer – it’s the same as a business not wanting to sell something to a competitor because you don’t want to be copied by them’.

“The PPTA seems to think it operates like a business, in charge of our education system. It’s not. Taxpayers employ teachers with an expectation that they will work in the interests of children, not union ideology.

Taxpayers through the Government are the employers of teachers in the state sector, not the PPTA.

Why stop there?  Will the PPTA also demand schools refuse to hire teachers who have ever worked at a private school?  Or an integrated school?

Supporting trade academies

July 27th, 2015 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuart Middleton from MIT writes:

The New Zealand Herald is right to call for more enrolments in trades academies. Yet to protect teacher management jobs from funding cuts, the NZ Post Primary Teacher’s Association (PPTA) recently advised against secondary schools enrolling numbers of students in trades academies.

The argument put forward by the PPTA is that they will lose funding for the one day per week that the student attends trades training.

Cutting the number of students able to access trades academies would dramatically disadvantage those students – particularly those in low decile areas. Trades academies are proven to keep students in education longer and to improve their employment outcomes.

That’s the important outcome.

South Auckland has experienced real success with these initiatives. As an example, the MIT Tertiary High School (introduced in 2010) has produced fantastic results for students who weren’t achieving in mainstream schools – its NCEA pass rate is comparable to decile 10 schools, and students are learning skills which will prepare them for real jobs in the future.

Early access to vocational and technical programmes is the key.

Importantly, the students’ results improved in their other subjects, not just the trades. Research, including a study undertaken by the MIT Centre for Studies in Multiple Pathways, shows that students learning in trades academies perform much better across all of their schooling.


The issue for the PPTA is that this training is best undertaken by the tertiary sector. It is cynical to deny students these opportunities simply because it would decrease a school’s funding. It is perverse that a higher premium is placed on a relatively small amount of staffing, than on the success that trades training can deliver to students.

We will only get different results by working differently. The PPTA needs to work with the opportunities, instead of resisting them. Mixing conventional school subjects with trades training is a winning combination and the only way that New Zealand will achieve excellence in both achievement and equitable outcomes across our communities.

By withdrawing students from trades training, the disadvantage for many students will far outweigh the funding advantage to a few adults.

Well said.

Secondary teachers vote for education reforms

November 21st, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Radio NZ reports:

80 per cent of PPTA members have agreed to include two new teaching roles into their collective employment contract. They’re a key part of the government’s $360 million policy, which will see the creation of communities of schools.

That’s very pleasing. There are many areas of education policy where the PPTA disagrees with the Government, but it is good to see them willing to work with the Government in an area where they do agree.

The reforms will be excellent for secondary teachers and principals. They will be able to earn $10,000 to $50,000 a year more by taking up roles where they share their skills with other schools and teachers.

The NZEI remains totally against their members getting paid more money!

PPTA on Investing in Educational Success

September 2nd, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The PPTA has a blog post on some of the misinformation on the Investing in Educational Success initiative.  They state they are supportive of it because:

IES is a political initiative because it comes from the party that is in government and because it’s election year but its aims are entirely consistent with PPTA professional policy around such things as:

  • collaboration between schools

  • openness and the sharing of expertise

  • career paths –  especially for new and beginning teachers.

They deal with five myths being put out:

  1. That the proposal in the cabinet paper is the same policy that is now being negotiated – it has changed.
  2. That it will be mandatory – you can’t force people to collaborate
  3. No such role as a super principal – now called community of schools leadership role
  4. It is not performance pay – they are regular roles with an allowance
  5. There is no final agreement, just an interim agreement, which may lead to a proposal to take to members

Now the PPTA don’t say who is putting out the misinformation, but pretty easy to do a search on the Internet and find this release a few days ago from the NZEI:

The IES policy proposes the creation of four new roles, including an extra $40,000pa for “executive principals” and “expert teachers”, who would mentor and manage across a cluster of 10 schools, with the aim of lifting student achievement. “Change principals” and “lead teachers” would also be created.

So the NZEI is using role titles which they know are outdated, and no longer part of the proposal. But as they are acting in bad faith, they try to hoodwink their members and the public on what the current proposal actually is.

PPTA reaches agreement

August 23rd, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Only a day after the country’s biggest teacher union walked away from the Government’s flagship education policy, secondary school teachers have agreed on an interim deal over it.

Today the Post Primary Teachers’ Association, representing about 18,000 secondary school teachers, reached an interim agreement around how the teaching roles would work as part of the $359 million Investing in Educational Success initiative.

Good to see there is one union not against their members being able to take up roles that pay $10,000 to $50,000 a year more.

Labour against paying the top teachers more

June 12th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The Government’s $359 million expert teachers policy has proved to be the latest in a series of “epic failures” in the education sector due to a lack of consultation with teachers and Labour will soon announce a better model it says.

The Government policy which would see “expert” and “lead” teachers identified and paid extra to act as role models across several schools was slammed by primary teachers union the NZEI and the NZ Principals Federation after they met to discuss it this week.

What the story doesn’t mention is that the PPTA has said:

The government’s $359 million Investing in Educational Success (IES) program has been a positive example of sector collaboration, says PPTA president Angela Roberts.

Roberts welcomes today’s release of the working group report on the initiative which will see schools across the country collaborating rather than competing.

From PPTA’s point of view the consultation over IES was comprehensive, robust and genuine, Roberts said.

“We stepped up to the challenge and engaged as fully as it is possible to do.”

The sector had worked hard together to find pragmatic answers and there had been significant movement from the originally unacceptable cabinet paper, Roberts said.

“You know it’s collaboration when it’s hard work – and this was really hard work.”

“We feel cabinet has heard us,” she said.

Now the PPTA is not exactly a friend of the Government’s. It opposes the Government on many other issues. It would not be saying that there has been genuine consultation and changes – unless there had been.

NZEI National President Judith Nowotarski said leaders from national and regional principal and teacher groups had sent a clear message that the policy, as it currently stood, was “unacceptable and unworkable” and “identified the lack of direct benefit for children in this policy”.

School leaders were concerned the policy would remove highly rated teachers and principals from their schools for two days a week, which would impact on children’s learning.

The PPTA actually deals with this in a blog post:

4. The evidence is lacking

There is plenty of evidence on the professional benefits of mentoring and the positive results that focusing on collaboration rather than competition will bring.

5. There is growing disquiet and concern in the sector…

Only in a small part of the beltway in Wellington.  Elsewhere schools are thinking about what clusters they are already in and what they need to do to be ready to pick up the extra staffing and funding that will come in next year.  Listen carefully – that is the sound of professionals collaborating.

Again why would the PPTA say this, if they did not think the policy was beneficial?

Labour’s education spokesman Chris Hipkins said the fact that teachers and principals were willing to turn down pay rises of up to $40,000 a year “reflects how bad they believe this policy is”.

It’s more a reflection that the NZEI just wants a Labour-led Government so National Standards can be abolished.

Mr Hipkins said Ms Parata had learned nothing about working with teachers.

“She has overseen epic failures including the class size debacle, the Christchurch schools mergers, charter schools and National Standards. And let’s not forget Novopay.”

Again I quote the PPTA blog:

1. There has been no consultation.

This might be true if these changes had been legislated in place but that’s not what happened. The $359 million was an employer offer made to unions for them to bargain and amend with the aim of eventually putting it into their collective agreements.   If using the democratic structures of unions to made changes for teachers isn’t consultation what is?

Strange that this article quotes the NZEI and Labour at length, and doesn’t even mention the views of the PPTA.

But I welcome the (almost) clear sign from Labour they they oppose this policy (they pretended to support it when first announced). This gives people another reasons to vote National.

Investing in Educational Success initiative moves forward

June 4th, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Hekia Parata announced:

Education Minister Hekia Parata has welcomed advice from sector leaders on the Government’s $359 million initiative to raise student achievement, saying it maintains momentum and strengthens the path forward.

Ms Parata has released a Working Group report that provides support and advice on the Investing in Educational Success initiative announced by the Prime Minister in January.

“Raising student achievement is one of our Government’s top priorities. This investment strongly supports that by building quality and consistency of teaching and leadership across the system,” Ms Parata says.

“Like us, parents will be very pleased we’re making such good progress on something that will make a real difference in our schools and classrooms.

“Unions and groups representing teachers, principals, boards of trustees, and others in the sector have worked closely with the Ministry of Education to produce a report that demonstrates very practical thinking.

“I want to acknowledge the expertise and experience Working Group members brought to the table to advance this work. I know they’re as committed as we are to raising achievement so five out of five kids succeed.”

This has been a good example of how Government can work with stakeholders. The Government announced the policy and funding, but said they’ll work with unions and others on exact details. And they have accepted some of the changes proposed by teachers and unions such as making sure teachers have both relief and inquiry time built into their week, so they can participate in the sharing of skills.

The full report is here. The key details are:

  • Communities of schools would form to encourage collaboration. Participation is voluntary.
  • There would be:
    • Community of Schools Leadership Role (for Executive Principal)
    • Community of Schools Teacher (across community) Role (for Expert Teacher)
    • Community of Schools Teacher (within school) Role (for Lead Teacher)
    • Principal Recruitment Allowance (for Change Principal Allowance).
  • Selection to the roles would be subject to meeting agreed professional standards or criteria, which are to be developed by an expert writing group
  • Release time would be provided to schools for across-community roles to fulfil their functions
  • A payment should be established to support boards of trustees of the most high need schools to broaden their recruitment pool and assist them to recruit a high quality principal. 
  • The provision of Inquiry Time would allow other teachers across a Community of Schools to access the expertise that the new roles would make available. 
  • A Teacher-led Innovation Fund (TLIF) would be established with a budget of $10 million over the coming four years. 

The NZEI has been participating, but has a general policy of disagreeing with anything National proposes, regardless of its merits. The PPTA, according to my sources, has been much more constructive, and are responsible for many of the changes proposed in the working group report. It’s a good example of the difference between constructive engagement and mindless opposition. At the end of the day the NZEI will have to decide whether they wish to campaign against thousands of their own members being able to get paid $10,000 to $50,000 a year more!

To be fair to NZEI they have been participating in the working group. They are just unable to publicly ever state that something National does could possibly be beneficial because they’re still sulking over national standards.

The PPTA response is worth quoting, and is here:

The government’s $359 million Investing in Educational Success (IES) program has been a positive example of sector collaboration, says PPTA president Angela Roberts.

Roberts welcomes today’s release of the working group report on the initiative which will see schools across the country collaborating rather than competing.

From PPTA’s point of view the consultation over IES was comprehensive, robust and genuine, Roberts said.

“We stepped up to the challenge and engaged as fully as it is possible to do.”

The sector had worked hard together to find pragmatic answers and there had been significant movement from the originally unacceptable cabinet paper, Roberts said.

“You know it’s collaboration when it’s hard work – and this was really hard work.”

“We feel cabinet has heard us,” she said.

In stark contrast to the NZEI position. If I was a primary teacher I’d be asking my union why they are constantly badmouthing a plan to allow the best teachers and principals to earn up to $50,000 a year more.

Flavell on PPTA boycott

February 23rd, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell says:

Te Ururoa Flavell, Maori Party Co-Leader, has expressed disappointment at the influence of PPTA in advising Whangarei Boys High teachers to not teach students who attend Te Kura Hourua Te Kapeha Whetu.

“As I understand it the Board of Trustees at Whangarei Boys High was happy to support Kura Hourua students in specific areas such as the visual arts. That type of cooperation has been modelled in the relationships that many other kura establish with general schools, wananga, polytechnics and other education providers across New Zealand. It represents a dynamic relationship that we should surely be fostering in our communities – that the education and learning of our students impacts on us all,” says Te Ururoa Flavell, Maori Party Co-Leader.

“I recognise that Partnership Schools is a major political issue and teachers have a right to their views on educational policy, but what about the kids? Surely we should be putting the best interests of our young people ahead of our politics.”

That would be nice. Boycotts have no place in our education system.

“I was a teacher for many years and I know that the profession prides itself on putting the interests of our children first, but this flies in the face of those values. I would have thought as teachers, that what matters is that every student experiences success. That’s what Te Kapeha Whetu want. That’s what the Maori Party wants. Come on PPTA – surely there are other ways of making political statements that do not impact so immediately on our kids.”

The PPTA must be gravely concerned that charter schools will be successful.

PPTA finds five good things in education in 2013

January 20th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The PPTA goes to battle a lot against the Government on educational issues. However they have done a blog post highlighting five good things the Government did in education in 2013. They are:

  1. Continued investment in and support for the Positive Behaviour for Learning Action Plan. Started in 2009, many schools involved are reporting fewer behaviour problems.
  2. The response to the report on twenty-first century learning and the Network for Learning. They praise the minister’s reference group as dynamic and credible and say the Network for Learning has huge promise.
  3. The Ministry of Education’s new approach to consultation. Peter Hughes is making a difference.
  4. The Aranui cluster and the secondary sector in Christchurch. They say there has been massive improvement in communication over Canterbury schools, and genuine consultation.
  5. The property announcements in response to the Beca review. They praise the option for schools to be able to hand back property management to the ministry.

Good on the PPTA for highlighting the areas where they are agreeing with the Government, while continuing to oppose in the areas where they do not agree. Politics is about being able to work constructively in some areas, while disagreeing in other.s

A charter school responds to the PPTA

November 20th, 2013 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

A further guest post, responding to the PPTA guest post, from the Villa Education Trust:

The Villa Education Trust is one of the 5 organisations given the opportunity to begin a Partnership School to start in Term 1 of 2014. The new school is South Auckland Middle School. The Trust is not for profit and also runs Mt Hobson Middle School in Newmarket and has done so for 11 years. The process to get permission from government to begin a new school has been, rightly, arduous and rigorous.

We have never looked for a confrontation but I am interested in a number of the PPTA comments as they have certainly tried to be obstructive to the new schools and I do not believe all of their points are accurate.

Also of interest is that we are not getting the feeling from teachers that the PPTA are trying to convey. We had 105 applicants for our 8 teaching positions – many of them current PPTA members – and have been able to appoint a very good staff to South Auckland Middle School. 

That’s a good level of applicants. Will the PPTA expel members who take up a job with the South Auckland Middle School? 

In terms of their statements.

1. Yes – the PPTA does represent many secondary teachers within NZ but not all. Given their claim of being democratic (and support of referendum: – have they had a members’ referendum on their opposition to Partnership Schools? Maybe the question could be:

Do PPTA members want their subscriptions spent opposing 5 schools and a model designed at improving outcomes for children who are struggling in the current system?


Would members prefer their money was spent investigating methods to help these children?


Would members prefer the money was used to improve their pay and conditions?

 2. Re consultation. The PPTA presented to the Select Committee. One in 18 of their members also felt strongly enough to fill in a PPTA written pro-forma and send it in. We have tried repeatedly to talk to the PPTA. The only response back was to from a previous exec member who said:

“Thank you for your invitation to visit your school which I will need to pass on to the incoming president, Angela Roberts.  I have to be honest and say I am not sure what would be achieved by this visit. I do not doubt that you are doing the best you can for the students in your school so I don’t need to visit to confirm that reality.”

We have never heard from Ms Roberts except when they sent a letter to us which we published here –

One of the exec, Hazel McIntosh even conceded on the Larry William’s show – that she had not even read the Stanford research – or was remotely interested in it.

3. In Northland the Partnership School operators are clearly willing to co-operate with local schools. How can this be a bad thing? They see the clear good in some areas and then also see how they can make a difference in others. They are clearly passionate people who will not be bullied and will overcome all manner of hurdles to see the young people there have greater success in their lives.

4. Choice for families is important. At South Auckland Middle School we have only been open for enrollment for 6 weeks and already have 85 children/families applied for places. Education is a massive choice for these parents and if they are not happy with the current pathway their child is on they have every right to look for other options. I am astounded that the PPTA would state that “there was about the right balance prior to charters”. Seriously? Have they researched the comparative results for Maori and Pasifika children in many areas? They are pretty easy to find here: How on earth are the current discrepancies between groups “a good balance”? How do you claim to be against poverty, etc, and advocate for the status quo in education – a major determinant of outcomes? The PPTA, and affiliated organisations, want parents of children to accept this level of failure because it is their role as being a part of the greater good; “efficient use of resources, fairness and other good things too”? Was that post really written by someone involved in education? 

Previously some have commented that there was already the opportunity (integrated and special character schools) to set up new schools. Our experience, and that of others, is that both of these were near impossible options and not likely to yield a differentiated opportunity for families. The Partnership Schools option is new and provides an opportunity that most definitely did not exist previously. It is also new funding – the budgets for state education were also increased.

5. We have no necessary problem with our teachers being union members. It is the PPTA constitution that forces those we are employing to resign their membership. Given that our teacher student ratio is 15:1 we will employ a good proportion of teaching staff (and yes – they are all registered). Fail to see anything but benefit here.

All registered teachers!

6. Please note. We are happy to share anything we learn and many of our resources with PPTA members and other teachers. In our case we have, so far, had absolutely nothing but support for families and organisations we have spoken to. We are more than happy for the PPTA to visit either of our schools and talk. In fact we would welcome it – which is why we had sent invitations.

7. Please note airlines do share resources around the world.

For our part: We have permission to begin a Y7-10 school for 120 children and have a location in Mahia Rd, Manurewa. We have employed a staff and are very quickly filling the spaces available for students. The stories these children and their parents are bringing would already make a book worth reading. They are making it massively clear there is a NEED and I would think it is one that will generate a lot more interest than just 5 schools.

We will have a class size of 15:1, teach the NZ Curriculum in formal classes, have opportunity for project based learning and the skills development that goes with it, employ qualified and registered teachers, have a split day with an academic morning and activity based afternoon (including good provision of sport, art, and music). Our teachers will have little admin and will be do what they have been trained to do – prepare, teach, assess and feedback to parents and the children. Our clear focus is on the academic improvement of every child that comes to us. 

Sounds pretty good to me. 

We are very open to visitors and interested people. We are also open to supporters who want to get along side what we are doing.

Alwyn Poole
Villa Education Trust

Further guest posts on this issue are welcome.

PPTA responds on charter schools boycott

November 18th, 2013 at 3:11 pm by David Farrar

A guest post from the PPTA in response to my post strongly critical of their boycott of staff and pupils at charter schools.

Thanks for the chance to respond to your post about PPTA’s ban on working with charter schools.  Here are some points that I doubt will satisfy many of your readers, but I think need to be on the record.

  1.  “I love how the union dictates to teachers.”  Absolutely not. PPTA is democratic, and 90% of secondary teachers choose to join. The policy of bans was agreed on at National Conference where 150 teachers representing their regions, including Northland of course, decide significant policy. A union’s power comes from collective action; we have to be democratic for this to work.

  2. “It’s about control.” Again, not at all. Teachers need to be involved in and engaged with in regards to significant decisions for the education sector – we don’t expect to get our own way always, but we need to have genuine engagement. This process didn’t do that at all – neither from the charter school working group, the select committee process, the authorisation board, nor the applicants.

  3. “It’s not about the kids.” Here’s the great irony – students are being encouraged to leave the local schools to go to the new charters, but then they will be sent back to those same schools for most of the NCEA teaching which is how the charters will be assessed. If, as the charter school operators believe, the local public schools are so bad, why would they use them for delivering the curriculum to their students?

  4. “Listen up dumb parents, we know what is best… we do not think you should have a choice of where to send your children…” I think most people would accept that choice is not an absolute good – i.e. there needs to be a balance struck between choice and efficient use of resources, fairness and other good things too, right? Our view is that there is that there was about the right balance prior to the introduction of charters – our highly devolved school system is pretty much unique and allows for a lot of variety. And, this may grate, but choice between schools as a driver for improving school systems just doesn’t work – even the OECD and Treasury recognise this.  Ideally, schools would be able to offer lots of choices and variety of experiences at each local school, meaning that different cultural backgrounds, interests, skills etc…would be catered for and developed, while also getting the benefits of mixing with different people, economies of scale and so forth.

  5. “Fewer resources for the schools and, ultimately, the threat of lost jobs for PPTA members”.  This isn’t a concern for the reason you think, it relates to the previous point. Schools that lose teachers generally end up narrowing the curriculum. This disadvantages the students that are left. We had a simple solution to the ‘threat’ of lost jobs for PPTA members, which was to offer membership to staff in charter schools, like NZEI are doing. Our position was that we couldn’t do that –as it would be very difficult for us to advocate for closing schools that we had members in.

  6. “Boycotts are reminiscent of the apartheid era…” Indeed, and they contributed to changing an invidious system. This isn’t a boycott against Maori schools and students, it applies equally to all five schools and is mischievous to imply otherwise.  Every teacher in Whangarei and Northland is a teacher of Maori students. Political change is brought about in many different ways; for unions, denying our labour is one of the ultimate and strongest tools to bring about change that we have. We don’t use it lightly.

  7. And anyway, what’s the story with these schools that were supposed to “compete on an equal footing with the state education system – thus driving up standards for all through competition” using the resources and teachers of the state system?  This is like Jet Star over-selling some flights and running short on pilots, and demanding that AirNZ lends them pilots to cover them. We didn’t ask for the market system in education and don’t want it – the charter school proponents did. They can’t have it both ways. 

My view remains that it is one thing for the PPTA to say they are against charter schools, to lobby against them, to advocate people vote against the Government that introduced them.

But to go beyond political action, to a boycott of staff and students at these schools that is designed to damage the educational opportunities of those families who think a charter school may help their (probably) struggling kid, is misguided and wrong. It is using kids as pawns with a philosophy of the ends justify the means.

PPTA introduces apartheid-era type bans

November 15th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Northern Advocate reports:

Northland teachers have been banned by their union from any interaction with charter school staff, in a move a Whangarei charter school chief executive has described as “bully tactics”.

I love how the union dictates to the teachers!

The Post-Primary Teachers Association has instructed members to deny charter school staff and management professional, sporting or cultural interactions or support.

Maybe they could issue yellow stars to the charter school staff so other teachers can cross the road if they see one of them coming?

Raewyn Tipene, the chief executive of the trust establishing Te Kura Hourua ki Whangarei Te Renga Paraoa and the director of the Leadership Academy, said she feared the PPTA’s stance would result in vulnerable Northland children being left behind.

It’s not about the kids! It’s about control.

There are 38 boys in the Leadership Academy and enrolled at schools in Whangarei.

If the boys and their whanau choose to enroll in the kura hourua, the kura has plans for some senior students to take certain classes, such as economics or trade studies at external schools such as Whangarei Boys’ High School and NorthTec.

The ban on interaction between PPTA members and charter schools means this couldn’t happen and students would miss out on opportunities.

“The principals [in Whangarei] are rattled. They are being stood over by the PPTA and they have no room to move,” Ms Tipene said.

If a school defies the PPTA, then they’ll face a boycott also no doubt.

The president of the PPTA, Angela Roberts, told the Advocate communities thinking the charter schools would raise Maori achievement were mistaken.

Listen up dumb parents, we know what is best for you. You do not get a say in this. We do not think you should have a choice of where to send your children and we will use our might to crush anyone who co-operates with these schools.

She said the kura would mean roll declines for other schools in Northland and fewer resources for the schools and, ultimately, the threat of lost jobs for PPTA members.

Now we understand the real concern. Nothing to do with helping under-achieving students.

Natasha Sadler, curriculum director for Te Kura Hourua ki Whangaruru, took the opportunity to dispel some myths at a series of community hui in Northland recently.

“A common myth is that the kura will have unregistered teachers – we have hired four registered teachers and hope to hire more,” she said.

She also said the kura would be teaching from New Zealand curriculum.

Both kura hourua directors said registered teachers and staff had been vetted by the police.

Te Kura Hourua ki Whangaruru will have 71 students next year and Te Kura Hourua ki Whangarei Te Renga Paraoa will have 50 students.

Boycotts are reminiscent of the apartheid era. However in this case the boycott is against Maori schools and students. So what does that make the PPTA comparable to? Maybe the Broederbond?

Espiner on charter schools

September 23rd, 2013 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Colin Espiner writes:

I’d thought that centrally-controlled, one-size-fits-all approach to education policy had disappeared with the introduction of Tomorrow’s Schools more than 20 years ago. But I reckoned without the teacher unions.

The vitriol spouted by the Post-Primary Teachers Association (PPTA) and the Educational Institute (NZEI) at the Government’s announcement last week that it would fund five privately-run Partnership Schools took me back in a flash to my early days as a reporter covering teacher union rallies and marches.

Back then, it was bulk funding and the devolution of central control to community boards of trustees the teacher unions didn’t like. Oh, and Lockwood Smith.

They went on to oppose NCEA, National Testing, religious schools integration, private school funding . . . in fact pretty much anything that threatened the status quo and the teacher unions’ privileged position within it.

NZEI specially seem incredibly reactionary. They have fought a four year campaign against simply having an extra page in a kid’s report cards that states where they are at compared to a national standard for their age in literacy and numeracy. Incredible.

What’s so wrong with trying something a little different? With offering students failing in the mainstream education system an alternative? A little military training wouldn’t go amiss with some of them. And is a spot of faith-based teaching and some Maori immersion learning really going to do any great harm?

Apparently. According to the PPTA, these schools are so evil the union is considering asking its members to boycott all cultural, sporting, and professional events involving Partnership Schools. Marvellous – that’ll help those kids already alienated from the mainstream feel like they’re wanted.

Matthew Hooton describes how the planned boycotts will work:

In practice, it means that if students from one of the five schools enter a netball team in their local competition, the PPTA will order its members to stop their students from playing against them.

If partnership-school students qualify for the regional swimming sports, the PPTA will prevent other students from entering the pool for fear of political pollution.

The same goes for the local debating, kapa haka or Mathex competition.

Who would have thought that unions would be pushing for effective segregation of students, like the US had in the 1960s.

Espiner concludes:

No one is suggesting the state education system should be dismantled. It provides a mostly adequate, sometimes excellent, service. But even the bureaucrats in Wellington admit they don’t have a monopoly on good ideas. So what are the unions so afraid of?

Possibly more flexible working hours, fewer holidays, a greater range of pay rates, and non-unionised workers. A system outside state control, where commercial success is actually encouraged. A bit like the world the rest of us live in.

At worst, these schools will not live up to their potential and will be shut down, probably by Labour. But what if they succeed? It won’t just be the students who stand to benefit. It’ll be all of us.

And unlike state schools, not one student or parent will be forced to attend a charter school. There are no zones for charter schools. Every pupil who attends will be there because they and/or their parents have decided they think they will do better at that school. That choice, is what the unions are trying to prevent.

Beyond hysterical

September 19th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The Government has promised that the first charter schools in New Zealand will have publicly released performance targets, a high proportion of registered teachers and will not be able to stray too far from the national curriculum by teaching creationism.

Five organisations in Northland and Auckland successfully applied to run New Zealand’s first state-funded, privately run schools. The organisations had a range of backgrounds including military-based training, bilingual schooling and faith-based teaching, and all but one were established entities that had run educational courses or a school.

Education Minister Hekia Parata said the “partnership schools” would be expected to meet the same NCEA and National Standards targets as public schools, and the targets in their contracts would be made public.

All sounds good. And the quality of the applicants and what they wish to do to help struggling under-privileged (mainly) Maori and Pasifika students should be commented. Even Hone Harawira has noted:

“On the other hand, I know the people involved in the two Tai Tokerau projects and they are genuinely good people, dedicated to doing the best for Maori kids. The Leadership Academy already does a wonderful job and the Whangaruru project, although new, kicks off with the best of intentions. And the kids they’re going to help are going to be young Maori, so I wish them all the best.”

But the PPTA wants to treat these schools as some sort of evil regime akin to apartheid South Africa. They said:

The association plans to fight for the abolition of the charter school legislation and the paper will explore a number of options including instructing members to refrain from all professional, sporting and cultural contact with the schools and their sponsors and advising them not to apply for positions in them.

That is a response so far beyond hysterical, it defies belief.

They seem terrified that these charter schools might actually produce some great results, improving the lot of those who voluntarily choose to attend them next year.

Ms Parata said yesterday that in one of the schools – a Mangere primary school targeting Maori and Pacific students – all of the teachers would be registered. In the others, registered teachers would teach core subjects and non-registered teachers would take subjects such as carving, hospitality, and engineering.

Exactly the sort of flexibility you might expect, using an occasional expert in an area who is not a qualified teacher

Government has put aside $19 million for the first charter schools, and Ms Parata said the allocation for each school would be equivalent to similar schools in the same region.

Critics such as the New Zealand Educational Institute said that the funding was wasteful given the small rolls in the five schools – 369 students in total at first, rising to 800 within four years.

One of the new schools, the South Auckland Middle School, promised a teacher-student ratio of 1:15 – a better ratio than state schools.

University of Auckland Associate Professor of Education Peter O’Connor said parents in South Auckland might question why a state-funded public school had larger class sizes than a state-funded charter school in the same area.

Well if the funding is the same, then it is because the charter school has made a decision to spend more of its budget on teachers. I would have thought you’d applaud such a decision, not condemn it.

Should deciles go?

September 17th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Parents’ misuse of decile ratings has inflamed racial and social class stigma in schools, sparking a call for a major overhaul of the funding system, a new report claims.

The Post Primary Teachers’ Association (PPTA) paper, produced for the union’s annual conference next month, outlines several criticisms of the decile system.

It recommends a new model in which each school is funded based on an individual socio-economic profile, rather than a decile number.

That sounds well worth considering. You need a funding formula of some sort, but the deciles have become a simplistic proxy for quality – which they are not.

The different in funding by decile is huge:

The decile funding examples below are based on a secondary school with a roll of 1000.

Decile 1: $979,884.69

Decile 2: $699,354.69

Decile 3: $435,034.69

Decile 4: $266,984.69

Decile 8: $107,354.69

Decile 9: $85,324.69

Decile 10: $52,734.69–

But note that this is only around 13% of their operational funding. However it does mean that a decile 10 school need to fund-raise an additional $920,000 or $920 per pupil to get the same funding as a decile 1 school.

One in seven, not one in five?

July 9th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The Post Primary Teachers Association have released research which they believe shows that it is inaccurate and simplistic to say that one in five New Zealand students is failing in education.

Independent researchers Liz Gordon, who was a former member of Parliament for Alliance, and Brian Easton who is an economist and columnist for the Listener, were given access to the Education Ministry’s 2009 OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) database.

They found 14.3 per cent of students failed to achieve proficiency level 2 on PISA reading.

Which would be one in seven, not one in five.

They also found 74 per cent of those who failed were male, and that socio-economic factors such as parental income and the number of books in the home were contributing issues.

Boys are doing far worse than girls at pretty much all levels of education. That’s a gender gap which should be a priority to close.

The spokeswoman for Ms Parata said ‘one in five’ was an estimate which reflected the fact that not every person is leaving school with the qualifications and skills they needed to succeed.

“It reflects the fact that 15 per cent of school leavers do not have an NCEA Level 1 qualification and the basic literacy and numeracy skills required to attain it, and that around 30 per cent of students leave school without an NCEA Level 2 qualification – the minimum level of competency required to train for a basic apprenticeship.

“The one out of five reference also drew on ERO research and reading recovery data which indicated that up to one in five young people are leaving school without the skills needed for modern jobs.

The report is here.

PPTA outs a group that hasn’t even applied

May 21st, 2013 at 4:07 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

A list of organisations that have expressed interest in running charter schools has been outed, revealing a high proportion of religious groups, including a Manawatu church arguing it has the right to teach creationism using taxpayer money because state schools teach evolution.

The Post Primary Teachers’ Association (PPTA) has defended its decision to print the list in this month’s edition of its members’ magazine, which names 21 organisations that registered interest – almost half of them religious groups – with president Angela Roberts arguing that the process had been shrouded in secrecy.

The secrecy is probably to prevent nonsense stories like this one.

That school referred to – has not even applied.

However, the PPTA yesterday named organisations including The Sabbath Rest Adventist Church. The church had been interested in the options presented by partnership schools but had decided not to make an application this year while charter schools legislation remained before Parliament, trustee Jill Friar said.

So this shock horror example is of a church that has decided NOT to apply. Of course many readers won’t get that far.

Asked if she thought taxpayer money should be allocated to schools teaching creationism, Mrs Friar responded it was tantamount to funding secular schools to teach evolution.

“Look at the state school system – they teach evolution as if it’s a fact and it’s not a fact. Even scientists say it’s a theory, so what’s the difference at the end of the day? Why should we teach evolution as if it were a fact when there is a theory that is an alternative?” Mrs Friar said.

“It’s education and caring for children that is important – to me that’s what the argument should be all about.”

PPTA president Angela Roberts said taxpayer cash should not go to schools teaching creationism.

I agree that no charter school should get funding if they wish to teach creationism. But again this church has not even applied to be a charter school, and I’m 99% confident that they would never get approved if they do wish to teach creationism as science.

Labour education spokesman Chris Hipkins said it was an example of why critics feared the charter school model.

“Those are their beliefs – but the state should not be paying for it. Those parents and kids can choose to believe and to receive a religious education. But not to the exclusion of other sciences, and I think in this case that is really inappropriate,” Mr Hipkins said.

It’s an example of nothing. Their big worry is that all the applicants will be so good, they won’t be able to demonise them.

The Makahika Outdoor Pursuits Centre (MOPC) in Levin, which offers alternative education for young male offenders, also registered interest. The organisation’s work is currently sub-contracted by the Ministry of Justice. Co-director Sally Duxfield said she and her husband paid up to $60,000 a year out of their own pockets to finance the programme.

MOPC was considering becoming a charter school because the funding style could allow them to extend to a full-year residential programme, Mrs Duxfield said.

The centre would use the New Zealand curriculum and employ registered teachers.

“The mainstream system doesn’t work for these boys. Some of these boys haven’t sat at a school desk since they were 10 or 12 because they’ve beaten people or stabbed people . . . they come here because they are unable to be educated safely [elsewhere].”

Wow, how awful if they applied, Some of the most at risk youth might get a better education. What terrible stuff.

Isaac responds to PPTA on OIA and Charter Schools

March 15th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Catherine Isaac the chairwoman of the Partnership Schools/Kura Hourua working group, responds to the PPTA guest post calling for charter schools to be included in the Official Information Act.

 It was only last year that NZEI argued schools should ignore the Official Information Act 1982 (OIA) requests regarding National Standards.  They publicly advocated for an OIA exemption for National Standards data.  I am pleased the Education Unions suddenly have a profound new respect for the OIA. 

Mr Haig of the PPTA claims the support of Hon Richard Prebble in his assertion that jurisdiction of the Ombudsman should be extended to Partnership Schools | Kura Hourua (PSKH) under the OIA and the Ombudsmen Act 1975 (OA).  

Richard Prebble may be retired but fortunately he’s still very much around, so I thought I would ask him.  Here is his response to Mr Haig.

“I introduced the first Freedom of Information Bill into Parliament so we could see what the Government was up to.  I have never supported the right of the state to spy on private organisations or citizens.”

“While I am at it, I strongly support Partnership Schools.  I’m not surprised Maori are welcoming the initiative since the state school system has failed them.  The PPTA must also take some of the responsibility.  Instead of opposing Partnership Schools, the PPTA should acknowledge that they are most unlikely to be worse than state schools have been for Maori and they are likely to be much better.”

Tom Haig was unwise to cite Richard Prebble to support his case, but the rest of Mr Haig’s arguments are no better.

The decision not to extend the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman to PSKH is right both in principle and in practice. 

The purpose of the OIA and the OA is to restrain the executive branch of government and other crown entities by providing access to “official” information and providing for an investigatory role over government administrative decisions.  Both the OA and OIA were introduced because of the significant power the state can wield over the lives of citizens. 

Partnership Schools | Kura Hourua are not subject to the OIA and OA because they are not part of government – they are non-governmental organisations.   

Sponsors can be either non-profit or for profit organisations, incorporated or non-incorporated, and might be community or iwi organisations or charitable trusts.   They may or may not get all their funding from government, but even if they do, that is not a principled reason for PSKH to be covered by the OIA and OA.

Over 5000 educational organisations receive full or partial funding from government but are not subject to the OIA and OA.   Thousands of other organisations providing services to the government are fully or partially publically funded and are not subject to the OIA or OA.  The reason is that they are non-governmental organisations.

Somewhat inconsistently, the Ombudsman made it clear to the Select Committee that they were not advocating extending their jurisdiction to the other 5000 educational organisations, only to PSKH.  

In an unfortunate analogy, the Ombudsmen said PSKH were like private prisons.  In a similar vein Mr Haig conflates compulsory education with compulsory attendance.  Both are wrong.

PSKH are not similar to a private management contract of a prison.  Prisons, be they public or under a private management contract, are uniquely coercive.  Prisoners don’t get a choice of prison and cannot leave at will.  Prisoners are there because of the coercive power of the state. That is why the OIA and OA apply and rightly so.   But no one will be forced to attend a PSKH, nor teach at one, and all will be free to leave.

The Ombudsmen offered an example of a three year parental dispute with a state school as another argument for the OIA and OA to apply.  On the face of it, three years seems a long time to come to a resolution when the education of a child is at stake.  Mr Haig’s post outlines a state school dispute invoking the Human Rights Act 1993 (which applies to PSKH).   The Ombudsman expressed a further concern over the potential improper use of the statutory power to expel, suspend and stand down a student.   

The PSKH model offers significant powers to parents to protect them and their children.

Not only can parents receive meaningful information about their child, the contract provides for an independent review mechanism that every parent can access.  This will apply to all disputes including disputes over the use of the power to expel, suspend or stand down a child.    

The sponsor will be able to tailor the dispute resolution process to provide for a speedy, efficient and independent way of resolving the dispute that focuses on the particular educational needs of the child.   This should provide for a better, more  timely mechanism for dispute resolution than the general jurisdiction of the Ombudsmen. 

The PSKH model has been designed to be transparent and more accountable.

Detailed reporting against specific, measurable academic , student engagement and other performance goals will be required as part of a PSKH’s contract with the Crown.   They will have to publish annual audited accounts.  Furthermore, any information held by the Ministry of Education, the Minister and the Authorisation Board will be subject to the OIA and OA, as these entities are part of government.  In addition, the Secretary of Education can ask for any additional information over and above that required under the sponsorship contract.  PSKH will be scrutinised by both the Education Review Office and the Authorisation Board who will apply a specific evaluation framework.  And unlike state schools they can be closed quickly for non-performance.

PSKH have a significantly more rigorous and effective accountability model than state schools.  That is why, on balance, the PSKH Working Group considered that subjecting PSKH to compliance obligations and costs under the OIA and OA over and above all their other obligations is unnecessary, would not advance the interests of children, parents or taxpayers and may detract from the vital educational mission of Partnership Schools | Kura Hourua. 

Thanks to Catherine for her reply.

Guest Post: PPTA on the OIA and Charter Schools

March 12th, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

A guest post by Tom Haig of the PPTA on the issue of whether charter schools should be covered by the Official Information Act:

Funny how history turns out eh? Back in 1977 a young Labour MP took on Muldoon, promoting a ‘Freedom of Information Bill’ to challenge the principle of the ‘Official Secrets Act’ which meant that, unless otherwise specified, all state information was kept secret. That Labour MP was Richard Prebble, and in 1982, following his first attempt five years before, the Official Information Act overturned the Official Secrets Act. Fast-forward 36 years, and Prebble’s parliamentary heir is hastily scrabbling for reasons why the OIA should be undermined to promote the politically expedient project of charter schools. 

One of the aspects of the Bill introducing charter schools that attracted a lot of attention at Select Committee was section 158X which would grant them exemption from the Official Information Act and Ombudsman Act. Three justifications are put forward for this, and I don’t believe the Richard Prebble of 1977 would have had a bar of any of them.

The first reason, advanced in the Cabinet papers describing the establishment of charter schools is to ‘avoid vexatious and costly complaints’. This is a terrible argument. Firstly on the practical side – yes, addressing OIA requests can take time and effort, but organisations are allowed to bill for their reasonable costs. Secondly, if this is allowed to stand, shouldn’t every government department mired in scandal be allowed to opt out for just this reason? Finally, charter schools would be within their rights to refuse to answer frivolous or vexatious requests, and if the Ombudsman agreed it was a worthless request then they’d be able to throw it out.

The second justification is that exemption is consistent with the status of the sponsor as a community organisation. This is problematic, as it’s about the type of organisation providing the service, rather than what the service is. By extension, this could mean that if the government was to contract out all variety of services to community or private organisations the extension of OIA coverage would shrink. Locking up core state services in contractual agreements with private providers is risky for numerous reasons; this is certainly one of them.

The third justification is that charter schools are analogous to early childhood or private training providers, which are not subject to these acts. However, there’s a glaring difference between these sort of providers and schools – and that is the aspect of compulsion.  As a ‘classic liberal’ party, Act should be well aware of this distinction – protecting citizens from the power of the state is after all one of their main concerns. Students have to go to school, while going to early childhood education or tertiary is a choice, and as such the role of consumer is quite different from that of a child at school.

So what would it mean for students and families at charter schools if they’re not covered? For one thing, the OIA and Ombudsman Act provide important protection in regards to decisions made about them, by giving them access to the reasons for those decisions, which the Privacy Act does not. Similarly, students and their families, or teachers at the school, or the wider public, will have no automatic right of access to the school’s policies, which could lead to decisions made by school managers seeming arbitrary and unfair.

This issue of making school policies public had some coverage recently following cases of schools not allowing students to take same-sex partners to their balls. In 2011 Blogger Matthew Taylor wrote to secondary schools around the country asking for their policies on this, a request which threw a number of school principals into a fluster.  As they do in such situations, some brought this concern to the PPTA, and we advised them that they should give the information – it’s a perfectly reasonable request and there’s no good reason not to make it public.

I’ll finish with a quote from the Ombudsman’s submission to the Select Committee:

“Clause 158X of the Education Bill runs the risk of creating a state funded schooling regime which is shrouded in secrecy and is unaccountable. This is likely to hamper the ability of partnership schools to achieve their central goal of achieving better outcomes for students. Applying the Official Information Act and Ombudsmen Act to partnership schools will assist partnership schools in exercising their statutory functions, enhance transparency and accountability, bring New Zealand into line with international models and avoid the constitutional anomaly inherent in the current Bill.”

Removing this clause won’t make me support charter schools. But if they’re going to exist there’s no good reason that they should be shrouded in secrecy. And if the more ideologically consistent members of the Act party were to search their scruples carefully, I suspect that they would agree.

Personally I’m not convinced by the arguments for charter schools to be excluded from the Official Information Act and Ombudsmen Act, and think that as they are primarily taxpayer funded they should be included in both Acts. I hope the select committee recommends changes to that effect.