Isaac responds to PPTA on OIA and Charter Schools

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.

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