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Ind. Schools Back Integrated Schools Act Retention

Independent Schools Of New Zealand Strongly Endorses Retention Of The Integrated Schools Act

Greater state control does not equal better education

Like frogs ambivalent to gradually increasing temperatures, many New Zealanders appear unwilling to accept that there is any danger in the increasing state control of their lives.

A prime example of this is the proposal to collapse the Private Schools Conditional Integration Act 1975 into the main Education Act. We are given many plausible reasons for this. For example; so that it is easier for the Minister of Education to administer, so that statutory definitions may be aligned, and references to outmoded practices removed, so some staffing issues may be resolved as well as curtailing the ability of some schools to charge high fees.

Laudable in many instances, certainly plausible, and the discussion document is a brilliant piece of writing when it comes to justifying its desired outcome, but as is often the case, it is the bits that are left out that encapsulate the true reason for the proposal.

The Minister of Education wants to capture state integrated schools into the infamous school reviews that are currently wreaking havoc on rural and provincial New Zealand.

But what is even scarier than this underlying intention to have increased state control, is the lack of public outcry from the state integrated schools. They appear on the surface to be accepting that their Act may be collapsed with little impact on them. What unknown guarantees do they have? What promises are being made? And would their forefathers and mothers support them acquiescing with vague promises that their special character will be protected under the main Education Act? Religious and pedagogical freedom has been a long and hard fought battle in New Zealand. Since 1872 state schools have been secular and centrist dominated. Occasionally a little religious education has crept into some schools, occasionally a little different thinking on teaching and learning and values education is being practised.

The Ministry of Education and the Minister in charge are using these "occasions" as bait to say that such differences will continue to be allowed for, even when the Integration Act has gone.

"Be very wary" says Joy Quigley, Executive Director of Independent Schools of New Zealand, who have come out strongly against the removal of the Private Schools Conditional Integration Act 1975.

Independent schools justifiably get exasperated with some state integrated schools passing themselves off as a cheaper version of private schools. Integrated schools are effectively fully funded state schools, some of whom continue to charge large fees (in some instances aggregated fees in excess of some independent schools), because an anomaly in the Act ensures that they may do so as long as they carry a large debt. No incentive then to discontinue expensive building programmes. Lower fees would increase accessibility for more New Zealanders.

This is one of the stated reasons that the Minister of Education wants to get rid of the "Integration Act" and Independent Schools of New Zealand supports giving the Ministry of Education increased powers to deal with these high fees.

But members of Independent Schools of New Zealand are prepared to put aside any frustrations caused by the actions of some state integrated schools because of the strong belief in the importance of the preservation of state integrated schools' special characters.

This is guaranteed only under the single and internationally acclaimed separate piece of legislation known as the Private Schools Conditional Integration Act 1975.

Certainly it needs some amendment, as most pieces of legislation do after nearly 30 years, but that can be done without destroying it.

So where is the outcry from state integrated schools about the potential removal of the real pillar of the Private Schools Conditional Integration Act 1975: the pillar that brought international accolades for the 1975 Kirk/Rowling Labour Government and that Norman Kirk pronounced as being for the advantage of the whole country.

This pillar allows for the preservation of the school's special character, and in many cases this equates to religious freedom. Such freedom was achieved only after decades and decades of hard fought battle.

If the Integration Act is collapsed into the Education Act 1989, as is proposed, because it is supposedly cumbersome and difficult for the Ministry of Education to administer, what would stop a future Minister of Education from deciding to treat all schools the same, (free, secular, compulsory and neighbourhood), because that would be still easier to control.

Apart from being a real estate agent's dream as houses in the zones for better schools escalate in price, ISNZ and international evidence points to an inevitable downward spiral of educational quality when there is no alternative system, pricking and prodding the local state school towards excellence.

Have we been so cowered by this Government, either out of fear or in adulation, that we do not question its actions or motives any more?

Surely it is time for us to hear publicly from the people most seriously affected by this proposal to undermine the special character of state integrated schools. Does the collective voice from the pulpit not see danger?

It is ironic that it is left to those who actually could benefit from the demise of integrated schools to speak out for their protection.

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