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A dark day for 1500 Charter School students

There is absolutely nothing to celebrate in Minister Hipkins announcement yesterday that all 12 Charter School operators who applied to establish state schools have been approved to do so. Two additional schools that were previously approved to open have chosen not to, those being Vanguard Military School – Christchurch and Blue Light – Taupo.

The opportunity for this Government to pursue an educational solution to child poverty, particularly when our Prime Minister is Minister for Child Poverty Reduction, has been lost. Political dogma has had its way.

To state the obvious, the best possible outcome for the students and the communities of Charter Schools is that they would have been allowed to stay open as Charter Schools. Is it not too much to expect that our Political Leaders would ensure the best possible outcomes for those they serve?

There was never a good reason to close them. Charter Schools were working for ‘priority learners’ (low decile, Maori and Pasifika children) where state schools have never, not in 178 years at least.

Charter School communities were never asked for their opinions. Perhaps the Prime Minister considered they weren’t worthy? Or maybe as John Shewan suggested to the Education and Workforce Select Committee Minister Hipkins determined that they could be ‘bullied’

Nor was the evidence of their success ever considered.

The current Government has missed the opportunity to enhance the Charter School model and call it their own. They have defended their decision by way of silly and angry claims, such as Hon Tracey Martin (NZ First) saying of Charter Schools that ‘some us wouldn’t put their dogs in them’, or by being convenient with the truth. At various times Prime Minister Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern, Minister of Education Hon Chris Hipkins, Hon Kelvin Davis, Hon Willie Jackson, Hon Meka Whaitiri all proclaimed that if Charter Schools taught the NZ Curriculum, if they were funded the same as equivalent state schools and used registered teachers, then they wouldn’t be closed. The truth is that they all met these criteria but will be closed by Christmas.

By being re-established as state schools, Charter Schools lose:

Self-determination: Charter Schools were privately owned and governed by Trustees / Directors appointed for their skills, rather than for their popularity. Each in their own way generated proud and successful students with belief, pride in their identity, and real hope for the future. They broke the ‘cycle of hopelessness’ for their students and their mainly Maori families.
They are no longer ‘contracted to perform’: Charter Schools were bound by a contract with the Crown that set performance measures based on student success, financial performance, and student exclusions. They all taught to the New Zealand Curriculum, without exception.
They had flexibility around the employment of teaching staff. They were not bound by the Teachers’ Collectives and could negotiate the percentage of teaching hours to be taught by ‘registered teachers’ and so employed well qualified staff on Individual Employment Agreements, who might not have been registered. Their results show this flexibility was by no disadvantage.
They are no longer bulk funded … as Charter Schools they received the sum total of their funding in a lump sum, paid quarterly in advance. This allowed them to allocate expenses to areas of greatest priority such as class sizes (mainly around 15 students per class), some provided breakfast and lunch, some provided uniforms.
The focus on ‘priority learners’ is at risk. Charter Schools were required by contract for enrolments to be at least 75% ‘priority learners’, that is, Maori or Pasifika children, decile 1-3 children, or children with special needs. As Sir Toby Curtis said, ‘these children have continued to lag the educational success of New Zealand Pakeha for the last 178 years’.

This announcement might tick a box for Minister Hipkins, but it certainly isn’t the best possible outcome for the 1500 at-risk students of our Charter Schools and their parents.


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