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United Future Policy on Schools

Media Statement

For immediate release

Thursday, 14 April 2005

United Future Policy on Schools

Current problems with the funding and administration of schools must be met with commonsense solutions rather than radical ideas that throw the system into upheaval, according to United Future education spokesman Bernie Ogilvy in announcing his party’s policy on schools today.

“The first step is to ensure that operations grants are sufficient to meet the costs to schools of providing the learning opportunities that government expects, and the government must make it clear to schools what those core functions are.”

We also need to ensure that when schools ask parents to pay activity fees they disclose what the money will be used for, and make sure that schools do not exert undue pressure to collect voluntary donations.

United Future would also review the current zoning arrangements to ensure right of access to local schools without limiting access to other schools.

“Dr Brash is right to argue that zoning creates inequality, but he needs to explain how he will guarantee that every child will have the right to go to their local school if zoning goes altogether.

United Future will ease the pressure created by school zoning by allowing popular schools to expand the number of out-of-zone enrolments by ballot. However, this decision must be left up to the school, and many of those schools will actually want to contain the size of their school to ensure that the quality of education is maintained.

“More fundamentally we need to improve the performance of all state schools through a number of measures, including paying top principals more to lead underperforming schools, and creating partnerships between schools, to reduce demand to move out of zone.”

The problem with giving successful schools the power to become Trust Schools, as National proposes, is that they may become personal fiefdoms under a charismatic principal. The danger is that Cambridge High School under Allison Annan would have been one such school, but would have been even more difficult to monitor under the Trust School model.

United Future is also concerned with the administrative burden facing schools, and would immediately undertake a review of all administrative and compliance burdens on schools, such as surveys and other data requests, to free up resources so that principals and teachers can get on with the business of educating our children.

We believe that the three agencies concerned with educational quality, the NZQA, ERO, and the Teachers’ Council should be merged into a new Educational Standards Authority, which also should help to reduce compliance costs facing schools.

Although United Future has already stated that it supports periodic testing for literacy and numeracy against national standards starting at primary school, this is on the understanding that the information is primarily used to diagnose areas for improvement for individual pupils, rather than to promote competition between schools, and on the condition that all information should be made available to parents.

United Future would also:

- Establish “families’ of schools in an effort to improve coordination between pre-school, primary and secondary schools in a given area, with a view to sharing resources such as computer technology and sporting equipment, and holding quarterly meetings of representatives from boards of trustees.

- Ensure that schools have sufficient funding to provide information technology where this has a clear educational value, with particular emphasis on the ability of rural schools to access online resources.

- Reform the decile-based funding system by ensuring that the distribution treats middle decile schools more fairly.

- Recognise parental choice through increased support for private schools by moving to a per student subsidy, rather than a capped fund that does not recognise changing enrolment numbers, in return for disclosure of the taxpayer-funded component of fees by schools.

- Give schools the option of being direct-funded (rather than making it compulsory, as National would), whereby they can choose to receive the funding entitlement for teachers as part of their overall operations grant, giving them the flexibility to decide how they deliver the curriculum.

- Give non-direct funded schools the option of having their support staff funded directly, as teachers’ salaries are, since the contracts of both groups of employees are settled with the government, yet schools have to fit the bill for support staff through their operations grant.

- Encourage the use of school facilities outside school time for parental education centres.

- Expand Kura Kaupapa, Maori immersion programmes and the initiation of children into Maori culture, including Te Reo Maori, where requested by parents.

Ends.

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