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Case for Partnership Schools: Giving Choice to Those Without


The Case For Partnership Schools
Giving choice to those who otherwise don’t have it
Speech by ACT President John Boscawen to the ACT Scenic South Regional Conference
Mercure Dunedin Leisure Lodge, Dunedin
Saturday, March 2 2013

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to ACT’s regional conference for the lower South Island. I acknowledge ACT Scenic South board member, Guy McCallum and deputy board member Colin Nicholls and I thank you both for your efforts in organising this conference today.

I also acknowledge and thank ACT Leader John Banks for his attendance.

When Guy first asked me to speak on the subject of ‘why I support ACT’, I thought that’s easy. ACT has been the only party in New Zealand that has constantly elected into Parliament a group of MPs who all agree on free trade, the Reserve Bank Act, flexible labour laws, the importance of private property rights, one law for all and the rule of law.

There are many reasons to support ACT.

However, the focus of my speech today will be Partnership schools and the announcement yesterday about the establishment of the Partnership Schools Authorisation Board by John Banks in his role as Associate Education Minister.

At last week’s national conference in Auckland, I stressed the need to rejuvenate and rebuild ACT. We need to take our message directly to ordinary kiwis by direct mail, social media and public meetings. I mentioned that I first joined ACT at such a public meeting in May 1995.

However, what I didn’t mention were the two significant events prior.

Firstly, in February 1995, I sent away a cheque for $5 for a copy of ACT’s founding document – the 100 page ‘Commonsense for a Change’. This laid out ACT’s policy prescription and I could immediately see that ACT was a new kind of party offering new solutions to the country’s problems and was unlike any other political party at the time.

In particular, I was attracted to ACT’s proposals to have people paying part of their taxes directly into their own retirement savings accounts, rather than as general taxation - making them less dependent on the government at retirement age.

ACT also proposed providing greater choice in education by allowing alternative independent schools to establish and compete on an equal footing with the state education system – thus driving up standards for all through competition.

Secondly, in March 1995, I attended a public meeting – the first ACT meeting I ever attended. It was at the property now known as the ASB Showgrounds in Greenlane, Auckland and there were close to 1000 people.

The featured speakers were the joint ACT founders, Sir Roger Douglas and the Hon. Derek Quigley. I also heard for the first time, Rodney Hide and Muriel Newman – both of whom went on to become ACT MPs.

However, the speakers who left the biggest impression on me that night were Donna Awatere-Huata and Iritana Tawhiwhirangi – founder of the Kohanga Reo movement in the early 1980s and ACT’s first Education spokesperson.

Iritana, now Dame Iritana, gave an inspired, uplifting speech as she explained how ACT’s policies to provide greater choice to parents, particularly those from lower socio-economic areas who didn’t then have choice, would do more to address Maori under-achievement in education than any other single policy change.

Educational under-achievement was leaving vast numbers of Maori marginalised and unable to read and write. Far too many were ending up in prison. Under-achievement also lead to disproportionate numbers of Maori and Pacific Islanders becoming dependent on social welfare and robbing them of their independence, their spirit and their lives.

She explained how those from lower socio-economic areas lacked the resources that more affluent parents had, to send their children to private schools. School zoning captured young Maori in poorer performing state schools.

I was so impressed with Dame Iri’s speech that I went up and introduced myself to her during the break. Over time, we became friends and we have spent hours since, discussing educational and social issues for Maori and other New Zealanders.

With the founding of the Maori Party, Dame Iri became a member and subsequently stood for them in general elections on their party list.

While ACT has clear policy differences with the Maori Party in some areas – for example we opposed the Marine and Coastal Area Bill and we don’t support separate Maori seats in Parliament – we still have much we agree on, such as providing choice in education as a means of raising educational achievement for ALL, but particularly for those in lower socio-economic groups.

The Maori Party and ACT also recognise the huge damage the social welfare system has done to Maori and the way it has created a system of dependency and a feeling of entitlement.

So I was absolutely delighted that when John Banks announced the members of the Partnership Schools Authorisation Committee on Friday, Dame Iritana was among them alongside Chair Catherine Isaac, Deputy Chair John Shewan, John Morris, Dr Margaret Southwick, Tahu Potiki and Terry Bates.

Finally, 18 years after Dame Iri stood and addressed that crowded ACT public meeting in Greenlane, she will have the opportunity to bring to fruition the vision that she saw and so strongly advocated that night and ever since.

It was also pleasing this week to see that Pem Bird, President of the Maori Party also appeared before the Education and Science Select Committee to speak in favour of partnership schools.

There has been much misinformation about Partnership Schools – much of it spread by the teacher unions in a newspaper campaign that must have cost their members hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Far from being the ‘rich party’ portrayed by the media, the ACT party doesn’t have the resources to combat it.

The first and most important thing to know about Partnership Schools is they will not be compulsory – no parent will be required to send their child to one.

It will be THEIR choice, and for a lot of parents they will actually have a choice for the first time!

However, those who choose not to send their children to a Partnership School, will have the benefit of a higher standard of education that ACT believes will eventuate as a result of competition. So everyone will win.

Secondly, Partnership Schools will be designed to primarily serve lower socio-economic areas.

Thirdly, Partnership Schools will be funded by the state, largely to the same extent that the taxpayer would fund the same child in a state school – the funding will follow the child as ACT has advocated since its inception in 1994.

Fourthly, Partnership Schools will be closely monitored by the Department of Education – far from being unaccountable as our opponents argue. Partnership schools will be bound by an agreement entered into between the state and the schools’ founders and they will be required to meet the standards jointly agreed.

Fifthly, ACT’s partnership schools will not be subject to the Official Information Act as they are run by private organisations in exactly the same way that many thousands of privately run early childhood centres who receive Government funding are not subject to the Official Information Act.

Sixth, the Labour Party has argued that private enterprise or for-profit organisations will be involved and that this is somehow a bad thing! Yes, it’s true, that private for-profit organisations may wish to be involved but why is that deemed bad? And how is that different from the many thousands of privately owned early childhood centres that have opened and been funded by the taxpayer to provide 20 hours of early childhood education?

Labour is quite happy for profit organisations to operate early childhood education but not primary and secondary schools – how hypocritical is that?

In any event, my understanding is that none of the 34 initial preliminary applications received are from for-profit organisations, albeit that overseas research shows that for-profits run the most successful schools.

Seventh, there is overwhelming overseas evidence that properly monitored charter schools, as they are known overseas have been very successful, despite the opposition’s efforts to argue otherwise.

Sweden for example introduced ‘free schools’, their version of partnership schools in 1992 and they continue successfully to this day under both ‘right’ and ‘left’ wing governments. If Labour’s claim that Partnership Schools hadn’t been successful overseas is correct, surely an incoming left-wing Swedish government would have scrapped them and they haven’t.

Eighth, Partnership Schools will have more autonomy than state schools – there will be no regulated pay scales nor set hours. They will not be required to have all of their teachers registered with the Teachers Council, however you don’t need to be registered to be qualified. I personally have a world of business experience. I taught accounting briefly at the then Manukau Technical Institute and I wasn’t registered with the Teachers Council.

Delegates, for the last 18 years the ACT Party has championed reforms to education and social welfare systems. The ACT Party has stood up for the less well-off and campaigned on providing choice for those who don’t have choice. We don’t expect there will be a large number of Partnership Schools initially, but we are optimistic that a sufficient number will open at the beginning of Term 1, 2014.

While there may not be many, the fact that there are some will lead to competition between those first Partnership Schools and the surrounding state schools and we expect the benefits will only grow as time progresses.

Each week the Opposition parties stand up in Parliament and claim to represent the poor.

The first step out of poverty is a top quality education and if the opposition were truly concerned for the poor and the less well off, rather than their Teacher Union mates, they’d support us and the vote in Parliament would be unanimous.

Partnership Schools are a fundamental part of our Confidence and Supply Agreement with the National Party and from my discussions negotiating that agreement with the Prime Minister and since, I am sure we have his full support.

Like Dame Iritana Tawhiwhirangi, I look forward to ACT implementing the vision that she and Donna Awatere-Huata so ably enunciated in March 1995.

Thank you for your attendance here today.

ENDS

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