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Minister leaves Charter Schools with no option

Minister leaves Charter Schools with no option

Minister of Education Chris Hipkins yesterday announced that each of the eleven operational Charter Schools (Partnership School | Kura Hourua) and one scheduled to open in 2019 had applied to establish state schools. (https://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/all-existing-charter-schools-apply-become-state-schools)

There was no choice: In order to maintain integrity and respond in a principled way, Charter Schools were left with no choice but to lodge applications to establish new state schools if they were to safeguard their students’ best interests.

Charter Schools are succeeding: Against the backdrop of the declining literacy and numeracy competencies of New Zealand students, and the Tertiary Education Council revealing that 40% of school leavers with Level 2 NCEA or better are functionally illiterate, the unilateral decision to ungraciously dump Charter Schools after only four years of operation is to deny that they have succeeded in lifting the educational achievement levels of students that have historically ‘fallen through the gaps’ of the state system.

Mixed messages haven’t helped
The mixed messages emanating from our senior political leaders have delivered an agony for Charter School leaders. After being told variously by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, by Education Minister Chris Hipkins and by Hon Kelvin Davis that Charter Schools: teaching to the New Zealand Curriculum, employing registered teachers, and being were funded in an equivalent way to state schools, would not be closed, here we all are faced with the reality that eleven operational Charter Schools, all teaching to the New Zealand curriculum, all using registered teachers or teachers with a Limited Authority to Teach, and all funded in an equivalent way to state schools are in the process of having their contracts with the Crown terminated.

No account has been taken of the impact of Charter School closures on parents, at-risk students and their communities.
No account has been taken of the impact that the closing of Charter Schools is having on those parents and students that support them. After labouring under threat of closure and uncertainty since October 2017, the 1500 Maori and Pasifika students enrolled in these schools now need to choose whether they continue their education at all, remembering that Charter Schools have succeeded where the State system couldn’t in showing these at-risk students they could succeed, or moving to a state school.

The absence of consultation: Minister Hipkins decision to close Charter Schools was made unilaterally and in the absence of any consultation with those most affected, including students and their parents.

Inequity: The Charter School model was predicated on the need to address the enduring educational under-achievement of Maori and Pasifika students. The irony and inequity of Minister Hipkins triggering a consultative review of education in New Zealand centred on large ‘Education Summits’ is not lost on those students and parents affected by the Government’s unilateral decision to close Charter Schools who were not accorded that basic right.

Minister Hipkins is quoted as saying “Education is too important to be left to politicians. To which I could add – to public servants and experts as well. No matter how well intentioned we are.” (http://educationcentral.co.nz/hipkins-be-bold-and-brave-with-your-vision-for-nz-education/). If Minister Hipkins genuinely believes this to be true, then can that utterance be reconciled with his unilateral decision to close Charter Schools?

Charter Schools are left with no choice
Ministry of Education officials have been carrying out Minister Hipkins instructions to negotiate the early termination of the contracts that Charter Schools entered into with the Crown, with a view to closing all Charter Schools by the end of the 2018 academic year. It has also been made clear to Charter School sponsors that the termination of existing contracts with the Crown and the application process for sponsors of Charter Schools to establish state schools in their place are mutually exclusive processes.

Education eco-system: Despite New Zealand having a very good mainstream education system, as demonstrated by the National Standards and New Zealand Qualifications Authority data, the achievement levels of Maori and Pasifika students continue to lag those of ‘NZ European’ and ‘Asian’ students.

At the end of the day: The unilateral decision to ungraciously dump Charter Schools after only four years of operation is to deny that they have succeeded in lifting the educational achievement levels of students that have historically ‘fallen through the gaps’ of the state system.

Graeme Osborne
10 May 2018

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