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Ten Years of Tomorrow's Schools

An article published today in the NZ Education Gazette….


4 October 1999
Immediate Release

Ten Years of Tomorrow's Schools

Ten years ago, on October 1 1989, Tomorrow's Schools was introduced.

On that day, the Education Department and Education Boards went out, and in came 17,000 school trustees and a range of agencies including the Ministry of Education, Education Review Office and Special Education Service.

At the heart of the changes, reports the NZ Education Gazette Tukutuku Korero, was greater independence and flexibility for schools. With their trustees providing governance and their principals providing management, schools were freer than they had ever been before.

In 1990, their first calendar year under Tomorrow's Schools, schools were given control of more than $447 million in annual funding. Ten years later, that amount has increased to over $1 billion, including more than $680 million in operational funding for all schools, and more than $400 million in salaries funding for those that have chosen the fully funded option. That does not take into account targeted funding for such things as school transport and ongoing resourcing of children with special needs.

Schools were given control over appointing their staff. No longer did the Education Boards appoint teachers and send them to fill school vacancies. Principals could actually interview prospective teachers and select applicants who would fit their school's culture and add to the range of skills on staff.

Early childhood education was also affected. The reforms brought the various organisations that provided early childhood education, apart from kindergartens, under a single funding system, replacing the inconsistent range of arrangements that existed earlier.

John Mather was an education officer in the Department of Education when Tomorrow's Schools was introduced. Since then, he has managed district Ministry of Education offices in Invercargill, Hamilton, and now Christchurch.

He says a lot of goodwill went into ensuring Tomorrow's Schools worked. There was a great deal of excitement, he says, when the staff of the new Ministry of Education sat down together for the first time on Monday 2 October, 1989. The first few months were hectic. Schools, particularly primary schools, had been highly dependent on the old Education Boards. The phones never stopped ringing and the faxes just kept coming, says John Mather.

"Our role was not to duplicate or take over the Education Boards' role. Our role was to facilitate the devolution of responsibility to schools."

That emphasis on moving schools to the new world of Tomorrow's Schools is echoed by David Burrage, who managed a unit that oversaw the winding up of the Canterbury Education Board.

Now financial accountant for the Ministry's head office in Wellington, David Burrage says an important aspect of his work in 1990 was weaning schools off the old system and directing their queries to the new Ministry of Education district offices.

"I had a staff of seven and our phones rang red hot for months," he says. "I used to get 95 calls in a day, and that was just me."

Ministry group manager Elizabeth Eppel was a school inspector before Tomorrow's Schools. In the 12 months before October 1989 she worked in the implementation unit that set the stage for Tomorrow's Schools. She then became the Ministry's district manager for Southland.

Tomorrow's Schools, says Elizabeth Eppel, meant people in the school sector had to redefine their relationships with one another overnight. Ministry staff who as school inspectors had taken great satisfaction in solving problems for schools found themselves forced to stand back and refer issues to school boards. Principals had to start talking to their boards of trustees instead of to the Education Boards.

Elizabeth Eppel describes the Ministry's experience with schools in the 10 years since 1989 as much like having a child that grew from age five to 25 overnight.

"Suddenly, you found you had an adult child with autonomous rights and you were not sure how to treat them because the last time you saw them they were five and you had to feed them and make them safe."

She says the Ministry relationship with schools has evolved to one of partnership, with each partner involved in their own work, but coming together for specific projects or needs. There is also an element of support in the relationship, as she says: "It is not appropriate to tell a 25 year old how to behave, but no parent wants to see their 25 year old come to grief."

John Mather says by 1994 the Ministry realised it would have to offer a helping hand to schools when it became apparent that not all of them were going to be flourish under self-management

"Some of them were flying, most were managing very well, but some cracks were beginning to appear. An increase in the number of commissioners to take over the governance role of schools and some high profile and public employment battles between boards and principals indicated the need for support mechanisms."

Ministry Mäori group manager Rawiri Brell says one of the aims of Tomorrow's Schools was to bring Mäori increasingly into the picture. Despite that, he says the first five years of Tomorrow's Schools saw a lot of reflection on the part of Mäori as to whether the changes were good for them.

There were concerns that boards of trustees would be Pakeha-dominated and that predominantly Mäori low decile schools might have trouble finding trustees with the skills needed to run a board successfully.

However, a lot of work has addressed those fears and Rawiri Brell says much of it is now coming to light in the form of the recently-announced Mäori Education Strategy and other initiatives.

On the East Coast, for example, Mäori communities have pooled their talents so that one board oversees three kura kaupapa Mäori and another oversees two mainstream schools.

A significant aspect of Tomorrow's Schools was to provide a formal process for setting up kura kaupapa Mäori as part of the state schooling system. "Previously there was no authority for a Minister of Education to set up a kura," says Rawiri Brell.

"Kura which were set up before Tomorrow's Schools were private schools." Further refinement of the rules and regulations affecting schools is planned with teacher and principal's input sought to the regulatory review. Elizabeth Eppel says that review will fine-tune the system which schools must work under, though there will be no changes to the wider structure of Tomorrow's Schools.

The key question, she says, will be whether the legislation serves the education sector.

"It's time to take stock of the regulations we have got and examine the necessity for them and the extent to which they make it possible for people involved with education to innovate."

* In 1990, the first year of Tomorrow's Schools, there was a $500 million backlog of deferred maintenance for school property. This financial year, the last of that work will be completed and schools have had tremendous input into how that work was done.

* Prior to Tomorrow's Schools, the Education Boards held school's purse strings. They allocated grants to schools that were tagged exactly to specific expenses. There was one grant for telephone bills, another for water and another for heating and lighting. Now schools have control of more than $1 billion a year.


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