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Education Bill Racially Divisive - Speech

Education Bill Racially Divisive
Donna Awatere Huata Speech to Parliament
On Government Education Amendment Bill: Tuesday April 4 2000

I want the Maori members in the House to imagine the scene when Ranginui and Papatuanuku were separated by their children. Light and air streamed into the spaces between them. Now imagine a vortex that sucks the light and the air out and draws Rangi and Papa together again. That is the effect of this Bill. To act as a vortex to suck out the light and air and return us to the past.

A key purpose of education is to help citizens push boundaries and prepare for the future. This Bill pushes in the opposite direction, to restrict boundaries and take us back to a dark past of school zoning, centrally resourced schools and a bias towards teacher unions.

Government’s justification for school zoning is that schools are selecting high achieving students. There is no evidence of this and even if there were, at least selection is on the basis of achievement rather than privilege. That’s what this Bill returns us to, selection on the basis of wealth and privilege. The best state schools are now to be the preserve of those who can afford property within the school zone. It means that the best state schools will be forced to go back to being the preserve of white middle income families. Everyone else goes into a Lotto draw to try to win a place.

I went to one of those schools yesterday, and was advised that the provisions of this Bill will destroy the multi cultural nature of the school. I was also advised that the Minister had just visited the school and was made well aware that this will be the case.

For this Government to talk about closing the gaps is a nonsense when this Bill will force the 3000 students who leave South Auckland every single school day to bus to a better performing school, to stay in their South Auckland zone. In South Africa, they have a word for this sort of thing and that word is segregation.

Consider that the top Maori student in this country, is just such a student. A student who buses out of South Auckland into Auckland Grammar, every day. Consider the culture of excellence and achievement that draws him there, and consider that under this Bill he will be confined to a zone in South Auckland, his life chances the subject of Lotto draw. Then consider how potentially divisive racially and how potentially punitive to poorer families this Bill really is.

This is just one of the problems which this Bill be create. Another will arise through the clauses that cancel bulk funding contracts. This will mean that every move parents make in the future, will be scrutinised and controlled by the teacher unions. Because added to the impact of this Bill is the true impact of the Employee Relations Bill and, in particular, those clauses related to the on site role of union representatives; the sanctions against dismissals of incompetent staff; requirements that all contracts last for 3 years.

The Minister claims that schools will get more money and that they will retain flexibility when they are forced back to central funding. Firstly, bulk funded schools will not get more money. Most will lose money simply because there will be less to go around. When the real cost of the student loans scheme kicks in there will be less in real terms in the Education budget than is being spent now.

Nor will schools retain flexibility. The fact of the matter is that the clauses in this Bill operating with the provisions of the Employee Relations Bill will together will give ultimate power to the unions in schools.

When bulk funded Principals and parents talk about the benefits of bulk funding to me, they don’t talk about the extra money; they talk about the flexibility they have to make their school fit the needs of the child and whether that means specialist teachers, short term contract teachers, part time teachers, more computers or whatever is not the point. The point is that they are the arbiters of how their money is to be spent for their students. The point that it is they are engaged in planning based on the needs of the individual students, not union officials and Wellington bureaucrats.

This is a sad day. I foresee that if and when this Bill passes into law and the teachers unions have won, with that win goes the dream of schools that are accountable to their communities; the dream of schools that have the flexibility to cater for each individual child’s needs, the dream of schools that fit their students and communities, rather than students and communities being forced to fit schools designed and run by unions and bureaucrats.

When I say that what is being decided when members vote for or against this Bill, is whether parents or teachers unions run New Zealand schools, I say so for good reason.

Remember Tuakau College when teachers boycotted the school’s prize giving and withdrew support for students. Or Cambridge High when the PPTA president came personally to tell the Board of Trustees that should they accept bulk funding “the full industrial might of the PPTA would be brought into play and the school would become unmanageable”. Or Westlake Secondary where the principal received hate mail and abusive phone calls. The Principal and Board Chairman were told “they’d be personally targeted and the principal’s career destroyed” if they accepted bulk funding.

Or Waimea College where there were “fierce confrontations, heat, shouting and tumult” and where several Board of Trustee members resigned because of teachers hostility. Or the strikes at Mercury Bay Area School, Pakuranga College, or Te Mata School when 31 out of 45 staff went on strike less than 2 weeks out from external exams. And at Mountainview High School. And at Central Hawkes Bay High when the entire Board of Trustees resigned. And at Colenso High School where the Principal resigned following what she called“ a month of teacher protests which saw her students used as the weapons in a very adult battle”. And so it continued up and down the country.

What is it about bulk funding that turned those educated teachers into urban terrorists? The issue about bulk funding was that it reduced the unions power and gave it to parents. That’s what all that fighting was about, and that’s what this Bill is about.

Make no mistake about it, what we are seeing here is anti-parents, anti-students and anti-teachers. I say shame on the government for taking way power from parents and schools and giving it to the unions. And I say shame on the government for setting up zones that will make it much harder to achieve racial integration and confine the poor to zones that are the subject of damning ERO reports. And shame on the Minister for what he is about to do. ENDS

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