Heather Roy

21 April 2018

Current Affairs programme Newshub Nation (21 April) investigated the issues surrounding abolishing Partnership Schools today.

No consultation with schools or parents or educational experts occurred ahead of the decision to abolish these schools in their current form.

Education is not one-size-fits-all. What works well for one student may not for others. Our public education system caters well for the majority but it has failed, not supported, too many students. Under performance by Maori, Pasifika and low decile students has been well documented for decades, yet in this time the public education system has failed to make gains in improving education for these and other students with specific learning difficulties.

As Associate Minister of Education from 2008 – 2010 I had responsibility for chairing a multi-party committee on School Choice. National, ACT and the Maori Party each had representatives on the committee who were determined to find a way to provide educational choice for parents and students. Choice is an important factor in ensuring as few students as possible fall through the cracks of our public education system. I like to think that this work, which spanned a year of research and produced two reports, was a foundation of sorts from which partnership schools were built on.

The first Partnership Schools –  also known as Kura Hourua – were established in  2014 by the National led government as agreed with the ACT party. Labour, the Green Party and NZ First opposed these schools from their inception and vowed to abolish them when they became government. In February 2018 Education Minister Chris Hipkins announced that Partnership Schools would be abolished and must apply by May 1 to remain open, but as schools of special character which will be subject to government regulation.

Now, 11 schools, with 1500 students enrolled, face transitioning to state regulated schools or closing their doors. My question for the Minister is this: What problem does he think he is solving by abolishing these schools? The schools are showing promising signs of educating their students well. Some say it is too early to assess the results thoroughly, but there is little doubt that these students are achieving significantly better results than they had previously been doing in public schools. Many hadn’t been attending school at all.

There are many myths about how the Partnership Schools have been operating. It is worth addressing a few of them for the sake of clarity:

  • Partnership schools are public schools and are state funded to the same level as other schools with the same student numbers. They do not receive more funding.
  • Partnership schools have legally binding contracts with the crown to reach measureable standards. Other state schools are regulated by the crown but not bound by measuring success.
  • Partnership schools must have a minimum of 75% of students who are Maori, Pasifka, decile 1 to 3.
  • Partnership schools have greater freedom with regard to school organisation, employment arrangements, curriculum, and teaching methods and practices.
  • Partnership schools can employ unregistered teachers. However the vast majority of teachers are registered with most schools hiring other teachers only for non-academic activities.
  • Partnership schools are bulk-funded, which provides them with greater flexibility in delivering educational activities. It allows many schools to have much lower teacher:student ratios.
  • If a Partnership school fails to meet the required standards it is closed down. If other public schools are failing in this way, they are propped up.

It is a shame that cabinet, in making the decision to abolish partnership schools, didn’t consider the results these schools are achieving or the benefits to students and their futures. At the very least the government should be interested in investigating what the public education system could learn from the successes of Partnership Schools with Maori, Pasifika and low decile students. Asking the students involved where they have received the best education would be a very good place to start.