Heather Roy

6 May 2018

Education Minister, Hon Chris Hipkins, delivered a speech yesterday at the first of two education summits that will lead to the Government reviewing the way education is delivered to our young people.

It was an excellent speech, and one that I would have been pleased to have delivered myself when I was Associate Minister of Education (2008 – 2010). In fact many of the statements he made were things I had promoted then and still believe to be important. He said:

“We believe in an education system that brings out the very best in everyone and that means our educational offerings need to be as diverse as the learners we cater for.

“We need an education system that can adapt to the needs of the modern world.”

He talked a lot about a vision; what education could look like in order to be resilient in a changing world and to cater for the needs of all students. He talked about the New Education Forum (NEF) of 1937 when New Zealanders gathered to discuss the future of education. He went on to say to those attending the summit:

“I want you to be as bold and brave when it comes to your vision and your ideas for the future, as your predecessors were then.

For example, they called for children to have individualised learning, and for more freedom for teachers to teach. Others called for trusting teachers’ professional capability more to deliver for the child and for society.”

Had the Minister carried his thinking further he might have said, as I did in 2010 “I’m committed to choice. The Government doesn’t believe that central planning, or ideology, should dictate where children attend school. We want to give parents greater freedom to send their children to the school of their choice based on educational quality, school ethos, and their children’s needs”

But sadly, this is where we part company. The Labour-led government believes that quality education can only be provided by the state system. Private schools are (just) tolerated, partly because they relieve some of the burden on the state run schools.

The Minister’s – and the government’s – statements about believing in diverse educational offerings are inconsistent with their recent actions to disestablish Partnership (Charter) Schools and abolish Aspire Scholarships. Both initiatives were providing diverse educational offerings for students who are disadvantaged learners in the current education system and initial results were very positive. Yet they have been canned without proper assessment or consultation with the families and communities they have benefited because they don’t fit with the governments ideology.

Minister Hipkins has appointed a panel to assist in the review of the current education system and this is to be led by former Family Court Judge and now Children’s Commissioner, Andrew Beecroft. I hope the Minister is genuine when he says the approach he is undertaking “involves a lot of co-design, a lot of consultation, and a lot of collaboration”. Whether he really wants boldness and bravery is yet to be seen. Is the Minister open-minded enough to listen, for instance, if his expert panel recommends that Partnership Schools should be continued? Let’s hope that actions follow his fine words, for the sake of our children.