Heather Roy

27 August 2020

Congratulations James Shaw! I never thought I would be complimenting the Green Party co-leader for his support of school choice for parents and students. But we are of course living in very strange times.

The Green Party endorsement of a private school in Taranaki is one of those unexpected election year surprises. Who would have thought the Greens would support a private school, in complete contradiction of their education policy which explicity states “Public funding for private schools should be phased out and transferred to public schools”?. Flexible ethics are alive and well, including in the Green Party.

In fact James Shaw has announced more than an endorsement of the Taranaki private school – it’s more like a lotto style win of $11.7 million for the Green School, with the funding coming from the Government’s $3 billion shovel-ready projects fund. Much as I object to government picking winners I am in admiration of Shaw’s support of school choice, albeit for just one school which supports his view of the world. If this sort of support is good enough for this special character school it is surely good enough for others such as Charter Schools the Green Party has always been so scathing of.

I would have been more impressed had the funds been allocated to support the excellent educational philosophy of the Green School. The website talks of “a campus for inspired learning” and “a school that breeds curiosity”. I can’t fault the aim of Green School to:

“bring more joy to education and ignite children’s imaginations so they are stimulated to discover meaningful passions of their own and develop a true desire for learning.

The Green School way allows young people to thrive by learning in a purposeful manner. Learning how to be a changemaker and have a positive impact on the world sparks a passion for learning and turns it from a chore, into a desire.”

These are all things that were supported and encouraged in the cross party working group report on School Choice I led as Associate Minister of Education in 2010. Sadly this did not have the support of the Green Party at the time.

Unfortunately Shaw scored something of an own goal by trying to explain away the funds in his press release as a jobs initiative instead of proudly announcing an excellent education initiative. Shaw stated:

Securing over 200 jobs will help direct more money into the parts of the economy where most people earn their livelihood. These are the parts of the economy that are sustained when public investment is directed at getting people into work and earning money that they then spend in their local communities

Expanding the potential roll of a school (from 120 to 250 students) to “empower young people to become happy, excited, lifelong learners within a future-focused curriculum that advocates sustainable impact” as the Green School does, is a worthy goal in itself. In fact I wish all schools had this same philosophy and this style of education was available to all kiwi students.

The New Zealand education system should not be a one-size fits all model. Our children learn in very different ways and preparing them for the future should involve as many choices as possible. A great first step towards real school choice James Shaw, but sadly I suspect this will be a one-off initiative. Political ideology just about always wins the day outside of election campaigns.