Parata pleased with changes to Education Amendment Bill

By Kate Shuttleworth

Hekia Parata.  Photo / Mark Mitchell
Hekia Parata. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Education Minister Hekia Parata said she was supportive of the changes put forward by the education and science committee to the Education Amendment Bill.

"A lot of work has gone on with the sector over that so we're continuing to ensure that we both meet the schools needs and stay within the Bill of Rights.

"I am very pleased with the work that's been done on it.

Charter schools, which will not be subject to the Official Information Act,will be able to be investigated by the Ombudsman, a parliamentary committee has recommended.

Proposed changes to legislation bringing in charter schools will go before Parliament during its second reading this month.

Under the original legislation, charter schools were free from the scrutiny of the Official Information Act but under the proposed changes will be required to have an independent dispute and complaints process and be made subject to the Ombudsman Act.

But that scrutiny would be limited to suspensions, expulsions, stand-downs and exclusions.

In a submission to the education and science committee, Chief Ombudsman Dame Beverley Wakem called for charter schools to be subject to the full Official Information Act and Ombudsman Act like all other Crown entities and like other schools.

The committee has also recommended clearer guidelines on the surrender and retention rule changes set out in the Education Amendment Bill.

Schools will also be able to require students hand over any item that threatens the safety of another or affects the learning environment.

Students could be required to hand over electronic items, bags or other containers to be searched

If there's an immediate threat to the safety of another person and the student refuses to surrender it, the school can ask the student to remove a jacket and clothing, head covering, gloves, footwear or socks.

Drug dogs will be allowed into schools to search school property such as desks and lockers, but not students.

Ms Parata said the changes reported back from committee on the Education Amendment Bill report will provide a stronger foundation to raise the educational achievement of all young New Zealanders.

She said the changes were "useful'' and would benefit schools and students.

Ms Parata says the bill sets out what forms of search, surrender and retention are appropriate, making sure the rights of both schools and students are balanced.

"Until now, teachers have had to handle these situations without the backing of the law.

"The amendments help to clarify powers for teachers and authorised staff to search students where it is necessary to provide a safe learning environment, while setting out clear safeguards to ensure students' privacy and dignity.''

Ms Parata said teachers have long asked for this clarity and support.

"The Bill is intended to strengthen the ability of teachers to deal with the situations they increasingly face in the classroom.''

Ms Parata said the Government will consult with the education sector to develop rules and clear practical guidelines before the search, surrender and retention provisions of the Bill comes into force on January 1, 2014.

She said the committee had strengthened provisions for charter schools, which will be subject to the Ombudsman's scrutiny in relation to suspensions, expulsions, stand-downs and exclusions.

Ms Parata said it was important for parents to have some sort of recourse if they are unhappy with decisions made by charter schools.

"The Bill has been thoroughly examined and I think the proposed changes have improved it - the changes demonstrate the committee has listened to the views of those who submitted and acted on them.''

- APNZ

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