It's time that "Tomorrow's Schools" became yesterday's schools.

Just as was the case with the story of the emperor who had no clothes, there has been an unwillingness, to tell the emperor the truth.

Yes, competition has led to stories of success, innovation and roll growth for individual schools, but this has come at the expense of failure, demoralisation and roll decline for other schools.

The other truths, since 1989, are these: there has been an inexorable slide downwards for New Zealand in its international rankings for student achievement, which coincides with the growing inequity between schools and communities and fewer people choosing teaching as a vocation (and those who do, are leaving the profession after a relatively short time in it).


The blind adherence to the competing schools model, and the marketing that goes hand in hand with this, means style wins over substance.

This includes: glossy marketing brochures and presentations, spurious use of data and establishment of high stakes (but shonky) league tables comparing schools and encouraging them to hide "failure", unethical enrolment practices, fees and "donations" designed to deter the poor, principals who act as CEOs rather than as leaders of learning, schools actively recruiting overseas fees-paying students at the expense of time spent on local students, snobbery, private school uniforms replicated in state schools, and the lack of an effective and efficient overview of school property provision.

It was all supposed to be about the power of giving parents the opportunity to exercise choice as to which school they want their child to learn in. The reality is that it is often the schools that do the selecting.

It is statistically amazing as to how many top academic students and/or gifted athletes manage to get selected by ballot, when there are limited out-of-zone places available.

However, despite the attendant issues in the education sector, it is not all that surprising that it has taken so long for there to be a call for a review and overhaul of "Tomorrow's Schools".

The schools that are the "winners" in the system also exercise the power.

A hegemonic view as to what constitutes a successful school is highly institutionalised through ERO, the MOE and various systems and structures designed to define and recognise high-achieving schools in order for them to act as beacons of excellence for other schools to strive towards emulating.

Time now for brave people to use educational research findings to challenge this tyranny of thought, while, at the same time, continuing to remind everyone that the provision of public education is about social justice, addressing inequity and building a participatory democracy.

If it takes a village to raise a child we need a government which recognises that first, the village or community needs to be raised, and provided with the necessary capacity to do so.

Local schools should serve as the learning hub for their communities and that is where community development can commence.

Instead of each school having their own Board of Trustees, it makes more sense to have elected community boards (with some co-opted representation and/or expertise) with the responsibility for overseeing the coherent provision of learning opportunities across that whole community.

The rationale, behind any review of "Tomorrow's Schools", needs to go beyond exposing it as the neo-liberal "con job" that it is, towards evaluating its effectiveness in meeting the goals so simply, but eloquently expressed in 1948 by the then director of education, Charles Beeby.

"Every person, whatever the level of his (or her) academic ability, whether he (or she) be rich or poor, whether he (or she) live in town or country, has the right, as a citizen, to a free education of a kind for which he (or she) is best suited and to the fullest extent of his (or her) powers." (Charles Beeby, 1948).

Sadly, since the implementation of "Tomorrow's Schools", the likes of Beeby have been replaced by faceless bureaucrats, too tongue-tied in the use of corporate gibberish ("school charter", "strategic intent", "analyses of variance", "performance management", "learning outcomes", "mission statements" etc ad nauseam) to inspire the sector about the core business of learning and of the importance of operating in a culture where learning is paramount.

It was a Labour Government's bright idea to turn our schooling system upside down, and implement a market forces model.

Somehow, it seems appropriate that Labour, now that they are back in power, should ascertain whether the disruption has been worth it and re-assert that education is a public good, not a private commodity.

• Peter Garelja lives at Glinks Gully on the west coast and is a former Kaipara College, Waitakere College and Tikipunga High School principal.