Brian Rudman
Brian Rudman is a Herald columnist looking at Auckland and national issues

Brian Rudman: Sth Auckland's kids forced to be guinea pigs in school experiment

John Key. Photo / Mark Mitchell
John Key. Photo / Mark Mitchell

What have the innocent kids of South Auckland done to be singled out as the guinea pigs for the charter school experiment? It's like a throwback to the bad old days when doctors connected the brains of "mental" patients up to the mains power supply to see what happened, and naval bosses lined up sailors on deck to test the unknown effects of nuclear bombs on human targets.

Perhaps the children are being punished by the victorious National and Act leadership for the resounding rebuff their parents gave the government parties in the election.

In the Mangere electorate, of the 25,525 votes cast, only 77 went to the Act Party, which is now forcing the Government to inflict the charter school experiment on the local kids.

Even the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party, with 95, did better. Only 3592 voted for National.

In Manukau East, of 27,484 votes, Act got 143, National 5287. In Manurewa, out of 25,688 votes, Act got 153 votes, National 6606.

Even if suggesting there's a punitive element might be pushing the plot theory a little far, it's certainly true, as the above figures show, that experimenting on South Aucklanders isn't going to cost the government parties electorally when the promised procession of little Einsteins and Bill Gateses doesn't materialise in a few years.

What is alarming is how cheaply Prime Minister John Key and Act's John "I'm not Key's poodle" Banks are treating the schooling future of the kids to be experimented on.

From the dribble of detail so far released, they and their parents won't even be given a choice whether their school becomes a candidate for the "mixed ownership model".

It conjures up memories of when Labour Prime Minister David Lange launched his "Tomorrow's Schools" revolution, painting visions of Auckland Grammar gaining the freedom to colonise South Auckland schools and turning under-achieving Otarians into money-making Remueraites overnight.

At least in that case, Mr Lange was a popular MP from the area.

The revolution never took off. Even if it had, the schools would have remained in public ownership.

What is so cynical is that neither Mr Key nor Mr Banks made any mention of charter schools during the election campaign. My guess is that if they'd been questioned on the topic they'd have done the same startled goldfish impression Labour leader Phil Goff did when ambushed on details of his economic platform.

In truth, the topic has just been plucked out of the Act Ideological Manual and dusted down in the post-election bargaining round, to try to prop up the myth that Mr Banks is a libertarian, deep down, and that Act as a political movement is not really dead.

Mr Banks is living walking evidence that one is not necessarily scarred by failure to get an Auckland Grammar education. His biographer - and Epsom electorate rival, Paul Goldsmith - records Mr Banks' failed attempt to get into the school in 1962. He and his father turned up before legendary headmaster Henry Cooper with a less-than-encouraging school report to be told, "We are full this year, we don't even have a place for you in the drongo class."

He then tried Avondale College "where they took on lots of drongos and they were very friendly to this one".

Over the past week, as politicians and journalists scrambled around madly to discover what this coalition deal-maker policy was all about, the signals from the United States and Britain were confused and mixed.

Education researcher Professor John Hattie, one-time adviser to the Government on National Standards until he warned they were going about it all wrong and was dumped, says looking to charter schools as some sort of answer is addressing the wrong problem.

In the Weekend Herald he said "it's a false wish that we fundamentally believe that creating a different school is going to make a difference, when there's no evidence for that at all." He said the biggest variations in student achievement occur within schools, not between them.

Despite such expert evidence, the politicians are set on disrupting the education of other people's kids, people who don't vote for them.

They don't even have the excuse of ideological belief, just a cynical need to keep Act, the corpse, happy, and its sole remaining member, Mr Banks, voting the right way.

- NZ Herald

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