Five keen on charter schools

By Kathryn Powley, Bevan Hurley

Vicky Buck. Photo / Supplied
Vicky Buck. Photo / Supplied

Five organisations have raised their hands to set up charter schools in New Zealand.

Documents released to the Herald on Sunday show expressions of interest from the Canterbury Youth Development Programme, Vicki Buck and Unlimited School, Victoria University's Faculty of Education, Manukau Christian Charitable Trust, and Mt Hobson Middle School.

The intended sites for charter schools are in Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland.

Charter schools are primary or secondary schools that receive a combination of public and private money. They are not subject to the regulations that apply to state schools in New Zealand but can't charge fees.

The Government has proposed charter schools at secondary level.

Former Christchurch mayor Buck - founder of Unlimited School, which was destroyed by the earthquake and is operating out of temporary premises - was delighted at the prospect of working with Associate Education Minister John Banks.

"Hi John. That's stunning that you got in and had charter schools lined up in 5 minutes," said Buck in an email to Banks.

Buck said there was huge potential for a central-city charter school.

But Post Primary Teachers Association president Robin Duff was shocked to hear Buck was discussing prospects with Banks.

"The Government needs to support and appreciate the efforts of Christchurch's existing schools, which are working hard to provide some normality for their students, not create uncertainty by ripping resources from them to create new schools," Duff said.

Meanwhile, a Hollywood producer who founded a school in London to improve his children's education prospects has waded into the debate over privately run schools.

Toby Young, author of How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, said charter schools should become the "research and development laboratories" of New Zealand's education system.

"They create a space within the state-funded education sector where new approaches to teaching and learning can be tried out and tested," he told the Herald on Sunday.

Young was a high school drop-out who went on to study at Oxford and Harvard Universities and become a successful writer and film producer.

This experience led him to co-found the West London Free School.

He said successful charter schools should be copied and others that didn't work should be closed. "In that way, you improve the system as a whole."

But Duff said it was "deplorable" to turn students into "lab rats".

"Our fathers left this incredibly elitist and class-driven society to found an egalitarian society. And now we are being told that we should turn around and say 'our schools should be experimental labs'."

Catherine Isaac, who has been appointed to lead the charter schools trial, said terms of reference were yet to be finalised. But officials would look at overseas examples to try to avoid pitfalls.

Teachers report concerns to CYF

Teachers have contacted Child Youth and Family more than 800 times in the six months since a new programme was established to improve reporting from schools.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett started Ed Assist, with a dedicated phone line and email address, in September to help teachers contact CYF if they had concerns about a child's welfare.

Bennett said teachers were the third most active group, after health professionals and police, when it came to reporting child abuse to CYF.

In the 2010/2011 financial year, teachers and school social workers made 8300 notifications.

Child Youth and Family chief executive Marama Edwards said most notifications from schools continued to come through existing channels but Ed Assist was proving useful.

"While we believe there are real benefits in a dedicated service for the education sector, the most important thing is that schools and teachers come to us with their concerns or to seek information or advice - whether they come through the Ed Assist route or the traditional route."

She said that of the 521 phone calls made to Ed Assist since September, 157 had resulted in notifications. Of 290 emails, 21 had resulted in notifications.

Running the service incurred no significant costs as it used existing staff.

- Herald on Sunday

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