NZ charter schools come one step closer

File photo / Getty Images
File photo / Getty Images

More progress has been made in plans to launch charter schools in New Zealand, with the Government today naming the group that will start the process.

Former Act Party president Catherine Isaac has been confirmed as the head of the working group, which will be looking into policy issues and conducting community consultation around what model the charter schools should take.

Ms Isaac will be joined by six others including Correspondence School chief executive Michael Hollings, Discovery 1 school founder and former Christchurch mayor Vicki Buck, Whitireia Community Polytechnic's Margaret Southwick, University of Auckland's John Taylor and Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology's Hana O'Regan.

Education Minister Hekia Parata said the group would consult a range of people, including the teaching profession, unions, parents, businesses, communities and educational experts.

"We already have a number of different types of schools operating in New Zealand, such as kura, religious schools, single-sex schools, private schools and co-ed schools,'' she said.

"Charter schools are just another option, giving parents and students more freedom to choose the type of education that best suits their learning needs.''

The implementation of the schools is part of National's confidence and supply arrangements with Act, and leader John Banks said today that he was pleased with those appointed to the working group.

"These are high quality individuals who bring an impressive mix of skills and experience from the education and business sectors,'' he said.

"These include a proven track record of innovation in education, an understanding of the needs of disadvantaged communities, as well as a thorough understanding of Maori and Pasifika needs.''

However, the line-up has not pleased everyone, with Green Party education spokeswoman Catherine Delahunty raising questions about the impartiality of the group.

Ms Delahunty raised particular concern about Ms Isaac and Ms Buck, who she said was on record speaking in favour of charter schools.

"Having these two people in the group raises real questions about how neutral the group will be.''

Ms Delahunty said she had written to Education and Science Select Committee chairwoman Nikki Kaye asking for an inquiry into whether charter schools should be established at all.

"We need a careful and objective inquiry into the benefits, or not, of the charter school idea rather than launching headlong into some risky scheme and then tinkering with the problems when they arise,'' she said.

Education sector union NZEI also questioned the neutrality in the group, with president Ian Leckie noting a lack of "transparent political agenda'' around the schools.

"Given there is no real representation on the group from anyone who actually works at the chalk face of education, it is important that there is genuine consultation with schools, parents and those communities which will be affected.''

Mr Leckie said overseas experience showed negative implications from charter schools, and the New Zealand group would need to ask key questions on behalf of the public, rather than interested parties or businesses.

"It's important to know how charter schools will be authorised and how accountable they will be in terms of student achievement and financial performance.''


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