Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Charter schools to ignore zoning

Act leader's pupil-ballot answer goes against charter principle, says Green MP.

John Banks.  Photo / Robert Trathen
John Banks. Photo / Robert Trathen

The plan to introduce "charter schools" changed again yesterday after the policy's champion, John Banks, said the schools would be under no obligation to accept students in their local areas.

The policy was agreed by National and Act, both saying the schools would tackle educational underachievement in disadvantaged areas. The first schools were planned in West and South Auckland.

Allowing the schools to recruit students from outside their local areas undermines one of the Government's key reasons for agreeing to the policy as part of its coalition agreement with the Act Party, says Green Party education spokeswoman Catherine Delahunty.

In response to a written question from Ms Delahunty, Act Party leader Mr Banks said charter schools would not have geographic enrolment zones if demand for places exceeded supply. Instead, students would be chosen by a ballot, he said.

The terms of reference for the working group set up to implement the introduction of charter, or partnership schools, says the first schools would serve "areas of significant disadvantage" where the risk of educational underachievement is the greatest.

But Ms Delahunty said "that rhetoric around disadvantaged children falls apart when you look at the basic rules that the question has exposed".

"Where you've got a disadvantaged area and some families there didn't get in to a charter school on the first intake, there's no commitment that local children will have priority for the remaining places.

"The Government should just come out and admit and say we want to use public money to create schools where students can be cherrypicked at the expense of local communities."

Under current Government policy, charter schools will be required to accept all students who apply for entrance - until they reach capacity - regardless of background or academic ability.

But they could set geographical boundaries or requirements relating to the specialisation of the school, as long as these were not designed to deny opportunities to students.

A spokeswoman for Mr Banks said it appeared Ms Delahunty appeared worried that the schools would be too popular and would therefore be oversubscribed.

However, she indicated it was unlikely the schools would be able to "cherry pick'' students from other schools.

"It is very unlikely that any student who is doing well in their current school would choose to leave.''

The schools were expected to offer "education that is tailored to the needs of those that are disadvantaged in the current system and will therefore be most attractive to students who are not currently doing well''.

- NZ Herald

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