Audrey Young

Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Boards wary on charter schools

Association wants small-scale trial of no more than three schools for up to five years before review.

Associate Education Minister John Banks. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Associate Education Minister John Banks. Photo / Mark Mitchell

School boards of trustees want charter schools to be limited to three only, set up on a trial basis for three to five years, and assessed by an independent research programme.

The New Zealand School Trustees Association, which represents about 2200 school boards of trustees, has what it calls a "midway position" on charter schools with no blanket opposition or blanket support.

But the association has concerns at some elements of the policy including the proposal to allow non-registered teachers as full-time classroom teachers and setting it up outside the accountabilities of the Official Information Act and the Office of the Ombudsman.

And it says the new schools should be restricted to a small-scale formal trial of no more than three schools for no more than five years.

Association president Lorraine Kerr and general manager Ray Newport made submissions yesterday to the education select committee at Parliament on the legislation establishing charter schools.

Any extension of the schools beyond the trial period should be subject to evidence from the research process and review by the select committee, their submission said.

The first charter schools, or partnership schools as they are described in legislation, will be ready to go in January next year. They will be state-funded on a fixed term contract but privately run by either not-for-profit or for-profit organisations in areas of significant educational under-achievement.

Mr Newport told the committee: "We can't see any compelling case either way.

"We think that rather than simply oppose the idea, that the select committee should consider through legislation authorising a trial of partnership schools for a particular period - we say three to five years. Put a research project alongside those schools and let the evidence determine at the end of that time, what sort of outcomes they have achieved.

"If the outcomes are stunning so be it, then it is something we should all be looking at."

The charter school policy was a surprise element of National's confidence and supply agreement with Act after the 2011 election - a surprise because it had not been mentioned in either party's education policy in the campaign.

Associate Education Minister and Act leader John Banks told the Herald last week that it was not yet clear how many schools would be established next year.

"It could be three, it could be four, it could be six and if there were 10 I'd love to convince my coalition senior partners that we should go with 10 so we don't know yet."

They did not yet know how many expressions of interest there would be.

"But what we do know is there are a lot and what we do know is that we don't want to bite off more than we can chew. What we will need is an absolute commitment and a belief that these people can deliver on what they promise."

- NZ Herald

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