Nicholas Jones

Nicholas Jones is the New Zealand Herald’s education reporter.

Charter school 3 teachers down

Small Northland partnership college has vacant positions, needs outside help weeks after opening despite official doubts about its readiness

A teacher left the school just weeks into the first term. Photo / Thinkstock
A teacher left the school just weeks into the first term. Photo / Thinkstock

One of New Zealand's first charter schools is urgently searching for teachers and has turned to outside help for lessons just over a month after opening its doors.

The rocky start comes as the Government starts to sort through who it will pick for more charter schools next year, and after official misgivings about the school's readiness to open.

Te Kura Hourua ki Whangaruru, one of two charter or "partnership" schools in Northland, is currently advertising three teaching positions.

The small school opened last month just south of the Bay of Islands with about 70 students and a fulltime teaching staff of five.

It now needs a fulltime te reo Maori teacher, a fulltime English teacher and a part-time science teacher, after a teacher walked away just weeks into the first term.

The school's curriculum director, Natasha Sadler, did not return calls this week and staff members could not be contacted.

Katrina Casey, the Ministry of Education's head of sector enablement and support, said a fulltime staff member had recently left the school.

"The school has arranged to supplement its teaching by providing students with some correspondence school lessons and teaching through Northland Polytechnic," she said.

Last year the ministry appointed governance facilitators to each partnership school to support their establishment.

Ms Casey said the kura's facilitator, Chris Saunders, had "advised us that the sponsor has had some challenges during the establishment phase of opening this school".

"All new schools experience challenges through the establishment phase ... the facilitator hasn't asked for any further assistance."

The Northland school is in a remote farm setting and caters for Year 9 to 13 students, some of whom had been out of school for some time.

NZ First's education spokeswoman Tracey Martin, who has previously raised concerns about the readiness of the kura to open, said the staff vacancies were very concerning.

The partnership schools had far less time to set up than was normal for state schools, and that greatly increased the risk of problems.

"Because of the rush to get these schools up and running, in our view the ministry didn't demand that planning was in place."

Five partnership schools, which are publicly funded but privately run, opened this year after a confidence and supply agreement in Parliament between the Act Party and National.

Documents detailing the selection process show the ministry initially suggested Te Kura Hourua ki Whangaruru be overlooked in order to have more time to develop its plans, officials stating the applicant "has a long way to go to ... find suitable teaching staff".

However, the Nga Parirau Matauranga Trust was chosen to enter negotiations, and ultimately got permission to set up the school.

The Government is working towards more partnership schools beyond the five that started this year. It has received applications for the next round, to open at the start of 2015, but hasn't released details. This month the Herald revealed an American-based firm had expressed interest.

- NZ Herald

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