Charter schools escape scrutiny

By Kate Shuttleworth

Education Amendment Bill exempts sponsors from public accountability.

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

The people who set up charter schools will be exempt from public scrutiny and Official Information Act requests under legislation that is being pushed through Parliament to pave the way for the schools to open in 2014.

The Education Amendment Bill 2012 creates legal recognition for a new and third type of school in New Zealand's public education landscape - the charter school. The groups that run charter schools are called "sponsors" in the bill, and are given powers to set teachers' pay rates, hire unregistered teachers and set their own hours and days of operation.

Sponsors will be approved by the Ministry of Education and will have to sign a contract setting out their responsibilities and obligations.

Associate Education Minister John Banks backed the decision to exempt sponsors from being publicly accountable under the Official Information Act.

He said that in exchange for freedom, charter schools would be held more accountable for improving student outcomes.

The Green Party's education spokeswoman, Catherine Delahunty, said the changes were "frightening".

"The bill gives enormous powers to 'sponsors' who may have no educational background but will set the rules and staff pay rates."

While creating a legislative framework for charter schools, the bill also allows principals and teachers to search and confiscate students' cellphones and other electronic devices.

The search and seizure rules will apply to information stored on computers or other forms of electronic device, including cellphones, if a teacher believes they are endangering a person's safety or preventing learning.

The bill prevents physical touch or use of force during a search of a student. It also prohibits random or blanket searches, the use of drug dogs and the collection of bodily samples.

Education Minister Hekia Parata said the bill made provisions concerning search and retention clearer for schools.

Other changes include:

•The introduction of a national student number for children aged under 6.

•Schools will be able to introduce flexible timetabling, including two schools running two timetables on one site.

•Boards of trustees will be required to be answerable for student achievement.

•Schools will have to publish annual financial statements.

- APNZ

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