The only winners from last week's education proposals will be private schools and children with parents able to afford them.

Before David Lange's Tomorrow's Schools in 1989, private schools were in such demand that children were put on waiting lists the day they were born.

Thirty years later, private school enrolments have fallen from 4.1 per cent of all students to just 3.4 per cent and they now resort to advertising.


The reasons are complex, but one is Lange's vision of freeing state schools to better reflect the values and priorities of their communities.

Sometimes this involves fairly trivial matters, like new school uniforms. More importantly, it has been about schools adopting different pedagogies and programmes that meet the needs of their particular communities and students, without first needing to apply to some centralised district board.

The main ideological divide in education is about comfort with difference.

Perhaps surprisingly, the political right tends to be more encouraging than the left of innovation in schools.

Most famously, it was National's Robert Muldoon and Merv Wellington who first funded Te Kōhanga Reo.

National's Jim Bolger and Lockwood Smith first funded Kura Kaupapa Māori and Wānanga and ordered parallel National Curriculum documents to be developed to help schools draw on Tikanga Māori if they judged that best for their particular students.

More recently, John Key launched a handful of charter schools, albeit in a typically half-hearted manner and to an easily reversible extent.

The upside has been allowing individual schools to test and introduce new ideas more quickly, which may then be adopted more broadly by others. The downside is that some new ideas will fail.


For its part, the left's main educational value is equality. That includes trying to help disadvantaged communities but it also requires tackling perceived privilege and achieving greater standardisation.

Last week's proposed education reforms clearly come from this perspective, and have been welcomed not just by the teacher unions but by the doyens of the hard-left including John Minto, Catherine Delahunty and Dr Liz Gordon.

The proposals, says Minto, are "like a fresh breath of spring air after 30 years in the dark ages of Tomorrow's Schools".

No one should doubt the proposed radicalism.

Schools are to be grouped into 20 districts and governed by hubs appointed by the Minister of Education.

The hubs will appoint and allocate principals and teachers to the 125 schools in their catchment, and be able to move them around to promote equity.

Hubs will also be responsible for school property and finances, legal matters, and educational performance.

Do not mistake such things for administrative convenience.

Replacing, say, classrooms with so-called Modern Learning Environments (MLEs) is not a mere architectural decision but one with profound pedagogical implications.

Even under the current model, the Wellington bureaucracy has used its control over school property to impose MLEs on communities to change how children can be taught.

Expanding that principle to operational funding gives control to hubs over whether a school gets new books for the library or access to an online teaching platform.

The mischief is greater for secondary schools, which have always had autonomy, operating under their own boards.

Under the proposals, secondary schools would not only come under direct state control for the first time, with the hubs appointing their principals and teachers and controlling their property and operational budgets.

The ultimate objective seems to be abolishing them altogether and replacing them with Middle Schools from Years 7-10 and Senior Colleges from Years 11-13.

From the old-fashioned ones in leafy suburbs to the regular provincial high school in every town, secondary schools are the holders of tradition and heritage and are thus seen by left-wing educational theorists as exactly the type of privilege that must be cut down.

If principals and teachers are seen to be creating perceived privilege in a particular school, or even just getting uppity, the hubs will be able to move them on.

The hubs will decide what school buildings should be demolished and on which subjects and priorities school funds are to be deployed.

They will then decide whether your local secondary school will even continue to exist or be abolished and the buildings used for a new Middle School or Senior College. A long-term left-wing objective will have been met.

Through most of 2018, it has been possible to be relatively sanguine about a Government that, beyond Jacinda Ardern's presentational abilities, is mainly just incompetent and comical.

These plans for education, written by the chairman of the New Plymouth Labour Party and surely encouraged by the Beehive, suggest the regime has a further, much more sinister character.

- Matthew Hooton is managing director of PR and corporate affairs firm Exceltium.