The revival of charter or “partnership” schools is a “destructive, weird, radical” policy that undermines public education, the country’s biggest education union says.
Mark Potter, president of NZEI Te Riu Roa, which represents primary and early childhood staff, told the Herald the model hadn’t worked under the previous National-led Government.
“What we don’t want to see is more attempts to privatise education. We want to see public education across the board funded and supported properly. To have partnership schools undermines that very idea.
“No government should be in the business of undermining public education.”
Act Party leader David Seymour, however, says the schools are “an innovative education model” that will help engage disadvantaged children who are being failed by the mainstream schooling system.
Partnership schools are privately run and publicly funded, and set their own curriculum, school hours, holidays and pay rates.
They are common in some countries including the United States and were first introduced in New Zealand in 2014, as part of Act’s confidence and supply agreement with John Key’s National Government.
The first handful to open included Vanguard Military Academy, based in Auckland’s Albany, and others in Auckland and Northland with majority Māori and Pacific students.
Under Labour, the partnership school model was scrapped, and existing schools changed into new “designated character” state schools.
The model is now set to be brought back.
The coalition agreement between National and Act includes agreement on the Act policy, including to “reintroduce partnership schools and introduce a policy to allow state schools to become partnership schools”.
Further agreement is to, “explore further options to increase school choice and expand access to integrated and independent schools including reviewing the independent school funding formula to reflect student numbers”.
Act and supporters of partnership schools say they are a way to encourage innovation in education, which can engage students who might otherwise be failed by state schools.
However, the schools are fiercely opposed by teachers’ unions, including NZEI.
Potter said he didn’t expect many existing schools would apply to become partnership schools - “there might be one or two that may see some short-term gain” - and they would likely be turned back into state schools under any future Labour-led Government.
More details were needed, but he said the union’s concerns last time the schools operated included the amount of funding they received compared to state schools, and the checks and balances on them.
The existing schooling system allowed for difference under models including designated character schools, Potter said.
“We already have systems and strategies that can be explored, without bringing in a kind of weird, radical idea like charter schools, which have been demonstrably destructive overseas.”
Before the election, Seymour said the previous Labour Government had wrongly scrapped partnership schools, “an innovative education model that was engaging disadvantaged children under-served by the state system to appease middle-class unionists in Wellington”.
“Before attending, many students were disengaged, with poor academic histories, complex socio-economic needs and lacking positive role models.
“The schools were meeting learners’ needs using innovative practices and high-quality standards. Sponsors were providing a real alternative for students who had been underserved by state schools. The flexible funding model was enabling innovation across the board.”