Education Minister Chris Hipkins talks to political editor Audrey Young about some of the controversial parts of the gigantic Education and Training Bill, including school zoning and Treaty of Waitangi obligations.
It may turn out to be wishful thinking on Chris Hipkins' part but the Education Minister seems to believe that a change to the zoning process for schools will be widely supported, if quietly.
It is an area dogged with controversy whenever there are changes to zoning rules.
But Hipkins believes that a "silent majority" of school boards of trustees will be happy that the job of drawing up school zones is to be removed from them.
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The task will fall to the Ministry of Education, which already has the final approval in the current law.
"There will be a minority who will be quite vocal is saying 'no, we want to be able to continue to set our own zones,'" Hipkins told the Herald, "But the silent majority will be relieved to have it gone."
A lot of boards hated having to do it, said Hipkins, because it could be a big job for volunteers and it could bring schools into conflict with each other.
And they didn't always do it well.
"If you take a big area that might have 10 schools within it and each of those 10 schools is drawing up enrolment schemes, they are not always landing on something that is the best fit for all 10 schools.
Access to the local school will continue to be guaranteed and any spare spaces will still have to be by ballot.
Switching responsibility for school enrolment schemes is one of the changes in a huge new bill introduced to Parliament in December, the Education and Training Bill, which will bring together the disparate laws that run the education system.
Some of the changes are part of the Government's response to the review of Tomorrow's Schools.
But removing zoning responsibility from boards of trustees was cited by National as one of the reasons it opposed the bill at its first reading.
New obligations around the Treaty of Waitangi for schools and education agencies may also be controversial.
Meeting those obligations will be one of three new objectives of boards of trustees and National believes that adding more objectives will dilute the current single objective of ensuring that every student is able to attain their highest possible standard in educational achievement.
One of the new objectives of the board will be to ensure that the school gives effect to the Treaty of Waitangi by ensuring the curriculum reflects local Maori tikanga and the Maori world view, takes reasonable steps to make sure teaching in Maori language and customs is available and is achieving equitable outcomes for Maori students.
Other board objectives include ensuring the school is a physically and emotionally safe place and that steps are taken to eliminate racism, bullying, stigma and other forms of discrimination.
The bill also provides that the Minister of Education and Minister for Māori Crown Relations may specify what agencies serving the education system (such as the Education Review Office, NZQA and Tertiary Education Commission) must do to give effect to public service objectives relating to the Treaty of Waitangi.
Hipkins said that at its most fundamental, he expected that schools would have good relationships with their Maori communities and that schools were culturally inclusive places.
Children used to be caned for expressing any form of Maori culture.
"We actually need to be very firm in going the other way and saying schools actually should embrace Maori culture, they should embrace Maori identity and they should have strong relationships with the Maori communities."
He also rejected the notion that boards should be left with only its current objective – on student achievement.
The latest international PiSA results showed New Zealand had one of the highest bullying rates in the OECD and there was a direct link between bullying and student achievement.
"That picture of student well-being is actually vitally important because without student well-being you don't get the optimum level of student achievement.
All the objectives were equally important.
"You can't really create a hierarchy because they are all so interlinked."
Another measure that raised concerns in the first reading debate was a new power for the Education Review Office to enter homes in which home-based early childhood services were being provided to inspect them.
But Hipkins said it was a power that was justified.
"If you are running a home-based service, you can have up to five children in your care and you are paid for those – including reasonably significant Government subsidies."
He said that at present ERO could visit only the head office of the provider, not the homes where the service was being provided.
"The reality is they are not going to go and visit every home-based ECE but if they had concerns about a service, they might go and visit a selection of homes that are part of that service."
Hipkins also rejected concerns over police vetting – the bill clarifies a grey area and explicitly states that any person present or normally living in a house in which ECE is provided need to be vetted by the police.
"If you are a woman delivering home-based ECE and your husband has just been released from prison, well actually that is a relevant factor so police vetting is quite reasonable in those circumstances."
In other areas, the bill will make it absolutely clear that teachers can use physical force to restrain a child in order to prevent harm to the child or to others. Secluding students will still be banned.
And it will state categorically that children are entitled to attend school full-time for all the hours it is open for instruction, regardless of their learning needs.
The Ministry of Education in background papers says it has received consistent feedback for years from parents and disability groups that students are being asked not to attend full-time because the school cannot support them.
The bill allows for a variation in hours if agreed by the parents, the principal and Secretary for Education under a six-month transition plan which can be initiated only by the child's parents.
The bill sets up a formal dispute resolution framework for parents to be run by the Ministry of Education's proposed regional Education Support Agency.
Hipkins said the main areas of complaint at present were around enrolment of students with additional learning needs.
""Those parents often end up coming away with quite a sense of grievance towards schools," he said.
"There does need to be an independent and impartial place for them to go if they want to make a complaint and have that investigated."
Similarly there needed to be someone who could hear complaints about stand-downs, suspensions, exclusions, and expulsions, racism and other types of discrimination, physical and emotional safety, physical force, enrolment and attendance, rights to education, and other significant matters.
"At the moment parents have to go straight to court and I don't want to see that continuing to expand. I would rather there was a mechanism where they could have their complaint heard faster, and by a more appropriate forum than having to go to court."
Under the changes the Minister of Education will appoint a chief referee who will manage a pool of people who can serve on panels to hear complaints.
The new law will also require state schools to obtain the written consent of parents for children to attend religious instruction during teaching hours.
At present, the onus is on parents to opt out in writing, rather than opt in.
SUMMARY OF CHANGES IN A NUTSHELL
EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION( ECE)
• Govt will now be able to take into account community needs – shortages and oversupply in some areas – when deciding whether to approve licences to run early childhood services.
• Clarifying that police must vet all adults who live in or are present in a home in which early childhood education service is based.
• Gives the Education Review Office the power to enter homes where ECE is provided to carry out evaluation, not just the head office of the provider.
• Clarifies that all students including those with disabilities and learning support needs have the right to attend school for all the hours the school is open for classes.
• Transfers responsibility for developing enrolment schemes, including zoning, from boards of trustees to the Ministry of Education.
• Establishes a dispute resolution service to hear parent complaints over such matters as suspension, expulsion, exclusion, learning support, racism, physical force.
• Clarifies that physical force can be used by a teacher on a child to keep people from harm but putting a child in seclusion in still banned.
• Adds three objectives to the work of a board of trustees from the previous single objective of ensuring every student is able to attain their highest possible standard in educational achievement to include ensuring:
• The school is a safe physical and emotional place and the board takes reasonable steps to eliminate racism, stigma and bullying.
• The school is inclusive and cater for students with differing needs;
• The school gives effect to the Treaty of Waitangi by ensuring the curriculum reflects local Maori tikanga and the Maori world view, takes reasonable steps to make sure teaching in Maori language and customs is available and achieves equitable outcomes for Maori students.
• Provides that the Education Minister and Minister for Māori Crown Relations: Te Arawhiti may specify what agencies serving the education system (such as ERO and NZQA) must do to give effect to public service objectives relating to the Treaty of Waitangi.
• Enables the Minister of Education to issue a mandatory code of conduct for board of trustee members.
• Requires parents to opt in to any religious instruction in writing, rather than opt out, as at present.
TERTIARY & VOCATIONAL
• Allows the Ministry of Social Development to hold social housing information in the same database as students loans and allowances and social welfare benefit information.
• Incorporates the Education (Pastoral Care) Amendment Bill which passed late last year tightening rules for tertiary providers of student accommodation.
• Incorporates the Education (Vocational Education and Training Reform) Amendment Bill, turning 16 polytechnics into one nationwide institute, and due to be passed early this year.
Q and A
What does the Education and Training Bill do?
It combines all the various acts and bills about how the education system is run into a single piece of legislation from early childhood to adult learning.
What are those main acts?
The Education Act 1964, the Education Act 1989 and the Industry Training and Apprenticeship Act 1992.
So will those acts be combined to form the new Education and Training Act?
Yes for the Education acts. But the Industry Training and Apprenticeship Act 1992 is subsumed by the Education (Vocational Education and Training Reform) Amendment Bill currently before Parliament which turns the 16 polytechs into one New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology. The provisions in that bill will be incorporated into the eventual Education and Training Act, as will amendments to pastoral care passed just before Christmas setting a mandatory code of practice for providers of student accommodation, and a fine for breaches that lead to harm or death.
Does the Education and Training Bill enact the agreed recommendations from the review of Tomorrow's Schools?
Yes such as transferring development of enrolment zones from boards of trustees to the Ministry of Education, setting a code of conduct for boards of trustee members, strengthening Treaty of Waitangi obligations, and establishing dispute resolution panels, but some meausres, such as changes to religious instruction, are entirely unrelated to the review.
What progress is the Education and Training Bill making?
The bill is now being considered by the Education and Workforce select committee, submissions close on February 14, it must be reported back to the House by May 4 and is likely to be passed by the end of July.