The trialling of Act's controversial plan to set up autonomous charter schools is now likely to take in poor towns and suburbs across the country, rather than being restricted to south Auckland and Christchurch.

Act secured National's backing for the initiative as part of last December's post-election confidence and supply agreement between the two parties.

That document indicated that pilot schools would initially be set up in disadvantaged areas of south Auckland and Christchurch. Once those schools were successfully established, the scheme would be extended to other regions "as fiscal conditions permit".

However, the chair of the charter school implementation working group, Catherine Isaac, yesterday said confining the concept to two areas could see a "goldfish bowl" effect, "with everyone in the country staring at what was happening".


Isaac, a Wellington businesswoman and former Act president, indicated the change in tack in a presentation to Act's annual conference yesterday.

Charter schools will be free to set their own timetables, school terms and teacher working conditions rather than following Ministry of Education requirements. Isaac said charter schools were "core Act" in terms of the party's philosophy.

The concept has been heavily criticised by teacher unions and academics who point to the failure of some charter schools in the United States to lift educational achievement of pupils above the levels attained by existing state schools.

Isaac said the working group would look at overseas examples of success and failure as part of its development of a New Zealand model.

However, she stressed charter schools were not a "silver bullet" which guaranteed all disadvantaged children would lift their achievement levels.

She said she would seek a meeting with teacher unions as part of an extensive round of consultations.