The controversial charter school model will be expanded to take students who are keen on science, technology, engineering and maths.

Currently groups wanting to set up a charter or "partnership" school have to focus on students deemed "priority learners" - those who are at risk of failing.

That will now change, with Act leader and Under-Secretary to the Minister of Education David Seymour announcing today that charter schools focused on the so-called "Stem" subjects would be approved in future.

"The time has come to extend the options offered by partnership schools to a wider range of students and educators. The Government has identified Stem subjects as vital for improving economic and social outcomes for New Zealanders.

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"We need to step up our efforts in these areas to address labour market needs and maximise innovation and economic growth."

Seymour said partnership schools - which are privately-run but publicly-funded - were well placed to teach science, technology, engineering and maths.

"Partnership schools could, for example, hire scientists and other Stem experts, and would have flexibility in setting remuneration for Stem teachers."

Labour's education spokesman Chris Hipkins said the change was a major move to expand charter schools that had "huge ramifications" for parents with children at state schools.

He said the announcement on the last day of Parliament was cynically timed to avoid scrutiny.

"The idea that these schools were introduced to help priority learners was always a weak facade for the policy's true intention that has now been exposed.

"Charter schools are nothing more than the wholesale privatisation of our world class education system. To say they're about improving our kids' education or offering more choice for parents ignores the vast evidence about the schools both domestically and internationally."

Stem-focused partnership schools can apply to an application round early next year, with schools to open in 2019. There are currently eight partnership schools.

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