COMMENT:

The review of Tomorrow's Schools, the Haque Report, calls for a radical reboot of the New Zealand education system. It seeks to create 20 mini-ministries that would assume control of education in our communities. Do we need it?

New Zealand has an education system to be proud of. Like all countries, it has challenges of underachievement and struggling schools, and it is confronted with inequality in our society.

However, it would be wrong to junk our education system as a "failed experiment", as the report suggests.

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New Zealand's educational researchers are often quoted in education publications and conferences around the world.

Overseas educationalists come to New Zealand to observe our schools and teachers.

Schools across Auckland have consistently moved their students closer to the Government targets of 85 per cent of students leaving school with Level 2 NCEA, with gains for Māori and Pasifika students.

We see greater diversity of schooling opportunities such as kura kaupapa.

Principals and teachers across Auckland regularly support each other by sharing ideas and resources. We can and should be proud of education across Auckland.

The response of the Haque Report to its claims of dysfunction in education is to propose 20 mini-ministries or "hubs", each responsible for about 125 schools.

The hubs would take over control of schools from local boards of trustees. They would employ principals, teachers and support staff, control zones and the movement of students between them, disburse funding and property, manage suspensions, and much more.

This is a dramatic swing of decision making away from local communities. There is merit in better central support, especially at a level closer to the day-to-day realities of schools.

Most principals would welcome this support. But does it need to come with the price tag of ceding control to a central administration rather than local boards?

The current Ministry of Education does not see itself as the ministry of schools and is not ultimately accountable for the delivery of education. This lack of accountability and disconnect from the front line has led schools to compensate.

Many schools have been able to manage their curriculum and administration well and have thrived in this environment; others need more support.

A significant concern around the proposed hubs is their likely quality. To be effective the hubs would need significantly more staffing than the current ministry. Where would this come from? The Haque Report suggests from schools. This would be great as it draws in the expertise of educators. But, it would also draw valuable talent away from schools at a time when we have a chronic shortage of teachers.

Richard Dykes, Glendowie College principal and president of the Auckland Secondary Schools Principals' Association: Proposed hubs
Richard Dykes, Glendowie College principal and president of the Auckland Secondary Schools Principals' Association: Proposed hubs "would draw talent away from schools". Photo / Jason Oxenham

A key cause of some schools not thriving according to the report, is parental choice. The report identifies the consequences of parents choosing to send their children out of zone to another school and the negative impact of this flight on the schools they leave behind.

This impact is real. The current funding model is based on student numbers. Fewer students means less funding, which means reduced flexibility to offer programmes for students. Once trapped in a cycle of poor community perception, it is hard for a school to reverse that.

The Haque Report addresses this by recommending that hubs have the power to change zones, cap the number of out-of-zone students in schools, and reduce funding for out-of-zone students compared to in-zone students. This is a huge call and one that parents must fully consider.

What the report fails to adequately address is funding and the supply of quality teachers.

The proposed changes will come at a price. More offices. More staff. Right now we are in the middle of the worst shortage of quality teachers for decades, and this must be the Government's priority.

The Government must take the advice of Glen Colquhoun and "give mana and prestige to teachers and ... encourage our best and brightest to this profession." It must do this ahead of employing more administrators, or else any changes will achieve nothing in Auckland classrooms.

The recommendations of the Haque Report add up to a radical "reboot" of education in New Zealand.

The Government seeks submissions from the public on the report, which are due by April 7.

I encourage all Aucklanders to respond. In doing so, you should consider the following questions:

• Are you happy with the education schools currently provide for your children?

• Will our communities be better off if the control of schools is transferred from local boards to a central hub?

• Do you want to reduce parents' choice about where to send your children?

• Are you confident the Government will adequately fund the recommended changes?

• Will these changes result in more quality teachers in Auckland classrooms?

• Can education be improved with existing tools, or does the system need a reboot to achieve effective change?

The Haque report is very significant. It raises important questions about how we will support principals and teachers to educate our children into the foreseeable future. As Bali Haque rightly points out - the future of our country depends on it. Have your say. Shape the future.

Richard Dykes is Principal of Glendowie College and President of the Auckland Secondary Schools Principals' Association.