School boards look set to keep their powers when the Government finally unveils its decisions on the way schools are run tomorrow.
Education Minister Chris Hipkins is believed to have abandoned proposals by a taskforce last year to transfer all the legal powers of school boards to about 20 new regional "hubs".
The backdown will be a victory for 44 schools, including Auckland Grammar and Mt Albert Grammar, which formed a Community Schools Alliance to fight the proposals.
However Waikato University education professor Martin Thrupp said the Government might still seek to achieve the goal of the proposed reforms - reducing competition between schools and achieving more equal outcomes for students - by pursuing the "substance" of the proposals without the contentious "form" of the hubs.
"I'd be surprised to see anything very confrontational," he said.
"I think they can achieve a lot of changes through changes in policy and legislative changes and around resources, for example there has been a lot of discussion around special education and disabilities.
"It is possible, without major changes to the framework, to address a lot of those problems."
The taskforce, led by former principal Bali Haque, concluded a year ago that educational inequalities had got worse under the system of self-governing schools known as "Tomorrow's Schools" introduced in 1989.
It recommended creating regional hubs to manage school zoning and funding, employ teachers and principals and take over the process when any student is suspended, removing a principal's power to expel students.
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A controversial proposal was to appoint principals on five-year contracts in each school so that they could "contribute where their expertise is most needed across the community of schools".
Even taskforce members quickly backed off this proposal, saying the hubs would not move principals on after five years unless the principals themselves wanted to move.
Haque's taskforce and National Party education spokeswoman Nikki Kaye both held consultation meetings around the country on the proposals, and Haque submitted a revised report on June 28 which is expected to be released along with Government decisions about it tomorrow.
Kaye has been briefed throughout the process because Hipkins aims to achieve bipartisan support for any major changes, and Kaye gave the taskforce a summary of what she heard at her meetings.
"While we have not seen the final report, we are hopeful that the taskforce has listened to a number of the concerns that we raised," she said.
Patrick Walsh of John Paul College in Rotorua, a member of the Community Schools Alliance, said he hoped the Government would beef up advisory and support services for schools without creating "another layer of bureaucracy".
"I think it is going to look substantially different to what Bali [Haque] initially thought it might end up looking," he said.
"It's good to have these reviews, but I think the report was going to swing the pendulum to a more radical end, and I'm pleased that it has come back to a more moderate position."
NZ Educational Institute president Lynda Stuart also predicted that the Government would focus on "support for professional development and advice and guidance".
"What are the hubs?" she asked. "We are getting hooked up in the name of something. Actually we need more support, we need more resourcing, so the delivery of that, in whatever name we call it, is going to be the important thing."
School Trustees Association president Lorraine Kerr said schools needed more support with professional development and property, but the hubs would have been "unwieldy".
Secondary Principals Council chair James Morris said the reforms needed to encourage more collaboration between schools at different levels for different things, rather than in fixed hubs of about 100 schools each.
Thrupp said a lot could be achieved through a "culture change" in the Ministry of Education, empowering it to push for more equal outcomes for students in each region rather than leaving everything up to each school.
"We need someone who is working there to broad principles about trying to reduce inequalities, and actually puts that upfront and is given the mandate to look at that," he said. "At the moment it's just not there at all."