The Government's Task Force on education presents, on the face of it, a compelling case for radical reform.
The Tomorrow's School's Regime has been in place for 30 years with very mixed results.
It has not championed education as the" great leveller" in society or been a guarantor that your local school would provide even a basic" no frills" quality education for every child.
Clearly and sadly it is failed on both scores particularly for Māori and Pacific students and those requiring learning support.
The Task Force's resounding message is that autonomy, competition and localised school success must give way to equity for all, collaboration and benign centralised control.
It is hard to argue with such sentiments, but in reality, neither ideology is a complete recipe for success on its own, nor should the debate cast them as mutually exclusive.
Tomorrow's Schools has run its course, but there are elements that are worth retaining such as allowing high performing principals the freedom to lead a school without the bureaucratic red tape of an Education Hub.
The report is rightly adamant it wants to end the culture of "winner and losers schools" where children miss out on life opportunities based on school choice.
The risk, however, is that if the reforms are not carefully thought through and implemented, we could end up with just loser schools with the exception of private schools, which are already eyeing up an expanding market share.
Some of the key issues and questions that need to be tested during the consultation phase next year include:
1. The New Zealand state school system enjoys a rich diversity including single-sex, integrated, co-educational and kura. Parents believe they have a fundamental right to send their child to a school which aligns with their religious, cultural and philosophical worldview.
Will parents be forced to send their child to the local school or be refused enrolment at a school some distance away which accords more closely with their personal values?
2. School principals struggle now to get expert, coherent, and timely advice on legal, financial, property, health and safety and dispute resolution matters. There is a serious recruitment and retention issue across the entire Education Sector. How are the Education Hubs going to fill the void of experts they are going to need?
3. It is acknowledged that some schools do not follow due process and ignore the principles of natural justice when suspending students. There is also no effective appeal process for parents to challenge a schools' decision. A schools' disciplinary code, however, reflects the standards and values of that local school community. Should schools retain the ultimate right to exclude or expel a student or as proposed, this power be given to an Education Hub official who does not live in the community or understand its values and standards?
4. As the former President of the Secondary School Principal's Association Of New Zealand for three years, I saw firsthand the innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship of many schools, albeit confined to the individual schools. With the shift to standardisation, how will we prevent the Education Hubs from sucking the capacity out of schools to be enterprising trailblazers for themselves and other schools?
5. Principal's remuneration is currently incentivised by moving from small lower decile schools to larger, higher decile schools. If we are serious about "equity" should a principal's salary be calculated on the magnitude of the challenges a school faces and what "added value" they bring to the school rather than the size and wealth of a school?
6. Schools respond and adapt to whatever external measures are used to assess them. If it is League Tables, then some schools will engage in questionable enrolment practices, curriculum offerings and forms of assessment. Should the reforms add new measures of success for schools such as well-being, key competencies, soft skills, progress of the student and meaningful pathways beyond school rather than just NCEA results?
7. As the Chairman of Schools International Education Business Association of New Zealand responsible for international students in schools I know they are more than just a "cash cow". The spending of international students through homestays and retailers contributes millions to regional economies. Principals often use the money to support equity by employing Teacher Aides for students with learning needs. Has the task force carefully considered proposed changes to international students on our local and national economy, New Zealand's place in the international community as well as the cultural and language benefits to our own students?
The Task Force is to be applauded for presenting radical reforms since tinkering with the system in the past has had dismal results.
A radical approach though brave comes with significant risks as we saw with Tomorrow's Schools.
It is our collective responsibility to dive deep into the detail of these proposed reforms and ask the difficult questions flushing out the devil's lurking in these recommendations.
If we had done this with Tomorrow's Schools 30 years ago, perhaps we would not be contemplating such a radical shake-up.
* Patrick Walsh is the principal of John Paul College and the former president of the Secondary Principals Association Of New Zealand.