WelCom March 2019:
The Ministry of Education published a report last November written by Tomorrows School’s Independent Taskforce, entitled: Our Schooling Futures: Stronger Together – Whiria Ngā Kura Tūātinitini. The Taskforce, appointed by Ministry of Education Hon Chris Hipkins in April 2018, was charged with undertaking the biggest review in 30 years of the way our schools are governed, managed and administered, so that ‘our schooling system will to be able to respond to the education needs of the future, and provide a high-quality public education system that brings out the very best in all New Zealanders.’
Catholic education leader and former CEO of the NZ Catholic Education Office, Sir Brother Patrick Lynch, KNZM, QSO, discusses the document.
“Our Schooling Futures Stronger Together
The discussion document released early in December on the future shape of compulsory education in New Zealand purports to reinvent the governance structures of the nation’s schooling system in favour of setting up of a system of ‘Hubs’, whose role would be to oversee the new structure with approximately one hub per 125 schools.
In 1989, New Zealand led the world by being bold when it set up the self-managing model of administration for its schools. There certainly has been a need for a review of what is now referred to as the ‘Tomorrow’s Schools’ model. However, the recent Task Force document succeeds in throwing out the baby and the bathwater, given the proposals it has made. Not too many people would agree that no changes should be made, yet the Task Force, seems to have forgotten or overlooked some fundamental aspects of today’s New Zealand society.
- Parent and caregivers are largely well-educated and know what they want for their child’s education experience. They will not be content to let a new bureaucracy effectively run their school, which they identify with.
- It is now well accepted by educators that for a child’s education to be effective, parental involvement at the local level is paramount, with decision making occurring within school community, not by some faceless bureaucracy.
- We need to remind ourselves that District Education Boards were thrown out in 1989 and were described at the time by the reviewing Task Force, as ‘good people, bad system’. These bodies, which were largely focussed on running primary schools, were paralysing bureaucracies. Those of us who worked in the pre-1989 system remember only too well the disempowerment experienced by principals, teachers and their school governing bodies. Why would we want to re-establish structures that were not well regarded by many people prior to 1989?
It also needs to be remembered that all New Zealand secondary schools have been largely self-governing since the first of them were established in the 1880s. This structure is part of who we are.
- The reforms of 1989 established the New Zealand Qualification Authority and the Education Review Office. Both these bodies have brought a breath of fresh air into our education system, given their independence and responsibility to Parliament and not to another bureaucracy. They should remain independent entities.
- We certainly need to better resource our lower socio-economic schools and help them to achieve better with greater assistance in a number of areas. A range of measures could be adopted that would support such schools. We now know what does work for educational success in such schools, if they have the right support and leadership.
- It is no accident that over the life of the Annual Prime Minister’s Excellence in Education Awards since 2014, that the Supreme Award each year has mostly gone to a low decile school. These awards have demonstrated with the right leadership, competent teachers, a supportive education philosophy and an empowering school culture, that youngsters ‒ whoever or wherever they are ‒ are capable of achieving just like anywhere else.
“If we do not remember our history, we will be condemned to repeat it.”
Some suggestions that would make a positive difference to the present system
- Create a pool of experienced principals with appropriate powers, whose job would be to get alongside a school that is struggling and set it on the right track to success.
- The Ministry of Education could be given the role of guiding boards and overseeing the process of the appointment of principals, to ensure only the right people are appointed to this pivotal role.
- A pool of expertise could be established involving professional planners and tradespeople, who could assist a Board of Trustees with its property responsibilities, if required.
- The Crown could be given the right to strengthen the skill base of a Board of Trustees with the appointment of experienced individuals to enable sound governance to occur, where this is lacking. This could occur by appointing suitably experienced individuals from the education, business and non-government organisation (NGO) communities.
- Communities of Learning, recently established, could be given more flexible powers to deliver sound outcomes for all students in their network. This system is worth keeping and stream-lining; since it is already demonstrating good education experiences that can be shared around a local network of schools. This structure of collaboration is beginning to work and needs to be given time to prove itself. The former Education Boards and the former Department of Education did not effectively deliver what was deemed necessary in a fast-moving world. Who is going to be brave enough to say that Education Hubs would be the saviour of New Zealand education? Local Boards and local people with the right sort of support structures, would do a much better job.
- Young New Zealanders deserve much better than what is proposed, which is a leap backwards, and so do their parents, the businesses community and New Zealand society as a whole.
“Young New Zealanders deserve better than a proposed leap backwards”
- This adage is worth remembering, ‘if we do not remember our history, we will be condemned to repeat it’. A well-understood appreciation of New Zealand education history means we face up to hard choices. This time it means giving our lower socio-economic schools a greater hand-up than they have ever experienced, not a complete demolition of the 1989 reforms, which empowered schools and their communities.
The discussion document is online at: https://conversation.education.govt.nz/assets/TSR/Tomorrows-Schools-Review-Report-13Dec2018.PDF
Taskforce-led consultation meetings will take place in February and March 2019. Information is online at: https://conversation.education.govt.nz/conversations/tomorrows-schools-review/have-your-say-today/
Consultation closes on 7 April 2019.