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Insight: Examining Tomorrow's Schools

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Schools are facing their biggest overhaul in 30 years as the government reviews the way they are run, organised and funded.
Children's shrieks and laughter fill the air during the lunch break at Maraeroa School in Porirua East.


Watching over the scene, the school's principal, Kathleen O'Hare, describes the many hours she recently spent organising repairs for the school's boiler. It's clear she does not regard the effort as time well spent.

Maraeroa School principal Kathleen O'Hare is enthusiastic about the local schools working together Photo: RNZ Insight/John Gerritsen

Responsibility for school property was handed to principals and boards of trustees by the Tomorrow's Schools reforms of 1989 and now a review of the entire system is asking if that was really a good idea.

The head of the taskforce overseeing the review, Bali Haque, said many schools did well out of the reforms, but some did not.

"The system is succeeding for many, but it's failing for too many and that needs to be dealt to, we cannot afford to allow so many of our students to fall out of the system," he said.

"We have winners and losers and if we're talking about education and we're talking about children and we're talking about young people's lives, then I think having a system that sort of generates winners and losers is no longer acceptable, not sustainable. It's not good for us as a country and its spells problems for us down the track."

Mr Haque said the review would cover nearly every aspect of the school system.

"They include what role boards of trustees have, how we deal with overcrowding in schools, how we ensure that every single student has a really top quality education no matter where they live, how teachers are supported in their professional development, how we develop leadership in the system, that's part of the thinking behind the taskforce as well. So it is wide ranging. It is about the governance, administration, organisation of schools."

The principal of Pakuranga College and the president of the Secondary Principals Association, Mike Williams, said secondary principals were still developing their submission on the review.

Pakuranga College principal, and president of the Secondary Principals' Association, Mike Williams Photo: RNZ Insight/John Gerritsen

However, he said his personal view was that the current system of school boards needed an overhaul.

"Many schools struggle to find enough trustees to stand. If there is an election it's five percent maybe 10 percent of people actually vote the trustees in, so is that really the spirit of what was envisaged?" he said.

"Governance is a very, very complex concept, yet we're asking some volunteers to do it at night after work in their spare time without really any training for it. It doesn't really make a great deal of sense if it's the most important job."

"I think we've got some of that wrong," Mr Williams said.

The president of the School Trustees Association, Lorraine Kerr, said trustees were ready for change.

New Zealand School Trustees Association president Lorraine Kerr Photo: SUPPLIED

She said the association was suggesting improvements including removing principals' right to vote on board decisions, and asking employers to give people time off work for board of trustees duties.

Ms Kerr said it might also be time to remove boards' responsibility for school property.

"When you look at the amount of time principals and boards put into the planning, the financial side, the potential fundraising to build this wonderful building and at the end of the day it doesn't belong to them, it actually belongs to the government, why would you do it? When actually your focus should be around teaching and learning," Ms Kerr said.

At the University of Auckland, professor of education, Peter O'Connor, said schools needed a lot more support because too many schools had suffered under the competition created by the Tomorrow's Schools system

University of Auckland, professor of education, Peter O'Connor says Schools need more support Photo: RNZ Insight/John Gerritsen

"We have developed in the 30 years of Tomorrow's Schools a two-tiered system," he said.

"There are schools in really well-off communities that are doing really well with boards of trustees, with expertise, understanding knowledge, access to cultural capital that schools in lower socio-economic areas don't have, and they struggle," he said.

But at nearby Auckland Grammar School, the headmaster, Tim O'Connor, said most schools were very successful under the current model, and it would be a mistake to force greater centralisation on all schools just because a few were struggling.

He said he hoped the government would come up with a two-track system.

Auckland Grammar Headmaster, Tim O'Connor is hoping successful schools will retain their independence. Photo: RNZ Insight/John Gerritsen

"Those who wish to have boards of trustees continue to have that model because they think they can get the skill set from within their community. Those who can't, can there be another model that schools can opt into," he said.

Helena Barwick has seen some of the failings of the current system first-hand through her role as a statutory manager appointed by the Education Ministry to help schools with serious problems.

She said those problems generally involved overwhelmed principals at schools where the board was ill-equipped to deal with the situation, or boards that did not understand their role and were in conflict with their principal over management issues.

Ms Barwick said the job of principals and boards had become too complex and the government should reduce their workload.

"I would like to see the Ministry of Education take back some of the infrastructure responsibilities that have been delved to schools over the past 25 years, 30 years," she said.

"There's a real challenge for some schools in finding good staff and I don't think it would be good to return to the olden days when teachers were appointed by the Department of Education and sort of allocated to schools, I'm not looking for that, but I think there is a role for the Ministry of Education to play a more active part in assisting schools to find quality staff."

The Minister of Education, Chris Hipkins, said the government had not predetermined the outcome of the review and wanted to reach agreement with schools about which aspects of the system were working well and which were not.

However, Mr Hipkins indicated the government had a preference for certain changes, including centralising responsibility for school property and encouraging schools to collaborate with one another.

"I don't want to see schools spending lots of money on marketing or poaching students off one another. I want them working together for the benefit of all of the kids in their area."

Submissions on the review of Tomorrow's Schools close on 6 August.
https://www.geezgo.com/sps/27959

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