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Education leaders react to taskforce report
Patrick Walsh: Principal,
John Paul College, Rotorua
The underlying principles and values of the taskforce's report sit comfortably with our Catholic Faith, namely a strong focus on equity, collaboration, equal opportunity and reducing disparity of achievement for Maori, Pacific and students requiring learning support.
The strengths of the New Zealand education system include its rich diversity in schooling options and parental choice. The Education Act 1989 safeguards and protects the rights of proprietors and parents in integrated schools, including Catholic. The hubs would need to respect this, particularly in relation to principal appointments, tagged positions and enrolments. Any attempt to roll back these legal protections could ultimately result in a court challenge, which would be worth fighting for since it strikes at the core of what our Catholic schools are about.
The major and fatal flaw of the report is that it proposes a "one size fits all administrative model", which is neither necessary nor desirable. The vast majority of Catholic schools in New Zealand have excellent governance, management and student outcomes. They should be given the autonomy and trust to carry on. For those in need of support, the "hub model" is an excellent alternative.
By Paul Ferris
The intention to review the effectiveness of our schooling system is a good one.
…[T]he idea of devolving money, resource and decision-making to local communities has not continued to happen since the first years of the [Tomorrow's Schools] system. Money and resources are now managed more centrally and compliance, contestability and intervention are the norm.
The 2018 report "Our Schooling Futures Stronger Together"…cites inequality and the evolution of choice and competition as being the negatives in the system. . . It does not talk about more resource being taken from the centre to address the issues of challenging children or the underfunded lower decile schools where poverty plays a key part in limiting the outcomes possible. ... It argues that a system change will change the educational outcomes for all. We have learnt that systems don't change anything. The fundamentals of education are engagement and relationships. Putting in the support to make these things happen will have more influence on outcomes than removing choice from a generation that have always had it. Competition is part of our evolution and needs to be managed, but not removed. Competition helps set benchmarks for other schools. Successful schools challenge others to emulate them. Remove competition and we risk a system that will have even less chance of reaching the aspirations of all governments — i.e. to raise achievement and reduce disparity. Changing systems won't do that, but focused funding, high levels of accountability and deliberate development of professional leadership and continuous upskilling of the profession could.
Excerpted from a January blog titled "School Reforms — 'Our School Futures — Stronger Together"' by Paul Ferris, chief executive officer of the New Zealand Catholic Education Office.
Tomorrow’s Schools demolition not on
by BR SIR PATRICK LYNCH, FSC
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 overseeing 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 bath water, 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.
Parents 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, with which they identify.
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 the school community, not by 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 focused 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 which 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 was established in the 1880s. This structure is part of who we are.
The reforms of 1989 established the New Zealand Qualifications 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 education 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, the supreme award each year has mostly gone to a low-decile school. These award have demonstrated that, with the right leadership, competent teachers, a supportive education philosophy and an empowering school culture, the youngsters, whoever or whereever they are, are capable of achieving just like anywhere else.
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 which 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 NGO communities.
Communities of learning, recently established, could be given more flexible powers in order to deliver sound outcomes for all students in their network. This system is worth keeping and streamlining — since it is already demonstrating that good, education experiences 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.
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.
Br Sir Patrick Lynch, FSC, is a former executive director of the New Zealand Catholic Education Office.