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On Newshub Nation 21/04 – Charter Schools Debate

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Charter Schools Debate Whetu Cormick, NZ Principals’ Federation Rebecca Dow, South Auckland Middle School Graeme Osborne, E Tipu E ReaOn Newshub Nation 21/04 – Charter Schools Debate

Charter Schools Debate

Whetu Cormick, NZ Principals’ Federation
Rebecca Dow, South Auckland Middle School
Graeme Osborne, E Tipu E Rea

Lisa Owen: Eleven charter schools have until May the 1st to apply to become a so-called ‘special character’ school in order to keep their doors open. Labour pledged to shut down the controversial charter school model if it got into power, but there is growing evidence that these schools are improving educational outcomes for their students. Now, Education Minister Chris Hipkins is driving the change. We would love to talk to him about it. In fact, we’ve asked him to come on the show twice, but he’s turned us down both times. Joining us instead are Whetu Cormick from the New Zealand Principals’ Federation, Rebecca Dow, academic manager at a South Auckland charter school, and Graeme Osborne from E Tipu E Rea, which is a group that was set up to support charter schools. Good morning to you all. Kia ora. Rebecca, if I can come to you first. Is this a done deal? You either have to adapt to a new model or shut down your school as it is?

Rebecca Dow: We have to transition to a new model. So we have got to finish as a charter school, and we have to move on and become part of a different system, a different policy.

Graeme, are there any other legal options open to these schools if they want to stay open as a charter school?

Graeme Osborne: There’s a clause in the contract that provides the Minister with the option to terminate the clause at his convenience, which he will choose to do. So the approach at the moment is the Ministry will engage with the schools in an effort to negotiate an early termination of the contract. If that fails, then the Minister has that right to terminate at convenience in his back pocket, so they really have few choices. But they don’t just have the option of a designated character school; they have three options included in the Act — private school, designated character school and state integrated.

What about a Treaty of Waitangi claim? Do you think that’s possible around this?

Osborne: We’re looking at the possibility of that.

You are?

Osborne: Yes. It seems to me the regulatory impact statement the Ministry provided and also the Minister’s Cabinet paper both alert to the fact that this is not based on data, that the schools haven’t been going long enough in their view to get conclusive data — I’m not sure I agree with that — that there wasn’t enough time given to consultation — there was no consultation — so therefore we think that in the spirit of the Treaty of Waitangi, there are some principles that have been clearly run right over there — I mean, principles of partnership, principles of collaboration, consultation, principles of reciprocation. So, on the face of it, there would seem to be a case for a Treaty of Waitangi claim.

And you’re seriously looking into that?

Osborne: We’re evaluating that possibility.

Okay, Whetu, why do a lot of teachers —and you — want to get rid of charter schools? Is it dogma over data?

Whetu Cormick: Well, I can’t speak on behalf of teachers, but for the Principals’ Federation, we’ve been quite clear from the outset when this policy was implemented that we’re against it for a number of reasons. We support a publicly funded education system — a system that is fair and equitable for all young people. And so the model that was put, and is currently running, in these charter schools — they have the ability to appoint unregistered and untrained teachers, they have the ability to pay teachers at whatever rate they desire, they’re not subject to the Official Information Act requests that normal state schools are bound by.

So what’s wrong with paying teachers differently, according to their skills, to attract the best people? What’s wrong with paying them?

Cormick: Well, we know that our young people deserve to have trained, qualified teachers in front of them. And they should be paid very, very well. Our teachers do an amazing job, whether they’re in the state system or in private schools or in charter schools, they do an awesome job nurturing, loving and developing our young people. So they all deserve to be paid very, very well.

Well, I’ve looked at some of the statistics for registered teachers in charter schools and, in fact, 70% to 100% of the curriculum is taught by registered teachers at charter schools.

Cormick: Well, that’s heartening to hear, because we know that internationally — and the model that was proposed — is that there is the ability for charter schools, the business sponsors, to be able to employ unregistered teachers. And we have a problem with that.

So, knowing those figures, do you still have a problem?

Cormick: Well, no, as I said, it’s heartening to hear that these schools are employing registered teachers, which is great.

Okay, well, you talk about a fair and equitable system, so is mainstream education working for everyone, is it?

Cormick: Well, that’s a really good question, and I’m the best person to ask. Our education system has been unkind to a number of young people for some time—

Who, specifically?

Cormick: Maori. And I can say, the system now, with our new Minister and, in fact, the previous Minister of Education, Hekia Parata — she put teachers on notice about five or six years ago and said that we need to get this Maori underachievement sorted. And so there’s been great gains happening in mainstream schools right now and also Kura Kaupapa Maori, Kura a Iwi. So there are platforms—

I understand what you’re saying about progression, but when you look at university entrance, Maori achieved 31% in 2016 versus— what would it be for pakeha?

Cormick: Well, we know the stats. Pakeha do much better than Maori.

Almost twice as well.

Cormick: So what’s happening in our system right now, there’s a real shift with a focus on engaging Maori whanau. And we know that when Maori whanau are engaged in the system, that the young people are going to be more motivated and, obviously, improve achievement.

So do you think that Maori would do better if they go back into— Because a lot of these charter schools are predominantly Maori and Pasifika children, you think they’re going to do better if they go back into mainstream schools?

Cormick: What I think is that there’s the ability right now. Kura Kaupapa Maori and Kura a Iwi, who are offering a Maori-focused philosophical education based on Tikanga Maori. We have that ability right in the mainstream in the state system right now. But in the mainstream schools, there are great shifts and moves that are happening right now, where leaders are changing their hearts and minds to engage better with Maori.

So, Rebecca, that argument that Whetu is putting forward here is that the state schools can look after these kids.

Dow: I don’t agree. We have a lot of disengaged students within our schools that have been disengaged from their learning for a long time. There’s a lot of transience, a lot of disengagement from within the state schools. We cater for them, and they are learning well within our system.

So you’re dealing with children who the state school system has not worked for, you would argue.

Dow: Yes.

Graeme, what do you think?

Osborne: I agree 100%. These partnership schools are established because, in essence, the state system, or mainstream education, wasn’t delivering educational success for Maori, Pasifika and low-decile students. Now, that’s been a situation that’s been chronic or has perpetuated over decades. It’s not just a recent phenomenon. So the state system has failed or hasn’t proven able to do it. There are kids slipping through the cracks. So partnership schools have been established with a clear mandate — 75% of their students, minimum, must be Maori, Pasifika, decile one to three. In essence, as Whetu said, they are actually public schools; they are publicly funded. And they are free enrolment; there are no enrolment schemes around them. There are no fees charged. Some schools provide meals, some provide uniforms. So they’re taking away the barriers to kids attending school, and they’re achieving fantastic results, Lisa, so there is no good reason for closing them.

Cormick: Some would argue that by giving children incentives to attend the school, that’s propping up the business model. So providing free lunches and uniforms? That, in fact, helps prop up the business profit—

We all know that those are barriers to kids attending school.

Cormick: Absolutely.

So if they’re giving them food, if they’re giving them a uniform, a digital device and all their stationery, and it gets them into the school system, why would you have a problem with that?

Cormick: I don’t have a problem with that at all, but I think we need to look at the systemic problem. We have a huge problem with poverty and disadvantage in our country. And so what’s happened in the past is that teachers have been lumbered with the challenge of meeting all of those needs. Obviously, our job is to meet the achievement needs of young people, but not to meet the needs of poverty and disadvantage. So, there’s a bigger conversation that I know that Government is happening across sectors, from health through to MSD, Child, Youth and Family — Oranga Tamariki — and also education.

Osborne: Whetu, you’ve had decades to address this. The mainstream education’s had decades to address this and failed to do so. So Partnership Schools are an opportune tool to get that remedy underway.

Rebecca, Whetu was saying it’s not your job to deal with lunches and paying for school uniforms.

Dow: They come in our gates, we need to cater for them. We need to break down those barriers. We need to ensure that they actually have a place that they can learn and that they feel safe within. And if that means that we have to provide uniforms and we have to provide food and if we have to provide a different model for them to work in, I think we need to provide that.

When you talk about results, Whetu, NCEA – let’s look at it. Because a lot of these Kura Hourua are having excellent results in NCEA – 80% to 100% pass rates, some of them. How can you argue with those kinds of results for mainly Maori students?

Cormick: We don’t know what the focus is around what the credits are, so there are some questions around that.

Are you saying they’re junk credits?

Cormick: No, no, not at all, but we don’t know what the focus has actually been. We know that in some schools it has been acknowledged, and the review of NCEA is going to address that, because credits have been given for credits’ sake. We know that there has been an improvement in overall NCEA results, and Minister Parata–

But that criticism has been levelled at state schools as well, hasn’t it, Whetu?

Cormick: Precisely. We’ve got a lot more work to do, and I acknowledged that earlier. The system has not been kind to some groups. Priority learners – those kids who are poor and those kids who have special needs, such as learning and behaviour – our system needs to do better for them, and I can tell you that the system is working very hard at this present time to address that.

So can you say right now that, should those kids be forced to go back into the state school system, you can match the results that I’ve just said to you are coming through in those schools?

Cormick: Well, if you were to look at the results that are happening in our schools at the moment, there have been great improvements across. Thankfully, National Standards have been removed, because National Standards were introduced by a government who believed that if we measured students’ success against narrow measures, we’d see improvements. We haven’t seen the gains that the previous government would have hoped. But what we do know is that when we change the culture of a school, that’s focused on giving young people – Maori young students – the ability to feel safe at their school, then there’s going to be achievement levels that are going to be far improved.

Rebecca, Whetu was saying that a change of culture means these kids will do just as well in state school.

Dow: I don’t agree at all. Within the policy, we’ve been able to have a different model – a model that works – and that’s been—

What’s different? Why do you think that model works?

Dow: Well, within our model, we have been able to design a model where we have 15 kids per class. We have mini schools within a large school, so we have mini schools of 60. We have close relationships with the families as well as agencies that they work with. We’re able to do project-based learning with integrated learning across subjects, which has proven to work for our students who are disengaged with their learning.

Cormick: That’s a very good point about the student formula.

Yes. So, can I just ask Graeme one thing first, Whetu, before I give you a chance to reply to that? So here’s the thing. If the state school was able to give classroom sizes of 15 kids per teacher too, maybe they would deliver the same results as the charter schools.

Osborne: Well, the charter schools have got some underlying benefits in flexibility. So, for example, they receive their funding by way of a bulk fund, and therefore they are able to allocate their spend according to learning priorities, which, as Rebecca just said, they’ve chosen to opt for smaller class sizes. Now, Partnership Schools get no more money than comparable state schools; it’s just that they’re choosing to apply it in a different way and to greater effect – a better effect. So I think that this is an argument about this government walking away from 1500 students who have got a second chance at education. Their parents have been provided with a choice as to where they send them for schooling, and here’s the ministry now casting these 1500 high-risk, at-risk students back into the wilderness or, even worse than that, maybe, back to mainstream education, which is where they’ve come from originally.

Cormick: So, from a principal’s perspective, we believe in a state-funded system where there’s a fair share of the resources for young people.

Osborne: We are state-funded.

Cormick: We have one sandpit. We had one sandpit, where we all played in the same sandpit. So if you liken that metaphor to a group of young people playing in the pit, some of them decided that they wanted to have their own little sandpit on the side, but they had different rules to the larger sandpit. We should all be in the same system.

What’s wrong with different rules if they work, Whetu?

Cormick: Well, different rules. I think we all need to have the same rules. We’re funded by the taxpayer. The taxpayer on the street deserves–

Kids have different needs, so why not have different rules for different educational needs?

Cormick: Absolutely. The taxpayer should expect to see some result for the money that they invest. There are over 2500 schools that are doing marvellous jobs for our young people. There are some young people who are disengaged, but there is good work that’s happening with special education, Maori education—

Can you categorically say charter schools are failing to deliver better education to these 1500 children?

Cormick: Well, to be frank, in the preamble, it’s too early to tell.

Graeme?

Osborne: I can categorically say they’re making a difference.

Mm.

Cormick: We’ve not seen the research.

Osborne: And in terms of accountability, Lisa—

Well, then is it too early to be shutting schools down if there’s not enough research to make that decision?

Cormick: Well, that’s a question you’ll have to ask Chris Hipkins.

What do you think, personally?

Cormick: They made it quite clear that…

In all fairness—

Cormick: …they would shut them down. Yes, we believe they should be shut down and they should be merged into and transitioned to the state system.

Dow: We believe that the time frames are very unfair. The time frames have been very hard to work with. We recently have received some very glowing, positive reports from the Martin Jenkins report. That had proven that our students are flourishing within our model, and we’re delighted by that.

Now, that Martin Jenkins report, what it does say, though, is that there’s very little innovation in the delivery of the curriculum. Isn’t that what your whole raison d’etre is – to be innovative?

Dow: We absolutely are. We have innovation in the way that we’re delivering the curriculum. Yes, we still do the New Zealand curriculum, which it’s good for people to understand that and to know that. But also within that, we do project-based learning. We have an integrated curriculum, and our class sizes means that we deliver our curriculum quite differently.

Can you understand Whetu’s position there? Charter schools have got about $30 million. Why should that money go to you when, arguably, if it’s invested into the existing state school system, they can do things differently as well and have smaller class sizes?

Dow: Sure. It’s really important to understand that, actually, our funding model is different, but we get the same level of funding as a school our size with the same setup—

But what Whetu is saying —that should come into the existing school system, all in one pot, all in one sandpit.

Dow: But it doesn’t cater for the children who have been disengaged.

Osborne: And we’re saying mainstream education has had decades to get this right, and there are still these kids slipping through the gaps, and therefore you could argue something has to be done. These schools should not be closed.

Graeme, I’m wondering, a couple of Labour ministers who have been heavily involved in charter schools have gone a bit quiet as of the last few months. Are you concerned that some schools might be getting preferential treatment, and are you concerned that these ministers aren’t speaking out more?

Osborne: I’ve seen nothing of concern around whether one school or another is getting preferential treatment. I think everyone’s been treated reasonably equitably from where I stand. And, yes, I think that there was initial miscommunication, so the Prime Minister, Minister Hipkins, Kelvin Davis, Willie Jackson, they all said these schools would not be closed if they were teaching the curriculum, using registered teachers, and comparably funded. Well, they’re doing all of things, and yet they’re still being closed, and these 1500 children at risk that are currently in a state of high potential and likelihood of success where they haven’t been previously are now being cast adrift.

Cormick: Do you think they’re at risk? I think that your business sponsors will work really hard to transition them to special-character schools.

Osborne: Yeah, but why should they?

Cormick: If you’re as committed at the beginning, then you’re as committed to transition into the state system.

Osborne: Yes, but they’re being transitioned into state schools. That means they’re no longer partnership schools; they don’t have the freedoms and the flexibilities.

Cormick: And of course you’ll still have your special character.

All right. We need to leave it there. Thank you all for joining us this morning.

Transcript provided by Able. www.able.co.nz

ends

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