15 May 2018
New and third option for Charter Schools emerges from Vanguard announcement.
Minister of Education Chris Hipkins announced today that he had approved the Vanguard Military School application to establish a Designated Character (State) School. E Tipu e Rea Chief Executive Graeme Osborne considered that ‘the decision taken by Vanguard rightfully placed their students’ needs first which according to the Regulatory Impact Statement and the Minister’s Cabinet Paper the Minister’s decision to close Partnership Schools | Kura Hourua (Charter Schools) did not. Vanguard Military School has delivered stand-out success as a Charter School. Although as a State School they will be denied access to the same ‘enablers of success’ provided to Charter Schools, their determination to provide high quality educational opportunities to low decile students will stand them in good stead and add value to the state system offering’.
Osborne held the view that ‘Vanguard CEO Nick Hyde and his Board had no choice, they were working with only two options: close and stay closed, or close and apply to establish a new State School.
Although E Tipu e Rea Chief Executive Graeme Osborne was full of praise for Vanguard’s application being approved by the Minister, he expressed concern at what seemed to be the late introduction of a third and previously unannounced option for existing Charter Schools. Minister Hipkins media release () made it clear that a new third option was available to Charter Schools when he said ‘… the school won’t continue to operate as a charter school beyond this year unless this is mutually agreed’. While Osborne welcomed the news, he questioned the appropriateness and timing of this announcement given that the same option was clearly not available to Vanguard Military School.
Osborne also pointed to Minister Hipkins announcement confirming that he was “considering additional measures to support charter schools to make a successful transition into the state system, and details are currently being worked through." Although welcoming of any effort to facilitate a ‘successful transition into the state system’ Osborne expressed concern that the transition process from Charter School to State School was being managed and developed ‘on the run’ and ‘in a rush’, with, for example, ‘procurement risk’ coming from the possibility that late changes such as this should have been factored into the state school application process.’
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Vanguard had no choice: The Minister’s message to Charter Schools was ‘agree to close, or be closed’. Although the majority of Charter Schools have not agreed to the early termination of their contracts with the Crown, Minister Hipkins is expected to issue them notice of termination that will see them all closed by the end of the 2018 school year. In order to maintain integrity and respond in a principled way, Charter Schools were left with no choice but to lodge applications to establish new state schools if they were to safeguard their students’ best interests.
Charter Schools are succeeding: Against the backdrop of the declining literacy and numeracy competencies of New Zealand students, and the Tertiary Education Council revealing that 40% of school leavers with Level 2 NCEA or better are functionally illiterate, the unilateral decision to ungraciously dump Charter Schools after only four years of operation is to deny that they have succeeded in lifting the educational achievement levels of students that have historically ‘fallen through the gaps’ of the state system.
Mixed messages haven’t helped
The mixed messages emanating from our senior political leaders have delivered an agony for Charter School leaders. After being told variously by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, by Education Minister Chris Hipkins and by Hon Kelvin Davis that Charter Schools: teaching to the New Zealand Curriculum, employing registered teachers, and being were funded in an equivalent way to state schools, would not be closed, here we all are faced with the reality that eleven operational Charter Schools, all teaching to the New Zealand curriculum, all using registered teachers or teachers with a Limited Authority to Teach, and all funded in an equivalent way to state schools are in the process of having their contracts with the Crown terminated.
No account has been taken of the impact of Charter School closures on parents, at-risk students and their communities.
No account has been taken of the impact that the closing of Charter Schools is having on those parents and students that support them. After labouring under threat of closure and uncertainty since October 2017, the 1500 Maori and Pasifika students enrolled in these schools now need to choose whether they continue their education at all, remembering that Charter Schools have succeeded where the State system couldn’t in showing these at-risk students they could succeed, or moving to a state school.
The absence of consultation: Minister Hipkins decision to close Charter Schools was made unilaterally and in the absence of any consultation with those most affected, including students and their parents.
Inequity: The Charter School model was predicated on the need to address the enduring educational under-achievement of Maori and Pasifika students. The irony and inequity of Minister Hipkins triggering a consultative review of education in New Zealand centred on large ‘Education Summits’ is not lost on those students and parents affected by the Government’s unilateral decision to close Charter Schools who were not accorded that basic right.
Minister Hipkins is quoted as saying “Education is too important to be left to politicians. To which I could add – to public servants and experts as well. No matter how well intentioned we are.” (). If Minister Hipkins genuinely believes this to be true, then how can that utterance be reconciled with his unilateral decision to close Charter Schools?
In a recent piece of work, Economist Bryan Easton has established that Maori are lagging behind New Zealand European
Charter Schools are left with no choice
Ministry of Education officials have been carrying out Minister Hipkins instructions to negotiate the early termination of the contracts that Charter Schools entered into with the Crown, with a view to closing all Charter Schools by the end of the 2018 academic year. It has also been made clear to Charter School sponsors that the termination of existing contracts with the Crown and the application process for sponsors of Charter Schools to establish state schools in their place are mutually exclusive processes.
Education eco-system: Despite New Zealand having a very good mainstream education system, as demonstrated by the National Standards and New Zealand Qualifications Authority data, the achievement levels of Maori and Pasifika students continue to lag those of ‘NZ European’ and ‘Asian’ students.
At the end of the day: The unilateral decision to ungraciously dump Charter Schools after only four years of operation is to deny that they have succeeded in lifting the educational achievement levels of students that have historically ‘fallen through the gaps’ of the state system.
15 May 2018