Charter Schools in New Zealand

Charter schools in New Zealand, labelled as 'Partnership Schools' or Kura Hourua were legalized after an agreement between the National Party and the ACT Party following the 2011 general election. The controversial legislation passed with a five-vote majority. The Charter School model was heavily criticized by a wide range of educational authorities,teacher organizations, the general public and political parties who vowed to overturn it.

Tomorrow's Schools

In 1989, the Fourth Labour Government reformed the state (public) school system in what was known as the "Tomorrow's Schools" reforms. Blaming the amount of centralised bureaucracy for slipping school standards, the government disestablished the Department of Education, replacing it with the smaller Ministry of Education and moving the governance of state schools to their individual school communities. State schools are crown entities, meaning they are government-owned and retain the strong governmental and parliamentary oversight and control in common with other New Zealand crown entities. State schools are the most common in New Zealand. Charter schools were introduced to New Zealand by Educational Secretary Lesley Longstone under the National government. She had considerable experience with these schools in the UK where they are known as Free Schools or Academies.

Apart from the numerous State schools there are several variations on the Tomorrow's Schools model, the largest of which is state-integrated schools. State-integrated schools are parochial schools or private schools that have been "integrated" into the state school system under the Private Schools Conditional Integration Act 1975, usually because they have run into financial difficulty. These schools are run the same as state schools, but they are allowed to retain their special character. Proprietors of the school (e.g. the Catholic Church in the case of a Catholic school) own the integrated school facilities and sit on the school's board of trustees, but they do not receive government funds to maintain separation of church and state, and subsequently require parents to pay "attendance dues" for upkeep of the facilities. Kura Kaupapa schools are state run schools with heavy emphasis on learning Maori language and culture but having most of the features of normal state schools.

In addition there are fee paying private schools which receive limited funding from the state. Most follow the national curriculum or internationally recognized variations.

Introduction of the model

Following the 2011 general election, the National Party in return for confidence and supply announced it would pick up an ACT Party policy of setting up charter schools in southern Auckland and eastern Christchurch within three years. This followed the appointment of Lesley Longstone as the new Secretary of Education, who has experience in England with charter schools, although Longstone resigned in November 2012 after falling out with Education Minister Hekia Parata over the error-ridden Novopay payroll system. The National-ACT alliance intends to set up charter schools as alternatives to state schools. Schools would be operated by private businesses or organisations and would be directly accountable for performance to the organizations running them. The schools would receive state funding and private donations, but have the same freedoms as private schools in matters such as in setting the curriculum, length of the school year and teachers' pay. Teaching staff would also not have to be registered or even formally trained (although they would still require police clearance). Charter schools would still be subject to triennial external reviews by ERO, and the government would still have the power to intervene if there are serious problems, either taking over from the sponsor for a period of time or sacking them altogether. Unlike state schools, charter schools would not be subject to either Ombudsman scrutiny or the Official Information Act 1982. However, in April 2013, it was also announced that charter schools would be subject to Ombudsman scrutiny on matters relating to suspensions and expulsions (other than the Ombudsman, the only other way to appeal a suspension or expulsion is through the court system).

The plan was heavily criticised by the opposition Labour and Green parties, the main teachers' professional associations - the NZEI and the PPTA - and the general public. Most of the opposition was over the idea of unregistered and untrained teachers having direct contact with students, and the lack of accountability through the Ombudsman and the Official Information Act. In April 2012, Massey University released a report highly critical of the proposed charter school model, claiming there was no international evidence to support claims that charter schools do better and all they would do is increase segregation. In September 2012, Minister of Education Hekia Parata announced that many schools in Christchurch would be closed or amalgamated, largely due to population changes and damaged facilities following the February 2011 earthquake. However, parents, teachers and students protested at the changes for going too far, and feared that the closures were being used as an excuse to start charter schools. In June 2013, the closed school sites were put up for sale, with charter schools and property development among the proposed uses.

The Education Amendment Bill to allow charter schools, rebranded partnership schools/kura hourua, was introduced on October 15, 2012 and passed its first reading three days later 63 votes to 56. The bill was referred to the Education and Science select committee for closer scrutiny and public submissions, with the committee reporting back in April 2013 that the bill should proceed with amendments. After the report was released, United Future MP Peter Dunne announced he was pulling support for charter schools, leaving only the National, Act and Maori Parties supporting the bill. The bill passed its third reading on June 4, 2013, 62 votes to 57. During the select committee stage, the Labour Party announced that if elected to government at the 2014 general election, it would introduce provisions to require charter schools to employ registered teachers and make the schools fully accountable to the Ombudsmen and the Official Information Act. It would also not allow any new charter schools and would not guarantee future funding or integration to any existing schools, leaving them either to continue as private schools or close altogether.

In May 2013, the PPTA published in its staff newsletter a list of 21 parties it believed were interested in the charter school programme, which included a high proportion of religious groups. The Ministry of Education refused to release the full list of 36 interested parties, however in July 2013, the Ombudsman overruled the MoE and forced them to release the list as soon as possible. In September 2014 5 charter schools exist with 4 more having approval to start in 2015.

Operation of charter schools

One of the first charters school started in New Zealand was in serious trouble within two weeks of starting, a secret Government report stated. The school in Whangaruru had about 20% of its students missing shortly after opening. There was strong disagreement between the two related business managers who ran the school. The school does not have a principal. The school, which receives 500% more funding than a state school, spent half its income buying a farm. The Ministry of Education carried out a secret inquiry and immediately installed its own manager. One of the two original managers left hurriedly. Problems first arose in 2013 when it was claimed that the school had been set up in a paddock using portaloos for toilets. It was reported that drugs were a problem in the school and some students had been removed to an unknown place. The school has only one teacher with a current practicing certificate. The original management has now been replaced by an executive manager from Child, Youth and Family. The school receives $27,000 per student compared to $6,000 per student in a state school. However Ministry of Education figures have shown the above funding to be inaccurate.

Partnership School support
It has also been announced an independent Partnership School support entity, E Tipu E Rea, has been established to support new, existing, and prospective charter school sponsors and will receive a conditional funding grant. Mr Seymour said this would bring New Zealand into line with international charter school models. "England has the New Schools Network, New York has the New York Charter School Centre, and New Zealand now has E Tipu E Rea.

"E Tipu E Rea will join other independent entities such as the New Zealand School Trustees Association in providing support services to the New Zealand school system. It will seek most of its funding from private sources." The Board will be chaired by former CEO of EY Australasia Rob McLeod. Board members include:
- Former Maori Party Co-Leader Dame Tariana Turia
- Dame Jenny Gibbs
- Former All Black La'auli Savae Michael Jones MNZM
- Bruce Ritchie MNZM
- Ken Rapson
E Tipu E Rea will support:
- An increased number of high quality applicants to set up Partnership Schools
- All new Partnership Schools to be set up in a way that maximises their ability to succeed
- Existing Partnership Schools to continuously develop and perform at a high level
- High performing Partnership Schools to scale or replicate their practice through new schools or by stimulating others
- Public awareness and understanding of the role and work of Partnership Schools in New Zealand
The $500,000 funding grant will be drawn from a contingency established in 2015.

More information on E Tipu E Rea and its board members can be viewed on its website. Background information can be found on the Ministry of Education website.