30 Jan 2017

Schools' competitive model 'hurting' poor communities

From Nine To Noon, 9:08 am on 30 January 2017

The competitive model for schooling has been bad for education in poor communities and needs significant change, educationalist and author Bernadine Vester says.

School child and mother

School child and mother Photo: 123RF

Ms Vester is a former secondary school teacher, former vice president of the PPTA, the foundation chief executive of the City of Manukau Education Trust and has written a book on education in South Auckland, Southern Transformation: searching for educational success in South Auckland.

She said the area had suffered under the competitive model introduced nearly 30 years ago, and subsequent changes to education policy had done little to help them.

"We've had lots and lots of tinkering with the Education Act which established Tomorrows Schools, but we've never had a really fundamental rethink of the market model and the impact it has had on places like South Auckland."

"The thing about Tomorrows Schools is it did some really wonderful things, it gave communities ownership over their schools. But it also meant that schools became islands." 

Ms Vester said the system should be changed so principals were responsible for all the children in their area, not just those in their local school.

"There is an enormous amount of influence that principals have which is almost unbounded, but it is actually only inwardly focused to what's actually happening for them in their school," she said.

"There is nobody with a responsibility for a community of schools, no mechanism which actually says that people should be accountable for all of the schools in a particular area."

Ms Vester said the Communities of Learning policy, which clustered schools together to work on common problems, did not go far enough toward providing that sort of change. 

"The minister's current policy, which is about Communities of Learning, asks for collaboration. But the reality is that it's really difficult to collaborate when the settings, all the settings in the system are actually around competition. So Communities of Learning are a wonderful idea, but they're only a half-way house really."

She said schools that were struggling could opt out of the scheme and avoid getting the help they needed, and principals were still employed by their local board which was focused on the immediate needs of their individual school.  

Ms Vester said schools would find it hard to collaborate in the Communities of Learning because the education system was still organised around competition.