25 Jul 2018

Charter school decision delay leaves Auckland schools in limbo

10:20 am on 25 July 2018

Some charter schools in Auckland are in limbo over their future as the final decision on their application to join the state system is extended.

South Auckland Middle School.

South Auckland Middle School, which is a Villa Education Trust school, is facing an uncertain future. Photo: Supplied/Google Maps

Villa Education Trust Academic Adviser Alwyn Poole, whose schools in South Auckland and west Auckland were not included in yesterday's charter school announcement, told Morning Report that he still was awaiting a final decision.

Mr Poole said after the application process and submissions made by the school, they were told by the Ministry of Education that the schools would be notified if the ministry required any more information to put the project through by 31 July.

However, the ministry did not get back to them to ask for more information as they had been told, he said.

"Yesterday they sent out some minor officials from Auckland to tell us that, despite reassurances that was laid to us on 18 July to our family and to our schools from the minister, that the decision would be delayed until September," Mr Poole said

"What the letter from the minister said yesterday is that they didn't have enough information on the curriculum side, in fact they just didn't include it in the report."

He said the report was done by an official who had not discussed anything with the school previously.

"The report that goes to the minister was written by someone we've never met, she's never asked a question, she's never been in our schools."

On the other hand, he said he did not think Education Minister Chris Hipkins was to blame but was "let down very badly by his officials".

The announcement of the extension on the decision had left the status of school staff and students up in the air, he said.

"Chris [Hipkins] has been writing back to the families that have been writing to him saying that he will have the decision made by the end of July," he said.

"Then I've got teachers ringing in tears last night and you can therefore imagine the on-flow impact to the children. At this stage, we can't advertise a place for next year, we can't reassure our staff that they will have jobs, it's a huge impact."

However, Mr Hipkins told Morning Report he had faith the schools would be able to fit the criteria and get their application approved with a bit of work.

"Based on the strength of the application as I've read it, I'm certainly not convinced that they won't meet that criteria. I think there's a very good chance they will be able to meet that criteria that's around the curriculum," Mr Hipkins said.

He said he was aware of the challenges that schools faced as a result of the impending decision.

"I do acknowledge that the uncertainty around that is something that they will be concerned about, I've made it very clear to the ministry ... that I want them to work as quickly as possible to resolve the remaining issues so that I can make a final decision."

But the process might not even take up to September because he said he was urging the ministry to move swiftly.

Chris Hipkins, Minister of Education.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins says the application from the schools had not yet satisfied requirements. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

The delay comes as the schools had not yet satisfied the requirements of the act based on information from the report and application about the curriculum, he said.

"Part of the issue here is that they have offered something that's different to what would be offered by the neighbouring existing public schools, otherwise there's no point in having them," Mr Hipkins said.

"We have to be satisfied that they have a curriculum that's different and that it's curriculum that's going to lead to good outcomes for the children who attend those schools."

The Labour, Green and New Zealand First parties last year opposed the publicly funded, private schools and prior to the election Labour said the schools' futures would be subject to case-by-case negotiations.

"We don't support a deregulated privatised effectively model of schooling for vulnerable kids, we want to see them as part of the public education system," Mr Hipkins said.

The changes to the schools would probably not be noticeable to the students but more so to the teachers, he said.

"The main change is they will have to employ registered and qualified teachers, they will be part of the public education system, and they will be subject to the Official Information Act. The kids probably won't notice that much difference."

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