15 Mar 2019

Prominent Auckland schools unite to oppose education changes

6:40 am on 15 March 2019

A group of high-profile secondary schools are preparing to fight what they say are radically aggressive plans to change the school system.

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Auckland Grammar is among seven schools challenging the changes recommended by the Tomorrow's Schools Review taskforce. Photo: RNZ Insight/Teresa Cowie

The group calling themselves the Community Schools Alliance is opposing proposals made by the Tomorrow's Schools Review taskforce, which has recommended a system of hubs to oversee groups of schools and take over many of the responsibilities of school trustees.

The chairperson of the taskforce, Bali Haque, is unhappy with draft documents from the group, which he says are factually incorrect and misleading.

The alliance has not yet launched, but a draft document obtained by RNZ featured the crests of seven Auckland secondary schools - Auckland Grammar, Rangitoto College, St Peter's College, Takapuna Grammar, Westlake Boys' High School, Massey High School and Macleans College.

Auckland Grammar Headmaster, Tim O'Connor is hoping successful schools will retain their independence.

Tim O'Connor Photo: RNZ Insight/John Gerritsen

An email provided to RNZ suggested a launch was planned as early as this weekend, followed by an advertising and social media campaign. It invited people to email the headmaster of Auckland Grammar, Tim O'Connor.

Mr O'Connor told RNZ no group had yet been set up and refused to comment.

The group's draft document listed 17 problems with the taskforce's recommendations, including that schools would no longer be community-led, boards of trustees could lose all governance responsibilities, students might not be able to attend their local schools and principals would be shifted around schools every five years.

School group's claims 'factually incorrect'

Mr Haque said he expected criticism as part of consultation on the taskforce proposals but the draft document was so misleading he felt compelled to speak out.

Tomorrow's Schools taskforce chair Bali Haque. 7 December 2018

Bali Haque Photo: RNZ / John Gerritsen

"Almost every claim that this brochure makes is actually incorrect. Factually incorrect. It's not a matter of opinion. It's actually material which I believe is misleading and mischievous. And I have to question the motivations of the people that have put it out," he said.

"My plea to people is please go and read the report, go and read the material in the report because what's in the report is very, very different from the sort of catastrophe that seems to be being painted in this brochure."

Mr Haque listed claims made in the draft document that he said were not true, such as that teachers could be shifted around schools on a whim, schooling structures wouild change dramatically, schools would not allowed to suspend students and that all schools would become one stop shop for social services. "I could go on."

The president of the Secondary Principals Association, Mike Williams, said most principals would agree that some aspects of the report, such as five-year contracts for principals, were not acceptable.

Mike Williams, Pakuranga College Principal and President of the Secondary Principals Association

Mike Williams Photo: SUPPLIED

"I would say the opinion among principals covers the full gambit, from the alliance's position to almost the opposite of the alliance's position," he said.

Mr Williams said the review was starting to polarise principals along the fundamental question of whether there was something wrong with the education system.

"So the alliance group would pretty much say that education in New Zealand's got no problems or very small problems, whereas there are another group who would say when you look at the achievement of Māori and Pasifika over time, when you look at our Pisa results and the huge inequities that that reveals, then there are some systemic problems in New Zealand education," he said.

Auckland Secondary Principals Association president Richard Dykes said the taskforce had proposed a radical reboot and many principals would rather focus on more immediate problems such as the supply of teachers and funding of the education system.

Principals Federation president Whetu Cormick said its members agreed with some aspects of the taskforce report and disagreed with others.

Consultation on the taskforce recommendations closes on 7 April.

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