28 Mar 2019

Whangārei principal speaks out on Taskforce proposed reforms

5:38 am on 28 March 2019

An outspoken Northland principal says he will be muzzled if the government accepts reforms proposed by its Taskforce on Tomorrow's Schools.

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Tai Tokerau Principals Association president Pat Newman says principals will lose their ability to speak publicly about failings they see in the system if the Taskforce's reforms are accepted. Photo: RNZ/ Dan Cook

Tai Tokerau Principals Association president Pat Newman has been a vocal critic of government education policies including National Standards, and has repeatedly raised the lack of resources in schools to cope with troubled children.

He said under the Taskforce proposal, schools would no longer be governed by Boards of Trustees but by the Ministry of Education through regional 'hubs'.

Mr Newman said principals would lose their ability to speak publicly about failings they see in the school system because they would no longer be employed by their local Boards, but by the ministry, through the hubs.

The government would effectively be taking back the power given to communities in the Tomorrow's Schools education reforms of 1989, Mr Newman said.

"The hubs under their proposal become the employer of all principals. I worked under the bureaucratic [system] before Tomorrow's Schools and you weren't allowed to speak," he said.

More than 40 schools around the country launched a Community Schools Alliance this week, opposing the hubs proposal.

Mr Newman, who's the principal of HoraHora primary school in Whangārei, said restructuring the education bureaucracy would not solve the social problems and the lack of resourcing that were causing a percentage of children to fail.

The Taskforce had failed to include costings for its proposals, and it was unclear what additional resources, if any, would be made available for struggling schools.

Little had changed in terms of resources for schools since the Labour-led government came to power, Mr Newman said.

"The only difference is National Standards are gone, but there are still more than 1000 children in Northland who should be getting counselling and specialised help for their problems - and they're not getting it."

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Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

The Whangārei principal has this week sent off an application to a major charity for $250,000 on behalf of a local trust, which wants to set up a counselling and therapy service at three low-decile Whangārei schools.

"This would be a trial, to show what can be achieved when kids get the help they so badly need," he said.

Primary school teachers' union NZEI has responded today to the Taskforce proposals, saying there is considerable unease about the proposed reforms and the ministry's ability to manage them.

Change was needed, but the proposed fix could mean a swing of the pendulum to a more powerful centralisation of the education system, it warned.

"Personal and professional autonomy could be reduced if school leaders become state servants directly employed by the hubs," NZEI said.

The Taskforce had put up some workable solutions to the problems of Tomorrow's Schools, but it was essential for the government to slow down and take the time to get the changes right.

"If the hubs are to proceed we recommend the government consider pilot projects in a small number of areas to road-test the concept, and include early childhood education services and schools in the design," NZEI said.

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