Educational Reform Commentary April 2019

2 April 2019 – Feedback in a written submission to tomorrows.schools@education.govt.nz

Submission made on behalf of the Board of Trustees of Kohimarama School in response to the Tomorrow’s Schools Independent Taskforce Report.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide feedback on the report. We appreciate the amount of work that has been undertaken to produce the report and the willingness of the Taskforce, and the Government, to listen to feedback from others.

However, our Board has significant concerns regarding the report.

  1. There is clearly inequality in our society that is reflected in the educational outcomes of some students in New Zealand. We agree that there are some groups of students who are not reaching their potential and succeeding as they should. However, the report does not acknowledge fully that there are many and complex factors that contribute to sub-par educational outcomes for some groups of students. Notwithstanding the importance of pursuing educational success for all, just as the causes of this phenomenon are not confined to weaknesses in the education system, it must be recognised that any changes to the education system can only go so far in addressing the problem.
  2. The report makes its case for widespread change based on (a) claims that the “success stories” amongst schools are isolated examples, and (b) the assertion that “currently we have few mechanisms to enable system-wide improvement to be initiated, supported and sustained”. We disagree strongly that the success stories are isolated. Many schools, including ours, deliver successful outcomes for their students and communities and are managed and governed very well. Furthermore, even if we do currently only have few mechanisms to enable system-wide improvement, it does not follow that radical and structural transformation is the answer. We believe that any reform to the current system should be targeted at helping those schools that need it, rather than imposing a ‘one size fits all’ model across all schools. We believe that the emphasis on any reforms should be on improving the focus, level and quality of central support to those schools that need it. We do not believe that the report provides sufficient evidence to support the case for radical and widespread change, if one exists at all.
  3. We see nothing in the report to substantiate its assertion that the proposed changes would be successful in raising student achievement or improving equity across New Zealand as a whole. The report proposes education be viewed as a “learning ecosystem” that thrives on experimentation, innovation and risk taking. To our mind this does not provide any assurance that outcomes for all our children will be collectively improved. We certainly do not believe that the totality of the proposed changes would benefit our school.
  4. As a Board we are particularly concerned about the recommendation to create twenty large Education Hubs across New Zealand. An inclusive school has strong relationships with its parents/caregivers, whanau and community who are supported, involved and confident in their relationship with their school. Our concern is that Education Hubs would inevitably create a degree of separation between schools and their local communities, and are likely to diminish parental and community engagement and confidence.
  5. The cost of implementing the proposed changes will be significant. Our concern is that cloning the current Ministry into twenty smaller ‘mini-ministries’ is unnecessary and wasteful, and is unlikely to improve the level of service to schools and their students. We believe the current model of managing school property whereby the Ministry provide Boards with access to an MoE Property Advisor an approved Property Consultant and project manager to prepare a 10YPP (for example) is a model that works well and could be replicated for other areas of governance where Board’s signal they need assistance, such as hiring a new Principal or preparing a Strategic Plan. In that way support for Boards can be targeted to those areas it is required, by those Boards who require it, when they require it.

In summary, the Kohimarama School Board of Trustees does not believe the case for radical and widespread change exists. We believe that the tools to address the challenges within New Zealand education already exist, and urge the Government to use those to target additional resources and support to those schools that need it, rather than increasing the degree of separation between schools and their local communities, and creating a new and expensive layer of centralised bureaucracy for the sake of pursuing unproven, uncertain and potentially unrealistic outcomes.

Yours sincerely

Brad Dunstan
Chairperson, on behalf of Kohimarama School Board of Trustees