New Zealand: Government announces end of charter schools

New Zealand’s Education Minister has announced the end of charter schools, marking the conclusion of an education initiative dubbed “a failed, expensive experiment” by unions.

In early February, New Zealand’s Minister for Education, Chris Hipkins, made a significant announcement on the future of National Standards and charter schools. These schools “were driven by ideology rather than evidence” he said. “Both were rejected by the vast majority of the education sector. The Government's strong view is that there is no place for them in the New Zealand education system.”

Private publicly funded education

Charter schools in New Zealand, labelled as 'Partnership Schools', were introduced in legalisation by a conservative coalition in 2011. They are a form of private education establishment that rely on government funding but are subject to fewer rules and regulations than public schools. They have been criticised by a wide range of educational authorities, teacher organisations, the public, and political parties because of their autonomy in setting their own curricula, qualifications, pay rates for teachers, school hours and school terms. The schools could also be operated by sponsors such as not-for-profit organisations, businesses, or existing education providers.

An unpopular experiment

The announcement has been welcomed by the New Zealand Educational Institute(NZEI) and the Post Primary Teachers' Association, both affiliates ofEducation International (EI).

NZEI National Secretary Paul Goulter said that charter schools were a “failed experiment - integrating them back into the state school system is good for kids and teachers because kids in mainstream state schools do better.

“Public schools can and do reflect the diversity in their communities and are responsive and accountable to them. Many public schools are using the creativity of the New Zealand Curriculum far better than any charters and it is no surprise well-supported and skilled professional teachers are more likely to be innovative. We don’t need charter schools for innovation.”

Global shift away from privatisation

According to a PPTA statement, “students, teachers and parents will all benefit from the government’s decision to back public education in New Zealand by removing the legislation that created charter schools”.

Indeed, the decision to remove “charter schools marks a great day for public schools and their communities”, said PPTA president Jack Boyle. “With the rest of the world turning against privatised, for-profit, education, New Zealand can lead the world with real investment and support for public education.”

A PPTA official explained that it was a grassroots campaign that ultimately influenced the Education Ministry’s decision: from branch members in individual schools standing up against charter school expansions in their communities through to lobbying with central government and national media campaigns. “PPTA members were consistent and united against this corporate attack on the education system,” he said. “Our steadfast stance helped to ensure charters remained a contentious and divisive issue with the public and politicians, and never gained wide acceptance.”

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