Guest Post – Partnership Schools – A rose by any other name

by Alwyn Poole

Since the post election agreement between National and Act declaring that Partnership (formerly Charter) Schools would be a feature of the elected government’s education policy there has been more misinformation spoken and press released than on a teenager’s facebook page.

Having been involved in teaching children for 20 years the most disappointing thing has been who the current opponents are, the protection of their patch (as opposed to care for children), and the disingenuous nature of their pronouncements.

This is a proposal worth fully considering so I have taken the time to research and write a full post. .

The Model

Similar models have been adopted overseas. Because current opponents assume a nationwide anti-American sentiment their focus has been on the US models. They have grasped desperately at aspects of the “Credo” study and that the results have so far been mixed. What they haven’t been prepared to acknowledge is that there has been some significant successes depending on how the model is implemented and state by state. They have also not disseminated the main point – that the effect on the poor and disadvantaged groups has been positive (i.e. the groups that this is initially aimed at in NZ).

The Economist concludes:

 “recent work by Mathematica, an independent policy group, suggests that the Credo study is sound. The bigger problem is that its findings have been misinterpreted. First, the children who most need charters have been served well. Credo finds that students in poverty and English language learners fare better in charters. And a national “meta-analysis” of research, done last year for the Centre on Reinventing Public Education in Seattle, found charters were better at teaching elementary-school reading and mathematics, and middle-school mathematics. High-school charters, though, fared worse. Another recent study in Massachusetts for the National Bureau of Economic Research concluded that urban charter schools are shown to be effective for minorities, poor students and low achievers.”

“Second, charter school performance is not so “mixed” if you look at the data on a state-by-state basis, rather than across the country as a whole.”

“Traditional public schools no longer have the excuse that they cannot be blamed for the poor performance of children because of their background; so competition from charters may improve standards in non-charters, too.”

Other media and research conclude:

“In New York, charters are oversubscribed. This spring, according to Joel Klein (former chancellor of New York City’s public schools) writing in the Wall Street Journal, some 67,000 New York kids applied for fewer than 15,000 openings in charters. “These kids,” Klein notes, “are almost entirely from low-income African-American and Latino families. Those families, desperately in search of a better education for their kids, are clearly voting with their feet. The recent test scores confirm they know what they’re doing.”

“The Success schools (Charter) are performing at the same level as NYC’s gifted and talented schools that select kids based solely on rigorous tests.”

“As recent performance data demonstrates, New Jersey’s charter schools are largely on the right track. In the five largest urban school districts in New Jersey, a higher percentage of students in charter schools are demonstrating proficiency or higher when compared to students in their respective urban school districts. In Newark, for example, charter schools performed 25 percentage points higher than district schools in math and 21 percentage points higher in language arts in 2010 – 2011.”

It is acknowledged that there have been failures (as there are in State schools in all countries). The advantage of NZ is that other countries have done much of the experimenting for us and we can emulate the best models; e.g. Andre Agassi’s school in Las Vegas.

Current opponents seem to think that if they keep saying that the NZ education system is “world class” then the significant portion of the population whose children are failing and having their life choices massively restricted will look the other way. If what we have is world class then “world class” is not good enough. No one involved in education should be anything like satisfied until we are absolutely world leading – for all groups.

Profit from Education

Current opponents are trying to demonise the model through the prospect that schools may be run for profit. The inference is that people making money from educating children are exploiting the taxpayer and the poor.

The first point on this is that many people already make money through education in NZ – most via the taxpayer. At the most basic level economic theory states that there are returns to providing resources to a production process – wages/salaries, rent, interest and profit. Profit is simply the name for the return for providing some resources, taking the financial risks and organizing the process. Teachers make money (i.e. profit) from educating children, university lecturers in Education make profit from doing so, the education spokespeople of political parties profit from their positions, providers of services to schools make profits (e.g. electricity, IT, plumbers, builders, architects, etc), executives of education unions (e.g. PPTA, NZEI) most certainly financially profit from being involved in education. It is hard to see why many of these people seem to be saying that someone willing to take personal financial risks aren’t worthy of receiving income from it and yet they are.

The second point is that it is highly unlikely that significant profits will be made – the foreseeable opportunities are too small and many of the groups who will be interested will do so on a non-profit basis. However – if an entrepreneur can set up a great school, inspire staff, improve the educational outcomes of a group of children and the flow-ons to their families – is there any real issue with them receiving a return on that? The current opponents would be very hypocritical to maintain that there is.

Unregistered Teachers

Children deserve very good teachers in front of them. But who in NZ can put their hand on their heart and say that all “qualified” and registered teachers are effective. Having a degree and going to teachers college is no guarantee of quality and teachers (especially secondary) have long debated the worth of the year at their College of Education as opposed to on the job training and a qualification process through that. The outrage of the PPTA and NZEI here is simply protection of their patch and it is transparent. On Q&A Ian Leckie supposed to speak for every primary school teacher (except one) by saying that they are not interested in teaching in Partnership Schools (and are likely to be blacklisted if they did).

It is also ridiculous to say that time at a teachers college is the only pathway to being equipped to contribute to the education of young people (or is the equivalent of 10 years of medical training as some have tried to imply). In ten years of running a small middle school some examples of “untrained” people who have come in and expertly contributed to teaching modules are – marine biologists, lawyers, surgeons, builders, architects, dancers, actors, directors, historians, archaeologists, politicians, pilots, military personal, rocket engineers, athletes, etc. Many, but not all have been volunteers. Is there really an issue with these people being paid for their time?

It has clearly been stated that the proportion and role of non-registered teaching staff will be a matter of school by school negotiation and, obviously, if parents are not satisfied with the quality of teaching their children are receiving they have the “qualified” state alternative to revert to.

Some current opponents have also expressed concern that the leader of a Partnership School will not necessarily have been a teacher. People other than teachers can care for children, understand learning, manage staff and may bring a managerial skill set that someone who has spent their career in the classroom has not had the opportunity to develop. A teacher moving into school management has to learn a plethora of “business” skills (e.g. budgeting, property management, personal management) it is precious and again, patch protection, to consider that someone from a business background can’t learn education sector skills.

The Opponents

The behaviour of the current opposition has been disappointing. They are clearly holding to the mantra that if you say things often enough and loud enough then it is true. However, this is a model that when applied effectively directly benefits the groups that people like Labour, Mana, NZ First, the Green Party, PPTA, NZEI claim to stand for (indeed identify as their political constituents). This is a model that one of the most comprehensive reports on concluded that:

“urban charter schools are shown to be effective for minorities, poor students and low achievers.”

My only conclusion here is that they are worried that the National/Maori/ACT/United Future government may actually help many of these people.

The current opponents are groups that claim to stand for diversity, freedom and choice in our society. In this case it seems to be diversity only in so far as they come up with the policy.

The current opponents have also been disrespectful to the intelligence of the families of New Zealand. When further details were released last week – instead of engaging in genuine discourse three of them came out with the “lipstick on a pig” comment – in press releases within minutes of each other.

It would seem to me that the response to this that cares for the children of NZ would have been to say that:

“We recognise that there are underachievement issues in NZ and that some groups are over-represented in the statistics. The children are so important that we will put aside premeditated politics (or perceived political gains) and get behind any innovations to help with the aim of ensuring that they are effective.”

David Shearer can call for cross party work of superannuation. Are the vulnerable children not valued as highly as the voting elderly?

John Tamihere has seen the policy and opportunity for what it is and made that clear earlier this year on a radio interview when he stated that he wanted for the children of Henderson what the children of Epsom are getting. Why are the opponents of this policy intent on keeping this opportunity from them?

Green Party education spokesperson Catherine Delahunty has declined the invitation to come in to Mt Hobson Middle school to get an idea of what a partnership school may look like. Nanaia Mahuta has done the same. Winston Peters stood on the basis that he would support good policy no matter where it came from – NZ First Education spokesperson Tracey Martin is visiting later in the year and we will look forward to a positive discussion.

The current opponents keep using the term “mandate”. The theoretical advantage of MMP is that minority groups and small parties get an influence. The implication of the current opponents is that if you did not achieve 50% in the general election then you have no mandate for change (for example Ian Leckie’s last statement on Q&A on August 5th). On this basis I would expect the Labour and Greens to change no laws if they are able to be a part of a future government (e.g. on the basis of the 32% and 12% respectively from the latest Colmar Brunton poll) as neither will have a “mandate”.

Trusting Parents

Not only is the lack of honesty and constructive discourse disrespectful to the general public the opponents are also disrespecting parents by telling them that they know best for their children. No one will be forced to go to Partnership Schools and they won’t be zoned. What is it about the opponents of the policy that they consider that parents lack the ability to make sound educational choices for their own children? Their fear is that parents will line up for these schools in droves (and they will if it is done properly).

The Media

The media is growing quickly in its balance and knowledge on this subject. They do keep bringing out the sensationalist issues of the Destiny Church and the possibility of someone teaching Intelligent Design. On those two – the Destiny Church may well be positioned to deliver very good schooling to children in some areas and their members pay tax too. Many churches are involved in education in NZ. And is the idea that someone might teach the concept that an intelligent being is behind the creation of the universe and life on Earth so new and radical.

A growing number of reports and editorials are acknowledging the positives and possibilities of this proposal and some reporters (including Corin Dann on Q&A) are clearly doing some research rather that simply parroting the nonsense of the current opponents.


The children of NZ, current and future, need educators to have ideals and vision. When I was studying at Massey University in the 1980’s and 90’s one of the main areas of discussion was the major “tail” in New Zealand’s education outcomes, social causes and the flow on effects. There have been improvements but despite the outstanding efforts of many people we are still a long way from solving these problems. Without significant change we will be having the same discussion 20 years hence.

This is a new opportunity and many good educators will say let’s try it, let’s innovate, let’s make it a success of this as well as improving our state and private schools (outcomes that are clearly not mutually exclusive). We are now in the 21st Century after all and the current prevalent model was designed for the children of the Industrial Revolution not the children of the Information Revolution. Throughout this I have mentioned “current opponents” of the policy. I am very hopeful many of those currently speaking against Partnership Schools will put the children of New Zealand ahead of their own aspirations and preconceived ideas, consider carefully, get behind it and make it very much their business that this succeeds and that the government keep their word with regards to ensuring the quality and outcomes of the model. They may even work out that it could be politically expedient for them to do so.

Or will they stand in the way of a new opportunity for some of the children of New Zealand that has no inherent negative impacts for any others? Will they continue to try and score cheap points – or will they serve the people?

Declaration of Background and Interest

I had a mother able to break out of an 11 child state home family. I was educated in state schools in Thames and Wanganui. Economics degree, teaching diploma, Masters degree in Education, Post Grad. diploma in Sports Management. Six years teaching at Tauranga Boys, one at Hamilton Boys, four at St Cuthbert’s, ten at Mt Hobson Middle School. Three children – now at University. Very interested in working with others to explore the very best that Partnership schools may offer to the young of New Zealand.


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  • ConwayCaptain


    I have said on this froum recently that some of the most inspiring teachers I have had did not have a teaching qualification.  They were qualified to teach thier subjects because of their professional qualification ie Navigation, Ship Construction, Seamanship etc.

    I have taught.  Not stand up in front of a class teaching, but teaching the Cadets on my ship how to navigate etc and I have also lectured on 3 occasions at the old RNZAF Staff and Command College at Whenuapai.

    I have also been a volunteer watchkeeper on the old Spirit of Adventure and the kids loved the experience and would tell me that I knew what I was talking about as I had done it whereas many of their teachers at school had no experience.

    Unfortunately many of todays teachers have had no experience outside teaching and have a v narrow view of the world.

    There is niw a movement in the UK to get ex military personnel into schools to teach and to lead.  My history teacher at Cadet School inspired us so much that all his old puplils still have a love of the subject and I passed this on to my son.  He was homeschooled for 4 years as he got no help in the schools for his dylexia and now has a BA in Hist and Politics and 3 diplomas in Photography.

    f a car company had 20% of their product failing they wouldnt stay in business but the teachers think that this is acceptable.  It isnt and it cannot be let to continue.

  • GregM

    Very good post Alwyn. It is so good to hear the facts for once, rather than self serving unionist bullshit. The union needs to be slaaped down hard, professionals such as yourself are exactly the people to do it. Thank you.

    • johnopkb

      ditto, thanks so much for the detailed analysis

    • Neil

      The best part of reading the post was doing a search and finding this:

      The best – well done Alwyn.

      • le sphincter

        Sounds like their answer is small class sizes….. who would have guessed.

        Fees are $3000 per term …..who would have guessed

    • le sphincter

      Its still self serving bullshit Alwyn is dishing up.
       he runs a state school in name only, profiting by not having school grounds and using public parks.
      As for the nonsense about ‘unqualified teachers’ , try  putting that on the prospectus and see how many bites he gets from parents.

      • PRM

        More of your Pinko Teacher crap le sphincter. Alwyn can speak with some authority as Mt. Hobson Middle schoold has alot of the same elements as those the Government are proposing for charter schools. A friend of the family is in year 8 at Mt. Hobson. He has some challanges in terms of motor skills and increasing deafness but has come on in leaps and bounds in the last 18 months. His parents are very positive about Alwyn.
        Parent / Taxpayers are tired of the politically motivated rhetoric of NZEI and PPTA. At least National have the balls to try and make a difference and accept the protectionist bullshit that has existed in teaching circles in the country.  

      • GregM

        Well Said PRM.
         I missed Le clench over the weekend. We actually had some intelligent debate for two days. Oh well, couldn’t last I suppose.

  • Seems to me

    Thank you Alwyn & Whale for giving her the opportunity.. A good summary and good points.  Matches my own somewhat limited research. Nice to have a professionals take on the whole thing.

  • Julian

    That was going well until you tried to defend “intelligent design.”

    • GEC

      I don’t think she tried to defend ‘intelligent design’ it was more a comment that it has been taught forever by Christian schools for example and hasn’t harmed anyone or made them at all strange. Look at me for example, it hasn’t affected me! Cunt.

    • Neil

      Other than your language GEC…total destruction of your argument in one word.

      • GEC

        It was my pathetic attempt at humor Neil because I thought Julian had the wrong end of the stick as Alwyn wasn’t trying to defend intelligent design and anyway if he really is a guy why does he have a girls name? Great article though.

  • AnonWgtn

    Thank you Alwyn.

  • Simo

    Excellent post Alwyn, clear and concise

  • Jason

    Excellent post what is so wrong with providing people with choice. Unless you believe that people are to stupid to make the right choice so need the nanny state to make it for them.

  • GavinC

    Devils Advocate
    If these new charter schools are needed for those groups/ ethnicities labelled as under achievers then one must assume the education is better. If so surely it would make sense to include all groups currently in schooling as being at benefit from charter schools? If we do this then will the current “under achievers”  still be labelled as under acheivers?

  • Fantastic to get a comprehensive & alternative point of view to the war cries & apocalypse warnings of the left. It is great that some media are starting to provide more objective coverage of the issue. I’m really sick of this “patch protection” stuff – not just about charter schools, but league tables & the class size debacle. Really annoys me that so many parents are so gullible & believe everything the PPTA comrades say. 

    But then I suppose it is fair enough given the number of schools that bring politics into their newsletters (including ours – our Principal bangs on about crap all the time) & the fact that the media are putty in the PPTA’s hands; you have to really hunt out alternative information if you want to draw your own conclusions.

  • Gravedodger

    Tryhard commie complains that this guest post contributor on partnership schools is the principal of an academy that does not have the financial burden of extensive Grounds for sport.

    So Fucking what.

    That is a common feature of many places of learning constrained by space for pools and a rugby/football pitch.
    Sheesh swmbo went to ChCH West, now Hagley, 60 years ago across the road from Hagley Park that provided sports grounds and as I recall all schools in the City even if they had a pool used the Centenial Pool for its space, diving towers and water quality.

    The post was about dealing to some or maybe all, but that is always going to be very hard until we sort out the poor parenting issues, of the largey brown tail that trails out of our middle education stream with totally inadequate numeracy and literacy skills to function in our increasingly demanding digital age.
    Even a labourer in a wharehouse needs keyboard skills.

    But of course the parroting of opposition is all about protecting the income stream from the unions and the electorate fodder from the failures.

    • le sphincter

      Fees are $3000 per term !!

      And probably their model is highly qualified teachers paid above state scale… not the way to go  for  charter schools

      • Mediaan

        What point are you trying to make with your reiteration of “fees are $3000 a term”?

        So what? I’m out of touch, but it sounds like some day-care fees, to me.

        I know a lot of parents would pay more than twice this for private school tuition per term.

  • thor42

    Excellent column, Alwyn. 
    The bottom line is that I would trust the parents of those Latino and African-American children far more than I would trust the patch-protecting teacher unions.
    Those parents are not stupid, and if the unions and teachers say that they are, then the “racist” card can be thrown at them.

  • Mully

    Great post – fantastic reasoning. Not surprising the self-serving lefties are screaming.

    I’ve never understoon why “world class” (whatever that means with a 20% failure rate) is a synonym for “no point in improving”. World class today is average tomorrow and below par the day after. The arguments against simply don’t add up.

    FWIW, our first child is due in October. Like both my wife and I, our child will be able to read, write, spell and do maths before the first day of school. However, neither my wife or I are registered teachers. Will that be a problem?

  • carpentaro

    If the goal is to give/provide better education, what’s the problem. The union/teachers are against anything that they had not come up with and are a little afraid of some competition.

    “Because current opponents assume a nationwide anti-American sentiment”…
    Nawww. Never in NZ.[sarc]

    It boils down to power. If the teachers/union are in charge of the curriculum, they decide what is taught. Did you know that NZ curriculum is full of UN agenda 21 and has been since Rio [the first one] ’92? Unions=non competitive environment.
    NZ is supportive of home-schooling, providing a stipend to offset the cost, unlike the USA. Yet academia is loathe to recognize homeschooling because it did not emanate from within academia, so how could anyone possibly learn anything that did not come from within academia? [I can hear them ask from their incestuous circles of circular logic and liberal ideology]

    I know, a lot about the UN in recent posts, it’s just stating to kick in.    

  • carpentaro

    Oh, and about “intelligent design”. Evolution is still a theory, not a law.  

    • dave

      What!? I mean seriously…..what!? :facepalm:

  • Parks White

    Ideological drivel, dressed up as authoritative , educationallly sound musings of a 20 year High School teaching veteran (economics)The author is Clearly happy to gamble with the future of children who are already severely disadvantaged. The author tries hard to distance the model from the failed American Charter schools experiment but continues to cite US exemplars that have no parallel in NZ. NZ does have a world class Preschool and Primary school system that works hard to address the needs of all NZ children particularly those in the “tail”. The real difficulty is in appreciating the limits of a school system to address social deprivation, poverty and intergenerational state dependency. Partnership schools/ charter schools claim that they will be able to use more innnovative teaching strategies than is currently available to NZ State schools and that this will allow then to improve educational standards for the tail. What will happen is that motivated parents in poorer neighbourhoods that were likely to be upwardly mobile anyway will take advantage of the Partnership school and make sure their kids get in. These motivated parents will ensure that their kids do well. it is the children of the parents who do not value education, care about their children’s future or education that either are neglectful by having to work too many jobs to make ends meet or are neglectful and simply do not care and take an interest in their children’s education enough. these educationally disadvantaged homes are the barrier and cause of the “tail”. Innovative programmes like the “I Have a Dream” project in NZ was presented at the TEDx conference in Auckland on 1st October 2009: “I Have a Dream”® Projects motivate and empower children from low-income communities to reach their education and career goals by providing a long-term programme of mentoring, tutoring and enrichment, along with tuition assistance for higher education. They are unique from most other programmes in two key areas:

    Each project selects one entire Year Level from the founding Primary School, not just the talented kids or the troubled kids.
    Each project works with that same group of children from early Primary School right through to Tertiary study, i.e., for 10 to 15 years.
    They combat the high school drop-out rate by taking a personal interest in the lives of students and their families, providing educational opportunities, recreational programmes, social support and financial resources that they might otherwise be denied.

    Unfortunately, not every child in New Zealand is given the chance to live up to his or her potential.

    In a study of 25 Auckland High Schools, some high decile schools produced almost 80 A or B bursars from 100 students who started Year 9; whilst some low decile schools produced none.

    New Zealand’s youth, our future, deserve every opportunity for the best education possible. Partnership/ charter schools will be profit/ success motivated and be highly selective in its Enrolment of students and will not make any significant improvement in educational outcomes for the poorest New Zealanders. Just create a political platform for the  Ideologically driven, right wing, Act Party voting, (.5% of the population – typically well off/self made/ self congratulatory kiwis) who resent paying for those less able than themselves and who cling to the myth that they can all succeed if only they tried harder and pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps. Yeah right….I have dream too….That John Banks is arrested and jailed for fraud and that Act fades and dies a natural death. ( it will happen!)

    Charter schools have no place in NZ. watch this space we will all witness the experiment on the Nations most vulnerable children used to push a barrow whose wheel was made before the invention of the wheel…..Glad my kid is at a decile 10 school I”m all right Jack!

    • patriot

      So if an experienced expert wanted to pass on his knowledge and put something back to grassroots like 5th 6th and 7th Form College — NZEI President says only registered Teachers are good enough.

      Pres Ian Leckie is talking rubbish and backing Unions at the expense of progress .

      Would Bill Gates , without a Teaching Certificate be qualified to teach  Computer Science

      Would Tony Blair be acceptable to a Chater School to teach Political Science , without a teaching Certificate  ?

      Would Tana Umunga be OK to Teach /Coach Rugby – if he did not have a Certificate  ?

      Would Willie Apiata VC , be acceptable to teach Leadership, endurance, Courage,Motivation and the Outdoors  ?

      Ian Leckie is an Idiot — intent only on a Union stand — of couse any of the above would know a lot more than a registered Teacher in their subjects .

      Unregistered Teachers are ok for Charter schools — subject to how they interview .