Guest Post – The pseudo-moral outrage over Charter Schools

by Alwyn Poole

The NZEI/PPTA are continuing with their pseudo moral outrage around Charter/Partnership Schools in an effort to influence the submission process to government around the relevant Bill. As do some of the political opponents. The level of monologue from them is well below what you would expect in public discourse from people that you would have thought had to have some intellect to get in to the positions they are in. The hype reached a new, and tedious, low in the last few days with the PPTA criticizing John Banks for asking for public submissions on the bill while at the same time setting up a form document so their members don’t have to think to submit:

Then Tracey Martin of NZ First regurgitates some of the rants:

“New Zealand First says the Government is attempting to sneak through unpopular changes which will destroy our public education system.”


“The Education Amendment Bill requires comment on Charter Schools which will become cash cows for foreign investors.”

The other recourse of the unions is to take a mono-cultural country (Finland) where every teacher is required to have a post graduate qualification and say we need to be like them in all of our provisions. Or to state, despite recent trends that we are “world class”. This ignores the fact that for children from lower socio-economic homes and Maori and Pacific Island communities the differentials are huge (e.g. a 20% differential for Maori to non-Maori and Level 2 NCEA in 2011) and that recent TIMMS reports had NZ sliding. The “more money” argument doesn’t work either – New Zealand is the highest spender per capita in the OECD in this area.

Almost every family will tell you that there is a “could do better” aspect to their child’s education. New Zealand is a small incredibly well resourced country and every community should be utterly dissatisfied until our education system is world leading and no child falls through the cracks. The children of this nation are that important. It seems completely against the mentality of the unions and others with a vested interest in education to be positive and put the children first.

What is the Charter School Opportunity?

The model is simple and aspects of it have been applied overseas with mixed results but enough indicators that if it is done well can help many children without hindering others. With an outstanding positive approach in New Zealand this can be completely NZ designed for NZ children and their families and – and where it is relevant – the best of the overseas aspects can be applied also.

The key to success is an outstanding application and permission process and strict ongoing accountability.

Private organisations (with permission) will be able to set up Partnership Schools and offer places to children. Those children will take something like their state funding to the new school (i.e. this is near fiscally neutral). No child will be compelled to attend and the focus (quite clearly under the proposed legislation) is to be on children who are otherwise not achieving. Where schools are oversubscribed a ballot will be applied. If what is offered is not good enough then people will not choose to send their children to those schools.

For Maori and Pacific Island communities this is a genuine opportunity to intervene in the quality of educational outcomes for their children and to take greater ownership of the well being of their youth.

For families where they feel that the “one size fits all” model is not working for their children this is an opportunity to co-operate and work on micro-schools with particular niches that allow their children to get through the qualification hoops and have greater choices going into adulthood.

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).

It is not that some of these educational innovations that will occur are not occurring in state schools or over time but the inertia is massive and the level of opposition from the unions to any kind of change is a significant barrier.

One aspect used to fuel the opposition fervour is that of saying people shouldn’t “profit from education” (e.g the “cash cow” nonsense from Tracey Martin). As I stated in an earlier post  – this is a complete red herring. Many people already make money through education in NZ – including Tracey Martin  – most via the taxpayer. 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, also previously made, 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.

I have also previously commented on the unqualified teachers aspect but to summarise: Children deserve very good teachers in front of them and what they currently have is a mix and Principals have very little discretion to provide incentives through rewarding good teachers/teaching. 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.

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 children of NZ, current and future, need educators to have ideals and vision. When I was studying at 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 people with the well being of New Zealand children in mind should be in behind it. The aims would be to guarantee that this works for the children that are currently failing while protecting the integrity and enhancing the positive effects of the state, private (fee paying), and integrated systems. 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. The opportunities for young people are outstanding but there is a massive dichotomy in terms of the choices available to those with qualifications and those without. Every effort must be made to find pathways for every child – even if that feels threatening to adults in positions of power within education in New Zealand.

One aspect of submission that is important (and here I agree with the unions) is that these schools must be highly accountable for their use of taxpayer funds. If that is not to be through the OIA (as private organisations) then there must be another very transparent means of accounting for their use of taxpayer funds.

The PPTA thinks all of New Zealand is on holiday  but if you have the time you can submit to the select committee on the Education Amendment Bill.

We live in a free thinking democracy with respect for intelligence so I won’t tell you what to think and/or write.

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. For the last ten years I have designed and run Mt Hobson Middle School as a school for 50 children in Newmarket (as a charitable trust) and believe that the model can be broadly applied in NZ communities to improve outcomes for children that attend. Always happy to have people come in to discuss education and see the work we do with children. Three children myself – now at University.


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  • thor42

    *Excellent* article.

    Positive, hard-working go-getters like Alwyn Poole are the future of education in this country – not whining, whinging, negative, can’t-do-this dinosaurs like the teacher unions.

    FFS – if the teacher unions ran this country, we’d still be using horses and buggies to get around.

  • Gazzaw

    The teachers’ unions are understandably coy on their numbers but the percentage of teachers who belong to the unions is falling as young teachers join the profession and older teachers retire.

    • thor42

      “… the percentage of teachers who belong to the unions is falling…” I hope so, and thank goodness for that.

      • Gazzaw

        Yes it’s interesting how different schools handle union membership. I have a reasonably close business relationship with a small local school (I’m not a teacher) and only three teachers out of eleven belong to the union. The staff are all quite young including the principal & the DP and unionism by common consensus is not discussed in the staffroom. It’s interesting to note that the school is very supportive of National Standards despite the bureaucratic baggage that it brings with it. Schools I believe are like all other enterprises & success is driven from the top by the management and by the positive attitudes & skills of its staff members. Good recruitment has a lot to do with it.

        • thor42

          Good post, Gazzaw.

          Yep – positive attitudes (and flexibility) would be *very* important for schools nowadays, and both are the very antithesis of unions.

          • Dion

            Yes. The PPTA’s slogan is “We’re for education”.

            They certainly are “for education” – in the same way that fleas are “for dogs”.

  • Ronnie Chow

    Alwyn , your post is brilliant .You have clearly highlighted how Union involvement resembles a protection racket .
    The outcome that we desire can only happen under a National government , fighting against the vehement opposition of entrenched interests , who have already shown themselves to be less than adequate in all areas of improvement .
    Getting your message to parents will be your biggest challenge .

  • Teachersrock

    Even Treasury is in the camp of “Charter schools are a bit of a bad idea”. When Treasury doesn’t support a right wing education plan, you know it has to be bad.

    • Ronnie Chow

      I’m interested , TR , when you read the Post above , what do you think ? Are there some correct observations , a few , or none ?

      • Teachersrock

        Next to none.

    • Gazzaw

      I’m a tad confused by the term ‘a bit of a bad idea’. Does that mean that there are bits that are good?

      • Teachersrock

        Not really.

    • Pissedoffyouth

      Evidence plz

      • Teachersrock

        Do you ever read anything other than this blog??? It has been all over the media about Treasury’s thinking on this

    • thor42

      So – you believe that nothing should be done for children who are failing in existing schools? Thank you – that clarifies things nicely. “Teachersrock” – “teachers first” more like it….

      • But but but we have a world class system dotcha know

        • Teachersrock

          Yes we do.

          Despite the best attempts of people like yourself to pull the wool over peoples eyes for personal reasons.

      • Teachersrock

        Sigh, before jumping to the typical right wing nut job response, perhaps you might care to read other posts I have made.

        Only yesterday I stated that while we have a fantastic system, we can always do things better. NZ schools do not have a one size fits all approach, that went out decades ago. Charter Schools have nothing to do with offering a different approach. It is about ideology and privatising education. Different approaches are offered on a daily basis in classes across the country. And in those other countries that have CS’s they have made next to no improvement on anything.

        And as for your 10s of 1000s number – I call bullshit on that figure. Big truck load of bullshit.

        • thor42

          “It’s all about ideology and privatising education.”

          • Teachersrock

            Oh I am paying attention. Pity you are too busy being suckered by National.

          • Pissedoffyouth

            What are your thoughts on the “whole language”debate, TR?

        • Sym Gardiner

          Teachersrock… Perhaps you would care to explain why you are against parents having the choice of sending their child to a Charter School? I mean if they are soooo bad, surely parents will just not send their child. Its not like they are being set up as the only school in an area.
          As a parent of a child with profound hearing loss I have been dismayed at the lack of choice I have for meeting my child’s needs. There very much is a one size fits all approach in this part of the education system at least – despite the huge variety of needs.
          So… why do you advocate restricting my choice as a parent?

          • Teachersrock

            For a start, no matter what Key says, the chances of your child getting into a CS will be next to zero. They will work to make a profit, and your child will be too much of a hassle. It has happened the world over where these types of schools have been set up.

            Also, if you are dismayed at the lack of choice for your child, blame National. They have cut special needs assistance so there is less to access and less money to access what there is.

            You already have the option of private schools so why not look at them. CS’s are basically private schools paid for by the tax payers money. And the real scary thing is anyone can set one up, and anyone will be allowed to teach any old rot they choose. Imagine your money being spent on setting up a private school by Destiny Church. Children being drilled in religious dogma with no requirement to follow the NZC. That’s a good choice for kids now isn’t it.

            Your options are not limited by not having CS’s. They are limited by this governments lack of interest in helping special needs. Remember this is the same government who wants to close as many special needs schools as they can, place those children in mainstream schools without the support they currently have.

          • GregM

            The cutting of funding to special needs children is an absolute disgrace.
            100% agree with you on this one TR and Sym.

          • Sym Gardiner

            There have been no cuts in the area of sensory education. Quite the opposite.
            But back to my question… Why are you against parents having a choice?

          • GregM

            I stand corrected Sym, and I am pleased that sensory education hasn’t been cut.
            A close friend of mine has a girl at Salisbury school, the one they were going to close. There is absolutely nowhere else suitable for these girls to go. Appropriately funded and supported programmes are essential for these kids and they need to be expanded.

          • Sym Gardiner

            Greg… Sensory Schools are the Deaf Education Centres and BLINZ (blind school). The DECs have had significant amounts of funding moved from the local school into them and recently $10m in capital injected. BLINZ was similarly affected, although they had their capital injection some years ago.
            I agree Salisbury is a cock up. It again gets back to parents not being given choice (in this case by the MoE). If 80 families want to retain a school (or create one for that matter), that’s plenty to make a school viable.
            I should also point out that most of the special needs sector is very well funded. The use of those funds is monumentally inefficient. In the case of a child with hearing loss, there is somewhere between $30-50k (it could be more – the accounts are not made public) a year spent which results in 4.5 hours a week contact time.

          • Teachersrock

            I answered your question. You have the choice of private schools now, so why do you not send your child to one of those?

            Or are you of the mistaken belief that CS will be cheaper? Or better? They will not be. They are private schools funded by the tax payer, and will have no added bonus to a child’s learning.

            And IF (BIG if) there have been no cuts to SE, then you should be able to get all the support your child needs. Schools can only access what the government offers, and CS will offer the same, but at a higher.

          • Sym Gardiner

            Ok. Interesting answer. I did not see that in what you wrote.
            The short answer is that I could not afford a private school. Integrated schools (I presume that’s what you actually mean) don’t receive the same level of funding as a state school. This would be the difference between a Charter School and an Integrated School.
            Again it gets back to choice. It seems you are arguing I shouldn’t be able to choose, as a parent, what is the best educational setting for my child. And if I choose something different, my child won’t get the same resources as other children. That sounds equitable doesn’t it?

          • Teachersrock

            I am arguing that parents should not be conned.

          • Sym Gardiner

            Arh… now there it is. You don’t think parents are capable of making the best choices for their children. You are saying we as parents are not capable of sifting the spin.
            That really is an incredibly arrogant outlook and demeaning of parents in general.
            I’d have you know that in my situation with my daughter, if I had listen to the ‘professional’ teachers, my daughter would be dependent on support services for her entire life. As it is it took me a while to figure they didn’t know what they were talking about. After sorting the rubbish that was going on, she now is on a par with her peers and we are in the process of progressively rolling back her support so she can attack her schooling independently.
            Parental involvement and commitment to their child’s education is the single most important factor in the success of the child – particularly in the special education area. If you can’t grasp this and reflect this in the way you teach your class, I fear for the progress, safety and outcomes of those kids.

          • thor42

            My sister has a daughter who was getting CRAP teaching at the local school (reading teaching, and the CRAP “whole language” methodology had a lot to do with it.) Anyway – to fix that, she taught her daughter at home too (using *phonics*). Her daughter’s reading ability *rocketed* and she hasn’t looked back.

            That also explains the massive popularity of the legendary Doris Ferry’s reading classes.
            A guy called Graeme Crawshaw was another strong proponent of phonics. These GREAT people are yet more proof that we CAN do *better* in education, and that the current system is NOT working as well as it should do.

          • Teachersrock

            Nice attempt to twist the truth.

            Interesting too that you now say she has all the support she needs and is doing well, where as before you were implying otherwise.

            CS’s have been a failure around the world, and why any decent parent would want a proven failed system for their child is beyond me.

          • Sym Gardiner

            I think someone else is being as slippery as a Kokopu eel. Shuffling off the topic that you don’t think parents are intelligent and competent enough to raise their children.

            Charter or Partnership schools have been a mixed bag around the world. Some have been absolutely brilliant. Some have been failures (and have therefore failed). That’s why the govt is wisely starting off slowly rather than declaring all integrated schools as Partnership schools and funding them at the same rate as state schools. Would you prefer that as an option???

            As for my daughter… you are getting snippets of our journey that you are piecing together poorly. Deaf education provision in NZ is very poor… about 20 years behind our Aussie cousins who are right on the cutting edge. My daughter has been diagnosed as having a profound hearing loss for 4 years. The first year the services we received were very poor. The second year I figured this out, battled hard for the best possible arrangement (still sub-optimal internationally but the best we could get in our location). The last 2 years we have made very good progress because I have directed the team of professionals working with her. What she has had during that 2 years we would not have had unless I had jumped up and down and chewed people’s ears.

            But back to the real topic – philosophically you don’t think parents are competent to be parents and that you know better. Of course you don’t have the guts to come out and say it directly.

          • thor42

            “CS’s have been a failure around the world..”

          • thor42

            Oh, I’m glad you like the Guardian.
            Here you go –

            “Romney and Obama hail New Orleans’ charter schools as a model for America.”

            For every bullshit study that you supply, supposedly showing that charter schools “fail”, I’m sure I can supply one which shows that they **succeed**.

    • Dion

      It’d be great to see you actually address some of the points in her argument.

      Would you be disappointed if one of your students wrote a rebuttal like that?

      • Alwyn is a bloke…

      • Teachersrock

        There is too much wrong for me to be bothered addressing every single point.

        Pick one of the statements made and I’ll address it just for you.

        • GregM

          OK, I have one for you.
          Who would make a better Principal / school manager, a teacher, or a professional manager?
          Both have their pro’s and cons I agree, but I would be interested to hear your opinion on this.

          • Teachersrock

            A Principal. They have an understanding of how children learn, they are able to understand the educational lingo, they have had actual experience in education, they have a wide range of support to manage the school for first time principals and for most of them it is more than just a job.

            I am not saying there are no crap principals out there, because there are. However, I believe that the best person to run a school and give a dam about the kids in it is a Principal.

          • GregM

            Hmmm. I hear what you’re saying, but how many principals have for example property management experience of a multi million dollar asset?
            An analogy I could offer is Rob Fyfe knows fuck all about flying a 747, but he is better at running Air New Zealand than an ex pilot.

          • Teachersrock

            You would be surprised at how capable principals are. Also, like a professional manager, principals have a truck load of support they can call on.

          • Ronnie Chow

            TR , you didn’t even understand the question . The question was ; Would a teacher or a professional manager make a better Principal/school manager .

    • Since when have teachers ever agreed with treasury…you either agree with them all the time or none of the time, not when it suits you.

      • Teachersrock

        Really. So you ALWAYS agree with everything the party you voted for does and says.

        Rather a stupid thing to do.

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