Brash visits a charter school and is “blown away”

Not so long ago I visited South Auckland Middle School, one of two partnership schools with a total enrolment of 280 operated by the not-for-profit Villa Education Trust.

Because I had read of President Obama’s recognition of the benefit which partnership schools have for disadvantaged Afro-American kids, I was predisposed to like what I saw.

At the same time, I had heard of the strong opposition to such schools on the part of the teacher unions, and I assumed that at least part of their opposition was motivated by genuine concern for the effect of such schools on the children who attend them.

If that opposition is indeed based on a genuine concern for the children, they should visit South Auckland Middle School with an open mind.

I was blown away by what I found.

Yes, the school is effectively bulk-funded, in principle enabling the school to employ unregistered or unqualified teachers. In reality, all their teachers are fully registered and fully qualified. Classes are limited in size to 15.

The school provides a school uniform and all basic stationery without charge, and no fees or “donations” are charged.

Erm.  Question:  How can they have smaller class sizes, registered teachers, school supplied uniforms and no need to “donate” anything.  Another question:  How are state-run schools not able to do this?  

Ah yes, critics argue, but partnership schools get a lot more money from the taxpayer than other schools do. Absolute nonsense.

All schools get a lump sum to start up and, because South Auckland Middle School has been operating for less than three years, taking its start-up money and adding it to the money it receives for its on-going operation makes it appear that it gets more money than state schools.

But the start-up money it received was much less, on a per student basis, than comparable state schools have received.

South Auckland Middle School received just $1.3 million for start-up with a target roll of 120, and receives less than $12,000 per pupil annually to cover all teacher salaries and other operating costs.

Rototuna Primary School in Hamilton, with fewer than 800 pupils, recently received $40 million for start-up, and plenty of schools receive as much or more for operating costs, together with additional support from the Ministry of Education.

The conclusion is inescapable.

Charter schools won’t be the answer to all of the education system challenges, but similarly, neither is the state-run and union-strangled one.  It does show that a well-run charter school can deliver results, and that any attempt to marginalise it will take an effective tool out of the education system.


– Don Brash, NZ Herald

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