Opinion: Labour's charter school division

Labour's associate education spokesman Kelvin Davis (Facebook)
Labour's associate education spokesman Kelvin Davis (Facebook)

The next time you hear Labour hate on charter schools, don't believe them.

Because the truth is a wedge of Labour actually thinks charter schools are all good. And this group is led by none other than its associate education spokesman Kelvin Davis.

The attendance of Davis and fellow MP Peeni Henare at a fundraiser for a Whangarei charter school is about much more than them defying the orders of Andrew Little.

It shows a major policy divide within Labour.

One side, led by education spokesman Chris Hipkins and the teacher unions have a pathological hatred for the privately run schools.

The other side, led by Davis, see that the schools can work particularly in Maori education.

This is what Hipkins says: "The National government are throwing good money after bad with their decision to pump even more funding into their failed charter school experiment."

But this is what Davis says: "There are a number of anomalies within charter schools that need to be ironed out."

So while official Labour policy is that charter schools should be stopped, the Davis wedge says the charter schools model can be fixed up.

Davis and Henare both had whanau connections at the Te Kura Hourua O Whangarei Terenga Paraoa, which is run by He Puna Marama Trust.

But crucially, Davis also said he was there "to support Maori education".

Charter schools are hated by the teacher unions because they are privately run and don't have to use registered teachers or conform to the rules like other schools.

But this kind of independent schooling is not new to Maori - Kura Kaupapa schools have been a different model with different outcomes.

If you view charter schools with a Maori focus as an extension of this then it is not so controversial.

It is no surprise that the most progressive iwi, Ngai Tahu, is looking at setting up a charter school. So is Tuhoe, the most independent iwi.

Instead of listening to the unions, it seems Davis is listening to his people when it comes to charter schools.

And don't forget that Davis is a former Northland principal with a deep understanding of the educational issues up there.

Davis is right, there are huge anomalies with charter schools and that's why we have seen the blowouts with the likes of Whangaruru.

But speaking of anomalies - it is a bit weird to have Davis crusading against Serco and the privatisation of prisons one minute, then supporting the privatisation of education the next.

Davis is clearly taking a "whatever works" approach to charter schools. Problem for Labour is, "whatever works" is the signature philosophy of a certain John Key.

There's also a push from the Maori sector of Labour for Davis to become deputy leader when Annette King is due to step aside at the end of the year.

It may be too soon, but Davis certainly knows how to get a headline.

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