Charter school backers considering Treaty claim

An organisation set up to support charter schools is considering making a Treaty claim to keep the controversial model going.

The Government is planning to transition the country's 11 charters schools back into the state system, either as designated character, private or state-integrated schools.

"There's the clause in the contract which provides the minister with the opportunity to terminate the clause at his convenience, which he will choose to do," said Graham Osborne, chief executive of E Tipu e Rea, a non-profit organisation that supports charter schools.

He told Newshub Nation they're looking into the possibility forcing the schools to close or move into the state system could be a breach of the Treaty of Waitangi.

"We think that in the spirit of the Treaty of Waitangi there are some principles that have been clearly run right over there - principles of partnership, principles of collaboration and consultation, principles of reciprocation. On the face of it, there would seem to be a case for a Treaty claim."

Around 1500 students attend charter schools at the moment, many of them Māori and Pacific Islanders. Nationwide, only 31 percent of Māori students achieve University Entrance - about half as many as Pakeha.

Early results indicate many charter schools are improving educational achievement for those students.

An Education Review Office (ERO) report for Vanguard Military School found its "Māori students achieved... significantly better than Māori and all other students nationally, except for University Entrance".

At least 90 percent of students there achieved NCEA across all three levels in 2015.

AUT senior lecturer Ella Henry told Newshub Nation the idea of a Treaty claim over charter schools' closure is not one she's heard before, but it has merit.

"Part of the process of a treaty claim is in-depth research from both sides, and a finding that has a historical account that's really comprehensive. That worked really well for Māori broadcasting and the wananga claim, and could work extremely well here - if, as they argue, these schools are having the profoundly positive impact on Māori communities."

Dr Henry says she sees many Māori students who have not been properly equipped for tertiary study.

"If we are now seeing students coming from schools that are actually working for them, I would be profoundly disappointed in any Government that undermined any strategy that was actually working for Māori achievement in education. I would be so disappointed."

But Principals' Federation national president Whetu Cormick said the state system is now better equipped to boost Māori achievement.

"Our education system has been unkind to a number of young people for some time - Māori," he said.

"I can say that the system now with our new minister - and in fact, the previous Minister of Education Hekia Parata put teachers on notice about five or six years ago saying we need to get this Māori underachievement sorted, so there's been great gains happening in mainstream schools right now."

But Mr Osborne said mainstream education has had decades to fix the problems, and it's failed.

"Partnership schools are an opportune tool to get that remedy underway."

Charter schools were an ACT Party policy picked up by the National-led Government. Labour has long promised to can the policy, which allows outside organisations to run schools. The schools are still funded by the taxpayer, but aren't required to follow the same rules or curriculum, and aren't subject to Official Information Act laws.

"We're all playing in the same sandpit," said Mr Cormick. "Some of them decided they wanted to have their own little sandpit on the side, but they have different rules… we should all be in the same system. We all need to have the same rules. We're all funded by the taxpayer."

Education Minister Chris Hipkins declined Newshub Nation's request to come on the show.

Newshub Nation.