Maori leader claims Govt 'bullying' charter schools, urges PM to show aroha

Sir Toby Curtis.
Sir Toby Curtis. Photo credit: Newshub.

A respected Māori leader says the Government has "bullied" charter schools - and is tearing down a system of schooling that works.

Sir Toby Curtis (Te Arawa, Ngati Rongomai and Ngati Pikiao) has launched a Waitangi Tribunal claim saying the closing of partnership schools will disproportionately affect Māori. Six of the 11 Kura Hourua currently in operation have predominantly Māori rolls.

But Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters gave a simple "no" when asked whether the schools' closure will affect Māori disproportionately and said the Government won't pause the introduction of the policy while the Tribunal claim is underway.

"The Māori people in this country want the best that's available to the best of citizens of this country. They don't want a separate education system," Mr Peters said.

All three Government parties entered the election with clear policy to end charter schools, with Mr Peters describing them as part of an "agenda to privatise education".

But Sir Toby says the schools have been a great success for Māori and changing them to 'special character schools' won't work.

"At long last we have this system succeeding and a politician wants to pull it down," Sir Toby told an audience of politicians at an education select committee on Wednesday.

"If you're asking them to be designated under the state which has failed our children for over 170 years, it's very difficult to see them [succeeding]. They are changing them back to a system that has not been very helpful to our kids," he told media outside the committee.

Sir Toby said the Prime Minister clearly understands the concept of aroha, and she should share some with partnership schools.

"Because the Prime Minister has given a second name to her child of Te Aroha, I would like to think that the concept of aroha [will be] shared with everyone," Sir Toby said.

He said schools have been subjected to bullying from the state.

"When you decide that you know better than the people and the profession and the schools without consulting  them, I don't know any other word that describes that," he told media outside the committee.

National's education spokesperson Nikki Kaye is calling on the Government to listen to Sir Toby and immediately remove provisions requiring partnership schools to redesignate as special character schools.

"Even if these schools reopen as special character they won't be able to do what they've done so well for so many young people," Ms Kaye said.

Ms Kaye said while schools wait to find out whether they have been redesignated as special character, they feel bullied.

"They are in a situation where they can't speak up and speak out... because they have this other process hanging over their head."

Education Minister Chris Hipkins says he wants to make sure the education system is delivering for everyone.

"I've been very clear that we think all Māori students, regardless of what school they go to, are entitled to a quality education, and Māori students shouldn't be forced to leave the public education system and go to private charter schools in order to have the quality of education that they deserve."

Act Party leader David Seymour, who had charter schools introduced as part if a governing arrangement with National, said he sympathises with the claim.

"Sir Toby feels that Maori have been ripped off under the Treaty for 178 years and the partnership schools contracts are just another rip-off as far as he is concerned. I can sympathise with his view. I support him."