'Disempowering parents': Mixed reactions to education shake-up

The Government's proposed education system overhaul has garnered mixed reactions, with National expressing concerns over "disempowering parents".

National agrees with the need for structural change in the education system, as well as better governance and collaboration, but these proposed changes "must be carefully considered," says National's education spokesperson Nikki Kaye. 

Bali Haque, Chair of the Independent Taskforce Tomorrow's Schools, has recommended the introduction of Education Hubs, which would be Crown entities, with minister-appointed directors. The hubs would assume many of the current responsibilities of boards of trustees. 

The Education Hubs would provide teachers with curriculum and assessment support; provide leadership advice for principals; and employ principals, but only with input from and approval from the Board of Trustees

The hubs would also be responsible for property matters, with an option to delegate this function back to schools; and provide a complaints and advocacy service for parents and students, and dealing with school suspensions.

"We have serious concerns about the creation of around 20 new Crown entities called Education Hubs, which would transfer more responsibilities from parents to bureaucrats," says Ms Kaye. "We will fight to ensure parents continue to have a strong role in the education of their children."

She said the hubs would see a "major reduction in the power and duties of boards of trustees and parents in our education system, including taking responsibility for expulsions, final decision making rights on enrolments and zoning, and the employment of principals".

"There will also be concerns about the costs of this number of Crown entities and whether we will end up creating further bureaucracy... National will play a significant role in public consultation to ensure these issues are appropriately considered."

The proposed changes to the education system were published in a report on Friday. It identifies eight issues that need addressing and a total of 31 recommendations, including limiting out of zone enrolments, improving disability and learning support, and replacing the current decile system.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins insists New Zealanders want the changes. He said 43,000 people responded to a survey to get an "independent view of the state of compulsory schooling in New Zealand". 

"Much has changed since the last major schooling system review took place 30 years ago. For example, there is greater diversity across our student population, and our schools are dealing with more complex issues including student and teacher wellbeing, than was the case back then."

The Primary teachers union NZEI Te Riu Roa has welcomed the proposed overhaul, with President Lynda Stuart saying it "redefines what success looks like for kids and has a big focus on equity".

It comes as schools face a teaching crisis, with primary school teachers and principals on Wednesday rejecting the Ministry of Education's latest pay offer, the third that has been offered to them, with NZEI saying it didn't do enough to address the teacher shortage. 

The head strike negotiator for principals Louise Green said in July that teaching isn't seen as an attractive career anymore, and that the education sector is facing a crisis.  

The Human Rights Commission has welcomed the proposals, with Acting Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero saying she'll be looking to "ensure that the rights of all disabled children are fully realised in our education system". 

The Greens have also welcomed the proposals, with education spokesperson Chloe Swarbrick calling it the "beginnings of a roadmap for the future of our education system".

The Government will make decisions on implementing the review in mid-2019.