Education overhaul recommended, as New Zealand schools found to be 'slipping'

New Zealand schools are failing the most disadvantaged children and young people, a new Government report has revealed, noting that "performance is slipping". 

"Our current system does not work for too many groups - Māori, Pacific, new migrants or those that have additional learning needs are not well served," said Bali Haque, Chair of the Independent Taskforce Tomorrow's Schools. 

The taskforce is calling for a transformational change to the way New Zealand's education system is organised, according to the report released on Friday. It identifies eight key issues that need to be addressed and a total of 31 recommendations.

Mr Haque said one of the issues identified was that the Board of Trustees self-governing model set up 30 years ago is "not working well". School boards and principals are struggling with "too many responsibilities", he adds. 

"We believe that school boards really matter - they are the representatives of parents and children in the school system, but their role needs to be refocused on what is really important to parents." 

That includes student success and wellbeing, said Mr Haque, as well as the goals and purpose of the school and the person appointed to be principal. 

"Schools have been expected to operate in isolation for too long, without anywhere near enough professional and business support," he said. 

The report recommends the introduction of Education Hubs, which would be Crown entities, with minister-appointed directors. The hubs would partner with around 125 schools, and would assume many of the current governance responsibilities of boards of trustees.

The Education Hubs would:

  • provide teachers with curriculum and assessment support
  • provide leadership advice for principals
  • employ principals, but only with input from and approval from the Board of Trustees
  • be responsible for property matters, with an option to delegate this function back to schools
  • provide a complaints and advocacy service for parents and students, and dealing with school suspensions.

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.

Lynda Stuart, president of the Primary teachers union NZEI Te Riu Roa, said the most recent offer did not do enough to address the problems faced by teachers in the classroom. Education Minister Chris Hipkins even said he expected the ballot results. 

The taskforce report makes recommendations related to teacher education and supply, the establishment of a national leadership centre, better pathways for Kaupapa Māori settings, schooling provision and transitions between schools. 

It further recommends limits to out of zone enrolments, better disability and learning support, and the introduction of a more robust equity index to replace the current decile system.

The taskforce also found that there are overlaps in functions across the various central government agencies and recommends the introduction of an independent quality assurance agency - the Education Evaluation Office - to oversee the performance of the entire education system. 

It also recommends reconfiguring the Ministry of Education, and the disestablishment of NZQA and the Education Review Office, with Education Hubs taking responsibility for monitoring and reviewing schools.

"Everything in this report - every recommendation - is focused on improving the wellbeing and success of all children," Mr Haque said, "particularly those not well served by the education system."

"The success and wellbeing of our children must not become a political football."