Tomorrow's Schools review: Government rejects 'disruptive' Education Hubs idea

A proposal to reorganise New Zealand's education system into "Education Hubs" has been rejected by the Government as "too disruptive".

The proposal, announced in December last year by the Independent Taskforce Tomorrow's Schools, was to establish 20 hubs across the country, each responsible for the governance of 125 schools in their area.

The hubs would have been Crown entities and taken some of the responsibilities of Boards of Trustees, including having control over student suspensions and employing school principals.

There was concern at the time that the proposal would "disempower parents" by having responsibilities transferred to "bureaucrats", National MP Nikki Kaye said in December last year. 

Almost a year on, the Government has rejected the idea, describing it as "too disruptive and a distraction from dealing with the issues facing our learners, teachers and school leaders".

"Instead, we think that the intent of the taskforce's recommendations can be achieved through changes to our existing structures - including the establishment of an Education Service Agency (ESA) within the Ministry of Education."

The establishment of an ESA is one of a number of ways the Government plans to further support schools, which will influence how its annual $9.5 billion schooling budget is spent.

The taskforce's interim report also recommended scrapping intermediate schools but the prospect has completely disappeared from the Government's plans.

National leader Simon Bridges described the Government's announcement as a "humiliating back-down from [Education Minister] Chris Hipkins".

He said it was "always mad to think that you could take away local control... Boards of Trustees with principals, with teachers; it was never going to fly".

Education Minister Chris Hipkins.
Education Minister Chris Hipkins. Photo credit: Newshub
  • the Ministry of Education will be "redesigned" to provide new curriculum and leadership services
  • new independent dispute panels will be set up for parents and students
  • there will be more support for principals and teachers through a new centre of leadership
  • the management of property will be transferred from boards to the Ministry of Education
  • school enrolment zones will be "managed locally" instead of by each school
  • more frontline support is planned for schools through the ESA

"The changes we are setting out today acknowledge that the way schools are led and supported continues to work well in many cases," the Education Minister said. 

"This is not about more centralised decision-making or smothering schools that already perform well. It's about making pragmatic and workable improvements that we believe can gain broad support."

The new ESA will be based within the Ministry of Education and will focus on delivering more "local support by delivering functions relevant to the needs of teachers, leaders, students, whānau and their wider communities".

It would also be responsible for - at a regional level - developing a new enrolment scheme, or modifying the existing one.

The taskforce said in its report that limits need to be set on school enrolment to reduce competition, and that the ultimate goal was to reach a point where parents send their children to their local school.

The Ministry of Education is responsible for determining the final form and function of the ESA and will report back to the minister with more detailed proposals.

It's been 30 years since the Tomorrow's Schools reforms of 1989, and the minister said the Government knows that the current education system is under-serving some learners.

He said he hopes that the Government's new plans will help to deal with persistent inequities for Māori and Pacific, as well as for students with disabilities and learning support needs, and those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

"In making the decisions we have, the Government has listened to thousands of voices across the length and breadth of New Zealand," he said.

"The changes announced today are carefully considered to combine the strengths that come from empowered local communities with a stronger, better-connected and less-bureaucratic overall system that can make every school in New Zealand a great school to go to."

The Government press release says the funding implications of the changes will need to be considered over the next three to four Budgets.