One teacher’s response to NACT’s Charter Schools

A guest post by N0rdy.

The concept of charter schools is completely irrelevant to the NZ education context.

A couple of years ago I visited schools in the UK to investigate innovative practice in teaching and learning. I visited independent (what they call ‘public’ schools), state and academy schools (these are the equivalent of the charter schools in the US, controversially brought in by the Blair Government and about to be extended by the Tories.)

The two academy schools which I visited in highly underprivileged areas were extraordinary. They had inspirational leaders, who had developed school-based curriculum programmes which were relevant to the students in their schools. The focus was on students developing their learning capacity rather than content. Much of the learning was cross-curricular and self-directed. The students were highly engaged in their learning.  A range of clever interventions were used to keep students on track with their learning. This included heavy involvement of parents in their kids’ learning. Restorative practices were being successfully utilised in place of heavy-handed discipline.

How had this been possible? The UK state school system is highly centralised (and the US system is even worse). There are several layers of national and regional education bureaucracy which control school budgets, appointments and resources. The curriculum they implement is highly prescriptive, emphasising the specific content and skills which have to be covered at each level in each school. By allowing communities to run their schools for themselves, charter/academy schools bypass the education authorities and develop their own curriculum and approaches. But, how will Charter Schools function in New Zealand? Through Lange’s ‘Tomorrow’s Schools’ Reforms, we had our education revolution in the late 1980s. The Department of Education was abolished, and the regional education boards scrapped. Boards of Trustees have their own charters by which they govern the schools their kids attend, they employ staff, set budgets and make all the key decisions about the school. Additionally, during the term of the Clark Government, a new curriculum was developed which gave schools incredible autonomy to develop learning programmes which meet their needs of the students. It is the envy of the world.

In short, we already have a highly autonomous school system. (This is why teachers have been so opposed to the National [Party] Standards which force teachers to move away from student-centred and interdisciplinary approaches enabled by the curriculum to focus solely on the teacher instruction on reading and writing.)

Banks, Key and Parata are twenty years late on this one. We have problems in New Zealand schools, but a lack of independence from centralised control is not one of them.  They have shown that in education they have no ideas of their own by importing a solution to a problem in the UK and the USA which doesn’t exist here.

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