What is “Tomorrow’s Schools”?
In 1989, the government introduced the Tomorrow’s Schools reforms, which meant all schools became much more independent, giving Boards power over almost all school decisions, including those to hire staff, make policy and manage school property.
Education minister Chris Hipkins says the legislation was good for the time, but a lot has changed in 30 years.
“It empowered local communities and modernised an overly bureaucratic system but also led over time to uneven outcomes between schools.”
Following an independent taskforce review into the system, the government will be making some changes to how some decisions are made for our schools.
What’s wrong with the current system?
The review, which occurred in two parts in 2018 and 2019 and was carried out by an independent taskforce, found that the “current system has failed to address the persistent disparities in educational outcomes and continues to leave some groups of learners/ākonga underserved”.
Hipkins says the groups that have been underserved are those already commonly disadvantaged in our societies.
“It’s been particularly challenging for Māori, Pacific peoples, and people with disabilities and additional learning needs. This is reflected in a 2018 UNICEF report ranking New Zealand 33rd out of 38 developed countries for overall educational equality.”
It also found that isolation of schools from central government played a huge role in the outcomes of a child’s education. The government’s review says the autonomy of the board-run system has “left schools to operate largely on their own and without sufficient support.”
The third finding highlighted by the taskforce was a lack of trust in the system. The review found parents and staff were sceptical of support from education agencies. It found some of this was “caused by a relative lack of ministry staﬀ at the front line, the need for stronger, more focused relationships with schools, and greater clarity about the respective roles in the sector,” stated the government review.
So what’s next then?
The government will start implementing some or all of the 52 actions proposed by the taskforce in charge of the review. One of the major changes will be the creation of an Education Service Agency (ESA) which will be in charge of school zoning and the planning of new school buildings.
With this change, the ministry hopes to stop schools from “manipulat[ing] the zone based on areas they may wish to take students from; for example, including high socio-economic neighbourhoods while excluding closer, yet more disadvantaged, neighbourhoods.”
Hipkins says the ESA will have a “strong local presence with new decision making and funding powers,” and “will provide central expertise and services, including new curriculum and leadership services” as part of a redesigned Ministry of Education.
Will the changes help Māori students?
Associate Minister of Education Kelvin Davis says the changes will support better outcomes for Māori students by “giving practical effect to Te Tiriti o Waitangi” and holding “the system to account to deliver more and better for Māori.”
Changes are occurring from the board level to the ministry level to increase outcomes for Māori students, including Board of Trustees being asked “to take all reasonable steps to eliminate racism, stigma, bullying and discrimination within their schools,” and developing advice from the Ministry of Education about how to strengthen Māori and iwi engagement in school governance by next June.
Is there much criticism towards the changes?
The changes are to be rolled out over the next five-to-10 years, so schools won’t see any dramatic shifts overnight, but National’s Education spokesperson Nikki Kaye says they’re a step too far.
“Some of the changes proposed by the taskforce including school zoning and school property management will marginalise parents and school boards and further reduce parental choice in education.
“Parents will have real concerns about the changes proposed around school enrolment zoning which will have a significant impact upon parental choice.”
She’s compared the implementation of the ESA to “rearranging the deck chairs” and expressed concern for ministry staff “who are now facing significant uncertainty around their jobs.”
There was also criticism for one of the initial proposed changes, which would have transferred many board responsibilities to “regional hubs”, or groups which looked after regions rather than individual schools.
The government rejected this suggestion after feedback from those within the education sector, including a 43-school, $20,000 campaign which was formed against the hubs by schools such as Auckland Grammar and Massey High School.