The much-anticipated review of Tomorrow’s Schools has resulted in a call for widespread changes to the way schools are governed. Laura Walters reports on the recommendations aimed at creating a fairer system for all Kiwi students.

The Tomorrow’s Schools review – the first in 30 years – paints a damning picture of New Zealand’s current education system, which is not working well enough, particularly for the most disadvantaged Kiwi kids.

The report released on Tuesday follows eight months of inquiry by the independent taskforce and calls for transformation of the way schools are governed, in order to lift student achievement.

This includes doing away with many of the powers and responsibilities currently held by school boards, and instead creating local education hubs to help with school governance and oversight of outcomes.

The taskforce also recommends doing away with NZQA and the Education Review Office (ERO) and instead creating an Education Evaluation office (EEO) to act as an oversight body and report directly to the Government.

Yet again, there are calls to get rid of the broken decile system, and replace it with a less-blunt equity measurement tool.

The widespread changes are aimed at doing away with the harmful competition between individual schools, and removing responsibilities from boards and principals, which stops them focusing solely on education, learning and wellbeing outcomes for all students.

New Zealand students do well in some outcome measures and many – about 70 percent – of students do well at school.

However, there is a large gap between those at the top and those at the bottom.

The report says the current system is not working well enough for New Zealand’s most disadvantaged children.

“This is not fair or just. It costs all of us when the system does not deliver for everyone. Conversely, when we get it right there will be substantial economic and social benefits for us all.”

The report says there is no evidence to suggest the current self-governing schools model has been successful in raising student achievement or improving equity as intended.

In fact, the performance of students has plateaued and in some areas deteriorated, while the gap between the best performing and worst performing students has widened.

Taskforce chair Bali Haque said the current system did not work for Māori, Pasifika, new migrants or those with additional learning needs.

The report provided a detailed picture of the very serious equity and performance challenges schools faced and how the system needed to change, Haque said.

“If we get it right and address the systemic problems we face, the economic and social benefits for us all will be substantial, and we will have an education system which is well placed to prepare all our children for the (uncertain) future ahead.”

The taskforce homed in on eight key issues, and made a total of 31 recommendations.

Education hubs

Haque said the board of trustees self-governing model set up 30 years ago was not working well.

Boards and principals struggled to shoulder too many responsibilities, many of which were not central to teaching and learning, and the success and wellbeing of children.

A system of almost 2500 autonomous schools had also created unhealthy competition between schools and made it difficult to tackle system-wide problems, and address broader societal issues, including bullying and self-harm, as a community.

The taskforce recommended establishing 125 education hubs – as crown entities – throughout the country, which would be responsible for many of the current governance responsibilities of boards of trustees. The heads of the hubs would be appointed by the minister.

This would include providing leadership advice for principals, curriculum and assessment support for teachers, property matters, school suspensions, and the complaints process. The hubs would also work with the board to appoint school principals on five-year terms.

The hubs would work with all schools in the community, to provide professional and business support services.

They would provide a network for the wider schooling community, encouraging collaboration across schools, and ensuring the needs of all children in the community are met, Haque said.

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

This would leave boards free to focus on student success and wellbeing, the goals and purpose of the school and the person appointed to be principal.

This would also leave the principal free to focus on learning, teaching and wellbeing outcomes in the schools, as well as appointing teachers.

One of the hubs would be set up to focus on kaupapa Māori settings.

Deciles and competition

Both sides of the political divide have long criticised the blunt decile rating tool used for schools.

The review found the current equity funding system was “too imprecise and not fit for purpose”.

The amount of equity funding that is delivered to New Zealand schools is approximately half that of comparable OECD countries, and primary schools receive about half the management staffing of secondary schools.

The current funding formula also disadvantages small schools.

The taskforce recommends implementing a new equity index as soon as possible – prioritised for the most disadvantaged schools.

It is also calling for equity resourcing to be increased to a minimum of 6 percent of total resourcing and applied across operational, staffing and property formulas. Best practice in the use of equity funding by schools would be shared across education hubs.

It says the current decile system is also currently used as a proxy for school quality, adding to the unhealthy competition between schools, promoted by the self-governing model.

This competition has also affected the ability of some families and whanau to exercise choice.

Where schools are encouraged to compete for students, rather than collaborate, it hurts the most disadvantaged students, and in some cases schools have unfairly, and sometimes illegally, prevented local students enrolling.

The review recommends enrolment schemes that would be signed off by education hubs, in order to make sure they were fair and equitable.

The should also be limits placed on schools recruiting out-of-zone students, and a limit on donations schools may request, it says.

Changes to government agencies

The taskforce found there are overlaps between government agencies, which causes confusion and stands in the way of efficiency and best-practice.

The report recommends the introduction of an independent quality assurance agency – the Education Evaluation Office – to oversee the performance of the entire education system.

The EEO would also oversee the performance of the education hubs.

It also recommends reconfiguring the Ministry of Education, and the disestablishing 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, particularly those not well served by the education system,” Haque said.

“To achieve a transformative change in our education system that meets the requirements of children now and well into the future, we need to work collectively over a sustained period of time and this in particular requires cross party support. We very much hope this can be achieved. We need to build a high trust education system, and this will require us all to work together.”

The success and wellbeing of children must not become a political football, he said.

The far-reaching review comes as the Government also carries out a review of NZQA, following the introduction of the Government’s fees-free policy, and the end of National Standards.

The report is out for consultation until April next year.

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