As the education sector emerges from a tumultuous few years, supporters of the Kahui Ako scheme insist it will be pivotal in helping teachers and students recover from the disruption of Covid-19
A Ministry of Education review into the contentious Kahui Ako scheme is drawing to an end, and one of the country’s biggest clusters says the programme is more important than ever as schools bear down with their own form of Long Covid.
The ministry, alongside teacher unions, is reviewing whether changes to the scheme’s structure and how it is funded, are required.
Changes could result in a shift in funding levels, which are currently just over $100 million each year.
Piritahi Kāhui Ako, based across Nelson and Marlborough, is made up of more than 20 schools as well as early childhood centres.
Co-lead and principal of Springlands School Gaylene Beattie said collaboration was crucial.
“Schools working together in a collaborative nature is really, really critical at the moment, not just for the students, but also for staff and principals to support each other as we negotiate the times we’re in.”
Another co-lead, Aaron Vercoe, agreed.
“Our wellbeing part of our strategic aims is really important because attendance falls into that category and as you’re probably aware, attendance is a big push across our country at the moment.
“So developing that and working together with schools – you can’t do that individually in silos, it doesn’t work.”
He said the close connections between schools in the region was crucial as students transitioned from primary, intermediate and high school.
“Even though students are displaying increased anxiety, we can focus on that and ensure that those children who have those additional needs when they transition between schools, that we know who they are, we know what’s working well for them, which agencies are involved.
“So when you transition, you’re not just starting from scratch – you can start where they left off.”
Communities of Learning began in 2014 under the then-National government’s Investing in Educational Success initiative.
It gave schools the opportunity to form a “community” with other nearby schools, kura or early childhood centres as a way to share resources, develop best practice models and measure achievement.
Each Kāhui Ako develops its own strategy, based on what goals it wants to achieve. Those leading the cluster, as well as across-school and within-school leads are also allocated funding to carry out the work.
For many, that funding has been written into their collective agreements.
Beattie said it had allowed for some big gains with regard to student achievement and wellbeing, despite the “fly in the ointment” pandemic.
But the Principals Federation warned it was not so seamless for all Kāhui Ako.
National president Cherie Taylor-Patel said about a third of the 220 groups were going well.
“It does need to be reviewed because it’s a lot of money that could be used differently.”
She said the idea of collaborating was good, but there was concern that money was being used up in the layers of leadership and could be better spent on teachers’ professional development and release time.
“It has grown middle leadership and brought people into leadership roles but it feels like it’s time for a review… it feels like the funding could be better spent.
“Post-Covid it’s a wonderful opportunity to focus on strategies to find gaps in learning. It’s an opportunity to review and restructure.”
NZEI Te Riu Roa president Liam Rutherford said there were definitely mixed views around Kāhui Ako.
“What we do hear from people across the board, is the need for greater levels of flexibility at that grassroots level.
“So the funding model is quite rigid and tends to drive a lot of the behaviour.
“A lot of the funding does tend to get tied up in allowances for people doing the roles and that’s at odds because what we hear time and time again, from particularly the primary and early childhood sector, is people are absolutely starved of time and so it doesn’t really make sense that you’re paying people these allowances that they don’t then have the time to be able to work alongside their colleagues.”
St Josephs’ School Timaru principal Carmel Brosnahan-Pye leads a cluster of five Catholic schools in the region and said while the system worked well for them, she welcomes the review.
“We’ve been able to access a lot of things collectively that would have taken a lot of time to access individually, like professional development for teachers.
“But it does makes it difficult when someone is getting paid for something. However, nobody’s that keen to take the job on because it’s over and above.”
Post Primary Teachers’ Association president Melanie Webber shared those concerns.
“There are some [Kāhui Ako] that are absolutely singing, but there are others that are not working as well and so we need to make sure that we’re sharing that best practice across.”
“PPTA would like to see more flexibility within the within-school teacher roles, for schools to have more discretion about how that funding is used.”
A separate piece of work within the review is looking at whether there is room for this.
Webber said this was due to be completed by the end of the year.
University of Auckland education lecturer Dr Kaye Twyford said the initiative was never going to be a quick fix.
“There are so many parts needed to make it successful, leadership, expertise, shifts in hearts and minds, resources, new roles and ways of working.
“Looking at the cost is only one factor to consider. What is the cost to learners if the funding stops? How will that money be used? How will we know?”
About three-quarters of schools are connected with a Kāhui Ako, however a moratorium on establishing new clusters was brought in in 2019.