A National Party-arranged public meeting on education reforms was held in the Upham House commons last Sunday.

The meeting comes shortly after Macleans partook in a coordinated lobbying campaign with 48 other schools, to oppose the draft recommendations for education reform proposed by an independent government taskforce.

The delayed meeting was held on the same day that public submissions on draft proposals from the Tomorrow’s Schools Review came to a close. The government-instigated taskforce recommended reducing school board responsibilities and repealing the school decile system. 

The meeting itself was unusually well-attended by its organisers with seven National MPs present.

Also present were local Howick councillors, Sharon Stewart and Paul Young. Those within the seated crowd also included Macleans’ Principal Steven Hargreaves, along with other local principals from Bucklands Beach Intermediate, Pigeon Mountain Primary and Owairoa Primary. Around 80-100 members of the public turned up for the event.

Once the meeting got underway, the draft recommendations around the introduction of “education hubs” were criticised by National’s education spokesperson and former Education Minister Nikki Kaye.

Speaking on education hubs, Kaye said, “some power [from the hubs] would be delegated back to principals, parents would be relegated … to an adviser status to the principals … they would be advising the principal in areas like well-being, achievement and curriculum.”

“These education hubs would be governed by a majority of political appointees — a lot of people are coming to my meetings, saying they want less politics in education and further agreement across the spectrum,” Kaye continued.

Kaye said National would offer its own education discussion document later this year, to “walk through some of what our solutions are around recruitment issues”.

“We are certainly working through the report in a measured way, we want to be constructive but we’re worried about this major structural change,” Kaye later continued.

However, the taskforce had made some positive recommendations such as increased learning support for struggling schools and increased funding, Kaye said.

In attendance were former cabinet ministers and current members Nikki Kaye and Judith Collins — as well as local MP for Pakuranga, Simeon Brown, Hunua MP Andrew Bayly, and list MP’s Jian Yang, Agnes Loheni, and Kanwaljit Bakshi.

Read more (article continues below):
Stuff (opinion): Education Hubs sensible and overdue
Newsroom: Tomorrow’s Schools and fear of a one-size-fits-all system
Newsroom: Tomorrow’s Schools: Beware equity over excellence
The Spinoff (opinion): I’m a school principal – here’s why I support the Tomorrow’s Schools changes

The lobbying efforts against the draft education reforms have become plagued by allegations of misinformation, with members of the taskforce now forcefully pushing back.

The taskforce’s Dr Cathy Wylie told RNZ’s Morning Report that schools are sending misleading parents in an interview on Tuesday.

“I think there are vested interests and it’s a shame because what we’re trying to suggest is something which we think is a learning system which is much more open and supportive of innovation,” said Wylie.

Read more (article continues below):
RNZ: Principal denies misinformation on education changes
Newsroom (opinion): Tomorrow when the war began

In response to an audience member concern about misinformation, Kaye responded sharply.

“I’ve been really careful, I’ve had the taskforce at a number of my meetings and I have been really careful with every single phrase that I use — they have specifically never said that I have ever provided misinformation because they know that a lot of what I’ve done has been checked with them,” Kaye asserted.

Bucklands Beach Intermediate principal Diane Parkinson speaking at the meeting said the review process was rushed, “[if the taskforce] left at a review and gave us time to look through the review and consider the actual details of the review. I do think we would’ve slowed the process, it is far too fast [at the moment]”

“I’ve also spoken with a person who is employed by the Ministry to review boards, and his perspective is that boards are not successful — and it’s almost like these people are seeing an outcome that they’re trying to prove through their information rather than stand back and go, is this really real across all schools?”

“Any review is great — slowing down the process, I think would be better. And if schools are working really well, then leave them for a little while and spend money on where the need is there, because there are schools that need more time, more support, more money, whatever that looks like”.

Read more (article continues below):
RNZ: Prominent Auckland schools unite to oppose education changes
NZ Herald: Schools launch $20,000-plus campaign against Tomorrow’s Schools reforms

Kaye said her intention behind the public meetings she had held were to “make sure [the public’s] voice is heard through this process” — of which she has held 70 across the country, according to National.

As a sign of some school’s dissatisfaction with the recommendations, the “Community Schools Alliance” was formed with the support of 48 principals including all of those who attended Sunday’s meeting. The group purchased two full-page newspaper ads and is currently running advertising on Facebook opposing the taskforce recommendations.

The public meeting came as the May deadline gets closer for the taskforce to submit their final recommendations to the Education Minister Chris Hipkins.

Read more about the proposed education reforms:
NZ Govt: Tomorrow’s Schools Review — Full report and summary
Stuff: What is an Education Hub? Unpicking the new vision for NZ’s school system

Written by Justin Hu, published on 09/04/2019. Images: The Collegian, Judith Collins

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