For-profit groups may run charter schools pilot

Charter schools supremo Catherine Isaac has signalled her education pilot could be run by for-profit organisations.

Isaac is leading a working group to roll out a National-Act trial of two charter schools by next year.

The independent schools will receive the same per-child funding from the Government but are less tied to Education Ministry regulations.
The former Act president told the party's annual conference yesterday that "for profit" organisations are not allowed to run schools in the UK.

"That is being seen as a mistake and as something they want to change," Isaac said.

But she added: "You can't run a school as a business."

Parents would not be charged tuition fees, but the schools would be allowed to ask for donations.

Isaac was also seeking to rebrand the scheme. The description "charter schools" was loaded and used as a legal term.

"We want something cool and effective," she said.

"The word charter has got some connotations that ... include value judgments. And we want a fresh start here."

Although there had been "mixed results" from overseas schools, the "robust" model would be drawn from the best from existing schemes in England, Sweden and the US, she said.

South Auckland and Christchurch had been mooted for the pilot, but Isaac said the group was looking at other regions.

"What we want to do is look at the areas of greatest need ... there may be other areas where the need is greater, or the existing capacity is under pressure."
Isaac said New Zealand rated "very highly in the world for our performing students" but "very low for equity".

After 11 years of education, 20 per cent of students still left without level one NCEA. The "appalling" impact was the economic equivalent of 3 per cent of the country's GDP, she said.

But charter schools were "not a silver bullet", she said.

"A lot of other things are needed."

Isaac denied the trial was "an assault on teachers".

Once legislation was introduced to Parliament, the schools could be running by term one next year. Isaac said she would write to teacher unions – which have voiced strong opposition – this week.

Act's party conference, attended by around 80 people, had a strong theme of rejuvenation.

Sole MP John Banks said he wanted to lead a party "worthy of multiple seats in the next Parliament" after suffering a drubbing at least year's election.

But guest speaker Justine Troy, co-founder of vodka company 42 Below, warned the party was viewed as "roadkill" and had to rebrand.

"Act got ugly, to look at, I mean. Not only are you following some sorry, dated political branding formula, but you're doing it quite badly."

* An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Isaac had signalled her education pilot will not be run by for-profit organisations.

Sunday Star Times