Charter school bill gets big response

CHARLEY MANN AND HAMISH RUTHERFORD
Last updated 05:00 25/01/2013

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Close to 2000 submissions have been lodged with the Government opposing changes to the Education Act that would legalise charter schools.

The Post Primary Teachers' Association (PPTA) and the New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI) joined forces last month to advertise in newspapers for submissions to the Education Amendment Bill.

At the close of submissions yesterday, the NZEI and PPTA had received more than 1700 online submissions, on top of the hundreds of individual submissions the organisations were aware of.

The unions said charter schools could accidentally employ criminals and paedophiles because untrained and unregistered teachers could work in the schools.

"Observing how criminals and paedophiles are able to evade the current monitoring regime, parents will quite rightly wonder what logic entertains the conclusion that their children will be safer if the registration protections are stripped out entirely," the PPTA said.

The Ministry of Education told The Press: "Any potential employees of partnership schools would be required to undergo reference and police vetting checks."

The unions said charter schools would not be subject to public scrutiny or auditing, despite being publicly funded.

The PPTA and NZEI are also opposed to changes to double-bunking and search and seizure rules.

Double-bunking, introduced in Christchurch after the February 2011 earthquake, is where pupils from two schools share one site in shifts.

The PPTA said it was not regarded as successful, noting the unsociable school hours and lack of cultural and sporting programmes.

The unions said changes to school search powers could increase suspensions and expulsions.

They did not want to see "police-like" powers in schools, but called for sensible guidelines to search pupils suspected of hiding weapons, offensive material or drugs, the ability to drug test pupils and to allow sniffer dogs to search school property.

The ministry said the bill did not dilute any school powers, but clarified what they could do.

PPTA president Robin Duff told TV1's Breakfast that despite the large number of submissions, he had no faith in the select committee process, given that the Government was already seeking contact with groups wanting to run charter schools.

"The fact that already applications are being put out for groups and individuals to express interest in these schools, suggests to some extent this is a foregone conclusion," Duff said.

"Given that the legislation needs to be through [Parliament] probably by about June or July if schools are going to be set up next year, it’s going to be interesting to see, and time will tell, whether this was really a sham case."

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Duff said he hoped the select committee would be able to travel to Auckland and Christchurch, as well as at Parliament, to hear submissions.

"Our suspicion is that these [hearings] are going to be cut down, cut back and the debate is effectively stifled as possible."

- The Press

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