Charter schools no silver bullet - chief

JOHN HARTEVELT
Last updated 05:00 07/05/2012

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The architect of Britain's version of charter schools – who is now in charge of New Zealand's education system – is downplaying expectations for the initiative here.

In an interview with The Dominion Post, Education Secretary Lesley Longstone has also backed calls to develop performance pay for teachers.

Before taking over as education secretary late last year, Ms Longstone left a job in charge of setting up Britain's "free schools".

The "free schools", which are touted as the model for New Zealand's charter schools, were run by not-for-profit organisations and were "innovative in some aspect or other", Ms Longstone said.

They had flexibility over opening hours as well as curriculum.

However, New Zealand's school system already had a lot of flexibility over curriculum and governance was already decentralised, she said.

"Lots of schools in New Zealand have already got that charter relationship. This is about a different model of schooling within New Zealand that builds on the innovative."

A working group to set up charter schools in New Zealand has started work after the initiative was agreed as part of the confidence and supply agreement between ACT and National. ACT leader and Associate Education Minister John Banks has pushed for charter schools as a "one of the most exciting initiatives" to contribute to solving the so-called "long tail of underachievement".

But Ms Longstone said that the schools, planned initially for South Auckland and Christchurch, were no "silver bullet".

"We're talking about a very small number of schools and the challenges of the education system in New Zealand will not be addressed by a couple of schools.

"The biggest difference is the quality of the teaching. Ultimately, you can do lots of things, including charter schools, but if charter schools or any other schools haven't got really high quality teaching then you won't get the educational outcomes that we're looking for."

Education Minister Hekia Parata has indicated she is "very keen" to develop performance measures for teachers and start rewarding them accordingly.

Ms Longstone agreed it was "really important to recognise really excellent teaching practice". Top teaching should be rewarded and there should be clear career pathways.

"The key thing we have to understand is how well teachers are helping children progress. You can't just use the raw outcome data and say, they are good schools, they are bad schools and they are good teachers and they are bad teachers because many of these schools are starting from different starting points."

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- Fairfax Media

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