Charter schools can set curriculum

ANDREA VANCE
Last updated 05:00 02/06/2012

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Charter schools will have "greater flexibility" to set their own class sizes than those in the state sector, the businesswoman leading the trial says.

The terms of reference for how the Government's controversial education pilot will operate have been released – as the backlash over moves to increase class sizes grows.

The document outlines the model for charter schools, which will be publicly funded per child but run by businesses or non-profit organisations. It confirms they will have freedom from some Education Ministry regulations, be able to set their own teaching practice, and will not have to stick to the national curriculum. NZEI president Ian Leckie says this will free them from complying with National Standards.

NZ Model of Charter School Working Group chairwoman Catherine Isaac said: "The child that goes to a charter school receives exactly the same funding that a child that goes to a regular school [gets]. The difference is that the principal of a charter school would have more flexibility over how to use the funding."

Because charter schools will have more ability to raise money they will have greater flexibility to pay staff and set lower class sizes.

State schools are free to set class sizes but have struggled to raise enough to pay for more teachers.

The terms of reference reveal schools can set their own curriculum, which must be approved by "an authorising body" – most likely the Education Ministry.

"Obviously, anything that wouldn't stack up wouldn't be approved," Ms Isaac said. The working group has already received "a large number" of expressions of interest – including two in Christchurch this week, she said. The pilot schools could be open by 2014.

However, Greens education spokeswoman Catherine Delahunty said the Government was planning to spend millions setting up schools that would compete with those in the state sector.

"The money being spent on charter schools would be far better spent keeping teacher-pupil ratios as they are."

If charter schools were not following the New Zealand curriculum then National Standards would not be a relevant set of achievement standards, Mr Leckie said.

"The Government has repeatedly argued that National Standards are embedded in the New Zealand curriculum and that its levels are linked to the levels within the curriculum," he said.

"The Government must clarify whether the operating licences of charter schools are required to include National Standards targets."

He expressed concern the terms of reference – which allows schools to set their own teaching practice – would allow unqualified teachers to be employed. The union would oppose moves to amend the Education Act to allow charter schools to "employ unqualified teachers, adopt unfair performance pay systems, pick and choose students or make a profit at the expense of children's learning".

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A spokesman for Education Minister Hekia Parata said the working group was still working on its report. "Until we receive that, no decisions will be made."

- The Dominion Post

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