PROGRESSING THE AMENDMENT BILL THROUGH THE HOUSE

The Select Committee has read and heard submissions on the Education Amendment Bill 77-1, and has reported back for Parliament for the House, recommending by majority that the Bill be passed with just a few amendments.  The Committee was comprised of 5 government members and 5 non-government (Labour, Greens, NZ First) members.  Below I compare our NCWNZ submission with the recommendations of the Select Committee, and noting the views of individual parties.

Charter/Partnership Schools – Kura Hourua

In the NCWNZ submission I summarised our member’s views like this:

Approximately 70% of the NCWNZ members who responded to the Bill do not support the introduction of kura hourua partnership schools. In general, NCWNZ members see provision of education as the responsibility of government, a service to be provided by the government for the public good and not a commodity to be traded, with democratically elected Boards of Trustees who are accountable to the community. The involvement of third parties is seen to introduce unwelcome motives to the provision of education, often a profit motive. Fully qualified and registered teachers are seen to be essential by almost all of the members responding. A large number of members suggested that flexibility for alternative approaches is already possible under the existing legislation and that more could be made of this instead of introducing a new model for which the evidence of results is unclear. There was strong support for also addressing economic and social factors as a way of improving educational achievement.

The Select Committee voted by a majority to proceed with these schools, with amendments being made to allow the Ombudsmen some jurisdiction in specific areas and a procedure for complaints against the school to be set up.  The Opposition parties all recorded their minority views on this in the Select Committee report.  The absence of requirements to employ registered teachers was opposed by all three opposition parties.  Labour stated that they do not support the introduction of such schools and that they “reserve the right to impose additional contractual obligations on any partnership schools established, such as a requirement to employ registered teachers and the removal of exemption from the Official Information Act 1982” should they become the government in the future.  The Green Party “consider that the establishment of this new class of publicly funded but unaccountable school is a deliberate attempt to extend the privatisation of the public school system into the primary sector” and do not support the Bill, almost in its entirety. The NZ First Party first “acknowledge[d] that of [the 2,193] submitters 2,100 were opposed to the creation of partnership schools kura hourua, 62 were in support of partnership schools, and approximately 31 remained silent on this specific issue inside their submissions.”  They then went on to state that they “do not believe that the application of partnership schools kura hourua as developed in this Amendment Bill will achieve this goal for either the suggested target student body or the country as a whole. As a consequence, … [we] will oppose the bill upon its return to the House.”  However it should also be noted that the recommendation that these provisions be accepted (with amendments) was passed by a majority vote because NZ First voted for it.

Surrender and Retention of Property

NCWNZ members generally supported the provisions regarding surrender and retention.  The greatest amount of recommended amendments referred to this area of the Bill, intended to clarify what schools may or may not do.  Amendments would allow the Boards of Trustees to authorise non-teachers who are employed by the school (e.g. guidance counsellors) to exercise these powers; to require a student to remove outer clothing or hand over a bag for searching; to require searches to be carried out with sensitivity and due regard to student privacy and decency; to allow schools to encourage (but not require) voluntary drug programmes which involve testing of bodily samples; to allow drug dogs to search school property but not students; and to require the Secretary of Education to issue rules and guidelines which schools must take into account when developing their own policies and procedures.  NZ First and Labour both generally support these amendments, with NZ First in their minority report calling it “good work” and Chris Hipkins stating in the Red Alert blog (blog.labour.org.nz, 12 April) that “as a committee we spent a lot of time debating these issues, and I think the position we reached is sensible. Schools have a very difficult job balancing the rights of individual students with the rights of all students and staff to work in a safe environment. The clearer the rules and guidelines are, the easier it will be for schools to tread that fine line appropriately.”  However the Greens Party, in their Select Committee minority report feel that “while we agree that a school must be a safe place for students and teachers we do not believe the additional powers  in the bill can be justified. … Too many of the boundaries of the search powers are left to the Ministry to develop and this makes the law unclear and in our view unworkable.”

Other aspects of the Bill

NCWNZ members had mixed views on multiple timetabling in schools and on the allocation of student numbers to early childhood (although they felt that such numbers should be applied universally or not at all).  Members also did not generally feel that the statement on educational achievement as a Board requirement was necessary, nor was leasing of crown land to third parties for early childhood centres supported by members.  However, all of these aspects were recommended by the Committee to be passed. Labour, in their minority report, stated their opposition to leasing of crown land to developers, instead favouring community owned and operated services.

This has been my first submission on behalf of NCWNZ, and I am very interested in the process as the Bill wends its way through Parliament, especially to see how much – or not – the government listens to the ‘people’.  The Bill now gets its second reading and the next debate in the House will be a detailed, clause by clause debate.  We wait and see…

Suzanne Manning

NCWNZ Education Convenor

Education and Science Committee Report on Education Amendment Bill 77-2 is available here: http://www.parliament.nz/mi-NZ/PB/SC/Documents/Reports/a/7/f/50DBSCH_SCR5823_1-Education-Amendment-Bill-77-2.htm

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