School sys­tem needs change, and here’s why

Nelson Mail - - Opinion - Bali Haque

The To­mor­row’s Schools In­de­pen­dent Task­force spent al­most six months look­ing at the ev­i­dence and held over 200 meet­ings all over the coun­try. So is our current education sys­tem still rel­e­vant? Does it work for you as a par­ent or school board mem­ber? Does it meet the needs of our chil­dren to­day?

We found that education is highly val­ued but, for ev­ery child to have the abil­ity to achieve well, we need to change our school­ing sys­tem.

Based on what we have heard and re­searched, we have con­cluded that:

❚ our com­pul­sory education sys­tem’s over­all per­for­mance is plateau­ing or de­clin­ing in com­par­i­son with other coun­tries;

❚ we have se­ri­ous na­tional eq­uity is­sues;

❚ far too many of our chil­dren are poorly served by the sys­tem;

❚ our schools and school­ing sys­tem need to change with pace to re­main rel­e­vant.

The chal­lenge we have is that our gov­er­nance sys­tem does not have an in­te­grated ‘‘local layer’’ of pro­fes­sional and busi­ness sup­port for schools – com­pa­ra­ble, suc­cess­ful education sys­tems around the world do. This then af­fects the out­comes of stu­dents’ suc­cess and well­be­ing.

Ev­ery one of our al­most 2500 boards and prin­ci­pals must in­di­vid­u­ally shoulder busi­ness re­spon­si­bil­i­ties such as prop­erty projects, em­ploy­ment, and health and safety. These re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, which many find time-con­sum­ing and oner­ous, of­ten pre­vent boards and prin­ci­pals from fo­cus­ing on their core re­spon­si­bil­i­ties: the teach­ing, learn­ing and wel­fare of chil­dren.

The task­force be­lieves the lack of an in­te­grated local sup­port sys­tem has also meant that, over the years, teach­ers and prin­ci­pals have not been pro­vided with enough sys­tem­atic pro­fes­sional sup­port in their teach­ing and lead­er­ship roles.

This ap­proach has con­trib­uted to a grow­ing frag­men­ta­tion across com­mu­ni­ties, with ad­van­taged schools and com­mu­ni­ties, act­ing in their own self-in­ter­est, ben­e­fit­ing most, at the ex­pense of the less-ad­van­taged.

To ad­dress these is­sues, the task­force has rec­om­mended a re­fo­cus of boards of trus­tees and the es­tab­lish­ment of about 20 local education hubs through­out the coun­try, with all current Min­istry of Education regional of­fices be­ing dis­es­tab­lished.

We be­lieve that current school boards are hard­work­ing, com­mit­ted and pas­sion­ate, but want to fo­cus on what most be­lieve to be their core roles:

❚ de­vel­op­ing spe­cific strate­gic and an­nual plans to re­flect the pri­or­i­ties of the school com­mu­nity and max­imise stu­dent suc­cess and well­be­ing;

❚ de­cid­ing on and mon­i­tor­ing the goals, purpose and char­ac­ter of their school;

❚ ap­point­ing the prin­ci­pal;

❚ ad­vis­ing the prin­ci­pal on local cur­ricu­lum and as­sess­ment mat­ters.

Education hubs, work­ing col­lab­o­ra­tively with their com­mu­ni­ties, would pro­vide:

❚ a mech­a­nism to re­lieve boards of their more time­con­sum­ing busi­ness re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, so they can fo­cus on their core role, while en­sur­ing they, and the prin­ci­pal, are in­volved in key de­ci­sions;

❚ much-needed pro­fes­sional, cur­ricu­lum, as­sess­ment and lead­er­ship sup­port for teach­ers and prin­ci­pals;

❚ sup­port for some schools, if they re­quire it, in man­ag­ing their care­tak­ing, ac­count­ing and pro­cure­ment pro­cesses.

Schools wish­ing to re­tain con­trol of their ma­jor prop­erty projects could do so if they have the re­quired ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

The task­force ex­pects that hubs would be rel­a­tively small Crown agen­cies, and would be gov­erned and led by ed­u­ca­tion­al­ists and busi­ness per­son­nel. The hubs would for­mally em­ploy (and man­age the per­for­mance of) prin­ci­pals, but boards would form half of the ap­point­ments panel and have fi­nal ap­proval rights of the ap­point­ment.

Prin­ci­pals would be em­ployed by hubs on an on­go­ing ba­sis and placed on five-year con­tracts to par­tic­u­lar schools. This would al­low lead­er­ship ex­per­tise to be shared and pro­fes­sional growth to be sup­ported, but would not in any way ex­clude the pos­si­bil­ity of mul­ti­ple five-year re­newals.

Hubs would for­mally em­ploy teach­ers, but the en­tire se­lec­tion, in­ter­view and ap­point­ment process (and per­for­mance man­age­ment) would be the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the prin­ci­pal. Teach­ers would not be on fixed-term con­tracts.

The task­force rec­om­mends that prin­ci­pals con­tinue to have re­spon­si­bil­ity for their school op­er­a­tional grant and staffing en­ti­tle­ments, much as they cur­rently do. They would also con­tinue to be re­spon­si­ble for all local cur­ricu­lum and as­sess­ment mat­ters in the school.

We are pleased that most re­ac­tion to the re­port to date from key stake­holder groups has been pos­i­tive. This is not to say, of course, that these groups nec­es­sar­ily sup­port all of the in­di­vid­ual rec­om­men­da­tions, which are far-reach­ing.

It is im­por­tant that peo­ple are clear about ex­actly what we are propos­ing, and why.

The full re­port is avail­able at https:/ /con­ver­sa­tion.education.govt.nz/con­ver­sa­tions/ to­mor­rows-schools-re­view, and is out for con­sul­ta­tion un­til April 7.

Our over­all per­for­mance is plateau­ing or de­clin­ing com­pared with other coun­tries.

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