How would ed­u­ca­tion hubs op­er­ate?

The Timaru Herald - - FRONT PAGE -

‘‘Ed­u­ca­tion hubs’’ have been mooted as a so­lu­tion to is­sues in the school sys­tem – but how would they work?

A rad­i­cal new re­port has rec­om­mended re­plac­ing re­gional Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion of­fices with the hubs, which would take over most of the pow­ers held by school boards of trus­tees.

The To­mor­row’s Schools task­force wants 20 hubs to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for the big stuff: prop­erty, em­ploy­ment, ad­vi­sory ser­vices, pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment, and al­lo­cat­ing Gov­ern­ment fund­ing, leav­ing schools to fo­cus on ed­u­ca­tion.

The hubs would be in charge of about about 125 re­gion­ally-grouped schools each.

Ap­pointed by the Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter, the hubs would be in­de­pen­dent but mon­i­tored by the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion.

In short, they would be the mid­dle­man be­tween the Gov­ern­ment and in­di­vid­ual schools.

Mean­while, school boards would keep re­spon­si­bil­ity for things like stu­dent achieve­ment and com­mu­nity en­gage­ment.

Boards would likely have a veto or fi­nal ap­proval rights over prin­ci­pals – who would be ap­pointed by their hub on a five-year con­tract – and could ask for con­trol over some or all of their prop­erty fund­ing. But that is about it.

Teach­ers unions the New Zealand Ed­u­ca­tional In­sti­tute and the Post Pri­mary Teach­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion wel­comed the ‘‘bold’’ pro­pos­als.

The New Zealand School Trus­tees’ As­so­ci­a­tion (NZSTA) was cau­tiously op­ti­mistic. Pres­i­dent Lor­raine Kerr liked the idea of let­ting school boards gov­ern on the com­mu­nity’s be­half without be­com­ing tied up in ‘‘busi­ness’’ ac­tiv­i­ties that trus­tees were not al­ways ca­pa­ble of han­dling.

She felt the re­port would not have gone far enough if it did not make peo­ple un­com­fort­able.

But ‘‘the devil will be in the de­tails’’ , and the new sys­tem’s suc­cess would de­pend on gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials sup­port­ing and not ‘‘se­cond guess­ing’’ ed­u­ca­tion providers, she said.

Dig­i­tal ed­u­ca­tion ex­pert Frances Val­in­tine called the hubs idea ‘‘odd’’, com­par­ing them to the health sys­tem’s dis­trict health boards.

‘‘Put­ting in an­other layer with an ed­u­ca­tion hub is just go­ing to slow things down, add cost and com­plex­ity,’’ she said.

Val­in­tine said it made more sense for min­istry of ed­u­ca­tion staff al­ready work­ing in re­gional of­fices to do the hub work.

‘‘I imag­ine they just need to change some rules about how those en­ti­ties per­form,’’ she said. SO HOW WILL THEY WORK The per­son be­hind the To­mor­row’s Schools task­force, chair­man Bali Haque, says the hubs were not ‘‘a man­age­rial layer on top of ev­ery­thing’’ but a sup­port mech­a­nism for schools and fam­i­lies.

The hubs would be made up of a small num­ber of di­rec­tors ap­pointed by the min­is­ter of ed­u­ca­tion.

Half would be ed­u­ca­tors – prin­ci­pals, ex­prin­ci­pals and ed­u­ca­tion con­sul­tants – and the rest would be iwi rep­re­sen­ta­tives and ‘‘busi­ness peo­ple, peo­ple who un­der­stand or­gan­i­sa­tional change’’, Haque said.

Some could cover large geo­graphic ar­eas where the pop­u­la­tion was widely dis­persed.

A sep­a­rate na­tional hub would ser­vice kura kau­papa Ma¯ori (Ma¯ori im­mer­sion schools).

Haque said the size and com­po­si­tion of hubs would de­pend on their lo­ca­tion: A hub in South Auck­land would look dif­fer­ent to a hub ser­vic­ing ru­ral schools.

‘‘We don’t want a sit­u­a­tion where a hub is re­spon­si­ble for a geo­graphic area where they don’t know what’s hap­pen­ing in that school,’’ he said.

The min­is­ter of ed­u­ca­tion would be able to dis­miss poorly-per­form­ing hub di­rec­tors, the task­force’s re­port says.

The minu­tiae – how many di­rec­tors each hub has, who they will be, and some of the hubs’ func­tions – would be ironed out af­ter con­sul­ta­tion closes on April 7.

Asked why there were no elected po­si­tions on the hubs, Haque said they were about bet­ter or­gan­i­sa­tion, ‘‘not about rep­re­sent­ing schools’’.

He re­jected the sug­ges­tion the hubs would be sim­i­lar to dis­trict health boards, or the re­gional ed­u­ca­tion boards that pre-dated the To­mor­row’s Schools re­forms of the 1980s. He said it would take three to five years to make the rec­om­men­da­tions re­al­ity.

‘‘We’re in this for the long haul,’’ he said. "Our view is that ed­u­ca­tion can no longer be a po­lit­i­cal foot­ball.’’

- Ad­di­tional re­port­ing by Katie Kenny

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