Special character protection wanted in new education bill


Proprietors of integrated schools want change made to an Education (Update) Amendment Bill that, as it is currently worded, could weaken the special character of some schools.

In a submission to Parliament’s Education and Science Select Committee, the Association of Proprietors of Integrated Schools noted it had a particular interest in the “transmission of the Private Schools Conditional Integration Act 1975 into Part 33 of the Education (Update)
Amendment Bill”.

The submission notes that while section 33 of the bill reflects very closely the clauses of the PSCI Act, some significant nuances have not been picked up by drafters.

For instance, the PSCI Act provides that “ . . . where religious observance and religious instruction form part of the education with a special character provided by an integrated school, these shall continue to form part of the school programme”.

But the bill states that such religious observance and instruction “may” continue to be part of the school programme.

The submission states that the use of the word “may” is unacceptable. The term  “provides significantly less assurance for proprietors and the Crown in relation to
the special character of the school. It is important to proprietors that the right to
reflect education with a special character is mandatory, not optional”.

The submission calls for the use of the word “shall”, rather than “may” here.

The submission also recommends changes of wording of the bill concerning preference of enrolment, in which proprietors insist that the existing provisions in the PSCI Act are retained.

“The current statement in the PSCI Act has been understood and administered with certainty and the proposal to vary the provision opens up the possibility of testing the section,” the submission states.

The issue is a clause in the bill that uses the phrase “must be preferred to other children for enrolment at school”, instead of “shall have preference of enrolment for their children at the school” as in the PSCI Act.

The submission notes that senior Ministry of Education staff support what the submission proposes.

“The aim of all parties is to ensure that part 33 in no way changes or reduces the rights and protections that the PSCI Act affords state integrated schools,” the submission continued.

Because of time pressures, not all of the wording issues were able to be resolved before the bill was drafted, the submission added.

APIS and the ministry had entered into a memorandum of understanding whereby APIS agreed to take part in work leading to the placement of the PSCI Act in part 33 of the bill.

“We wish to publicly acknowledge the MOE staff for the excellent working relationship
sustained through this process,” the submission stated.

The PSCI Act is binding on the Crown.

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Michael Otto

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