Integrated schools have say on reform report

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The Association of Proprietors of Integrated Schools (APIS) has strongly opposed many of the recommendations that came out of a review of this country’s state and state-integrated school system.

In a 10-page submission on the report “Our Schooling Futures: Stronger Together” done by the Tomorrow’s Schools Review Independent Taskforce and submitted to Government, APIS stated it supported the review’s aim to
raise achievement and ensure equity for students.

But it disagreed with the notion promoted in the report that changes to school governance are needed to change learning — rather, “teacher engagement has biggest impact on learning”. Inspiring teachers should be prepared, supported and incentivised to teach in areas that require greater engagement, the APIS submission proposed.

The submission expressed disappointment that the voice of APIS proprietors “was not considered important in the composition of the design group” in the review, although the APIS chief executive was part of a larger reference group. (Integrated schools, including Catholic ones, make up 11.4 per cent of the schooling system).

This lack of a voice resulted in a report “that shows limited understanding of the legislation, its operation and the way it supports the relationship between integrated schools and the Crown”.

“APIS has real concerns about the lack of detail and understanding of state-integrated schools in the report. APIS believes that the proposed changes show little understanding of the Integration Act and its intention in creating a partnership with the Crown,” the submission concluded.

“Without much more clarity, APIS believes that the recommended administrative change cannot be implemented in integrated schools.”

The submission, sent by APIS CEO Paul Ferris, warned that the protection within current education legislation for integrated schools “would provide the basis for legal challenge if the impact of the proposed changes were to threaten or change the relationship the Crown has with the proprietor”.

Concern was also expressed about the impact on state-integrated schools of proposed education hubs (which would assume most of the powers of school boards of trustees), with each hub covering an average of 125 state
and state-integrated schools. Particularly problematic are the proposals for principal employment, property and board

“APIS strongly opposes the creation of hubs,” the submission stated.

While boards, under what the review proposes, would have a power of veto over principal appointments, the hubs would employ the principal, on a five year term, and ensure performance management.

The APIS submission noted that the principal has “a significant role in maintaining and contributing to the [integrated] school’s special character”. As such, “principal appointment is a critical task. . .”.

“Devolving the responsibility for the employment of principal and staff threatens the legal right of the proprietor
to protect special character and changes the nature of the partnership agreement that the Crown has with the proprietor because it makes the proprietor’s involvement
more remote.”

The submission noted that five-year contracts for principals were tried in 1998 and were found to be a disincentive for people to become principals. Given current shortages of candidates for such positions, it is important further barriers are not created, the submission noted.

On the proposed changes to boards of trustees’ roles, the submission observed that the review report “fails to recognise the right of the proprietor in participating in the governance of a school , the right to participate in the appointment of tagged staff and the right to continue to review and monitor engagement around the expectations of a tag”.

“This right is lost if the responsibility for appointment, employment and appraisal is devolved to a hub.”

To help support under-governed or non-performing schools, it was recommended that a group of professionals be formed who work full-time in schools with statutory powers, managing a group of schools until they are ready for self-governance.

The submission called for increased funding for the education sector, investment in teachers to build their “capacity to engage”, investment in leader preparation
and support for school leaders.

The submission also critiqued the review report’s recommendations on student behaviour management, school provision, competition and choice (concern
was expressed about “envisaged changes to a parent’s ability to choose a special character education for their
child”), enrolment zones (which, the submission stated, should continue to reflect special character provision) and
school donations, as well as other topics.

It was also noted that, while APIS did not support bringing in education hubs, should they be established, each hub should have an integrated schools’ specialist or a separate hub should be established for all state-integrated schools
in New Zealand.

Mr Ferris later wrote in a New Zealand Catholic Education Office e-newsletter that he had met with taskforce chairman Bali Haque “ who acknowledges that there are matters to address for us”.

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Michael Otto

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