20 Feb 2015

Principal defends Northland charter school

6:21 pm on 20 February 2015

The director of a troubled Northland charter school is defending its performance.

Hekia Parata

Hekia Parata Photo: RNZ

The Minister of Education Hekia Parata said she has sent Te Kura Hourua Ki Whangaruru a performance notice requiring it to take immediate action on areas of serious concern.

She said she had become increasingly concerned about the cumulative failures in performance at the Whangaruru school.

These included declining enrolments, sporadic attendance and their knock-on effects on educational peformance.

Ms Parata said the Education Review Office (ERO) had found the school was not able to operate without further substantial support.

She said a specialist audit in a month's time would assess progress.

"There's a cumulative set of issues that they really need to turn their attention to, so it's very clear to them what they have to do in the next 28 days, which is demonstrate that they have a remedial plan, and they have the capability to execute it."

The school is funded for 70 students and opened last year on isolated farmland 60 kilometres north of Whangarei.

The charter school about a week before opening in February.

The charter school about a week before opening in February 2014. Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

Charter school 'failed experiment' - Peters

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said Ms Parata should admit that a $3 million Northland charter school was a failed experiment.

Mr Peters, who has whanau links to the area, said the school was a mistake from day one.

"They've spent millions and millions of dollars. If you compare it with the surrounding schools here in the north, the expenditure per student is massive.

"All because of a political arrangement between the National party and the Act party, who insist upon charter schools.

"And here's an example, another example, of one going wrong."

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters giving his opening speech for 2015.

Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Mr Peters said it was allowed to open without a proven need, a strong structure or the right staff, and was a frustrating example of what could happen when blind ideology takes over from common sense.

He said the Minister of Education was now trying to cover up the fact that the school was not working.

The Northland Principals Association said Ms Parata should cut to the chase and close a failing charter school before it sucked any more money out of the education budget.

The president of the Tai Tokerau Principals Association Pat Newman said the Minister had until now batted away teachers' concerns about the school, but they had proved valid.

He said the children going to the kura had been victims of an unfortunate experiment and the several million dollars spent on it would have been more effectively used in existing Northland schools.

Mr Newman said the board and principal of any state school that was as dysfunctional as Whangaruru would have been sacked long before now.

Charter school defended

Director of Te Kura Hourua ki Whangaruru Natasha Sadler said the school was now on top of its problems.

She said the kura has renegotiated its contract with the Ministry of Education, and its minimum roll was now 40, not 70.

It had begun the year with 38 students, and expected to build on that.

Ms Sadler conceded that some people might see the cost of building and running a school for 40 students as an overly large investment.

But she said there were many Northland schools with smaller rolls and it was better to invest in children who were failing, than invest in prisons to cope with the adults they would otherwise become.

She said some pupils had given up on school or been in alternative programmes before they came to Whangaruru, and it was never going to be easy getting them back into education.

"We have students here at our school who previously had not been engaged in education, some of them for up to a year and a half.

"Now they are coming to school every day, at our school. And I think what it is, is that people who are outside of our situation, outside of our reality, are making generalisations about what our school should look like."

Ms Sadler said the Whangaruru secondary school focused heavily on outdoor education and practical skills, like fencing and possum-trapping, and incorporated science and maths learning into those activities.

She said people should reserve their judgement about the kura until its annual report and NCEA results came out in March.

She said Winston Peters was welcome to visit the school and see for himself how it was doing.

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