29 Jul 2015

Govt proposes major school changes

5:39 am on 29 July 2015

The government is considering giving schools more power to vary their opening hours and allowing one principal to run several schools.

A leaked document shows the government also wants to change the rules so schools can own and operate early childhood centres.

Maori classroom.

Photo: RNZ / Tom Furley

Some education groups said they were interested in the proposed changes to the Education Act, but wanted a lot more consultation.

The document said the changes followed the Taskforce on Regulation as Affecting School Performance, which reported last year.

It said the Education Act was not clear about what the education system was trying to achieve and suggested four specific changes:

  • Giving boards greater flexibility to provide early childhood education and out of school care services;
  • Giving boards greater flexibility to set minimum school opening hours;
  • Enabling principals to lead more than one school;
  • Extending the National Student Number (NSN) to be used to support student participation in digital environments.

The document said school boards could be more responsive to their communities if they were allowed to own and operate early childhood and out of school care centres.

It said schools must be open for at least two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon, and they could not change that without the Education Minister's permission.

The proposed change would be to remove the requirement for ministerial consent.

With regard to principals, the document said the law currently allowed one principal to work in several schools if the schools shared a board, but the situation was unclear if the schools had separate boards.

Principals respond

Groups representing school principals said the proposals were interesting.

Secondary Principals Association president Sandy Pasley said they would give schools more flexibility.

She said varying schools' opening hours could help with traffic congestion, but she doubted many secondary schools would want to share a principal.

"Certainly in schools the size that they are in Auckland, I think it would be very difficult.

"I can see the relevance for country areas where you've got small schools and you wouldn't like each of those small individual schools necessarily to be reinventing the wheel with all the administration."

Principals Federation president Denise Torrey wanted more consultation.

"We're not saying that some of these ideas don't have merit, but they need a little bit of talking about."

Educational Institute president Louise Green would not talk about the specific changes.

National MP

Education Minister Hekia Parata Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

She said the government's taskforce recommended full consultation and that had not happened.

Education Minister Hekia Parata said she had been talking for some time to groups about ways of creating greater flexibility for schools.

She said several possibilities arose from the Taskforce on Regulations Affecting School Performance and were canvassed with education leaders in May.

Ms Parata said any changes would likely require legislation, in which case there would be further consultation.