3 Feb 2017

Children's commissioner urges halt to education bill

8:25 pm on 3 February 2017

A major overhaul of the education system must be put hold until children are consulted, the Children's Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft says.

School child with calculator

Children's Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft says it is "astonishing" the bill has got this far without consultation with children. Photo: 123RF

Judge Becroft told Parliament's Education and Science Select Committee to stop work on the Education Amendment Bill until children have been asked what they want.

If passed unchanged, the bill would give the government the power to set high-level objectives for education and national priorities that schools must follow.

It would create online schools known as COOLs, and make it easier for schools to require five-year-olds to start school at set times during the year.

The select committee was hearing public submissions on the bill, but Judge Becroft said there had been no real consultation with children about its content.

18072016 Photo: Rebekah Parsons-King. Andrew Becroft,  Children's Commissioner.

Children's Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

"The progress of this bill in our view should be stopped until there has been meaningful, appropriate and proper consultation with children," he said.

"It is frankly, from my perspective, astonishing that this bill has been prepared and reached this far without any demonstrable occurrence or example of consultation with children."

Judge Becroft said New Zealand had signed a UN convention that said children had the right to express their views, especially on matters that affected them.

"It would be hard to think of a matter that affected them more than education."

Other organisations appearing before the committee agreed.

Sarah Te One from lobby group Action for Children and Youth Aotearoa said it was strange the bill made no provision for consulting children over things like the national priorities.

"It's puzzling, even disturbing, that this bill is completely silent on how children and young people can have a say about the changes or in any ongoing way as active partners in education provision," she said.

The Education Minister, Hekia Parata, said she was confident learners had had a chance to comment on the proposed changes.

"In late 2015 a wide spread public consultation was carried out on the proposals in the bill. The Ministry received 1854 submissions. More than 200 submissions were from learners," she said.

"In addition, more than 120 meetings, workshops and presentations were held throughout the country, where direct feedback was collected. These were attended by students, as well as principals, members of boards of trustees, representatives of national organisations, parents, family and whānau members and members of the public."

Opposition to online schools

Other submitters to the Education and Science Select Committtee including the Post Primary Teachers Association, the Educational Institute and the Principals Federation opposed plans to allow online schools.

They expressed concern about giving the government the power to set national education priorities.

The Educational Institute's president, Lynda Stuart, said the priorities were likely to become targets that would narrow the education offered by schools.

"They are targets at the whim of a minister," she said.

The president of the Principals Federation, Whetu Cormick, said the priorities needed to be guided by an over-arching vision for education that everybody agreed on.

The president of the Post Primary Teachers Association, Jack Boyle, said the Education Minister must consult with educators and children about the priorities.

He said aspects of the bill, such as the creation of online schools, would undermine quality education.

The Education Council's submission said the government's learning priorities should be based on broad indicators of success.

"In our view it should steer away from solely using measures of academic achievement such as national standards in literacy and numeracy, or NCEA," the submission said.

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