National’s Education spokesperson Nikki Kaye has today sent a letter to the Auditor-General outlining potential issues to be investigated regarding the Government’s handling of the impending potential closure of partnership schools.
“I want to stress that I while I believe there are serious grounds for the Auditor-General to investigate, it will be up to the Auditor-General to determine if there have been any issues with the process regarding partnership schools and any potential perceived conflicts of interest,” Ms Kaye says.
“It is important that all of the evidence and paperwork is made available and transparent before any conclusions are reached.
“The first area of complaint relates to Minister Hipkins’ and the Ministry of Education’s process around the discussions with partnership schools about their futures.
“The Minister has made several unfortunate comments that indicate he has a closed mind and there is potential evidence that the schools have undue pressure being put on them to terminate their contracts.
“I believe the Minister’s and the Ministry’s process is fundamentally flawed and there is public interest in investigating it.
“The second area of complaint relates to perceived conflicts of interest, or failure of Ministers to manage or declare conflicts of interest. This is set out in the letter I have sent to the Auditor-General.
“Given the serious nature of the letter, I hope to meet with the Auditor-General in the next couple of weeks.”
Education Minister Chris Hipkins’ contempt for partnership schools has translated into a clear disregard for the students and their families with the introduction of legislation to scrap these schools that have been making a real difference for vulnerable young people, National’s Education spokesperson Nikki Kaye says.
“Despite several Labour MPs previously voicing their support for partnership schools, including Kelvin Davis and Willie Jackson, it appears the Government has no interest in doing the right thing by these schools, their students and their families.
“The Minister has stated that there will be no new partnerships schools, and existing partnership schools will now go into negotiations with the Ministry of Education about their future. But in the Minister’s own words, the preference is that the existing schools close.
“Last year the Minister accidentally tried to announce the closure of these schools prior to discussing it with them. He then left the schools waiting for clarity over the summer break with little information. To make matters worse, just days out from further meetings regarding the future of these schools, he has introduced this legislation and shown his true agenda.
“How can these schools going into negotiations in good faith when they know that the Minister wishes for them to close? How can the schools that choose not to close and go through a process to be converted into a different school have confidence in the fairness of the process, when the Minister has made his preference clear?
“It is also apparent that there is no transition plan for the children and young people who attend existing partnership schools. These are kids who have struggled in mainstream education and have finally found a school that works for them, but the Government wants to take that away and doesn’t appear to care what happens to them next.
“The way the Minister has treated partnership schools has been disgraceful and opened the Government up to significant legal costs.”
It has become clear that the Government’s policy against partnership schools has put some of the schools that were due to open in a position where they have had to choose not to proceed, National’s Education spokesperson Nikki Kaye says.
“The Government’s treatment of partnership schools is unacceptable. These schools have made a positive difference for children and young people, including many young Māori.
“There were two partnership schools due to open this year and another four due to open in 2019. The Government has given these schools such limited options and has starved them of information which has caused some schools to walk away from their plans to open.
“Partnership schools have a proven track record in raising educational achievement of children and young who have struggled in mainstream education.
“Aside from the lost opportunity for these young people, there will be a cost to the Crown as a result of the planned partnership schools not going ahead.
“While I understand this is a sensitive issue, the public deserves to know what the estimated overall cost will be given the Government campaigned on closing partnership schools knowing there would be financial implications to the taxpayer.
“It’s also not surprising that the Government has yet to release the latest Martin Jenkins report which I understand shows great results. So not only is the Government hiding the costs of their ideological policy, but it’s also hiding independent reports that show how positive partnership schools are for vulnerable young people.
“Many people have stood up and supported partnership schools, including the Iwi Leaders’ Forum. Kelvin Davis talked tough in opposition but has now effectively abandoned partnership schools as demonstrated by his response to questions in the House.
“It is important to reflect on this as we have discussions at Waitangi, and in the future. As Associate Education Minister responsible for Māori education, it is disappointing that he has not helped to support schools that are making a real difference for young Māori.”
A draft Bill to strengthen the ability of students to learn a second language at school has today been released for public consultation by National Party Education Spokesperson Nikki Kaye.
“The benefits of speaking more than one language have enormous cognitive, cultural, social and economic benefits. My Members Bill is about ensuring that all children in years 1-8 have universal access and resources to learn a second language,” Ms Kaye says.
“The Bill requires the Education Minister to set at least ten priority languages for schools following public consultation, and places a requirement on the Crown to resource the provision of these languages in schools. I’d expect that languages that would be consulted on would include Mandarin, French, Spanish, Japanese, Korean and potentially Hindi.
“It will then be up to school boards to consult with their communities to determine which of the priority languages will be taught at their school. Every school will be required to deliver at least one second language, but some may choose to offer more than one.
“However the Bill makes it clear that Te Reo and New Zealand Sign Language must be national priority languages and funded by the Crown. The current law requires schools to take reasonable steps to enable children to learn Te Reo and this will not change.
“The Bill also requires the Government to develop a national language policy, to ensure there is a long-term strategy around issues such as workforce training and development for teachers and access to physical and online resources. I do not underestimate the need to carefully plan and support the workforce to help deliver this policy.
“National expects that the cost of the changes will be around $40 million per year, to provide schools and Communities of Learning with more expert language teachers, language specialists and online resources. To put this in context, this is around six per cent of the Government’s ‘fees free’ policy for tertiary education.
“I intend to secure cross-party support for strengthening the teaching and learning of second languages in schools. I am optimistic that political parties will have an open mind about this Bill which I hope can be a catalyst for change. I have written to each party in Parliament asking for their support on the Bill, and at the very least to start a cross-party conversation about improving access to languages in schools.
“Over the next month I will be asking the public to give their initial views on the Bill via a website. A petition has also been created for New Zealanders to show their support for improving access to language learning in schools. I plan to lodge the Bill in late February.
“Strengthening language fluency has the potential to lead to a smarter, more culturally aware nation that is better equipped to succeed domestically and internationally. While there have been some positive steps over the last decade there is still more to do and this Bill represents an important investment in our country’s future.”
The Government is irresponsibly and recklessly scrapping National Standards without having a detailed nationwide system of progression to replace it with, leaving parents in the dark about their children’s achievement, National Party Education Spokesperson Nikki Kaye says.
“Education Minister Chris Hipkins’ decision to no longer compel schools to report annually on National Standards to the Ministry of Education from 2018 is bad news for parents and could have negative and far-reaching consequences across the education sector,” Ms Kaye says.
“While Mr Hipkins is saying parents will still get reports, there is no clarity about what exactly will be required of teachers to report on. He’s even said some schools can keep using National Standards which just creates confusion for schools and parents.
“There are currently no nationwide tools that cover the whole of the curriculum to measure progression. This means questions remain around exactly what work will be involved for teachers in reporting progression.
“The decision flies in the face of Treasury advice that the Government should delay scrapping National Standards until they have a new system to replace it with, to prevent a gap in system-level information on how schools are performing.
“Without this information there will also be huge difficulty targeting funding to schools for students who need extra support to help lift their achievement.
“Mr Hipkins did not need to do this – he should have waited until he had figured out a replacement system. Instead, just as schools are breaking up for the year he has made a rash decision that will leave parents with questions about what information they will be able to get from their school on their child’s achievement next year.
“National has previously supported a shift to progression alongside National Standards information but we expected to take several years to progressively move to this.
“This Minister is consistently displaying a rash and ideological approach to our education system, and it is parents and students who will be worse off for it.”
Existing partnership schools can breathe a short sigh of relief after Education Minister Chris Hipkins confirmed through the media that the schools can stay open with no changes until the end of 2018, National Party Education Spokesperson Nikki Kaye says.
“This is an important temporary breather for these ten schools who can continue planning for the new school year which is just around the corner. It will also give them the chance to negotiate their long-term future,” Ms Kaye says.
“Given Mr Hipkins will not personally front up and meet with these schools, he must urgently write to them now and provide formal clarification. It’s not good enough that the students, parents and staff have had to find out through last minute comments to media.
“He is still to confirm the fate of the six new schools yet to open, two of which are due to open in the 2018 school year which is just weeks away. One of these schools has more than 50 children enrolled – they and their parents quite rightly want answers about their futures.
“Another school received a different letter to that received by the 10 existing schools telling them Mr Hipkins would meet them for a chat early next year, whereby it is not clear whether that school can open for all of 2018. The letter is also carefully worded in that it doesn’t say the Government supports them opening, but rather it is the decision of the school to open.
“The schools due to open in 2018 started the process with the Crown in 2016. Funds were appropriated for the schools in that year’s Budget and the contracts were signed in July 2017. A lot of work has gone into getting the schools ready to open their doors to some of our most vulnerable students next year and now they’re wondering if it was all for nothing.
“Even for the existing schools, there are still many questions that remain unanswered. For instance, what will the basic requirements be if the partnership school model is cancelled and what schools, if any, will be able to remain open under new model? This information needs to be provided quickly so that the schools have time to make their case.
“These schools have been making a real difference to the lives of kids who have struggled in mainstream education. It’s frankly a disgrace that Mr Hipkins continues to treat them, their students and their families with such contempt and is prepared to leave them in limbo.
“To make matters worse, one of the schools’ sources of hope, Deputy Labour Leader Kelvin Davis, appears to have reneged on his promise to resign if two partnership schools in his electorate closed. Unfortunately today in Question Time he refused to confirm that this was still his intention, leading us believe he has given up on them.
“As Associate Education Minister with responsibility for improving te reo, you’d think he’d be fighting hard for schools that have a focus on lifting achievement in te reo. He has ministerial responsibility to answer questions on the partnership schools’ futures so it will be hugely disappointing if he continues to duck for cover and abandons the fight for their survival.”
Education Minister Chris Hipkins continues to treat partnership schools, their students and families with contempt, failing to answer basic questions and leaving them in limbo as the new school year approaches, National Party Education Spokesperson Nikki Kaye says.
“The Minister has written to schools six weeks late but the letter raises more questions than it answers. It basically just instructs them to wait til February for the opportunity to discuss their future.
“He’s failed to answer really basic questions such as will the schools be able to remain open for the whole 2018 year and what will the requirements and options be if the partnership school model is cancelled and schools have to reapply to stay open?
“The letter also says the meetings about their future will happen for ‘existing schools’ which raises the question whether those due to open next year and in 2019 will be able to fight for their own futures.
“In what is fast becoming a pattern of behaviour of this Government he is also failing to release official information which might help inform the families.
“It’s just not good enough. He is showing nothing but contempt for the schools, the students and their families who are simply asking whether their schools will remain open.
“These families have chosen these schools because they believe they are best for their children. Why does Chris Hipkins get to tell them otherwise?
“Partnership schools and parents are quite rightly just wanting answers about their futures but either the Minister has no idea or he just doesn’t want to deliver bad news at Christmas.
“This is one of the largest school reorganisations or potential closure processes in our country’s history. It involves more than 1000 children, including a number with very complex needs.
“The fact that these schools have legally binding contracts also means any move to close them could lead to significant legal costs. The Minister needs to explain how much these might be.
“If it wants to continue with its misguided and ill-informed closure of partnership schools then the Government needs to do the right thing and at least be much more open and transparent with the families and schools about what is going on,” Ms Kaye says.
Education Minister Chris Hipkins’ pattern of creating confusion and chaos continues with parents and schools being sent mixed messages about whether children can start school in the weeks before they turn five or not, National Party Education Spokesperson Nikki Kaye says.
“Last week Mr Hipkins said he would change the law around cohort entry so that kids could not start school before the age of five. The Ministry of Education has since said that schools that have already adopted the policy, or are in consultation to, will be able to allow four year olds to enter from Term 1 2018, but it is unclear when the law will change and what the new rules will be,” Ms Kaye says.
“Parents want to know well in advance when their child will be able to start school, and schools need to know so that they can prepare for their new entrants. But Mr Hipkins is sending mixed signals, leaving them with more questions than answers.
“For instance, how long will the existing law be in place? And will the new law mean that thousands of children will have to wait longer than their fifth birthday to start at the school their parents have chosen for them if that school has adopted cohort entry?
“Cohort entry is about helping kids to make an easier transition from early learning to school and it is up to schools to decide with their community if they want to adopt the policy.
“The existing law says that schools who do adopt cohort entry cannot revoke it without giving a term’s notice so Mr Hipkins must clarify the timeline for a law change, and provide certainty about what the new rules will be so that schools are not consulting on policy that will be changed part way through next year.
“To make matters worse, I’ve had confirmation that the Prime Minister received no reports or briefings on this issue before Mr Hipkins announced it. This means there could not have been a Cabinet paper on the law change which is startling given it affects thousands of children. It looks like Mr Hipkins unilaterally made the decision to change the law without going through the proper Cabinet process.
“This is just the latest example of Mr Hipkins making announcements on the hoof without providing any detail, that have a real impact on children’s lives. Just over a month into the job and already he has backtracked on National Standards, free tertiary education, Partnership Schools and international students. What’s next?
“The new school year is just weeks away and parents and schools deserve to have certainty around when kids can start school. It’s time for Mr Hipkins to front up with the details.”
Education Minister Chris Hipkins’ decision to take away parents’ ability to have their children start school in the weeks before their fifth birthday is nanny-state and ideologically driven, National Education Spokesperson Nikki Kaye says.
“National made changes to give schools and parents the option of enrolling children in groups at the start of each term. This means some children, at the request of their parents, can start school at the most eight weeks before their fifth birthday rather than waiting until the next term,” Ms Kaye says.
“However the Education Minister believes he knows better than parents and will change the law so that children cannot start school before the age of five.
“The law change will mean that some children will have to wait longer than their fifth birthday to start at the school that their parents have chosen for them if that school has adopted cohort entry.
“The good news is that the Minister appears to be saying that cohort entry for children five and over will stay in the law and can be adopted by schools that want it.
“Cohort entry is about helping children to settle better in school. Many parents know that a child arriving at school on their own can feel self-conscious and out of place. Experts on early learning argued for this change because they believe it will make the transition easier. We also know that some schools were already doing cohort entry as they consider it offers kids the best start to their school life.
“National backs schools to know what is right for their community and believes in parents being able to choose when the right time to send their child to school is.
“This is the latest example of the Labour Party deciding it knows better than parents, following their decision to deny parents the choice to take paid parental leave together. New Zealanders know what is best for themselves and their families.”
Education Minister Chris Hipkins is creating confusion yet again about the future of the education system by failing to provide any detail on the replacement of National Standards, says National Party Education Spokesperson Nikki Kaye.
“In the last couple of weeks the Minister has said that National Standards will be gone very quickly, however today in Question Time he admitted he is still yet to sign off the timeline,” Ms Kaye says.
“Parents need to know how their kids are doing at school and National Standards are a key part of that.
“So it is irresponsible of the Minister to state that National Standards will be gone very quickly without providing a detailed proposal of what it will be replaced with. You’d think that after nine years in opposition they would have an idea about what a replacement might look like.
“The Minister has created further confusion today by stating that no school will be forced to scrap National Standards, which leads us to believe he is advocating for multiple systems of reporting. This is at odds with his numerous public statements about scrapping National Standards entirely.
“Having multiple reporting systems could have consequences for getting a consistent nationwide picture of achievement. If this is the case, the Minister needs to answer a number of questions on what this means for parents and how schools will choose their preferred system of reporting.
“Scrapping or changing National Standards is one of the most significant education decisions to be made in several years. The education sector and parents deserve to know the timeline, the process of engagement and have iron-cast guarantees around the replacement system and reporting to parents.
“National campaigned on improving National Standards to move to a system of progression which would have included a significant investment to support the education sector. A large decision like scrapping or changing National Standards would ideally involve greater cross-party agreement.
“It is disappointing that the Minister is yet to front up with a detailed statement on this issue. Instead we are being drip-fed bits of inconsistent information – parents and schools deserve better than this.”