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 (A Friday tilt at an aspect of New Zealand’s ‘charter’ schools push – back to my usual fare later.[1])

This from Kate Shuttleworth at the NZ Herald:

The people who set up charter schools will be exempt from public scrutiny and Official Information Act requests under legislation that is being pushed through Parliament […]

Read at face value, this is unsettling.[2]

You’d think the way forward is more openness, not less. Parents would certainly want to know who is behind setting up a school and it’s charter and the wider community surely has a right to know the background behind schools that are being set up in the community.

If meant as avoiding the time that enquiries can involve, I might sympathise – but feel it’s no excuse to duck or avoid the interest. People will want to know and surely it is better to satisfy that interest.

A better approach, then, might be to require that those proposing to set up a charter school be required to present openly to the public a brief disclosing their backgrounds, support (financial or otherwise), aims and so on.

This might seem to be creating more work, not less, but you’d like to think they’d have to do this anyway to gain approval from the Ministry of Education.

I imagine the better schools would do this as a matter of course, recognising the importance of good public relations,[3] but parents, etc., should be able to enquire about educational and training institutions regardless – surely?[4]

Appendix

One official source of this information is at the Questions for oral answer pages on the parliament website, e.g.

Catherine Delahunty (Green Party MP): Will charter schools be required to publicly release all the information that State schools are currently required to, under the Official Information Act, such as annual reports and details of staffing; if not, why not?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Deputy Leader of the House): We have covered this issue earlier on in the House. Partnership schools will not be subject to the Official Information Act. However, they will have a legally binding contract that sets for them specific performance criteria, they will be reviewed by the Education Review Office, and they will have to report against national standards.

Catherine Delahunty: Will parents of charter school pupils have the rights of other parents, including the automatic right to attend governing body meetings, a say on the appointment of their principal, and the right to complain to the Ombudsman if they think their child has been unfairly treated; if not, how is that consistent with an open and transparent democracy?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Firstly, I would say that partnership schools will not be Crown entities, and therefore they will not be subject to the Official Information Act, but the Privacy Act will apply. Secondly, I would say to that member that parents have a choice as to which school they decide to send their child to.

(Underline mine. Capitalisation of Tolley’s name theirs.) Delahunty goes on to badger, as MPs are wont to. My question is a little more pragmatic: surely backgrounds much be open to parents and the community?

Footnotes

Properly these schools are termed partnership schools, but they’re widely called charter schools in public.

1. I’m briefly tackling politics and schools in part because Alison, who usually covers teaching is away, luxuriating in the sun!

2. I’m sure ‘further details’ are to come – if they ease concerns is another matter.

3. More cynically – and heading off enquiries. I’m not taking a poke here, it is fairly standard practice.

4. Note I’ve extended this to training institutions of all kinds.

Update: Further background on the bill and it’s passage through parliament can be found on Parliament’s Education Amendment Bill page.