Those behind charter schools are to be exempt from public scrutiny – ?

By Grant Jacobs 19/10/2012 9

 (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]


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?


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.

9 Responses to “Those behind charter schools are to be exempt from public scrutiny – ?”

  • I’m still extremely worried at the possibility that at least Creationist school may well be formed, and receive Govt funding…

  • Whatever we make of it, it certainly means that different standards are to be applied to different types of schools.

    As for creationist schools, I recall there’s a website/on-line group of people with interest in pushing creationist “teachings” into schools. It’d be fairly safe to guess they will be exploring their options and what might be achieved within the scope of meeting Ministry of Education standards. (Whatever those are – I’m not familiar with them nor how this assessment is to take place, the scope of that assessment, etc.)

  • There’s nothing new about schools teaching creationism. The new Muslim private school intends to ( ) see para 3 for evolution theory reference, although they claim they will teach the NZ national curriculum. They can’t have it both ways. One hears rumours of other schools in NZ, both christian and some state schools, that don’t teach evolution, although it is impossible to make sense of the biological sciences without it.

  • Nice piece, Grant – it came out while I was away on leave, so I’m really glad you picked up on it :)

    Possum – no rumours – there are very definitely schools in NZ that do not teach evolution & are quite up front about it. The majority are ‘special character’ schools which, like the new Muslim school, claim to teach the NZ curriculum. It is unfortunately quite possible to do this & omit all reference to evolution, given the way the ASs are set up. As you say, this makes it impossible for their students to actually make sense of biology in any sort of integrated way. Like Aimee, I find the prospect of setting up still more such schools, under the charter school banner & thus state-funded, as extremely worrying.

  • Alison,

    You wonder how much of a course, or what critical elements, you can skip before essentially not having delivered that course to a student (and thus doing the student a disservice, to put it politely).

    Related to that, does the curriculum set some elements as “essential”, that if not taught the school hasn’t really taught that subject – ? (At least the level required or expected of them.)

    In the case of biology, I’d have thought not teaching evolution would be to remove such a core element that they’d be denying having really taught them biology.

  • I agree with you 100%, Grant. However, there’s the curriculum & then there’s the achievement standards (which represent the assessment). The latter are worth varying credits (2-4, usually) & for purposes of UE a student needs to get at least 14 credits in each of two ‘domains’ (eg biology, chemistry) and a further 14 in total from no more than 2 other domains (eg physics, maths w calculus) plus meeting the literacy & numeracy requirements. Each domain/subject has around 24 credits’ worth of achievement standards on offer, & in biology 2 of those standards are related to ‘patterns & processes of evolution’ and ‘human evolution’, It’s entirely possible to put together a program that omits those standards but still lets the students gain the required number of credits: it’s not compulsory to include particular ASs.

    This issue is proving somewhat vexatious right now for my colleagues in physics & maths, given that at least one university is requiring students to have taken particular ASs in order to get direct entry into particular programs.

  • “This issue is proving somewhat vexatious right now for my colleagues in physics & maths, given that at least one university is requiring students to have taken particular ASs in order to get direct entry into particular programs.”

    Are you able to give more details? Maybe there’s a blog post there for you 😉

    I guess in principle there’s nothing to stop universities insisting that students have the achievement standards for evolution if they want to take up biology at university?

    (I’m not meaning to advocate this, just curious about what can and can’t be done. You’d think it would be better that the high schools did right by the students. There’s also a moral dilemma with blocking students from attending universities who might “fill in” what they’ve missed, the dilemma being if universities be obliged to “fill in” missing learning? You’d think that’s a key reason for the curriculum in the first place. I guess the university asking for particular ASs for physics and maths is using similar reasoning? Perhaps parents who intend to send their children to these schools need to be cautioned that they may be blocking their children from further education in biology because of the school’s desire to skimp on key aspects of the biology curriculum!)

  • The underlying problem for the universities – & I don’t really think they’ve yet come to terms with it – is that year 13 is no longer intended only for those intending to study at uni. A reasonably large proportion will go onto other pathways for careers & future study. The new curriculum (the 2007 document) is quite specific about giving schools the flexibility to meet the learning needs of all those year 13s, not just the uni-bound cohort.

    None of the unis (AFAIK) have formal entry requirements for biology, & in fact the way at least one has constructed its entry requirement has been viewed by some in NZIBO as almost minimising the need for biology :( Whether that changes is going to come down to a matter of who blinks first, I suspect. From my perspective (as a first-year biology coordinator & teacher) this doesn’t pose too much of a problem overall, as we advise some year 13 background & point students at the summer Foundation program for a brush-up if they lack that. The data suggest that students lacking that background do as well as the others, by the end of the year.

    Personally I think requiring particular standards may be counterproductive, as it ignores the various realities facing schools: pressure on the curriculum that reduces the number of ASs offered in a particular area; demand from the school community (yes, I think omitting evolution from biology is a serious error, but that’s what some school communities want); class sizes that are too small to justify running (say) maths w calculus as well as maths w stats; lacking a specialist teacher in a particular discipline…

    I do not – most emphatically! – think that the ‘fix’ would result in the dreaded ‘dumbing down’. I DO think the fix may well require changes in how we do things.

    Gosh, that really should be a post, shouldn’t it? lol

  • Off-topic, but while I remember (your mentioning first-year courses reminded me) – have you seen the biology textbook that is a collaboration between a university staff member and Carl Zimmer?

Site Meter