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New Zealand: Education Bill Removes National Standards and Charter School Model from Law

(Oct. 25, 2018) On October 18, 2018, the New Zealand Parliament passed the Education Amendment Bill 2018, which makes substantial amendments to the Education Act 1989 and the Education (Update) Amendment Act 2017. (Education Amendment Act 2018, New Zealand Legislation website; Education Amendment Bill 2018, MINISTRY OF EDUCATION (last updated Oct. 19, 2018).) The Bill received royal assent on October 23, 2018. (Education Amendment Bill, NEW ZEALAND PARLIAMENT (last visited Oct. 23, 2018).) Among the key changes are the removal of provisions related to National Standards and the “partnership school model” (i.e., charter school model) from the legislation.

The government’s explanatory note that accompanied the Bill upon its introduction in February 2018 states that

[t]he Education Act 1989 allows the Minister to set national standards for student achievement through a Gazette notice. Schools have been required to report against these to parents and the Secretary for Education. Reporting beyond a focus on literacy and numeracy would include student progress and development of competencies and provide a richer and more accurate picture of a student’s education. Although the relevant Gazette notices have been revoked, the Bill amends the Education Act 1989 so that national standards cannot be reinstated in future. This amendment paves the way for work with experts and stakeholders to develop a new system.

The Bill removes the ability for the Minister and sponsors to contract to establish partnership schools kura hourua (also known as charter schools). This is in line with the Government’s pre-election commitments. The New Zealand State school system, especially the curriculum, already has the flexibility to allow the creativity and innovation that were part of the rationale for allowing the establishment of partnership schools kura hourua.

The Bill provides transitional arrangements to allow time for negotiations about the future of those schools that are already operating. (Education Amendment Bill, Government Bill 15-1, Explanatory Note, New Zealand Legislation website.)

National Standards

The previous government, led by the National Party, ”introduced a policy of National Standards in reading, writing and mathematics for primary-aged [i.e., elementary-aged] students when it became the government in 2008. Draft standards were released for consultation in May 2009 and the standards introduced at the beginning of the 2010 school year.” (National Standards, NZCER (last visited Oct. 23, 2018). See also Press Release, Anne Tolley, National Standards Introduced (Feb. 3, 2010).) In December 2017, the new Labour Party-led government announced that National Standards would be removed from 2018, stating that

[t]his change will better acknowledge the different ways and pace at which children learn, and support teachers to provide more learning opportunities based on what children already know and can do. . . .

Schools and kura will still be required to report to parents, at least twice a year, on their child’s progress and achievement, especially in the foundational learning areas of maths, reading, and writing. But schools and kura will no longer be required to use National Standards and Ngā Whanaketanga Rumaki Māori for this reporting.

. . . .

Information on the how children, or groups of children, are progressing and achieving nationally, will come from the National Monitoring of Student Achievement (NMSA). These studies test several thousand children each year on different areas of the curriculum. International studies will also help provide parents, whānau as well as schools, kura, and the Ministry, with valuable information on student progress and achievement. (National Standards Removed, MINISTRY OF EDUCATION (last reviewed Mar. 13, 2018).)

The move was supported by New Zealand’s largest teacher union, NZEI, and by the Principals’ Federation. (Jo Moir, National Standards Have Officially Ended in Primary Schools Across the Country, STUFF.CO.NZ (Dec. 12, 2017).) Shortly before the government’s announcement, an international study was released that ranked New Zealand thirty-third out of fifty countries in reading and literacy, eight places lower than in 2011. (Id.)

Charter Schools

The previous government also announced a framework for “partnership” or charter schools in 2012 and subsequently amended the Education Act 1989 in 2013 to make provision for such schools. (Press Release, Hekia Parata & John Banks, Ministers Announce Framework for Partnership Schools/Kura Hourua (Aug. 12, 2012); Press Release, Hekia Parata, Education Amendment Bill Provides Further Opportunities for the New Zealand Education System (May 15, 2013); Education Amendment Act 2013, New Zealand Legislation website. See also Charter Schools Policy Development, MINISTRY OF EDUCATION (last reviewed July 5, 2018).)

Upon the passage of the 2018 Bill, the Education Minister, Chris Hipkins, said that

[c]harter schools were a deregulated, privatised form of schooling that we simply don’t need in New Zealand. They didn’t have to employ qualified and registered teachers, didn’t have to teach to the New Zealand Curriculum and could operate as profit-making businesses. That’s why the Bill ends the charter school model and supports the transition of the existing schools into the state system. (Press Release, Chris Hipkins, Bill Makes for a Stronger Public Education System (Oct. 18, 2018).)

There are currently twelve charter schools throughout the country, all of which applied to become part of the wider state school system following the announcement of the government’s policy to abolish the model. (Approved Charter Schools, MINISTRY OF EDUCATION (last reviewed July 31, 2018).) In September 2018, Hipkins said that all of the schools had now been approved to become “designated character schools” or state integrated schools under the Education Act 1989. (Press Release, Chris Hipkins, All Charter Schools Now Approved (Sept. 17, 2018).)