There are an estimated 768,574 students in our schools.
For 80%, the system does a good job. But around 154,000 children are dubbed “the tail” – the ones who will leave school with little or nothing.
This week, the prime minister announced that five small new schools will open next year, largely focusing on the tail.
Three are secondary schools, two in Northland with a Maori ethos and the other in Albany with a military character.
Another is a South Auckland middle school with Christian values, and the fifth a South Auckland primary emphasising Maori and Pacific culture.
The new schools will initially teach around 400 students, 0.05% of the country’s total, rising to 800.
There will now be 2,544 New Zealand schools in 2014 instead of 2,539.
All five will deliver the New Zealand Curriculum or Te Marautanga O Aotearoa, the Maori medium curriculum.
Registered teachers will lead the curriculum but the new schools will be more able than others to employ outside specialists.
In this first segment, Hooton demolishes the myth that Labour, the Greens and the teacher unions have tried their damnedest to perpetrate; that partnership schools would be staffed by non-registered teachers.
But the PPTA is even trying to undermine attempts by partnership schools to recruit registered teachers, or to interact with established schools in their respective areas; Hooton continues:
The new schools are the main outcome of the 2011 coalition deal between National and Act.
Act believes – as did National until it drifted to the left – that a traditional school system, while working for most, won’t be flexible enough for every student.
Further, having different types of schools encourages new ideas to enter the system and creates a degree of competition that may raise the standard of the whole.
If one of the new schools proves it can do a better job for a group of students compared with its neighbours, so much the better. If it can’t, it will close.
The most sensible way of looking at this is that the new “partnership” schools might help a small minority of students and improve the overall system. At worst, they’ll fail the 400 students who attend.
This is not how the secondary teachers’ union, the PPTA, sees it.
The PPTA says the five small schools are “a terrible experiment on New Zealand's children that must be stopped in its tracks”. It will fight them “every step of the way”.
Plans have been made to “quarantine” the schools by “instructing [PPTA] members to refrain from all professional, sporting and cultural contact”.
In practice, it means that if students from one of the five schools enter a netball team in their local competition, the PPTA will order its members to stop their students from playing against them.
If partnership-school students qualify for the regional swimming sports, the PPTA will prevent other students from entering the pool for fear of political pollution.
The same goes for the local debating, kapa haka or Mathex competition.
If these tactics seem extreme, they aren’t in the context of the PPTA worldview. On Twitter, the PPTA suggests the five new schools are equivalent to apartheid.
The best way to understand the PPTA’s behaviour is not that its activists are evil but that they are infantile. A new local school that they don’t like is the biggest event in their little worlds, which is why their rhetoric and tactics are always so extreme.
Even so, that doesn’t make life easier for those who come into conflict with them. As it proved during the bulk funding wars of the 1990s, when the PPTA says it will stop at nothing to destroy the five new schools, believe them.
The PPTA's tactic here are certainly questionable. On the positive side however, enough people probably recognise that and are critical of them that the tide of public opinion will turn into a wave of support for the new schools. Sheesh; even Hone Harawira has wished them well!
And on this occasion, Matthew Hooton isn't just talking about support for the partnership schools; he is providing it in a practical manner. Here's how he concludes his piece:
This is why, a month or so ago, one of the new schools, fearing what was ahead after receiving a threatening letter from the PPTA, asked my PR company for pro bono media training. Being supportive of their goals, I agreed.
We later put that school in touch with another, and approached others on the shortlist, leading to the establishment of Te Kahui Kura Hourua o Aotearoa, the Association of Partnership Schools of New Zealand (TKKH for short). We expect it to become a paid client but we also feel something of an obligation to help protect the schools, teachers, students and their families from the disgusting tactics that are ahead.
Undoubtedly, the PPTA will be proud to learn that so threatening has it already been towards five small community schools, that they have felt the need to ask for support from a corporate PR firm to form something of a union to make them feel safe.
We wish the TKKH every success in what is likely to be a bitter struggle against the PPTA. We are pleased that they have sought professional help, and commend Matthew Hooton and Exceltium for providing pro bono advice in the first instance.
And we reiterate our view on partnership schools; when the current system is failing up to 20% of students, not trying a different approach is not an option. Partnership schools need to be given an opportunity to see whether or not they can make a difference to some of those children who are presently falling through the cracks. What do we have to lose?