The trouble with the Charter school model is that it is a publicly funded experiment on children. The National Government has consistently put its desire to open charter schools ahead of the safety of the children in them, ignoring repeated warnings by the Ministry of Education.
Some Charter schools may have small classes, more support, and more cultural affirmation than a state school, but for others the unnecessary experience is one of chaos, with less educational choices and less cultural affirmation. In this small country it is impossible to suppress the stories coming out of the first couple of rounds of Charters and some of it is very worrying.
The KFC bribery news about Middle School West Auckland (run by Villa Education Trust) is not the sort of publicity any Government would want for a flagship education policy. I have been reflecting on my own experience of the Villa Education Trust because New Zealand First MP Tracey Martin and I did respond to an invitation from Villa’s Alwyn Poole to visit his Mt Hobson Villa School, which is a private school.
He said it was the model of the kind of schools he would build if his Charter school applications were accepted. It was a cosy villa with small classes using standard educational methods which he seemed to think were particularly advanced. The students appeared to be mainly Pākehā middle class kids. However his plan was to extend into South and West Auckland and work with students from Māori and Pasifika cultures. I remember thinking it was one thing to run a private school in Remuera but quite another to use public funds to set up supposedly similar schools in very different cultural contexts.
What expertise did this private education trust led by Pākehā have in meeting the cultural needs of Māori and Pasifika students? Charter schools were set up to specifically address these concerns, and yet are failing these students badly. Villa Education’s initial assessment for suitability from the Ministry of Education says that they “did not always demonstrate … competency in educating Maori and Pasifika students.”
Last week the Minister announced she was keeping the Whangaruru Charter School open, which may just prolong the problems that school faces. This is a very sad story of the best of intentions but it has not worked for struggling kids who need the best we can offer. The Greens believe in innovation in state education but not privatisation via charters. It is time to stop this experiment at kids’ expense.