The government and the opposition are at loggerheads over the fate of a number of charter schools, with staff, students and parents still unsure whether their schools will be open in the new year.
Ten charter schools are being reviewed by incoming Education Minister Chris Hipkins, although existing contractual agreements remain in place until the Ministry of Education meets with them individually in February. The Labour government’s pre-election policy made clear its opposition to charter schools, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern suggesting there should now be no surprise at the review process.
However, the opposition National Party’s Education Spokesperson Nikki Kaye says that a recent letter sent to “partnership schools” by Hipkins had failed to provide sufficient information, leaving staff, students and families in limbo as the new academic year looms.
“[T]he letter raises more questions than it answers. It basically just instructs them to wait til February for the opportunity to discuss their future,” Kaye says.
“He’s failed to answer really basic questions such as will the schools be able to remain open for the whole 2018 year and what will the requirements and options be if the partnership school model is cancelled and schools have to reapply to stay open?
“The letter also says the meetings about their future will happen for ‘existing schools’ which raises the question whether those due to open next year and in 2019 will be able to fight for their own futures.”
Kaye further suggests that Hipkins is failing to release official information that might help inform the families. “If [the Ministry of Education]] wants to continue with its misguided and ill-informed closure of partnership schools then the Government needs to do the right thing and at least be much more open and transparent with the families and schools about what is going on.”
Kaye and ACT leader David Seymour have also criticised Hipkins for not telling the other charter school operators that they would be unlikely to open in 2019.
deputy Liz Gordon, however, insists that charter schools are unnecessary and that the coalition Government must act as quickly as possible to either shut them down, or transition them into the state system.
“Most of the schools were opened in areas where the state schools were already suffering a decline in numbers”, she said. “The challenge for the government is to ensure that schools in our poorest communities have enough funding and student numbers to properly educate all of our children,” Gordon says.
According to Ministry figures, about 1200 students attend charter schools with the Minister committing himself to finding a solution a “that works for them” over the coming weeks.