A dialogue with Alwyn Poole on charter schools
Posted on 12:25, September 19th, 2012 by Lew
Following my recent post on charter schools and the Canterbury education restructure I received an email from Alwyn Poole, principal of the private Mt Hobson Middle School, disagreeing with my assessment. The ensuing discussion was good, so I’ve posted it here with Alwyn’s agreement. (Below the fold).
I read your recent blog on Partnership Schools. With utmost respect I think almost all of your conclusions are not necessarily right and completely differ from the words and intent of the cabinet paper – which I take it you will have read – on the proposal.
There are at least two schools in Auckland that, under the current education legislation, get as close to being Partnership Schools as is possible – ourselves and Nga Kakano Christian Reo Rua Kura in Te Atatu. They have been running for 10 and 15 years respectfully – do incredible things for the children/families/community, are accountable to their communities and government, employ great staff, are non-profit – but are limited by being private schools at present.
Yes – under the Partnership Schools model some funding will be contestable but the aim is to improve the outcomes for NZ children and families (particularly those struggling) – not preserve school size or budgets. Under the current model many children who could do with the help are missing out on the type of schooling we are able to offer.
I understand you are based in Wellington. If you travel to Auckland at some point you would be more than welcome to see both schools to get a feel for the possibilities for children from this.
Thanks for your message. I read the Sunday Star Times feature on your school and I was very impressed. I’ve also read several other opinion pieces of yours on the topic, and I understand you are a passionate and committed advocate for this policy track, and for great schooling generally. My objection is not really to schools run by people like you. If we could have a thousand people like you running schools the country’s education problems would be solved. The problem is that there aren’t a thousand people like you. I don’t mean to flatter, but I want to make clear that my objection to charter schools is not rooted in tribal opposition to them, nor enmity to you or your work.
The aims and intent of the policy as outlined in the cabinet paper are all well and good, but the outcomes will rest on implementation, and a very great deal of confidence in this policy must depend on whether you have faith that it will be put into practice well. I don’t have any such faith. This government’s track record on contentious policy — especially social policy — has been to stake out ideological ground and legislate first, then worry about evidence later. The appointment of Catherine Isaac, who is both ideologically committed to privatisation and has no meaningful education-sector expertise, to head the implementation suggests the same strategy here. The appointment of a junior and rather supine Minister of Education who is woefully lacking in expertise is further evidence. The dismissive response of successive Education Ministers, the Prime Minister and others to expert advice on national standards and league tables is more evidence, and their virtual non-response to the Massey University Education Policy Response Group’s paper, which found that they would likely not solve the problems the government seeks to solve, and would come at a cost to existing community schools, is yet more.
Even if my fears are unfounded, my argument about Christchurch remains — the government should be supporting communities to rebuild and re-form, not using them as a test-bed for ideologically-motivated policy mooted by a micro-party to whom it is electorally beholden. I hold some concerns about this aspect of the policy roll-out in other low socio-economic areas, though these are less strong, and I respect your argument that those areas are where schools like yours are most needed.
Perhaps I will be proved wrong — I genuinely hope so. But I believe it is wrong to simply take on faith the government’s assertions about what the policy will do, given evidence to the contrary.
Appreciate the well thought out reply.
Please note we are not blind advocates for the policy. In all of our contact with the implementation committee (including Catherine Isaac – who I have to say is working hard, thinking hard and acting with the utmost integrity and trying to work with all parties) we are emphasising the need for implementation to be done superbly and according to the stated ideals.
There is determination in government for the policy to be implemented. At some stage it will be important for thoughtful people interested in education to get alongside it and actively work out how the targeted groups can benefit without others being harmed. I think that is genuinely possible.
ps – I should say we work hard on that cooperative aspect. I am professionally evaluated by the Principals of the local intermediate and we work well with local schools. We have also invited in members from all political parties. The Greens (Catherine Delahunty) are the only ones who have categorically stated they will not come in. Peter O’Connor, from Auckland University – who has spoken publicly against Charter Schools, came in a very much liked the school.
Thank you Alwyn, a good discussion. I think I understand your position.
Although I disagree that charter schools are likely to have the desired effects, I do agree that they’re very likely going ahead in one form or another — the government has the votes, after all — and all involved have a responsibility to try to make them as good as possible. I do think, however, that’s important to distinguish between what’s *possible* and what’s *probable*; i.e, that most charter schools probably won’t be as good as yours. I think there’s a lot of starry-eyed optimism from the government and private sector regarding charter schools, which is understandable, but is no basis for policy.
I do also think there are other fields in which charter schools might be appropriate, such as under the auspices of rūnanga or other iwi authorities. Waipareira is of course an example, as is the suggestion that Ngāi Tūhoe may operate Kura Hourua under the terms of their recent agreement with the Crown. Re these, I still have concerns about contention with public school funding and accountability, but I regard iwi being able to operate schools as fulfillment of Treaty rights, so I think those are more defensible than most.