Uneasy transition for charter schools

Charter school supporters say there is “nothing to celebrate” in the announcement six institutions have been successful in their application to become designated character schools.

The fate of 11 charter schools was supposed to be announced by late July. Three could now be in limbo until September and one, approved to transition to a designated character school, has to reduce its current roll in order to meet criteria set by the Ministry of Education.

Yesterday Education Minister Chris Hipkins announced Pacific Advance Secondary School, Te Aratika Academy, Te Kāpehu Whetū (Teina), Te Kāpehu Whetū (Tuakana), Te Kōpuku High and Te Rangihakahaka Centre for Science and Technology have been approved to become designated character schools. Vanguard School’s application was approved in May.

Two schools which applied to become state integrated are now in the final stage of approval. The remaining three schools have been told they may need to wait until September to learn if their applications to become designated character schools are approved.

“I have sought further information from the sponsor of two further schools, and work is needed on property options for the remaining application. The applicants for these three schools have met all other criteria for becoming a designated character school,” Hipkins said.

All charter schools faced closure unless they transitioned to a state integrated or designated character model.

Charter schools say the transition process has been anything but easy.

“We believe the minister is trying to do the right thing but has been let down badly his officials who have simply not carried [out] the transition process that he promised they would - causing him to break his July 31 and 'easy transition' promises.” 

Villa Education Trust’s Alwyn Poole said the September delay will have a “massive impact” on students and families of the two Auckland schools the Trust runs.

“We believe the minister is trying to do the right thing but has been let down badly his officials who have simply not carried [out] the transition process that he promised they would - causing him to break his July 31 and 'easy transition' promises,” he said.

Poole had been assured by ministry staff they would contact him if they needed any further information to support the application.

“This has simply not happened - there has been no process [one meeting with senior officials on February 13] - and today's deferral is a massive shock and will be so to all involved in our schools - not least the children.”

Villa Education Trust's South Auckland Middle School faces closure if its application to transition designated character school is declined. Photo: Supplied

The Rotorua-based Te Rangihakahaka Centre for Science and Technology which currently has more than 90 students must remove 15 from the school to comply with criteria granted in its successful bid to transition to a designated character school.

“We’re disappointed in the decision of the minister. We think he [did] the right thing to accept our application for designated character, so we are happy with that, but we applied for 300 places [students] and we are capped for 75.”

The manager of the trust which runs the school, Roana Bennett plans to reopen discussions with the minister about the roll.

“We don’t believe the decision is fair, we don’t believe it reflects the reality here in Rotorua, we think that either he, or the people advising him, have made mistakes.”

Bennett said families who wanted to enrol their children at the school had been holding back waiting to hear if the school would be open next year.

“The officials, the politicians, they know that we have the demand, they know that we have the quality, they know that we have the distinctiveness, yet they cripple us by capping us as 75. It’s very difficult to run a school at 75 students.”

Current students at the school include some Bennett said had been “let down by the state system”.

“We’re not going to reduce down to 75, that’s just not realistic.”

E Tipu e Rea, a charity which supports charter schools, called yesterday’s announcement a “mixed bag”. Chief executive Graeme Osborne said it delivered more uncertainty for students and families.

“The schools have only applied to be designated character or state integrated because they had no other choice. There’s nothing to celebrate.

“I think by the minister’s own admission there is no logic, there’s no evidence being considered and there’s no consultation been undertaken,” he said.

The lack of consultation during the transition process has prompted a Waitangi Tribunal claim.

Sir Toby Curtis and Dame Iritana Tawhiwhirangi lodged a Treaty claim alleging the Government failed to take into consideration the effect closing the schools would have on Māori students.

“I am normally on the side to try and help the minister and any government in any way I can. It’s been very difficult to try and help this minister who doesn’t speak to anyone.”

Curtis said in the past few days he has personally undertaken “more consultation with the affected schools than Minister Hipkins has done during his entire term in Parliament”.

The claim is currently being assessed by the Tribunal. If successful it calls for a halt to the transition process in order to allow consultation to take place.

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