The long wait for Tomorrow’s Schools 2

Educators are anxiously awaiting the final proposals from the Tomorrow’s Schools review. Laura Walters reports.

More than 10 months on from the unveiling of significant proposals to overhaul the education system, the final report from the Tomorrow’s Schools Taskforce is yet to be unveiled.

The finalised report has been sitting with the minister since July and the education community is beginning to question the hold-up.

The report has not been released in its entirety but those familiar with the conclusions say it is significantly changed from the taskforce’s initial proposals – so expect something far less ‘bold’ or ‘radical’ than what was initially proposed.

This lack of detail, and the long wait, has some educators feeling nervous about the future of the education system, and how the changes will affect them, their schools and their students.

The draft report was released in December, and proposed a controversial 'hub' model, scrapping the school decile system, and five-year terms for principals.

The proposed education hubs aimed to take away significant governance burdens from school boards, allowing boards and principals more time to focus on reflecting the character of the community and building the school's curriculum. The regional hubs would oversee aspects such as property decisions and other governance issues of multiple schools.

But taking away oversight from boards, in a move many saw as unnecessary centralisation, led to vocal opposition from those who believed schools would lose their individual character and autonomy.

The proposed plan to limit principals’ tenure to five-year stints – with the option to renew a contract – also made many feel anxious.

“Principals are anxiously waiting for the outcomes of the most important review in New Zealand education since the launch of Tomorrow's Schools in 1989."

After the release of the report, the Tomorrow’s Schools taskforce took its plans on the road in order to get feedback and explain the reasoning behind the proposals.

This is where that strong opposition continued, and a group of 44 schools created the Community Schools Alliance. The alliance spent tens of thousands of dollars on a campaign to get rid of the proposed hubs and perceived centralisation.

At this point it became clear more time was needed for consultation and for the taskforce to work on its finalised proposals. The taskforce's final deadline was stretched out from April to July.

What now sits with the minister is a significantly changed set of proposals, which will form the future of New Zealand’s education system, and the biggest changes seen in 30 years.

Newsroom understands neither the hub proposal, nor the five-year term idea, have come out the other side unscathed.

Principals anxiously await outcomes

Massey High School principal – and member of the Community Schools Alliance – Glen Denham said it was a nervous time for principals.

“Principals are anxiously waiting for the outcomes of the most important review in New Zealand education since the launch of Tomorrow's Schools in 1989,” he said.

While waiting for the full report and Government response was difficult – especially with snippets of the report and the Government’s plan being drip-fed and leaked out – Denham said he appreciated the minister had taken the time to consult and listen to the "initial outcry" and respond appropriately.

“I believe that this approach was very much welcomed by the sector. It's an approach that should have been taken right at the start,” he said.

It is important to note there was significant consultation since the beginning, including by the taskforce before and after it presented its draft report.

Denham said the ‘hub model’ remained the key issue for him, and others in the alliance.

“I am hopeful that the delay is the portent for better things to come and a more sensible and less radical approach.”

However, he did hope the final version retained the taskforce's focus on the country’s most at-risk students and a commitment to training and nurturing more te reo teachers.

While opinions differ on the proposed solutions, everyone agrees the consultation process has been outstanding. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

New Zealand Principals’ Federation president Whetu Cormick also had a mixed response to the report.

He said that while the federation supported a national leadership college to help develop school leadership – if it sat within the Teaching Council - the federation was against the proposed five-year term for principals’ tenure.

Regardless, the commitment to consultation was to be applauded, Cormick said.

“We would never get our own way 100 percent, but there was a willingness and commitment to talking to us, talking to children, parents, the community, teachers and principals.”

Rather than telling the education community what to do, the Government had asked what it should do. This led to better collaborative outcomes.

While Cormick would not describe principals as 'nervous', he said they were eagerly awaiting the outcome.

Another person to question the lengthy delay was ACT leader David Seymour, who has been a vocal opponent of many of the original proposals, particularly the hub model.

“The level of enthusiasm for education policy reform and the amount of fanfare surrounding it now marks a stark contrast with the total radio silence of the past six months since the independent panel’s final report was due in April,” he said.

“We have heard nothing, nada, from the minister since last December. Parents, principals, and teachers can rightly wonder what on earth the Government has planned. Are they going to implement the plan put forward in the interim report? Have they dumped it? Are they working on something else? Nobody knows.”

“This is something that’s going top be incremental, it’s going to happen over a period of time. I don’t think anyone should be getting particularly worked up about what it should mean for them in the short-term.”

Tomorow’s Schools Review Taskforce chair Bali Haque declined to comment on the status of the report. He said he believed it would be inappropriate at this time.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins said he hoped to release the report soon, but was still working through the Government’s response to the final proposals.

His message to principals and others in the education community was not to worry about any immediate impacts of the review.

“Ultimately, we’re talking about implementation over a reasonably long timeframe. We’re not talking about something where tomorrow they’re going to wake up and find they’re subject to a huge amount of change.

“This is something that’s going to be incremental, it’s going to happen over a period of time. I don’t think anyone should be getting particularly worked up about what it should mean for them in the short-term.”

Hipkins did acknowledge the significant change between the initial report and the final report, saying it showed the consultation process had worked.

“I think it was important that we stress tested the report.”

During consultation most parties agreed with the taskforce’s problem definition: namely, a growing inequity of the education system. But there was conflict, and a range of ideas, when it came to the solutions.

“Sometimes when you start a consultation round like this, you’ve got to put some ideas out there to get people talking, which is what the taskforce did,” Hipkins said.

The minister will be taking the report, along with his high-level response and policy work, to Cabinet within the next few weeks. From there he will publicly release the finalised report and the Government’s direction of travel.

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