Bucklands Beach Primary School’s submission on Our Schooling Future: Stronger Together, a report by the Tomorrow’s Schools Independent Taskforce
This submission was prepared by the Principal and a subcommittee from the Bucklands Beach Primary Board of Trustees.
It has been 30 years since the current system was put in place and a lot has changed in the world we live in since then. We believe that the Tomorrow’s Schools review provides us with an opportunity to address a number of key issues facing all NZ schools today, and would like to acknowledge the fact that the educational and wider community have been consulted before action is taken. Whilst we don’t agree with every recommendation as it stands, we support the process. It is our view that the taskforce has done a good job of assessing all of the evidence and interviewing a wide range of stakeholders to identify the key problems and challenges facing NZ schools today. We are supportive as a board of the process and the opportunity to step back and look at what is working and where the opportunities are to make changes. The report identifies many challenges facing schools today. While we are in a fortunate position as a school, relative to many, we recognise we too face many of the issues identified on a day to day basis and strongly agree that we should seek to address these as a country for the good of all students.
We believe that the success and sustainability of any ‘cultural and structural transformation’ will be dependent on cross-party agreement. It is our view that such an agreement must be made prior to the government considering the recommendations made by the taskforce and ahead of any material changes to the culture and structure of New Zealand’s schooling system. We suggest that the intent of the taskforce should be considered together with the recommendations, rather than the recommendations considered alone. Further, whilst the taskforce has suggested that its recommendations should be considered as a ‘set’, it is our view that there are a number of recommendations that could be considered as ‘no regrets’ improvements to the equity and excellence of the New Zealand schooling system and student outcomes.
It appears, through both the report and the discussion at consultation sessions led by the taskforce, that the recommendations rely heavily on aspects of schooling systems that have been successful in other countries. While it is important to consider, and learn from what has worked well in other circumstances, we must be careful to ensure that the special nature of New Zealand and our commitment to Te Tiriti o Waitangi are at the forefront of the recommendations for reform of our schooling system. A final consideration is the pace at which we drive any change, and our view would be that we need a lengthy (five year) transition period.
The most glaringly obvious challenge facing all education settings today is the lack of teachers. The success of any changes to the schooling system will be dependant on the quality of the people who operate within it. Surely this has to be the very foundation that must first be set, before other structural changes are considered. We know having the right people in front of students has the biggest impact on student achievement.
Feedback on specific recommendations
“The Board of Trustees self-governing model is not working consistently well across the country”
- A key aim of the 1989 reforms was to make schools more responsive to their communities. The thinking at the time was that giving parents the ability to elect school trustees and allowing schools to compete with each other would lead to improvements in school quality and student achievement. Is there a middle ground that enables high performing schools to continue to excel while low performing schools are supported to improve (see suggestion below)?
- Rather than ‘re-orienting’ the role of boards, equity and excellence could be improved by cross-pollinating/matching up low and high performing schools or schools which have strengths in different areas and something to offer each other.
- During consultation, the taskforce reported that some boards don’t have the capacity or capability to focus on property, health and safety, procurement and staffing issues. We consider that high functioning boards should be able to transition at a different pace, and seek support if they need it.
- We agree that boards should be involved in Principal appointments and retain the final decision on appointments. We support having a representative (with a background in education) from the Hub in the interview process to provide external influence and to contribute to more well-rounded recruitment decisions. We are concerned that currently outside providers help appoint a Principal, then provide PLD and appraisal, which seems a conflict of interest.
2 Schooling Provision
“The nature, type, provision, and accessibility of meaningful schooling for all New Zealanders is inadequate”
- As has been raised during consultation meetings with the taskforce, much more detail is needed to be able to comment on the ‘seamless student transitions between schools’. We recognise the need to address the common drop in student achievement at Year 7, but would need to understand more about the detail in this section in order to comment. When and how is more detail likely to be provided on this?
- Is the cost vs the pay off going to be worth it to reallocate physical space to allow for year 7 – 10 for example.
- A common system to share data between schools to allow for smooth transitions between schools is essential.
3 Competition and Choice
“Unhealthy competition between schools has significantly increased as a result of the self-governing school model. It has also impacted on the ability of some students and whānau to exercise choice”
- We agree that there needs to be a move to regulating school zones. Currently, individual schools’ ability to manipulate the market and run schools as businesses is not good for student outcomes. The challenge becomes making sure that all schools are of a good standard, to stop parents wanting to bypass their local school. In conjunction with this, we wonder why schools in the current system have been allowed to take on so many out of zoners without being challenged?
- We support the recommendations in this section, however note that provision needs to be made to ensure that every school can function with a capped donation. Our teaching and leadership staff skills are better utilised teaching, rather than chasing donations or fundraising to function, as is currently required.
- We believe schools should not be small businesses, and that had this been monitored and controlled better by the Ministry, we might not see the way some schools have taken advantage of this to date – this needs to be connected to the school resourcing recommendations.
4 Disability and Learning Support
“Students with learning support requirements should have the same access to schooling as other students and it is clear that currently they do not”
- The current model doesn’t work for students needing learning and behaviour support – it is hugely underfunded and under supported with stretched expertise that is difficult to access. Our school draws from its operation grant to support students with needs, as the current support offered comes nowhere close to meeting the myriad of needs that students present with when joining our school. In this area we support the recommendations that seek to address this issue, which impact hugely on equity and excellence.
- Schools need needs-based, coordinated and timely support for students with disability and additional learning needs; for example, it is not acceptable to wait nine months for an educational psychologist to assess a child and provide advice.
“The quality of teaching is the major ‘in school’ influence on student success but our teacher workforce strategies lack the necessary support, coherence and coordination”
- Professional development is varied and ad hoc. We agree that provision for professional development should be coordinated and provided to schools. In addition, cross-pollination between Hubs would be welcomed.
- We agree that curriculum, assessment and pedagogy need to be moved from private providers to a centralised pool of excellence that schools can draw from.
- Teacher aides quickly reach both a training and pay ceiling. We support the recommendations which seek to address this issue.
- We support the recommendation of secondments into Hubs as an additional means of professional development for teachers, though until the teacher shortage is addressed, see this idea will not be able to succeed.
6 School Leadership
“Leadership is central to school improvement and yet we have few formal and planned structures to develop and sustain school leaders”
- We need a coherent leadership strategy, not just for education but for New Zealand more broadly (healthcare, policing etc.). The current system works well for some, but not for others.
- Circulation and secondments through the Hubs could be an effective way of improving leadership opportunities and outcomes for teachers and leaders.
- Equity and excellence could be improved by cross-pollinating/matching up staff from low and high performing schools or schools which have strengths in different areas and something to offer each other.
- As a board we invest some money into post graduate study to grow leaders, we believe this should be funded by the ministry as part of the leadership strategy.
7 School Resourcing
“The overall resourcing for the compulsory schooling sector is currently inadequate to meet the needs of many learners/ākonga and those who work in it”
- Funding across the sector is totally inadequate. This needs to be addressed across the whole decile system. As a decile ten school we receive less funding than the school down the road, that receives more funding per student to deliver the same experience. As a result we are expected to find the extra from the community.
- All schools should be funded adequately to ensure equity and excellence and to allow teaching staff and leaders to focus on student outcomes. The current funding model is far from that, with much energy spent on generating extra funds to continue to be a high functioning school.
- We support the recommendation that equity resourcing be increased to a minimum of 6% of total resourcing and applied across operational, staffing and property formulas.
- Our teachers and Principals need time to teach and time to lead, the funding model needs to be equitable across primary and secondary teachers. The current model is seeing primary staff leave in high numbers, which is sad for the profession and hugely concerning.
- The equity index needs to consider challenges being faced across contexts. For example, as a multicultural Auckland school, who enrols many new arrivals to New Zealand, we need funding to help students assimilate into our school community. Conversely we need funding to develop new skill sets to support groups of students eg languages.
8 Central Education Agencies
“A number of significant structural issues and policy settings make it difficult for the agencies to be as effective as they might be”
- We support the recommendations in this section. The relationship with the Ministry of Education is dysfunctional. The system is under-resourced and inconsistent with high staff turnover.
- The key to success for this strategy is how it is executed. Our confidence is currently low, based on current experience within the sector. New structures and new capabilities are essential, as opposed to reorganising the current system capability in a different way.
It is unclear to us what the process is going forward from here, and how decisions are going to get made. We look forward to the next iteration reflecting concerns raised, missed opportunities and including greater detail.
In order for any change to be successful, a significant level of trust will need to built allowing the recommendations to be executed. We believe an independent transformation entity may well be needed, to create a distinct shift in approach. A clear road map of the transformation needs to be in place, that all can align around and understand.