Labour says the Government’s reintroduction of charter schools is “driven by ideology rather than evidence” and says it’s going “too hard too fast”.

Teachers unions have also rejected the idea, saying it’s “wasteful” and the money could be better spent on programmes in state schools that support learning and attendance.

But a former charter school founder, who wants to reestablish more, says charter schools support children to learn and turn up to school in the first place.

Associate Education Minister David Seymour announced the return of charter schools today. Up to 50 charter schools will get a $153 million injection (over four years) in the 2024 Budget — up to 15 new charter schools will be established and 35 state schools will be converted to charter schools in 2025 and 2026 depending on demand and suitability.

Charter schools — which are not run by the government and do not need to teach the state-set curriculum — were allowed due to a confidence and supply agreement between ACT and National after the 2011 election. They were abolished by the previous Labour government.

Seymour said charter schools provided educators with greater autonomy and created diversity in New Zealand’s education system, as well as freeing educators from “state and union interference”, and raised overall educational achievement.

The latter in particular was a claim rejected by Labour’s education spokesperson Jan Tinetti, who said charter schools did not increase achievement and the move was “a distraction from the core mission of the education system”.

“Charter schools were driven by ideology rather than evidence. There are more examples of charter schools failing their students than there are success stories.”

Tinetti said charter schools were part of the coalition government’s “drive to dismantle our public school system and promote a privatised, competitive system that puts profits before kids”.

“Under the last National-ACT Government charter schools received preferential funding, they didn’t have to teach the NZ Curriculum, and didn’t have to employ registered teachers.

“When we came into Government, kids were being turfed out of the public school system because they didn’t fit or were too difficult. That’s not good enough.”

She said the public education system should serve every child and converting 35 state schools to be charter schools would “take desperately needed resources from the state system”.

“The Government is going too hard too fast. Cutting more than 750 jobs at the Ministry of Education, scrapping the Reading Recovery Programme, cost cutting the school lunch programme and now bringing back David Seymour’s charter schools.

“The $153 million for charter schools would’ve more than covered the costs to provide healthy school lunches to the years seven and up students that David Seymour has cut.”

Tinetti — a former school principal — said that was an example of a programme that teachers and principals said improved learning and engagement at school.

Charter schools Seymour’s ‘pet project – Greens

Green Party education spokesperson Lawrence Xu-Nan said education was “not a business” and should not be treated as such.

“Funnelling millions into what is essentially a pet project for David Seymour, at a time when teachers are crying out for more resourcing for our public schools, is morally bankrupt and incredibly irresponsible.

“Kids learn best when schools are at the centre of community support. Charter schools are a distraction — with multiple reports and reviews highlighting the lack of accountability these institutions have.

“The education of our children is a public good and is something that should not be tampered with for private gain. Handing this responsibility to the private sector showcases serious neglect and highlights the prioritisation of profit over people that is spearheading the direction of this Government.”

Teachers’ groups opposed

The Teaching Council said the bottom line for charter schools was that the profession and the public “must have the assurance that safety measures are in place so that all of those employed as teachers are of good character, fit to teach, and are accountable”.

Chief executive Lesley Hoskin said the council’s first preference would “always be for people in teaching positions to be registered teachers with a practising certificate”.

“The processes of registration and certification provide an important protection in relation to both the quality of teaching and safety of children and young people.

“The Council already has mechanisms in place that give schools greater flexibility in terms of appointing people with specific technical skills into teaching roles, and importantly keeps learners safe.”

Post Primary Teachers’ Association (PPTA) president Chris Abercrombie said “pouring” $153 million of taxpayers’ money into charter schools when New Zealand’s state schools were “already full of innovation and opportunity” was “wasteful”.

“At the very time where every cent of public money is being scrutinised, it is unbelievable that hundreds of millions of dollars are being poured into charter schools with no accountability to the public or their local communities.”

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He said some principals and teachers were “desperate” for funding for initiatives such as those supporting attendance, learning support, food in schools, relationships and participation with the local community.

“When charter schools were introduced under the last National-ACT coalition there was no evidence that they improved educational outcomes despite funding each student at least six times more than state school students.

“There remains no compelling evidence that charter schools can achieve the claims being made of them … The fact that all but one former charter school have been re-integrated into the public school system shows there was no need for them in the first place.”

Teachers’ union NZEI president Mark Potter said the $153 million for charter schools could fund more than 700 teacher aides.

He said the charter school policy was “an old idea that failed last time around” and money was being diverted from “an already diverse” public education system.

“This is money we could put to desperately needed use in our public education system. Most teachers will tell you stronger learning support and smaller class sizes, so teachers can have more time with students, is the priority.

“A teacher aide for every child that needs one would begin to seriously address the increasing learning needs of our tamariki that are not currently being addressed.”

Abolition of charter schools was ‘short-sighted’ – education consultant

Innovative Education Consultants head consultant Alwyn Poole founded two charter schools previously and was hoping to establish some again.

Villa Education Trust was one of those he’d established, including designing its model, although he no longer worked for it.

He said he understood the school was still working well and said it did so because of small classes — 15 students — providing all uniforms, stationery and IT.

Innovative Education Consultants head consultant Alwyn Poole.

“People tend to think that’s a response to poverty. It’s actually about taking the microaggressions out of the day, and making sure that kids aren’t being yelled at for not having a pencil and things like that.

“I designed a really good curriculum — a project-based curriculum but with subjects that pitches well above New Zealand curriculum standards.”

Middle school children, he said, had a split day, with academic subjects for four hours in the morning and arts and activities in the afternoon.

Poole said charter schools should have never been abolished.

“I think it was pretty short-sighted.

“I like what David [Seymour’s] done this time … Our education system needs it. Our attendance is genuinely in crisis. We need schools that children want to go to … they feel excited, they feel cared for.”

Poole said the announcement was “an exciting opportunity” and a chance to meet everyone’s needs in the education system.