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Teachers concerned by direction of MoE policy

Local members of a secondary school teachers union have raised concerns about the potential impact of new education policies on the future of teaching in New Zealand.

Over 200 secondary and area schoolteachers attended a Post Primary Teachers’ Association [PPTA] meeting in Masterton last Friday.

The meeting focused on the reintroduction of charter schools and the place of the Treaty of Waitangi in the education system.

The PPTA acknowledged that although there are no charter schools in Wairarapa, a small number of charter schools are expected to be operational nationwide by the beginning of 2025.

PPTA Wairarapa chairperson Barbara Morgan said the reintroduction of charter schools and a “lessening regard” for Te Tiriti o Waitangi raise strong challenges and concerns for teachers.

Charter schools are a form of publicly funded private education and were originally introduced by a National-led government in 2014, only to be disestablished by a Labour-led government in 2018.

“New Zealand has had charter schools before, and they didn’t work well then, so why would they now?” Morgan said.

Charter schools can be run by anyone alongside untrained and unqualified staff as teachers who are without obligation to teach the national curriculum, she said.

“The government should be transparent about its plans and clarify the implications of allowing existing public schools to convert to charter schools for school communities.”

Morgan also noted that teachers will continue discussing how they can affirm and advance the Treaty in the face of the government’s “increasingly apparent lack of commitment” to it.

“Schools have spent time, money and energy incorporating te Tiriti into our curriculum,” she said.

“We’re proud of the improvements we’ve made for Māori learners and want to continue to improve outcomes for our students”, although educators “can’t do this without resources and funding”.

“Wairarapa schools are doing a lot of great work developing, in conjunction with local iwi, a local curriculum that students, particularly Māori students, can see themselves in and identify with,” said Shannon-Mae Read, who represents Wairarapa and Hutt Valley on PPTA’s national executive.

Another PPTA representative expressed the view that the government continues to make “divisive comments” about te Tiriti and has “proposed policies that threaten to reverse decades of incremental progress in Māori legislative recognition and rights”.

The government’s 2024 Budget has set aside more than $150 million to create up to 50 new or converted charter schools, the spokesperson said, despite “the previous charter schools in 2024–2018 being widely considered a policy failure”.

That’s not rhetoric accepted by Associate Education Minister David Seymour, however, who said the 25,000 PPTA members who have been participating in meetings nationwide are “disrupting” secondary students’ educations to oppose the charter school policy.

“At a time when we have a crisis in this country with school attendance and achievement, the PPTA has chosen to pull teachers away from their important work,” Seymour said.

“It is estimated this distraction from the PPTA will cost about $4.8 million in lost education time alone – the equivalent of funding about 80 teacher aides for one year.

Seymour has also taken issue with claims that the charter school approach has proved to be a failure – “The evidence shows the opposite” – and that charter schools will receive more funding for their students than state schools – “Wrong again, the Government is committed to funding charter schools at the same rate as state schools.”

Seymour has also claimed the primary reason the PPTA is opposed to charter schools is because it fears losing its membership fees and influence in the sector because charter schools will not be state entities bound by current union contracts.

Seymour has also recommended that the PPTA put “ideology” aside and focus on students’ learning.

“The government is focused on increasing student attendance, ensuring students get qualifications that will set them up for life, and providing choice to students, parents and educators.”

When it comes to teaching about the Treaty of Waitangi, Seymour has promised to “restore balance to the New Zealand history curriculum, moving away from the idea that colonisation is to blame for all our problems” and has previously criticised the local history curriculum introduced by the previous government as dividing history into “villains and victims,” containing “significant gaps,” and promoting a “narrow set of highly political stories”.

The PPTA is currently in its second week of meetings across New Zealand, with resolutions to be considered early next week.

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