ST JOSEPH’S CATHOLIC
Board of Trustees Submission
Our Schooling Futures: Stronger Together
Submission on the Report by the Tomorrow’s Schools Independent Taskforce
5 April 2019
1.1. – St Joseph’s Catholic School Takapuna (St Joseph’s) welcomes this opportunity to have input into the future of New Zealand’s education system by providing feedback on the Taskforce’s Report. We strongly support some aspects of the Report but have concerns about others. These are outlined in more detail later in this submission but, broadly, we support:
(a) increased, and more equitable, funding to schools particularly in the areas of learning support;
(b) the use of hubs as facilitators and co-ordinators of school support services across areas;
(c) the use of schools as full service facilities, enabling connectivity across social service providers to ensure students’ needs are met holistically.
1.2. – We have concerns about:
(a) the depersonalisation of education for individual students consequent on the centralisation of decision-making functions;
(b) the suggestion that teachers and principals may be forced to move schools against their and their school’s wishes;
(c) unnecessarily diverting resources away from schools in greatest need in order to make changes to schools that do not require as much support;
(d) the increased pressure on scarce funding resources if donations are required to be capped;
(e) the dangers of blaming successful schools and competition for the lack of success at other schools.
1.3. – We also have concerns around two areas not directly related to the recommendations made in the Report:
(a) The timeframe for the Taskforce to review submissions and provide a final report, just over 3 weeks, is far too short given the potential impact of significant structural changes on the education and well-being of New Zealand’s tamariki. We urge the Taskforce to reconsider its timeline and give itself additional time to prepare its final report.
(b) We do not want changes stemming from this review to be the start of a period of change and instability in the education sector if successive governments do not agree with the outcomes. We urge all political parties to work together to achieve cross-party agreement, and ask that the Taskforce do its best to present a set of recommendations designed to support and facilitate such agreement.
2. About our school
2.1. – St Joseph’s is a state-integrated Roman Catholic primary school for years 0 to 6, based in Takapuna on Auckland’s North Shore. Our maximum roll is 445 and we will be at this maximum by the end of 2019 (our current roll is 402).
2.2. – We have a culturally diverse student population – 44% (176) identify as NZ European, 21% (85) as Filipino, but only 2.5% (11) are NZ Maori and 3.5% (14) Pacific Islander. The remaining 29% (116) are other nationalities from Asia and the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East, Latin America and Europe. This cultural make-up is reflective of the Roman Catholic community on the North Shore. 95.5% (385) of our students are enrolled under the 5.1 preference criteria, i.e. baptised and practising Roman Catholics, 3% (12) under other preference criteria and only 1.5% (6) are non-preference.
3. Governance Recommendations
3.1. The Report recommends that Education Hubs act as a centralised resource for coordinating and facilitating delivery of school support services. It also recommends that the hubs take on some governance responsibilities currently carried out by school boards.
3.2. We believe these recommendations are too ambitious and risk being counter-productive through a lack of ability to focus on, and resource, issues that really need resolving. Our specific observations are:
(a) The focus should be on depoliticising education
As noted above, we believe it is important to keep education as depoliticised as possible to ensure stability of the sector. Creating education hubs that are governed by ministerial appointees runs contrary to this aim and will increase the involvement of partisan politics in the education sector. Hubs (whatever their ultimate function) should be independently appointed.
(b) Centralising governance could dilute responsiveness
We believe that community-led schools are best placed to make decisions appropriate to the individual needs of each of their students within the context of their school and community. Having significant decision-making powers centralised could be counter-productive to the ideal that each student’s education experience should be as personalised as possible.
We are also concerned that with limited resources, those resources will tend to focus on schools in greatest need. A possible consequence of this is that schools that are otherwise well-functioning, but which have had some governance functions removed as part of the proposed structural change, may face delays in having decisions made on those governance matters. This may impact on individual students and on the good day-to-day running of the school.
(c) Removing governance responsibilities from state integrated schools will impact on their special character
The context within which boards at state integrated schools make decisions includes their special character framework. A hub will not have the same framework within which it will be making decisions affecting those schools. The hub-type structure in Canada recognises these differences by having different governance bodies for state and catholic schools, but the Report does not consider this option or indeed give any consideration to this issue. The involvement of each diocese’s Bishop as proprietor of these schools is a significant and integral part of our schooling structure which has been completely ignored.
(d) Staffing hubs will be a drain on already strained education resources
New Zealand is already experiencing a teacher shortage and we are concerned that the number of educationalists needed to staff proposed hubs will exacerbate that shortage.
(e) Focussed support would be a more efficient use of resources
We agree that some boards struggle, and others may lack resource in some key areas. However, not all boards are in this position, and the issues can be managed without removing governance functions from boards. Hubs could provide targeted support to those boards who need it, for example by co-opting a hub expert onto a board with a skills gap. For those boards without a hub co-opted member, performance could be monitored by regular attendance by hub experts at board meetings. Such an approach could also manage other issues identified in the Report, such as board members with personal agendas.
(f) Some board functions should always have external expert assistance, especially legal and compliance support
Board roles such as principal appointment and appraisal, and employment disputes, should always have expert assistance and advice to ensure these functions are carried out with a high level of proficiency that is consistent across the country. Many boards already use external advisors to assist with these functions, and this could be made compulsory for all boards, with the hubs providing and funding the expert advisors.
(g) Ethnic representation on boards is not the only way to get community input
We agree with the Report’s findings that ethnic communities are not always well-represented on boards, and that this may be because of cultural factors. However, we do not see how centralising governance functions would solve the problems of cultural representation on boards. It will not be possible for hubs to have representatives from every culture in their catchment. Once again, individual schools are best placed to obtain and implement feedback from their own communities. This may be through community feedback evenings, parent surveys, or being more proactive about co-opting board members from those communities if necessary.
We do believe that hubs could play a vital role in supporting schools that struggle to get Maori representation on boards. Once again, this could be done by having a hub member co-opted onto those boards who need it, or by providing focussed training.
(h) Teachers and principals should not be forced to move schools
We are concerned at the implication from the Report that teachers and principals may be required to move schools within a hub area. Teachers and principals form bonds with their school communities, may have chosen a particular school for a particular reason, and should not be forced to move schools without their consent. As a state integrated school, forced transfers or secondments of staff would potentially interfere with our obligations under s464 Education Act 1989 (previously s65 Private Schools Conditional Integration Act 1975) concerning the employment of staff willing and able to participate in religious instruction.
If there are concerns around an individual teacher’s or principal’s performance, this should be dealt with through performance management procedures and not by moving them to another school.
(i) Hubs should also ensure co-ordination between early childhood education and primary schools
The importance of early childhood education is gaining increased recognition, as is their role in providing early intervention for learning difficulties. Hubs could develop this potential and improve education outcomes, by ensuring learning support services transition seamlessly between ECE and school for affected students.
4. Schooling Provision Recommendations
4.1. – We support the proposal for full service schools. Implementation of this initiative should start with schools in areas of greatest need. In the meantime, hubs could provide shared centralised services for other schools.
4.2. – Any changes to existing primary, intermediate and secondary school structures should be carefully managed and carried out in consultation with local communities, some of whom may not want structures changed. State integrated schools may have to accommodate changed structures within individual existing schools on existing sites. We also query whether any consideration has been given to the impact of this proposed change on the important role Normal schools play in teacher training.
4.3. – We agree that there is a shortage of teachers for Maori and Pacific languages. We would welcome the use of hubs to provide shared language teaching support services until enough teachers are available.
4.4. – We are concerned at the suggestion that the existence of single sex and special character schools are detrimental to co-ed state schools. There is no “right” answer when it comes to single sex vs co-ed and parents should be able to make a decision that suits their own child’s needs.
5. Competition and Choice Recommendations
5.1. – We are concerned at the suggestion in the Report that underperforming schools are suffering because of competition between schools, or that successful schools are deliberately setting out to boost their numbers at the expense of others. 5.2. As the report points out, parents choosing not to send their children to their local school may be due to factors entirely out of the control of schools, whether successful or otherwise. The decile funding rating system is often misinterpreted by parents – and real estate agents – as a ranking system akin to that used by Ofsted in the UK. The Metro magazine publishes its annual report on school results as another unofficial ranking system. In the end, public perception of a school – justified or not – becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and that is unlikely to change under the Report’s proposals.
5.3. We consider the best way to lift poor performing schools is to focus resources on those schools, targeted at the areas causing problems – which are unlikely to be the same for each poor performing school. The Kahui Ako model was intended to share positive models between schools in a community and the hubs could perhaps take that initiative further – taking what is working at “popular” schools and assessing whether it can be adapted to suit a struggling school. The Report alleges that teachers in well-performing schools are reluctant to share good practice with others, but we have not encountered that as a significant issue.
5.4. We are particularly concerned at the recommendations directed at state-integrated (or special character) schools:
(a) State integrated schools play an important role in the education sector Some of the concerns raised in the Report relate to the ability of schools to properly reflect their community’s cultural values. For some cultures and communities, religion is a crucial part of that culture. State integrated schools are able to reflect those value in a way state schools are not permitted to.
With the recent development and then demise of charter schools, some of those charter schools which were set up to provide alternative education pathways for students who were not succeeding in the state system are becoming state integrated special character schools. The hope is that these schools will continue to provide those education pathways to those students who need them.
Our concern is that the Report’s proposals will limit access to state integrated schools for families who benefit from them, and also that they will limit the ability of state integrated schools to provide the special character-based education they are intended to provide.
(b) Removing or reducing transport subsidies to students at state integrated schools will act as a barrier to attendance
For students for whom the local state school does not adequately meet their educational or cultural needs, the change to transport subsidies will affect their ability to access a special character school that could meet those needs. That outcome would be in direct contradiction to the outcomes the Report is purporting to achieve.
(c) Forcing state integrated schools to use the same enrolment schemes as state schools impacts on their special character
The Report recommends that state integrated schools only be allowed to use the same enrolment scheme criteria for non-preference students as other state schools. However, this ignores the fact that state integrated schools are based around special character. While we agree that state integrated schools should not be allowed to use criteria that do not relate to their special character, they should be allowed to differ from state school criteria where that difference is related to special character. For example, a Roman Catholic state integrated school should be allowed to use criteria linked to students practising other Christian denominations – a criteria that would not be permitted in state schools.
(d) Capping donations and/or attendance dues will place additional strain on resources
We welcome the Report’s recommendation that school funding, particularly around learning support, be increased. However, resources will always be limited and under pressure and should be focussed on schools that need it. Limiting the ability of schools with parents who are able to pay to ask for donations will place additional pressure on limited resources. While in an ideal world every school would get all the resources it needs funded from the government, that is not what happens in reality. Capping donations will simply remove an important funding source from the education system as a whole.
We also note that it is not clear from the Report that there is sufficient understanding about the way in which attendance dues are set, collected and used. For Roman Catholic state integrated schools, attendance dues are set for the whole diocese by the Bishop, collected by each individual school on behalf of the Bishop (and paid to him) and used for the benefit of all Roman Catholic schools in the diocese. The Report has provided no evidence to support its implication in recommendation 12 that attendance dues are not being used “as required by law”.
6. Disability and Learning Support Recommendations
6.1. We support the recommendations concerning disability and learning support and believe they should be implemented without delay. We consider this area, and not governance responsibilities, should be the focus of the hubs.
7. Teaching Recommendations
7.1. We generally support the recommendations about teaching, however as noted above we would not support any forced moving of teachers between schools. While coordinating pools of teacher aides would be useful, this should be in addition and not in replacement of schools employing their own dedicated teacher aides, who get to know the children they are involved with.
8. School Leadership Recommendations
8.1. We generally support the recommendations around school leadership, although we do not support any suggestion that principals would be moved after a specified period of time. As noted above, we believe all boards should have external involvement in principal appointment and appraisal, and this should ensure a consistent high calibre of candidates and performance.
8.2. We do believe that principals should be able to focus most of their time on teaching and learning, and that this can be done by providing appropriate support to principals and boards via the hubs without the need to remove existing aspects of those roles.
9. Resourcing Recommendations
9.1. We strongly support the recommendation to abolish the decile funding system and introduce an equity index funding system and we believe this should be introduced as soon as possible. We also support the other recommendations in this section, subject to the comments we have already made about capping donations.
10. Central Education Agencies Recommendations
10.1. We support the aim of improving responsiveness between ministry and schools, and we agree that school reviews should be more collaborative. We are concerned that the implications of these recommendations are that hubs would be responsible both for the governance of schools and for reviewing them. This is an unsustainable conflict.
10.2. We believe that the aims of these recommendations can be achieved by setting up hubs to be support, advisory and review organisations that work collaboratively with schools to ensure adequate resources are in place to support good performance. A collaborative approach, perhaps achieved by having a hub member attend board meetings or sit on boards and/or as part of the principal appraisal process, should ensure earlier intervention in struggling schools.
11.1. Schools and the Taskforce clearly share the same aim for excellent education outcomes for all New Zealand students. This is a critical time for our education system and we are pleased to have had the opportunity to provide input into what will hopefully be long-lasting and positive changes.
11.2. We would be happy to provide additional feedback on any of the matters set out in this submission. Please contact our principal, Alister Bridgman, at email@example.com or our board chair, Anna Casey, at firstname.lastname@example.org.