NZEI Te Riu Roa says concerns around the potential of new charter schools being extended to babies and pre-schoolers show that the government needs to come clean about the full extent of its plans for the education sector before the election.
NZEI President Judith Nowotarski said extending the charter school experiment to babies signalled a radical escalation of the privately-owned and taxpayer-funded schools that were supposedly a “trial” when the first five schools opened this year.
“How far and how quickly is the government planning to bring the private sector into the running of our schools? And how long will they continue to fund these charter schools at a far higher rate than public schools? Voters have a right to know before the election,” she said.
A preference for charter school models catering to 0-8-year-olds was one of six preferences listed for second round applicants, with successful applicants expected to be announced in the coming weeks.
Ms Nowotarski said since charter schools were outcomes-based, the threat of toddlers being tested and measured against each other was very real.
When asked about charter schools for pre-schoolers this week, Education Minister Hekia Parata told One News, “At the point that we decide on particular partnership schools, we then go into our contract negotiation, and it would be in that phase, against a specific proposal, that we would agree what the targets and measures are.”
Ms Nowotarski said most parents would be appalled at the thought of targets and measures being applied to their very young children.
“Children learn in different ways at their own individual pace. National standards for primary school students is bad enough, but the thought of applying a similar measure to toddlers and labelling their natural development is just appalling,” she said.
“Charter schools are not required to hire trained teachers, so even the current minimum requirement of 50% trained teachers in early childhood centres could possibly be side-stepped by charter school providers in pursuit of profits.”
Questions were raised in Parliament this week about whether the extra government funding that babies and pre-schoolers attract could instead be diverted to run the rest of the school or boost owners’ profits. Opposition parties also raised the mixed results of charter schools so far and the risk that taxpayer-funded assets may be lost if a school closes.