As we have seen before, the release of such information, often requested under the Official Information Act, was incomplete and continues to make a mockery both of the OIA itself and the rhetoric that processes relating to charter school will be transparent and subject to scrutiny.
On 12 June 2014 I lodged an application under the OIA for the “Readiness Reviews” conducted by the Education Review Office of the five new schools which opened in February 2014.
A Readiness Review, as its name implies, is supposed to be ERO’s view of the state of a new school’s preparedness to open its doors to students.
At the completion of the normal 20 working days OIA time limit, the Ministry of Education wrote and stated that the Readiness Reviews of four of the schools were “soon” to be made publicly available and so my request was refused on those grounds. They also made this statement about the fifth
“The Readiness report for Te Kura Hourua ki Whangaruru has not been completed. Te Kura Hourua ki Whangaruru has faced a number of challenges, as schools often do when they first open. All of the identified challenges have now been overcome or are being managed. For this reason, the Ministry and ERO have agreed that the review period be extended until the end of August 2014 with a final report in September 2014. Extending the review period allows a fair and reasonable opportunity for the Sponsor to address the issues and demonstrate its capability to operate a successful school.
The report for Te Kura Hourua ki Whangaruru is not expected to be released until the end of September 2014”
Letter from MoE, dated 14 July 2014
Subsequently, on 6 August 2014, the Ministry released to me the four completed readiness reviews for the other schools.
After a wait of over 3 months, the Ministry finally contacted me again:
“The ERO Readiness Review for Te Kura Hourua ki Whangaruru is not included in today’s release. We are withholding this document in full under section 9(2)(f)(iv) of the Act to allow time for some issues to be addressed. The school is in the process of responding to the delayed review. Once it has done that, the report will be released.”
e-mail from MoE, dated 20 November 2014
In my view, there are several unanswered questions that come to mind when this saga is analysed.
1. A Readiness Review should show clearly whether, or not, a new school is “ready” to open. If Whangaruru was not “ready” then why was it allowed to open?
2. Why did an Education Report to the Minister from the Ministry, dated 28 January 2014, clearly state that: “Overall, all sponsors are committed and well placed to opening their schools at the start of Term 1, 2014.”?
3. What “challenges” and “issues” were subsequently identified by ERO?
4. Have these issues impacted on the ability of the school to deliver a sound education to the students enrolled at the school?
5. What support has the Ministry of Education had to provide to the school to enable it to continue operating?
6. What has been the cost of this additional support?
7. If the 14 July communication stated that “all of the identified challenges have now been overcome or are being managed” then why has this process not been brought to a conclusion? What issues still need to be addressed, as per the 20 November statement?
8. Why did the Partnership Schools Authorisation Board, chaired by former ACT Party President, Catherine Isaac, authorise Whangaruru in the first place? What did the Authorisation Board see in its application that led them to believe that Whangaruru would be a viable school?
9. If the Whangaruru school collapses, what happens to ownership of the farm property where the school is based?
~ Bill Courtney, SOSNZ