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Bill Courtney, Charter Schools, Education policies, Ministry of Education, Partnership Schools, School Funding

Charter Schools: The Shroud of Secrecy continues, by Bill Courtney

We have written before about the “Shroud of Secrecy” surrounding NZ’s charter schools.

The Ministry of Education finally released the ERO Readiness Review of the Whangaruru charter school in February 2015, one complete year after the school opened.

Tui Yeah right - WhangaruruThe school is now under a formal review process to ascertain whether it should continue.  This is after I was told by the Ministry that “all of the identified challenges have now been overcome or are being managed.”  Yeah Right!

We now have more fun and games from the Ministry with their refusal to release the 2015 funding details for the first round charter schools.

This is in response to an Official Information Act request lodged on 21 November 2014.

Despite regular (and cordial) e-mail correspondence, as of early April the Ministry has refused to disclose the 2015 guaranteed minimum rolls and funding details for the five schools.  They tell me that the “contract variations” have not yet been signed by the Minister.  How convenient.

The Guaranteed Minimum Roll is set at the outset of each contract with the proviso that for each subsequent year, it will be agreed by the Minister and the Sponsor in writing by way of a variation to the contract, by the end of the then current year. [Emphasis added].

So, if they were supposed to be in place by the end of 2014 and, of course, cash payments would have been made to the schools at the start of term one 2015, why can’t they now be released?

The charter schools are outside the normal public sector transparency framework that all State and State-Integrated schools must comply with but we were told that relevant information could be obtained via the Ministry itself.  So much for that whopper!

Although we don’t know their 2015 funding details, we can see the opening rolls via the 1 March roll returns contained in the Schools Directory.

Of the five first round schools, only one – South Auckland Middle School – has now reached its Maximum Roll of 120 students.  The attraction of class sizes of 15, free uniforms and free stationery is undeniable.

The Vanguard Military School has expanded this year to include Year 13 students for the first time.  Its opening roll is 137, which is close to its Guaranteed Minimum Roll of 144 (at least that’s what we think it is).

But Vanguard will be watched closely again this year to see if its roll falls away during the year, as it did in 2014.  The effect of the Guaranteed Minimum Roll is to ensure that the school is funded for at least that number of students throughout the year, regardless of what the actual roll proves to be.

In 2014, Vanguard was funded for 108 students, even though its actual roll fell from 104 as at 1 March to as low as 79 in October.

Whangaruru charter school is under formal review and its future is uncertain.  Its opening roll of 36 students compares to a figure of 63 in March 2014 and last year’s Guaranteed Minimum Roll of 71.

The third charter secondary school is Paraoa, based in Whangarei.  Their opening roll for 2015 is 76, up from last year’s figure of 50, but this is a long way short of the school’s Maximum Roll of 300.  This figure is the highest target roll of any of the nine charter schools established to date and illustrates just how small these schools are proving to be.

The last of the original batch of schools is Rise Up Academy, a primary school based in Mangere.  Interestingly, it appears to have changed its status from being a Year 1 to 6 school to offering Years 1 to 8.  This may have contributed to its roll increasing from 48 in October 2014 to 70 on 1 March 2015.

The opening rolls, Guaranteed Minimum Rolls and funding details of the four second round schools are set out below:

School Guaranteed Min Roll 1 March Roll One-off Establishment Payment 2015 Annual Operational Funding
Te Kura Maori o Waatea 60 34 $506,694 $637,313
Pacific Advance Senior School 100 36 $1,151,825 $2,171,019
Middle School West Auckland 160 131 $959,121 $1,940,456
Te Kapehu Whetu-Teina 65 40 $512,481 $601,253
Total 241 $3,130,121 $5,350,041

We will watch their progress with interest – subject, of course, to what snippets of information manage to escape through the shroud of secrecy surrounding this controversial initiative.

_ Bill Courtney, Save our Schools NZ

About Save Our Schools NZ

"One needs to be slow to form convictions, but once formed they must be defended against the heaviest odds." Gandhi

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