Catherine Isaac

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Unanswered Questions about Charter Schools – QPEC

QPEC new logo Sept 2014

QPEC Chairperson, Bill Courtney, participated in two interviews broadcast on Radio New Zealand on Wednesday 10 September 2014 on the subject of the first five charter, or Partnership, schools.

QPEC is concerned by several comments made during these segments by both Minister of Education, Hekia Parata and Catherine Isaac, the Chairperson of the Partnership Schools / Kura Hourua Authorisation Board.

The following release sets out several of the issues that QPEC believes require clarification or rebuttal.


Where is the Isaac Report? The arguments behind the establishment of NZ charter schools have always been weak and the original Working Group led by former ACT Party President, Catherine Isaac, never produced a written report. This is in contrast to former ACT MP John Banks’s claim in parliament that we could learn from the successes and failures of charter schools overseas. But with no written report from his former party president, we simply don’t know how the NZ model supposedly does this and how it should therefore be resourced, funded and evaluated.

a. “The Partnership Schools / Kura Hourua Working Group (formerly known as the New Zealand Model of Charter School Working Group) has not produced any document that sets out the evidential base behind charter schools.”

Ministry of Education letter dated 4 October 2012.

b. “The Working Group did not produce any reports, recommendations or advice to the aforementioned Ministers. However, their views were captured in four documents that were produced by the Ministry of Education:

i. Developing and Implementing a New Zealand Model of Charter School;

ii. Regulatory Impact Statement

iii. Authorising and Monitoring Report back

iv. Resourcing Partnership Schools

OIA Ministry of Education letter dated 8 August 2013.



Why is there so little transparency around the charter school authorisation process and how the schools operate? There have been serious concerns from the outset about the deliberate moves to reduce transparency and remove the schools from the scope of normal public sector accountability.

a. “I do not accept the Ministry’s position that later disclosure of the [application] information at issue will satisfy the public interest. Disclosure after the Minister has taken decisions on the applications may serve the public interest in accountability, but it would not satisfy the public interest in the public being informed, and being able to participate in the debate, about the creation of partnership schools prior to those decisions being taken. The partnership schools policy involves substantial public funds and significant changes to the way in which publicly funded education provision is controlled, managed and delivered. I consider a more informed public discourse about the creation of such schools is in the public interest.”

Ombudsman Report, dated July 2013.


Why does Hekia Parata state incorrectly that the funding figures per student are a “gross misuse” of the data? The Operational Funding calculations have not included the one-off Establishment Payments, as Hekia Parata states. In the story reported on Radio NZ on Tuesday 9 September, the Whangaruru funding was stated as “nearly $27,000 a pupil,” which is based on Operational Funding of $1,508,561 divided by 56 students, giving $26,939 per student. This excludes the Establishment Payment of $1,379,150.


Why does Catherine Isaac, as the Chairperson of the Authorisation Board, not know what the charter school rolls are, if her group is also responsible for monitoring their progress? Why have the Minister and Catherine Isaac both made statements about the schools’ rolls that are simply not correct?

a. Isaac: Radio NZ 10 September: “It is simply not correct [that 3 out of the 5 schools have not reached their guaranteed minimum roll]. Many are at their maximum roll and have waiting lists.”

b. Parata: “All five are near or above enrolment.” Parliament, Questions for Oral Answer, no. 7, 11 February 2014

School “GuaranteedMinimum Roll” MaximumRoll Actual Roll@ 1 March Actual Roll@ 1 July
South Auckland Middle School 90 120 108 110
Te Kura Hourua ki Whangaruru 71 128 63 56
Te Kura Hourua O Whangarei Terenga Paraoa 50 300 50 53
Rise Up Academy 50 100 42 46
Vanguard Military School 108 192 104 93
Total 369 840 367 358


Although rolls may well fluctuate at any school during the course of the year, the fact remains that two of the schools have experienced falling rolls during the year.


The absence of any substantive case for “What” and “Why” leads to another problem: How is the charter school initiative going to be evaluated? This point is vitally important if the public is to gain confidence that the initiative is to be objectively and independently evaluated, as the Cabinet Paper tabled by the Minister of Education, in October 2013, promises:

a. “The Cabinet paper “Developing and Implementing a New Zealand Model of Charter School” states:

“A strong evaluation programme will be put in place that thoroughly examines the impact and effectiveness of the first such schools. This will enable us to make informed decisions about whether or not to open further such schools in the future” [CAB Min (12) 26/6 refers.]”

b. The October 2013 cabinet paper was prepared after a briefing paper from the Ministry of Education, dated 6 September 2013, contained the following warning:

…risks in moving from what was described as a pilot to an on-going roll-out before evaluating the model. Committing to on-going annual rounds now will reduce the potential for evaluation of the early schools to be taken into account before a long term roll-out.”


In many ways, the most important comments made during the day, were the disparaging comments made by the one person who is ultimately responsible for New Zealand’s public education system: the Hon Hekia Parata, Minister of Education:

“But what’s the alternative? To have these kids become another statistic in the justice system, or in the social welfare system”


No, Hekia. The alternative is to stop talking in clichés and to start dealing head on with the real challenge of properly resourcing public schools. Let’s give all our children the greatest possible opportunity to succeed.

Issued by
Bill Courtney
Quality Public Education Coalition

Charter Schools – a quiet revolution or a sneaky takeover?

pants on fireYou know what gets my goat.  Liars.

One minute Catherine Isaac, John Banks and Hekia Parata are saying charter schools are nothing to worry about, no big thing, just an addition to the system, yadda yadda.  Next thing Catherine is calling them “a quiet revolution”.

Really?  A revolution is it?


Revolution/rɛvəˈluːʃ(ə)n/ – a dramatic and wide-reaching change in conditions, attitudes, or operation


Revolution \ˌre-və-ˈlü-shən\ –  a sudden, radical, or complete change


So what’s it to be, guys – an addition that’s nothing to worry about?  Or a radical change?

Or do you just tailor your witterings to suit the audience, and to hell with honesty?  (Don’t answer that, it was completely rhetorical.)

Well, just for the record, Catherine, a revolution is usually led by the underdog to reclaim some power from those holding them down.  In this case it’s those in power taking more away from the underdog, so rather than a revolution , you could have been honest and said that it’s a quiet, sneaky, takeover.

Because that’s the truth of it: National and ACT are slowly leading our education system down the path of global reforms that have not yet helped a single country’s education system improve and have seen many a country slip backward.

The only people these reforms have helped are those making plenty of money money money from the diverted tax dollars.

Revolution?  No.

Devolution?  Absolutely.


SOSNZ Education news round-up

As ever, it’s been a busy week as in the wonderful world of education.

catherine isaacNZ Charter Schools featured heavily (and were most definitely charters and not partnership schools, which rather implies Hekia’s tanty last week had little impact.

It was announced that Catherine Isaac is as to be in charge of  deciding who will be allowed to set up charter schools, which drew plenty of gasps and criticism as she had also been chair of the charter schools working group.  Most of us weren’t surprised at all.


exams 2US Charter Schools were also in the news thanks to the latest CREDO report.  My favourite part was where the Herald and others trumpeted that charters were doing better than public schools.  What it actually said was that cahrter school students were about the same level in maths and on average eight days ahead in reading.   Oh I did laugh.  Eight. Days.  So, about the same then.

“I don’t think eight days is a whole lot,” said CREDO research manager Devora Davis of the charter school students’ reading edge. “There’s a lot of variation across the states. It’s a national average.”

Twenty years down the line and the best that magical charter schools can manage is that they are achieving about the same as public schools.  Hardly good value for money given the cost.


graduation hatToo many teachers – Also in the news was the fact that there are too many teachers applying for too few jobs, with up to 100 applicants per job in some areas.

Are too many teachers being trained for the jobs available?  It certainly seems that way.  Maybe the powers that be are expecting a lot of resignations…

Also to consider is the impact of over-supply on teachers with more experience?   And will many of the new graduates end up working abroad, or even leaving the profession before they begin?  So much for the teacher shortage we were warned of not long ago…


no moneyFunding for special needs students is still a hot topic, particularly with parents of special needs children.  The news that decile ten private schools were far more likely to apply for and receive funding to help special needs students take exams hit many a raw nerve.

No-one would wish to deny high decile students the help they need, but it does lead to questions about the system when so many lower decile school students that apply for help don’t get it and – equally disconcerting – a huge proportion of low decile schools don’t even apply for the help.


What else? National Standards, PaCT, Badass Teachers, and Christchurch schools have also loomed large this week, but I think that’s enough reading for anyone, so I shall leave it there.

Happy reading, happy thinking.


NACT facts: random information or spin that National and ACT have drummed up and presented as fact (n)

Catherine Isaac has moved on from the USA and UK charters and is now trying to tell us Sweden is the saviour of education.  Truth?  Or dare?

Catherine Isaac has moved on from the USA and UK charters and is now trying to tell us Sweden is the saviour of education. Truth? Or dare?

Charter schools.  Are they going to revolutionise our education system and lead to brilliant gains for our children, particularly Maori and Pacifica children?  Catherine Isaac says they will, and she wrote a wee article for her friends at the New Zealand Herald to  show just that.

But is she being honest with her ‘facts’?  Is she telling the whole story?  Is there another side to this coin?

You bet your ass there is.

Let’s take a look at Isaac’s NACT Facts

NACT Fact 1:  “The many undoubtedly positive features of regular state schools …  such as parent representation on school boards, and the requirement of schools to produce detailed annual plans with targets and employ teachers registered with the Teachers Council, have not saved 52 per cent of Maori students and 41 per cent of Pasifika students from failing to achieve NCEA level 2.”

Truth or Dare:  Where is the evidence that REMOVING those ‘undoubtedly positive features’ from schools will raise achievement?  HOW?  Give us some of that data you guys like so much.

And as she is implying they must be removed to raise the bar (somehow) for underachievers, why are they also to be removed from charters with pupils from other groups that are not deemed to be underachieving?  Hmmm, so removing the democratic process from schools and taking the community OUT of it, will help children from disadvantaged groups and poorer communities improve….   yeah that sounds, well, just plain ridiculous.

Getting those communities MORE involved with schools, encouraging MORE of them to join BOTs, getting MORE links, that is what would strengthen the home/school bond and help to improve things, not breaking it all apart.

Catherine, that NACT fact was just plain silly.

NACT Fact1 (part2):  You say Iwi argue that there is “no respite in sight from an unresponsive and unempathetic mainstream system”

Truth or Dare:  What efforts have the Iwi made under the current system, how have they worked/failed, and what do they believe charters would provide that would be different?  Other than the ability to make a profit?

What’s next?

NACT Fact 2: NZ communities want charter schools.

Truth or Dare:  Well to start with most people have no clue what charters are, what they will be and how they might affect their communities.  So to say communities want them is ridiculous.  Some special interest groups want them, and Isaacs mentions Maori and Pacifica groups that have shown their support.  But if she was at the oral submissions she will have heard that most submissions by a large margin were against them.

Furthermore, when questioned about what a charter a school will do that is different to schools we currently have, and how exactly they aim to raise achievement for groups with historically lower exam passes, they are incredibly sketchy and have no real answers.  Any muttered suggestions I have read or heard apply equally to the schools we have and do not depend on charters for their implementation.

In the USA the tide has turned against charter schools.  In Sweden a poll carried out in 2011 found that Swedes who want to ban companies from operating schools for profit now outnumber those that don’t.  So it doesn’t sound like parents over there are seeing the benefits.  There are plenty of rumblings of discontent from parents in England, too.

And as for New Zealand, well Miss Isaac might want to get out and talk to the thousands of people I have seen and heard who are appalled about charter schools. See here, and here, and here … oh just Google it, there is plenty of opposition out there.

NACT Fact 3:  “There will be a binding, legally enforceable contract with each [charter] school, and that will ensure all is good.”

Truth or Dare:  Would those contracts be set up by Ministry of Education?

  • The same Ministry that oversaw class sizes and had actually calculated it all wrongly?
  • By the same Ministry that brought in a chaotic system that can’t pay its teachers?
  • By the same Ministry that can’t hold onto senior staff due to a prickly Minister?
  • The same Ministry that listed sandpits as liquefaction?
  • The same one that listed a school as having 50 buildings when it had 5?

Well okay then, so long as it is all going to be monitored by credible, talented and accurate people like that then go for your lives.

NACT Fact 3 (part 2):  “A school unable to demonstrate very clearly how it will attract and retain disadvantaged learners and help them succeed, and how it will engage with their families, will not get through the rigorous authorisation process.”

Truth or Dare:  Show me where it mentions provision for special needs students in charter schools in the Education Amendment Bill (2012).  In any other charter school document? They are not even mentioned.

NACT  Fact 4: . “..No student will be forced to enrol in one.  They will receive no more funding than the per-child amount received at a regular state school.”

Truth or Dare:  And if a local school is shut down (say, off the top of my head,by the government saying there are too many schools in a Christchurch suburb) and there is no other local choice, what is the parent to do then?  Where is the choice there?

As for funding… charter schools’ buildings funding ise handed over to the company that wins the bid to run the school, right?  HANDED. OVER.  Theirs to keep.  Even if they make a right royal hash of the school and it is closed.  Even if they themselves close the school.  The walk off with funding worth hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of dollars.  Show me where that is the same funding a public school gets.  Show me how handing over our assets helps students achievement.  Total lies and spin.

And while we are talking funding, since you are so fond of Swedish schools, please note that a university paper looking into Swedish Free Schools found that  “Swedish schooling reforms are not straightforward to analyse because free schools were not set-up at random across the 290 municipalities: they are more prevalent where the municipality is politically supportive and offers high per pupil funding.”  Source

NACT Fact 5:  “The ability to employ some teachers who are not registered with the Teachers Council simply provides for the opportunity to draw on the wider pool of trained and qualified teachers working in private training establishments.”

Truth or Dare:  Public schools can and *do* do that to.  It’s called the Limited Authority to Teach (LAT).  People wanting to teach with an LAT must be checked, to make sure they have appropriate skills, then are issued with an LAT. So here’s where it all gets gnarly again – charter schools will not have to have trained teachers or even teachers with an LAT – BUT public schools will still have to have teachers that are trained or who have an LAT.

Why the difference?

If LATs are good then both should use them – if they are not good then they should be scrapped. What is good for the goose is not at all good for the gander.

NACT Fact 6: Sweden’s free schools are the bee’s knees so there, that proves ours will be mind blowingly great (I paraphrase, of course):

Truth or Dare: “SNS, a prominent business-funded thinktank, issued a report last Wednesday that sharply reversed its normal pro-market stance. The entry of private operators into state-funded education, it argued, had increased segregation and may not have improved educational standards at all.

“The empirical evidence showing that competition is good is not really credible, because they can’t distinguish between grade inflation and real gains,” Dr Jonas Vlachos, who wrote the report on education…”

“Sweden’s path-breaking educational reforms of the 1990s have come under question since last December when the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development published the 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment.  This showed that Swedish students had dropped to 19th place out of 57 countries for literacy, to 24th in maths, and to 28th in science. This compared with 9th, 17th and 16th in studies done in 2000, 2003 and 2006 respectively.”  Source

Also something to consider is “other evidence on free schools indicates growing social and ethnic segregation, and intensifying issues regarding admissions” Source 

NACT Fact 7:  Swedish teachers did not oppose Free schools and surveys have proved them right…

Truth or Dare:  See the answer to NACT Fact 6, above.

Michael Gove, the British Prime Minister who has brought in charters over there (named Free Schools) was as fond as Isaac of quoting Sweden as the charter school poster boy.  However, “Gove has not spoken much of Sweden’s free schools since 2010, because, in fact, the evidence on their achievements and social impact has not been particularly positive.( Gove has since moved on to Poland, and the liberal quoting of African proverbs.)”    Source 

If poor Isaacs is still confused about her ACT Facts/NACTS, she could always do some more research.

Maybe Isaacs should watch Mariria Turei’s speech in parliament

or read here, most especially the comments below the article 

or, you know, actually be honest.

Democracy in NZ is Dead – Forcing Through Charter Schools Come Hell or High Water

democracy is deadI went to the oral submissions on the Education Amendment Bill (2012) and amongst the lot of them there was just ONE very muddled and odd one in favour of charter schools and all of the rest were against.

ALL of them.

They came from academics, elderly couples, principals, unions, you name it, and all but one said the whole idea is flawed.

So why oh why is it that last week the Charter School Development and Authorisation Board was set up BEFORE the hearings committee report back?  (With former ACT president Christine Isaac heading it.)

And BEFORE the hearings committee report back, submissions are being called for from prospective charter schools.

The committee has NOT even reported back.

The Bill has NOT PASSED.

But none of that matters to National because they are going to push these through come hell or high water.

Regardless of whether you think charter schools will be a good thing (and I will be very clear, I do not) it is not acceptable for the government to again run roughshod over the democratic process and plough on with the pre-ordained plans.

Shame on the New Zealand Government.

And shame on the people who don’t stand up against this disgrace.

This is not democracy.


Sources and further reading:

Banks announces who is on the Charter School Development Authorisation Board

Radio NZ – Government accused of stacking odds in favour of charter schools

Scoop – Charter School Board Desperate and Undemocratic Act

Charter Schools – The Arguments For and Against

ImageMost people have heard some mention of charter schools (or Partnership Schools/Kura Hourua), but most are still unclear what they are, how they are different to other types of school, and why some want them and others don’t.

Catherine Isaac (formerly of the ACT Party) and Ian Leckie (NZEI) put forward their different views on charters in their own words in this article..

This might be a good place to start finding out what’s what, before it’s too late…

Of all the controversial issues New Zealand’s education sector has faced this year, charter schools remain one of the most contentious.

Education Review gets both sides of the story.”

Read the whole article here





ACT are Pushing Hard for Charter Schools Even Before Bill is Passed

NZEI Press Release

ACT usurps Parliament’s role in examining charter schools

catherine isaac

The former ACT president and current chair of the Government’s charter schools working group, Catherine Isaac, is pre-empting Parliament’s job of examining legislation introducing charter schools.

NZEI Te Riu Roa says it is writing to Parliament’s Education and Science Select Committee to express its concerns.

“Ms Isaac has created an “indications of interest” process for groups interested in establishing a charter school that mimics a formal authorisation process for such schools before the legislation to introduce charter schools has even been passed,” says NZEI Te Riu Roa National Secretary Paul Goulter.

“The Education Select Committee has not even yet held hearings on the Bill that would introduce charter schools.  Ms Isaac was appointed to chair a working group to provide advice to the Government, not to usurp Parliament’s right to consider, debate and change proposed legislation, or to set up her own charter school authorising empire,” he says.

Mr Goulter says Ms Isaac appears to be setting up the process in a desperate attempt to drum up business, given the paucity of interest in the controversial ACT-National policy agreement.

A recent Official Information Act request to the Ministry of Education reveals that, up to the end of October, 11 parties had contacted the Partnership Schools/ Kura Hourua Working Group expressing an interest in establishing a charter school (see list below).

Most of the parties that have expressed an interest have narrow sectarian religious connections, including a transcendental meditation group,” Mr Goulter says.

“It appears few would even meet the Government’s focus of targeting priority groups of Māori, Pasifika learners from low socio economic backgrounds and learners with special education needs.”

“There is a risk we will see groups trying to siphon off taxpayer dollars to fund religious and spiritual schools who can access existing special character provisions of the Education Act.

“Charter schools will allow people who are not registered or qualified as teachers to teach in their schools. This has a high risk of a negative impact on children especially those who are more vulnerable or not achieving – the very children whom charter schools are supposedly going to help.”

The charter school framework permits private companies and not-for-profit groups to set up schools without being subject to the same outside scrutiny as public schools, even though they are given taxpayer money.

“The Government’s decision to continually put ideology ahead of quality education for students is part of its neo-liberal Global Education Reform agenda. It puts competition and measuring ahead of quality teaching and learning.”

List of parties interested in establishing a Partnership/Kura Hourua:

Maharishi Foundation of New Zealand
Nga Potiki Education Trust
Pacific Christian School
Living Way Centre
Little Ark ECE Centre
Nga Kakano Christian Reo e Rua Kura
Otara Community Preschool
Te Aka (2010) Charitable Trust
Makahika Outdoor Pursuits Centre
Motueka Rudolf Steiner School
Immanuel Christian School”

Press release ends.


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