I move, That the Education Amendment Bill be now read a first time. At the appropriate time I intend to move that the bill be referred to the Education and Science Committee for consideration. I also intend to move that the committee report finally to the House on or before 28 August 2009, and that the committee have authority to meet at any time while the House is sitting except during oral questions, during any evening on a day on which there has been a sitting of the House, and on a Friday in a week in which there has been a sitting of the House, despite Standing Orders 187 and 190(1)(b) and (c).
The bill proposes two broad areas of policy change. First, the bill introduces changes to current police vetting arrangements. Second, the bill introduces information matching between the New Zealand Teachers Council and the Ministry of Education. In addition to these two areas the bill will introduce a number of other measures to improve efficiency in the schooling system and to improve education law.
The first area of broad policy change is police vetting. The bill will improve student safety, reduce compliance costs, and streamline administration for schools. It will do this by removing the New Zealand Teachers Council as the conduit for the police vetting of all non-teaching staff at schools and early childhood education services. Instead of schools and early childhood education services paying a $10 fee for each police vetting, they will be able to apply directly to the New Zealand Police, which currently provides the service free of charge. Needless police vetting will be minimised by requiring only those contractors who have or are likely to have unsupervised access to children to be police vetted.
The changes proposed in this bill will minimise the risk that non-teaching staff and contractors may have unsupervised access to children before being police vetted. Currently, the law requires the police vetting of all non-permanent, non-teaching staff within 2 weeks of appointment, and also of contractors and their staff within 2 weeks of starting work if they work regularly in the early childhood education service or school. The proposed changes will require the police vet to be obtained before the person commences work and has unsupervised access to children.
The second area of broad policy change is information matching. The bill will provide a better system for ensuring that only authorised teachers are employed by schools. At the moment there is no means of identifying individuals who are teaching in schools without a current practising certificate or with limited authority to teach, and who are thus illegally employed. The bill provides for information matching between the Ministry of Education’s payroll database and the New Zealand Teachers Council’s register of teachers in order to identify those who are teaching in schools without registration. This measure is well overdue, having been promised by the previous Government since October 2007. The information-matching programme will pick up whether teachers meet current teaching standards, thus ensuring that our students receive a quality education. In addition, police vetting will be required with any practising certificate renewal, which means that any individuals with historical convictions who should not be teaching will be identified.
A number of amendments in this bill will improve efficiency. School board of trustee elections must currently be held in term one of an election year. Term one is the busiest time of the school year. The bill will allow for the timing of board elections to be changed so that they can be held later in the school year. Currently, the Education Act 1989 envisages only an individual being appointed as a limited statutory manager or a commissioner for a school. This does not fully utilise the specialist skills and expertise of education sector organisations that could be appointed to these roles. An amendment in the bill will change this by allowing entities such as boards of trustees to be appointed as either a limited statutory manager or a commissioner. In the case of a board of trustees, this change will enable underperforming schools to work directly with a successful neighbouring school.
The New Zealand Qualifications Authority cannot currently credit special schools to offer the National Certificate of Educational Achievement. An amendment in the bill will enable special schools to apply to the New Zealand Qualifications Authority for accreditation in their own right so that they can meet the needs of students who want to achieve a recognised qualification. Currently, a single individual establishment board is created for every new school established under the Education Act 1989. The ability to have a combined board, or alternative board constitution, is available only after the individual establishment board has been transitioned into a single board elected for the school. Amendments in this bill will allow establishment boards to establish more than one new school, and will give the Minister of Education greater discretion to approve alternative constitutions for school boards. Members will know that the Education Review Office has discretion over its frequency of review of State schools, but this discretion does not apply to private schools. This bill will provide that discretion.
The bill will improve education law in three areas. First, it will streamline functions relating to the independent disciplinary bodies overseen by the New Zealand Teachers Council. Second, it will enhance the efficient administration of student loans and allowances. It will also expand existing offence provisions relating to student allowances and loans. Finally, it will introduce a small number of technical and minor remedial amendments to clarify certain definitions and correct drafting errors.
This bill makes a range of amendments that reduce bureaucracy and at the same time keep children’s education and safety at the forefront of our education system. I commend the Education Amendment Bill to the House.
The Education Amendment Bill is essentially the bill that I introduced on 23 September 2008, with some notable exceptions. As the Minister of Education has just outlined, it introduces information sharing between the Ministry of Education’s payroll database and information held by the Teachers Council. This matching up ensures that none of the teachers teaching in our schools are not registered or do not have a practising certificate or authorisation. It seemed astonishing to me when I became the Minister of Education that such a process could happen, and, indeed, this provision was an important part of the Education Amendment Bill (No 3), which we introduced last September. It is very important that schools do not employ teachers who are not qualified or certificated; it is very important from both a professional point of view and a pupil safety point of view. The legislation also ensures that, by matching this data, teachers who are in the correct registration category are able to receive their entitled allowances. That is a very positive aspect of the bill.
It also introduces, as did Labour’s bill last year, flexibility around the timing of elections for boards of trustees. Curiously, as I listened to the Minister read out her speech I thought of the words I had used last year. I heard many familiar phrases there. I am not knocking them, because they are important. Term one is, indeed, the busiest time of any school year, and to hold elections for boards of trustees at that time is a great call on both the school and the parent community. That flexibility is very important. Also, in the establishment of new schools, for schools that are linked to each other—for example, a primary school and a junior high school—to be able to share a new establishment board is an effective way to ensure that there is a pool of parents and others in the community who are able to do those important jobs of school establishment. In rural areas it may well be difficult to find people willing to be members of boards of trustees—people who have the time and commitment to do that public service. So for schools to be able to share boards of trustees is also very important.
The legislation also tidies up some of the differences between State and State integrated schools and private schools. I see that one of the areas the Minister has changed—and it is not a change that I agree with—is the number of times private schools undergo a review by the Education Review Office. This provision brings private schools into the same review process for State and State integrated schools. It also allows students at special schools to participate in the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA), in the same way as last year the Labour-led Government brought in the provision that children in alternative education could access NCEA units for free, which is really important in order to get their participation in education.
But there are some significant differences between this bill and the Education Amendment Bill (No 3) that Labour introduced last year, when I had the privilege of being Minister of Education. The omission of certain things and the changes around police vetting are the reasons why Labour cannot support the Education Amendment Bill.
I will touch just briefly on the police vetting issue. Superficially, it looks like a rational and sensible decision, but actually it puts children at risk. Certainly, not great numbers of children are put at risk, but the New Zealand Educational Institute said itself in a press release it put out earlier this year in support of this legislation—surprisingly enough—that there had been seven cases out of thousands where child abuse by an adult had taken place in an unsupervised situation with children. Frankly, I think that is seven cases too many. If I were the parent of any of those children, I would be appalled that it was considered that seven cases out of thousands were OK. It is not OK for children to be exposed to risk. We heard a lot of nonsense in this House last year about the cost of police vetting. Actually, it costs 10 bucks—that is all. There is a bit of process time—it has to be done in 20 working days—but it actually costs $10. Frankly, if it is too much of a call on a school to pay $10 to vet an adult, even though vetting would have prevented those seven cases of abuse, then I think that is a very bad call. Quite frankly, to have any child at risk of abuse, even if it is only at the rate of seven out of thousands, is too many. We think there should be blanket vetting of adults who are in an unsupervised situation with children at a school or an early childhood centre. It is not a huge imposition. Schools are currently operating under that system, and they are still full of volunteers.
I hear the Minister muttering away over there. Does she agree that seven cases out of a few thousand are OK? Do I hear a yes to that question? Do I hear a yes? Are seven cases of abuse out of several thousand OK to the Minister? Well, they are not OK to me. That is why I think that parents should have confidence that their children are safe with all adults who are in an unsupervised situation during school hours or during the time when an early childhood centre is open—we are talking about school hours or hours of operation. It is not as if the abuse has not happened. I repeat again: seven cases out of thousands are seven too many.
What else has been removed out of this legislation?
I hear the Minister twittering away out there. She has a bit to say to me, but this is the woman who never fronts up. This is the woman about whom the New Zealand Principals Federation put out a press release about a month ago calling her the “no-show” Minister. I say to the Minister she should go out to schools and to parents and explain why seven cases of abuse are OK because she does not want schools to pay $10 to have the police vet within 20 working days people who are in schools.
This bill also takes out the requirements of boards of trustees to do a number of really interesting things. A little list of things that were in Labour’s legislation last year are removed by this National bill. The Labour legislation required boards of trustees to ensure “the enrolment at the school of all persons who are entitled to be enrolled at the school and apply to be enrolled at it:”. Other requirements of boards of trustees that the Minister is taking out are “ensuring that education is provided to every student who is enrolled in the school: promoting a school environment that supports the highest standards of achievement for all students: actively managing and monitoring the performance of the principal:”—is this not interesting; these requirements have all been taken out of this legislation—“ensuring that the performance of the school’s other staff is actively managed and monitored: actively managing and reporting on the school’s performance against the aims and objectives set out in the school charter:”. Is this not curious? This is from a Minister and a National Government that talk about national standards in schools. The list that I have just read out is all about ensuring that every school in New Zealand is a quality learning environment. The Labour legislation also stated that the board of trustees should ensure “that the school, including its assets, finances, and property, is managed in a financially responsible manner:”.
Yes, those requirements have gone. The requirements have gone, but they were actually about ensuring that there were national standards. The requirements were not the nonsense of literacy and numeracy progressions—which were already in our schools. The Minister has not yet in her own mind determined what those progressions mean. The requirements were about ensuring that our schools were safe and well-run places, and that people who were there were accountable. The board of trustees was required to ensure that that happened. That has all been taken out by this legislation.
The other interesting thing that has been taken out was the Labour Government’s proposal in our Education Amendment Bill (No 3) that the Secretary for Education no longer have the right to agree to 15-year-olds coming out of school. Again, much nonsense was said in this House last year when I brought in that legislation. It was criticised for not giving flexibility to education. Twenty-five percent of our students leave school with no qualifications, and a significant number of those are young people who have become disengaged from education. Where in the Education Amendment Bill is there anything about the whole area of transition? The Labour Government came up with Schools Plus. Schools Plus was about a revolution in secondary education. It was about providing alternative pathways to capture the learning interests of students; to stop these 15-year-olds from getting kicked out of school, ending up on the streets, ending up involved in crime, and ending up on a pathway to nowhere.
I have just heard somebody from National asking what my solution was. Our solution was Schools Plus—$39 million this year—to ensure that every secondary school in New Zealand had apprenticeships; to ensure a whole variety of different pathways to synchronise between schools and industry, agriculture, and so on. That is about effective education.
I am pleased to be able to speak on the Education Amendment Bill. I just pass the observation that for the first 5 minutes of the former Labour Minister of Education’s speech I thought it was positive, supportive, and actually what I would have expected. So it was disappointing to hear that he chose to finish his speech not on a positive note but by failing to acknowledge that when he did not get his legislation through the House last year, the electorate had the opportunity to pass judgment. One of the things the electorate wants is greater flexibility in legislation around the schooling system. That is what this amendment bill provides. It also tidies up a couple of areas that need correcting or cleaning up in existing legislation. Nobody could be concerned about that.
As chairperson of the Education and Science Committee I am looking forward to the cooperation of Labour in doing what is best for the children of New Zealand. I mentioned the introduction of greater flexibility. I will refer for a moment to the police vetting provisions. It is my view that large numbers of schools—and particularly principals—will welcome these changes. The intention is to do something that this Government is very, very strong on, which is to reduce compliance costs—in this case, to reduce compliance costs associated with police vetting—and to minimise needless vetting. I think back to the time when I was leading schools. One of the great frustrations was having to pay money to, in effect, a third party, which was the Teacher Registration Board, in order to get a vet that the police would do for me for nothing. It is entirely sensible to remove the middle person, the middle organisation, out of that process, and to let boards of trustees and principals deal directly with the police. It was my experience that far too often the registration board did not get these vets in a manner that was sufficiently timely and reliable for schools. There are a number of schools around this country that took a bit of stick from the Education Review Office over the failure of teachers to be registered or to have their registration renewed, when in actual fact it was a timing issue. The bottleneck was within the teacher registration system. So I, as a former school principal, certainly welcome the greater flexibility that the Education Amendment Bill will bring.
It is important to acknowledge that all non-teaching staff employed in schools and in early childhood centres will continue to be police-vetted. But it is not necessary, in my view, that contractors coming on site on a casual basis, who will have no contact with children at all, go through the bureaucratic business of a vet. I can tell this House—and the members opposite might like to listen—that large numbers of contractors have worked, and, I am sure, continue to work in schools without having been vetted. That is just how it is. So this amendment is a logical, sensible extension of flexibility in the way that schools do their business.
I want to make some comments about the changes that are being proposed around the way that boards of trustees operate. They are very simple changes, not hugely significant, and no extra child will learn as a result of them, but they make the system a little bit more logical and a little bit more flexible, and they provide greater clarity. For example, there is no point at all in a board of trustees of a school whose closure is imminent holding a triennial election. There is no sense to that. In actual fact, if one thinks about it, one realises it is a nonsense. So the greater flexibility that is being built in by this amendment must be welcomed.
Circumstances in some parts of the country would necessitate the need for a combined school board. If one thinks about, for example—
I hear Mr Mallard squawking over there. I believe he was Minister when a number of new schools were initiated in the Botany area of Auckland. How logical and sensible it would have been to develop a coherent community approach to the nature of schooling in that community through something like a single establishment board. Of course, that did not happen. That did not happen because that former Minister had his own agenda, and it was going to be driven through regardless of the interests of the children in that community. This proposed amendment actually hands a bit of power back to the people who know best, and that is the parents of the children who will be going to those schools.
One of the great difficulties behind schooling in New Zealand, and one which I do not believe we handle well, is what we do with a school that is failing. If one looks at the statistics one will see that 29 schools currently have commissioners. That means that their boards of trustees have been deemed as not capable of running the school to the standard required—29 of them. Another 42 have limited statutory managers.
Forty-two of them. That means that there are aspects of those schools’ operations that are not being handled competently by the board or the principal. It might be the financial management or it might be the personnel management. It is a significant number of schools, and the range of options, and the amount of extra options that are available to assist those schools is seriously limited. The opportunity to have, for example, a greater range of intervention alternatives must be welcomed. I would have expected the Labour members opposite to welcome that opportunity, because right at the fundamental base of this bill is what is best for children.
I want to make it very clear that under this Government the days when schools are protected because their principal has mates in the Labour Party, or they are tied to unions—so the failure of their schools is not addressed—are shortly to be over. And all the parents and their children who are stranded in schools that are failing say thank you.
I rise to speak to the first reading of the Education Amendment Bill, which Labour will oppose. I put my comments into context by saying that many parts of the bill are worth supporting. Labour can support some parts of the bill, because much of it was drafted by the previous Labour Government and those bits are certainly worth supporting. They are sensible. They are about putting our children first, and they do live up to the rhetoric that the member who has just resumed his seat tried to portray as being the National Government’s wish.
What is very interesting is the parts of the bill that this Government has changed, because I think that tells us a great deal about the Government’s agenda. The parts the Government has amended, which were originally drafted by the previous Labour Government, reduce safety for children in our schools. Allan Peachey tried to convince us, by using slogans, that this bill is apparently all about safety for children. But if this bill was genuinely about putting the safety of our children first, then the Minister would be insisting on police vetting processes. Yes, I say to Minister Tolley, she would be insisting on police vetting processes. She would not be lowering the standards and saying it is an issue of compliance costs. This Government is reducing the safety of our children to a slogan about compliance costs, and that is wrong. I say that both as a member of Parliament and as a mother of primary school - age children.
The safety of my children and this nation’s children is not a compliance cost; it is what safeguards our future, and it should be foremost in our minds as we debate this bill. I hope it never happens, but if there is a tragedy—if somebody does have unsupervised access to our schoolchildren and a police vetting could have prevented that person from having unsupervised contact—and something goes wrong, I hope that that Minister will stand up and take account. I hope she will say that yes, she did say the safety of our children was not important enough to put first and that we did not need to have police vetting of all the people who have unsupervised contact with our children at school. That Minister will be responsible if such an event does come into play.
We do know that out of 35,000 non-teacher police checks done between 2004 and 2006, apparently only seven people were found to have criminal records that caused concern. This is by way of an explanation from the Minister to say that it does not matter, and that we do not need this vetting because only seven people were found to have criminal convictions that were of concern. I am sorry, I say to the Minister, but I do not want any of those seven people to come near my children. I do not want them to be near other people’s children. I think that the Minister should be sufficiently concerned to take regard of that and should put our children first for a change, rather than calling them compliance costs. Children are not compliance costs; they are vulnerable and deserve the very best standards of care in our schools and in our early childhood education settings.
It is not just the safety of our children that this bill puts at risk; it is also the idea of having standards in our schools. For all of this Government’s spin about national standards and ensuring that schools perform, the very section it has taken out of this bill speaks louder than words—and I will read out the words. This is what has been removed from the responsibilities of a school board under this bill before Parliament.
Yes, it was, I tell the Minister. In the original draft, these provisions were there, and they have been taken out. A school board was to be responsible for ensuring the enrolment at the school of all persons who are entitled to be enrolled at the school. That should be a given in a New Zealand context. Also removed is a school board’s responsibility to ensure that education is provided to each student enrolled at the school, as is the responsibility of a school board to promote a school environment that supports the highest standards of achievement for all students.
Why has that been done? I would like someone from the National Government to get up on his or her feet and explain why it does not require school boards to promote school environments that support the highest standards of achievement for all students.
Is it because they already do that—is that right? So we do not need to say it in legislation?
Simon Bridges says the boards do it in Tauranga only, so that is OK. I am sorry, I say to Mr Bridges, but from Labour’s perspective that is not OK. It should be a requirement of all school boards to provide a school environment that supports the highest standards of achievement for all students.
Also removed from this draft of the bill—
Has the member read what has been removed from the bill? It is very telling indeed. This has also been removed. Apparently, under the National Government a school board’s responsibilities will no longer require it to actively manage and monitor the performance of the principal, ensure that the performance of the school’s other staff is actively managed and monitored, or actively manage and report on the school’s performance against the aims and objectives set out in the school charter. [ Interruption] The Minister is chattering away like a 6-year-old who cannot concentrate for long periods of time. If the Minister would stop chattering away like a naughty schoolchild, perhaps she might learn something. Those very important parts of this bill should go back in.
What does the Minister have against ensuring that education is provided to each student enrolled at school? What does the Minister have against promoting a school environment that supports the highest standards of achievements for all students? I really would like to hear the answers to those questions. It is about putting our children first, but that is not what this bill delivers.
The Minister may laugh. She may think that putting our children in the way of harm is something to be trifled with—something to be laughed at. But it clearly is not. The Minister needs to take a good look at that.
I am very pleased to be on the Education and Science Committee, because I can assure the Minister and her team that the Labour Party representatives on that select committee will be pushing very hard to ensure that our children are put first and are not reduced to something called a compliance cost.
Allan Peachey tried to convince us in his speech just a few minutes ago that some cost was involved in having police vetting done. He was unable to quantify that cost. I would certainly like someone from the National Government to get to his or her feet and quantify the cost we are trying to get away from. I ask to be told which cost is so big, bad, and ugly for our schools and our early childhood education providers that it would have this Government put our children into a potentially risky situation.
The Minister says: “Oh, rubbish!”, but we know that at least seven people were found to have criminal records that caused concern. Those seven people were found through police checks on non-teachers in our schools and our early childhood education centres. We must remember that when we are talking about early childhood education centres, we are talking about probably some of the most vulnerable people in our society. Sometimes they are so young they cannot talk for themselves and tell us what has been happening to them.
It is the job of the Government to ensure that children are safe. It is our job to have high standards in early childhood education, and not—as this Government is wont to do—to keep reducing those standards and keep requiring less and less from the sector. We should have the very highest standards in place. That requires the Government to take a lead role. It requires a strong Government that is prepared to stand up for the rights of our children, and not reduce them to the bumper sticker slogan of being compliance costs. I say to the Minister that they are not compliance costs; they are our children. They require the very highest of standards.
Tēnā koe, Mr Deputy Speaker. Tēnā koutou katoa. This bill is entitled the Education Amendment Bill, but from my analysis it could also be called the “Education Inc. Masquerade Bill”. Some highly significant clauses are just not mentioned in the regulatory impact statement and they need to be deconstructed. The community has a right to know what this bill intends, over and above the two innocuous areas of apparent focus. The Green Party does not have a problem with the dates of the elections for boards of trustees being changed, and we see that the general policy statement claims to have two broad areas of focus: information matching between the Teachers Council and the ministry, and the reduction of compliance costs relating to police vetting. If those two issues were actually the key focus of this bill, then the Green Party would most probably be supporting its referral to a select committee at least. However, the general policy statement refers to some so-called minor changes that we think are substantive, and unhelpful to the advancement of public schools, equitable public education, and the community as a whole.
Those “minor” changes, of a supposedly technical nature, are actually a scene-setting for further privatisation of the education system under the guise of greater efficiency. “Efficiency” is one of those words we just have to question. Efficiency in education is a philosophical issue that could take up more than 10 minutes and, given that it is undefined in this bill, I will try to figure out what the Government means by it. The Green Party thinks that this bill is a wolf dressed in sheepskin. This efficiency wolf is a manifestation of the underlying ideological purpose of the Government’s policies on education. It is one of a suite of bills expressing a neo-liberal position and, as such, it is setting the stage for the further privatisation of the public education system. I say “further privatisation”, because only this week the media reported a cost of around $1,500 per family for children attending public schools in terms of their donations and activities. That sounds like a pretty efficient way of externalising the costs of education on to families and of making sure that the poor families remain poor and less educated.
It may not seem to be about privatisation, but when we look at the clauses and at those so-called minor changes, we need to address some issues. I do not have a problem, as I said, with the general purposes of focusing on the matching of teachers and the reduction of compliance costs, but we have to look deeper. When one lives in a town like Gisborne, where the Minister of Education lives and which I have just left, one sees that we have a public education system with a huge inequity already. We already have schools where half the kids go to Mexico—although now they might be sorry that they did—and the other half cannot afford to go to McDonald’s. It is the sort of place where there is a huge gap in terms of what the public system is delivering, and we do not need any further privatisation in those sorts of communities. How does that relate to this bill, and what is this bill specifically trying to do?
What is this bill specifically trying to do? Having passed over the relatively innocuous clauses on matching and vetting, we come to the issues associated with boards of trustees. The bill proposes that boards can be combined to manage multiple schools under one jurisdiction. This sounds pretty sensible and efficient in some local contexts, but if we read the next clause we get a sense of where this is leading. According to the bill, the Secretary for Education can combine schools under a single board and appoint a corporation sole, or body corporate, to manage that cluster. The sole and body appear to be getting corporate control of several schools, and there are no requirements that they have any educational background or experience. Does this mean that schools can be managed by bodies corporate from Singapore, Australia, China, or anywhere else where we have free-trade or GATT agreements? Maybe that will not happen next week, and maybe it will not happen for a long time, but this bill certainly helps to facilitate that kind of possibility.
If one happens to believe that education is just another business, then, of course, a body corporate is the perfect structure for the management of schools. But as education is not a business but a common good, the business model is highly unsuitable and will lead to further privatisation of the common good. The Green Party supports comments made by Chris Carter and Sue Moroney about the changes to the original Labour bill. I was disappointed to hear that the very useful clauses about the responsibilities of boards of trustees had been omitted. There are very important issues about the rights of all students who are entitled to be enrolled at their local schools. As disability spokesperson for the Greens, I have been told disturbing stories about schools that are in receipt of special-needs grants, but which encourage families with children living with some impairments to attend another school as that school is better set up to address their needs. We need boards of trustees to be highly educated in their responsibilities to these, the most vulnerable of students in their communities, and fully committed to ensuring that schools uphold their rights to appropriate education at their chosen school—in practice, not just in theory. So I am sorry to hear that those useful clauses are absent.
I was a member of a board of trustees of a small rural school, and we needed all the help and guidance we could get, as just being parents of our own children does not make us highly aware of the broader needs of the diversity of children even in one small school. Schools that are failing to provide a safe environment and a quality education do need help. They do not need corporate help and consultants; they need some real engagement from educationists who understand what can be done to foster positive change. Charmaine Pountney, who wrote Learning for Life and achieved a remarkable turn-round at Auckland Girls’ Grammar School, was one such educator, and she has some great ideas for circulating teachers around who need to be refreshed or, sometimes, retired, and for addressing issues of failure in schools. We need to listen to creative and experienced educators and help schools do better by being honest about the failures of boards and, sometimes, of teachers.
But another concern we have about this bill is the clause on Education Review Office issues in relation to private schools. Any dilution of the Education Review Office’s supervision is a concern, but especially in regard to private schools. It is important that the Education Review Office continues to visit private schools every 3 years, because public money is being spent on private institutions and we need to know what is going on. These schools set their own agenda, but they get our money so we want to know they are spending it appropriately. This bill reduces the certainty of the 3-year review, and that is not wise, in our view. Private schools are not the same as public schools. While working for Greenpeace I once gave the same speech to many schools in the Auckland region, in both public and private schools, and the difference in resources and the delivery of the curriculum was enormous. Some may be happy to see public funds going into private schools so they can teach their world view, but accountability is vital. Some of the issues associated with “discipline”, as they love to call it in fundamentalist religious schools, definitely need the regular scrutiny of the Education Review Office.
The idea of options for the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) assessment of special schools again sounds really desirable, and may well be, as long as it does not result in a compulsory imposition of assessment models that are inappropriate for children with specific educational needs who do not fit the NCEA assessment models but are still learning and can have a rich educational experience in a respectful environment without credits. I know that this is heresy, but qualifications are not the only reason we go to school.
Perhaps the most fascinating clause of this bill is the one that deals with retrospective validation. It is not clear what mess this was designed to fix up, but it is odd that National is introducing it, given the passionate and vehement attacks it made on Labour for the retrospective validation of illegal matters in regard to electoral finance in the last term. From what I can gather, some schools integrated with each other without Crown approval so they are now getting validation. The Green Party is not convinced by this kind of lawmaking. I refer members back to the early days of retrospective legislation, including my favourite example, the Validation of Invalid Land Sales Act 1894. The principle behind this and other such retrospective validation is that if one does something stupid or, as in the 1894 case, downright illegal, it can be validated with the stroke of a pen. I am all for reasonable restorative justice, but not for validating the invalid, otherwise we make laws that are a cross between George Orwell and Kafka, and no one is better off.
I would also like to know which teachers, teacher unions, and schools have called for some of the underlying changes mentioned in the bill. Looking at the bill in isolation, I think it looks like a tidy-up of anomalies and a rationalising of resources, but the Green Party will not be supporting it, because of the undertones and context that I have referred to, and because it is part of a suite of changes that disturb us on a deep level. We mark the bill “not achieved”, and we will vote against it.
It is a pleasure to take a call on the Education Amendment Bill. The members of the Education and Science Committee are certainly enthusiastic about this bill being sent to us, if that is what is intended, and come 10 o’clock tomorrow morning we will get serious about working as a team and working through the legislation presented to us so that we can get it back to the House by 28 August, as the Minister has requested. We will ensure that it is a bill that will fit into the very context of the Education Act 1989 and support it.
I make the point that in any relationship situation, things can get a bit stormy, as they did in the Chamber before dinner time, after the debate had ended on a bill that the House agreed on just about unanimously. It had to do with trade, and there is a lot of agreement around trade. But when it comes to education, it is quite clear that things become very, very political. The Opposition spokesperson on education attempted to ask where the transitioning part of this bill is. I tell the Labour spokesperson on education to take some time, because the National Government has a lot more to come under the umbrella of education as far transitioning is concerned.
But what we are concerned about first and foremost is to make schools more workable, more efficient, and more forward-thinking, so that they focus on those children who do not achieve the level of literacy and numeracy that we know they need to have in order to be self-sufficient by the time they leave school. It is on that basis that this bill has come to the House. The bill deals with some matters that may be considered to be small in comparison with some other matters, but they are all very important. We have to remember that the Education Act 1989 is now 20 years old, and when we look through it we see that a large proportion of it has been repealed and replaced by various amendments.
I want to go back to another point that was raised that appears to me to be the most controversial issue, which is the police vetting. We are not debating whether people should have access to children without having been vetted by the police; we are debating whether those people who do not have unsupervised access to children should be vetted by the police. Effectively, the bill proposes that those who do not have unsupervised access to children do not need police vetting.
That proposal received unanimous support from the education trade. I am quoting from the New Zealand Education Review magazine, which said: “… principals and unions are welcoming National’s decision to allow parents and volunteers who have not passed police checks to have unsupervised access to children in schools and early childhood centres.” Principals and the unions are supporting that. It is interesting to read what the president of the Principals Federation, Ernie Buutveld, had to say. He said that overturning police vetting for volunteers and parents was a “step in the right direction”, and schools would continue to follow policies to ensure student safety. That is an exact quote from Ernie. Further to that, the president of the New Zealand Educational Institute is reported as describing the move by Anne Tolley, the Minister of Education, as common sense. She said the vetting of parents would lead to a drop in parent volunteering. I think myself that this bill has come forward as a result of listening clearly to the sector.
We have heard of about seven cases of people who raised concerns with regard to criminal records over the last 2 years. There were 35,000 people vetted, and seven people were found to have criminal records. I draw the House’s attention to the fact that when I first became a member of the Education and Science Committee, a member’s bill came before us about ensuring that all people who stand for election to a board of trustees should be police vetted. We looked at that and wrestled with it. We sent the officials away to consider it, and they came back. There was something inside us that said we had to do that. But we could not; we could not achieve it. I also take the point, from my reading around this situation, that it has not been possible under the present regime to ensure 100 percent compliance with the requirement for police vetting. I call on members of the select committee to step past the theatre of the House on the first reading of the bill and to see whether we can put children and their achievements at the very centre. We should be focused on them and on their achievements.
One thing that really excited me too was the thought of the flexible model around school governance, which is something that has stirred my interest from early times in politics. I recall that the late Hon Brian Donnelly did a superb paper that dealt with these aspects. He also dealt with the subject of one principal looking after a number of smaller schools, so that there was the strong collegial leadership that was needed. I always found that Brian Donnelly, as the chair of the Education and Science Committee, brought a maturity to that committee, and it has continued under Allan Peachey. We are under good direction and a good chair, and I believe that what this bill has to offer is very, very positive.
It would be a shame to get bogged down in ideology, whereby we felt that we needed to be prescriptive as to the word and the sentence of what a board of trustees must do. My experience with boards of trustees is that professional development is always offered—the ministry is close by—and they have a passion that needs not to be fettered by regulations that will dumb them down.
A point that I would like to take up, just to conclude, concerns student allowances, which have not been touched on. It is not a biggie, but it is something that needs to be focused on. At present it is unlawful to make a false declaration, but this bill makes that an action that makes someone liable to a fine. I think that might be quite appropriate, because it does not send a very good signal if people are able to drive a bus through the regulations of a significant Act—the Education Act 1989.
On that basis, I think everything looks very good. I know that the Government members of the select committee are very, very enthusiastic to get this bill before the committee in order to make sure we can deliver it back to the House on 28 August so that we can start proceeding down the pathway towards helping every child to realise his or her potential. Thank you, Mr Assistant Speaker.
I rise on behalf of the ACT Party to speak to the first reading of the Education Amendment Bill. ACT is supporting this bill for no other reason than that there are many amendments here—it is a tidying-up bill, if you like. The amendments make absolute sense, and quite why some of them were not addressed well before now is anybody’s guess.
The main amendments are, firstly, to introduce an information-matching programme to compare teacher information held on the Ministry of Education’s payroll system with information from the Teachers Council’s teacher register. The purpose of this programme is to identify teachers who are teaching without a current practising certificate, and it will also identify schools that are illegally employing these teachers. As I say, it is a very sensible and straightforward amendment that should have been dealt with before now.
The second amendment, which has been referred to by most speakers, is the reduction in compliance costs related to police vetting by removing the Teachers Council as the conduit for police vetting of non-teaching staff and contract staff. As the previous speaker, Colin King, said, we are talking here about parents and volunteers. Quite why we would try to discourage parents from participating in their children’s education as volunteers, I do not know. This amendment removes the requirement to obtain police vetting for contractors who have no unsupervised access to children. It does not change at all the supervised access provisions, but here we are talking about parents and volunteers who will not have direct access to children and certainly will not be alone with them. It does not remove the requirement for the police vetting of teaching staff or non-teaching staff who have unsupervised access to children, but it does remove the Teachers Council as the mechanism for obtaining police checks. This should make police checks quicker and cheaper for schools, and removing compliance costs in this instance is very much a good thing. It is interesting to hear from Colin King that this move is endorsed by both the Principals Federation and the New Zealand Educational Institute. They have called this move common sense, and I have to agree with them.
In my particular area of delegation as Associate Minister of Education, I am pleased to see that some provisions in the bill will make things much better for those undertaking special education and also for independent schools. I come first to special education. Provisions within the bill will allow special schools to be accredited for NCEA (National Certificate of Educational Achievement), which is not currently the case. As I have gone around the country visiting special schools, satellite classrooms, and children with special education needs who are being mainstreamed, I have seen that this issue has been very much a bugbear, particularly in special schools. Several students at these schools are at the academic level where they are able to participate in NCEA, but this is not automatically available to children in special schools. This bill will rectify that anomaly. If there is one thing we should be aiming for for all children in New Zealand, it is the opportunity for them to reach their full potential, whether they are educated at a State school, an independent school, an integrated school, or, indeed, a special school.
The bill also clarifies the terms “special class”, “special clinic”, “special school”, and “special service”. Some might look at this provision and ask why it is necessary, as we are just talking about words. But as we well know, in the public sector definitions become very important when it comes to funding and resourcing, so this, too, is a very welcome amendment to the Education Act.
Also in the special education realm, this bill amends the definition of “State school” to include “special school”, which is currently not the case either. Special schools are usually funded and resourced by the Ministry of Education in exactly the same way that State schools are, and it is a matter of great importance to the children attending a special school—and also to their parents and those working in the area—that they be considered to be under the State school umbrella. It means that they are seen with a degree of normality that is perhaps sometimes denied them.
With regard to independent schools, this bill removes an anomaly in the Act so that private schools are able to be lawfully accredited to offer NCEA. Many will be unaware that this is actually not the case at the moment; this amendment corrects something that should have been corrected long ago.
The bill allows for combined establishment boards that can set up more than one new school, and it allows for more flexibility when independent schools are reviewed. We heard just before that such schools will now come under the same rules, in terms of Education Review Office examination, as every other school in the country, which is absolutely the right thing.
The bill outlines other amendments, which are of a relatively minor nature. Again, while we have the opportunity to tidy up things that should be other than as they are, that opportunity is being taken. I will give a few examples. The bill allows for more flexibility in relation to when triennial elections for school boards of trustees are held. At the moment the law stipulates that elections for school boards have to be held on the second Tuesday in May. Quite what is special about the second Tuesday in May is anybody’s guess. I have had a think about it, but it escapes me.
Perhaps Mr Hughes can enlighten us in his next speech, or maybe not.
Anyway, the bill allows a lot more flexibility in this regard, and the Minister will have some say in the date when elections will be held.
There are a couple of fishhooks in the bill, in ACT’s view, but we feel they will be able to be tidied up at the Education and Science Committee. One of those fishhooks is the clarification of the definition of a playgroup. The explanatory note of the bill states that “The Bill amends the definition of playgroup to make it clear that at least half the children attending a playgroup session must have a parent or their caregiver present, and that the same caregiver cannot be nominated by more than 1 set of parents belonging to a playgroup.” The ACT Party does not agree with this provision. We think that it is overly inflexible and a little bit bureaucratic, and at the right point in the select committee process we will be suggesting some amendments.
The bill also allows for teachers’ practising certificates to be suspended where there has been an allegation of serious misconduct. I contend that not one single member in this House would argue with that provision, and quite why it was not there before is unclear. The bill allows for the suspension of a teacher’s practising certificate to be extended until an investigation into misconduct is resolved. That, too, makes good sense.
As was also mentioned by the previous speaker, a couple of tertiary education amendments will be made, and, again, they are just good common sense. Under this bill, for “students who knowingly make false or misleading statements in their applications:” there is an expansion of “existing offence provisions relating to student allowances . . .”. That issue will be able to be dealt with, whereas previously it could not be.
That is the ACT Party’s stand on this bill. We think the bill is very sensible and we will be supporting it, but we would like to see just one or two of the amendment provisions tidied up at the select committee. Thank you.
Tēnā koe, Mr Assistant Speaker, kia ora tātau katoa i tēnei pō. Nau mai, hoki mai ki ngā mahi o te pō, otirā, ngā mahi o te Kāwanatanga.
[Greetings, Mr Assistant Speaker, and to us all this evening. Welcome, welcome back to the business of the evening, and, indeed, Government matters.]
Earlier today the Minister of Health outlined the strong actions taken by teachers at Rangitoto College in Auckland to protect the health and safety of students recently returned from Mexico. They took actions that demonstrated compliance with what I used to refer to as the NAGs—the National Administration Guidelines—to uphold and protect the health and safety of their students, and, from the Māori Party perspective, the Education Amendment Bill adds to that record by fixing up some of the policy gaps that could make our students rather vulnerable.
One of the key issues initiated by this bill are the amendments surrounding the question of registration of, or authorisation for, teachers to teach. According to the Teachers Council, in 2007 an estimated 3,500 teachers working in New Zealand schools were unregistered—3,500. This means that 3,500 people had not been vetted by the police or did not have in place a current practising certificate to show they were fit to work. Even more disturbing was the admission late last year that there was an unknown number of unqualified people teaching in the country’s primary and secondary schools. The admission, from the former Minister of Education, the Hon Chris Carter, was that unregistered teachers were undermining the profession, and that public concern could arise if it was found that there were significant numbers teaching without a current practising certificate or authorisation. I have to say that I find that a rather shocking admission from the former Minister. When we take our car to the garage, we expect that the mechanic is qualified to know one end of the carburettor from the other—or so one would hope. Similarly, if we suffer from the pain of a toothache, we expect that the dental surgeon will have some skill to know what to do with the decaying tooth. So why should we risk exposing our children to teachers who are not registered or qualified to take on the responsibility of learning and teaching? Surely the education of our future leaders must be something we invest in and take seriously.
We must protect the professional quality of the teaching sector, we must maintain teaching standards, and we must do both in the best interests of the student population. In our Māori Party policy document, “He aha te mea nui?”, a very good policy document, we considered the notion—
Oh, OK. We would like to add a little bit more that the Māori Party brings to the debate, which is a consideration of the notion of moving towards standards of cultural competency. That comes off, I suppose, the back of the developments around Te Kōtahitanga project. So I am just signalling that if there is an acceptance of cultural incompetency, almost signalled by Te Kōtahitanga project, in the teaching profession, then the Māori Party intends to address that in the near future.
We support the moves in this bill to enable the Teachers Council and the Minister of Education to share data about whether teachers have current registrations in place. This was an initiative that the previous Government introduced and that Minister Tolley has now advanced into this legislation. It is a move, we understand, that has the support of the teacher unions and the School Trustees Association, and now, indeed, of the Māori Party. We believe that information matching will ultimately lead to the potential to raise the educational performance of students, and that that should be supported.
We note that a range of fines can be instigated for those boards that fail to employ registered teachers. Boards that employ unregistered teachers will incur a fine of up to $5,000, while the unregistered teachers themselves will incur a $2,000 fine. But surely the greatest penalty will be where the educational prospects of our students are compromised or hindered in any way by people who lack the skills, and indeed the capacity, to support and promote mātauranga, the love of learning.
Although the information-matching proposals are supported, the amendments to place some management around the mechanisms for police vetting are a very positive development in the Education Act. This bill removes the requirement for all contractors to be police vetted, and replaces it with a requirement to vet only those who are likely to have unsupervised access to children at schools and early childhood centres. This change has come about from very strong reaction on the part of those in the education sector, to what they saw as being a rather over-the-top approach. Those in the education sector have told us very clearly that such measures would create immediate problems for school communities by setting artificial barriers beyond which volunteers would be barred from entry into schools.
Sheridan McKinley, of Ngāti Kahungunu and Ngāi Tahu background, has written as a researcher about the perspectives of Māori parents as they consider their aspirations for their children’s schooling. The research report, entitled Māori Parents and Education/Ko ngā Mātua Māori me te Mātauranga,identified a key conclusion: how well Māori children do at school is strongly linked with how well parents and children relate to school staff. I ask members to just think about the possible scenarios that could have occurred with the previous proposals. For example, imagine a kuia decides that she has some spare time to assist with helping her mokopuna to read at school, a young dad on shift work decides he will give up some valuable sleep time, maybe, to help coach the school rugby team at lunchtime, or a koro decides that he would like to support the kōhanga reo by just turning up where and when he can. Imagine the reaction of their whānau when, upon arriving at the school or centre, they are taken off down to the police station for a police check.
As someone who has had a fair bit of experience in the school education sector, I want to make it quite clear that every school benefits from the enormous contributions of volunteers from throughout the community. They run the cake stalls and sausage sizzles. They go on camp and help out at the marae, if their school has a marae. They help out on sports days, provide the transport, supervise the school discos, and so on. They are there in big numbers. As a nation, the volunteers who keep our communities afloat contribute more than $3 billion to the economy. But this is about more than simple dollars. Helping our schools to be reflections of their communities is an important goal in its own right. Strong communities come from everyone feeling that they have a role to play through their participation and ongoing contribution. During times of economic downturn, such a role is even more important in the growth of resilient and thriving communities.
We support the amendments, which minimise needless police-vetting and rapidly downscale the compliance costs that would have landed on school administrations.
Finally, this bill proposes some minor changes to the current processes for teacher complaints and disciplinary measures. In essence, it enables a complaint assessment committee to suspend a teacher’s practising certificate for up to 3 months if that teacher is being investigated on a complaint of serious misconduct by the committee, the employer, or the police. It seems a thoroughly sensible mechanism, which is how other speakers have alluded to it. Indeed, the possibility that a teacher could still be teaching while under investigation for serious misconduct is surely one that should not be entertained.
These measures are sound, sensible, and, most of all, they are effective approaches towards ensuring health and safety issues are regarded as a priority in our schools and early childhood communities. For these reasons, we will be supporting this bill. Kia ora tātou.
I have been following the developments and initiatives that have unfolded in this Parliament in the last 6 months in respect of education. It is with some concern that I stand to talk about the Education Amendment Bill. Let me make it clear that I support the reducing of the compliance burden on schools and early childhood education services by allowing for vetting applications to be made directly to the New Zealand Police, but I do not support the provisions that weaken requirements for police vetting of contractors. I support the amendments that introduce information matching between the New Zealand Teachers Council and the Ministry of Education to identify individuals teaching in schools without registration. I also support the provisions relating to 3-month suspension of teachers’ practising certificates.
My concerns about the progress that education has made in the last 6 months stem from the seemingly ad hoc nature of the educational initiatives that have come before us. Those initiatives include national standards, fining parents of truants, plain English reporting, changes to National Administration Guideline 5, and now this Education Amendment Bill. As an educator for some time, my concern stems from the lack of a coherent, progressive plan to move the New Zealand education system into the future. From what I have observed, the initiatives developed over the last 6 months barely relate to each other, and they appear to be based on populist notions with little or no grounding in solid educational research.
On the issue of police vetting, I have concerns regarding the safety of students if there are people working in school grounds who have not been vetted. To illustrate my concern, I recall a conversation I once had with a social worker who made a list of 100 men from a particular community whom she wanted to work as role models with at-risk teenagers. Because a social worker selected these people, we would assume that they appeared to be upstanding members of the community. However, as a precaution the social worker asked police to vet those 100 names in case they had criminal records, only to find that 78 of the 100 of those male mentors had faced criminal charges for violence. This simple analogy serves to illustrate that this part of the Education Amendment Bill alone is an example of poorly conceived legislation.
That aside, my greater concern is that there is no link between the relaxing of police vetting and any sort of academic achievement. If we were to examine the research, we would find there are dozens of initiatives and strategies that we should be discussing instead that make real and significant improvements to educational achievement. My concern is that we have spent considerable time and energy debating issues that have no research to back their efficacy.
While we continue down this path of debating bills that have no basis in research, we will simply wander down a path of schools failing students. What everyone fails to realise as we debate this bill is that the secrets to raising educational achievement are actually no longer secrets. There is a pile of new research, much of it New Zealand - based, that spells out very clearly what schools, principals, teachers, parents, and students need to do in order to make students learn. This is the research that we should be debating in this Parliament. It stuns me to think that instead of focusing on what is known to raise achievement, we keep dreaming up unproven issues to fill the time and give the impression that progress has been made in the name of education.
Research suggests that even with the strategies we have discussed, progress probably will be made. That is simply because there are few strategies that actually make students dumber. If the National Government claims that its initiatives will raise achievement, it is probably correct, but it is more likely to be a case of student achievement being raised in spite of these initiatives rather than because of them. What needs to be debated and examined in this House are those initiatives or strategies that have the most—and I repeat, the most—or greatest effect on achievement.
To illustrate my point, there are dozens of initiatives that raise student achievement, and they are ranked from most effective to least effective. All of them can be found in this book I am holding, Visible Learning, written by Professor John Hattie. Let us say there were just 10 strategies that were proven to raise achievement. The question is why we would use the strategies ranked sixth, seventh, eight, ninth, or 10th, when we know that strategies one through to five will be more effective in raising achievement. Professor Hattie, an eminent New Zealand researcher, has done exactly what I have just described. He has written this fascinating book called Visible Learning, which is a synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. I have checked through the strategies that Professor Hattie has analysed, and not only does police vetting of contractors not rate in the top half of those strategies, but it is not mentioned in the research at all. It is rated as being even less effective than those few strategies that do make students dumber. My question is why we are talking about police vetting when there are much more effective strategies for making students learn.
I struggle to see the relevance of this part of the bill, which will actually jeopardise the safety of New Zealand schoolchildren, and I seriously believe that it is just a populist diversion. While we here in the House continue to draw the attention of educators towards issues that have no effect on raising educational achievement, we will simply divert them from the educational issues that will make a difference. In the House today at question time I heard about trade academies. I thought to myself: fine, trade academies probably do raise achievement, because, as I said earlier, there are not many strategies—although there are a few—that make students dumber. My belief is that trade schools will only be as effective as the quality of the teaching that goes on inside the trade academies. I have checked Professor Hattie’s research, and trade academies are not mentioned per se. However, under the heading “Types of Schools”, there is a part that describes charter schools, which are described as “publicly funded schools that have been freed from some of the regulations and statutes that apply to other public schools, often of a particular flavour, and they usually involve some form of innovative teaching principles.” I believe I am correct in giving a general description of what the trade academies would do. However, Hattie’s research has ranked charter schools 107th out of 138 initiatives. That means they are way down on the list of effective strategies that make students learn. What will make students in trade academies successful students is the quality of the teaching that goes on there. Despite the low rank on Hattie’s scale, an excellent trade academy with excellent teaching will be more successful than a mainstream school with poor teaching.
I ask members in the House whether, if they were to undergo life-saving surgery, they would prefer a surgeon who used an operating technique know to have the No. 1 success rate, or a surgeon who used the 107th most successful strategy. To relate that question to this debate, why are we not discussing issues and strategies that we know, because of the research, will make kids achieve?
As a principal I had to get all employees and contractors vetted at our school. I viewed it as one of those administrative tasks that just had to be done; so, like all good leaders, I delegated it. The systems our administrative office set up meant that the vetting just happened. I know that the majority of principals in New Zealand schools are teaching principals and they teach in small schools. But most still have a school secretary who really should be able to post off the vetting form and hand the confidential letter to the principal when it returns. The effort this takes is insignificant compared with ensuring the safety of our children. The system a school sets up can be as streamlined or as muddled as it wishes.
The other concerns I have regarding this bill are around the sections that have been removed that no longer require the board of trustees to monitor the performance of the principal and the staff, and especially in managing and reporting against the school’s aims and objectives set out in the school charter.
I will finish there, but I want to end on the point that if we genuinely want student achievement to be raised, then in this Parliament we need to be examining and discussing the issues that are proven to make a difference to student achievement. There are piles of research that illustrate what those strategies are. Thank you.
I rise to support the first reading of the Education Amendment Bill. The bill deals with three key messy issues in the education sector: reducing compliance issues around police vetting of contractors in, for example, early childhood education centres, and I want to talk about that in a minute; allowing body corporates to be limited statutory managers or commissioners; and repairing a number of issues that exist already with the Teachers Council.
I think we all believe that quality educational outcomes are critical to the future of New Zealand. I spoke about this at length in my maiden speech. Education is one of the fundamental planks of our Government’s plan for the future, and everyone would agree that education is important. This bill is another step in that direction, along with national standards and the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been invested in school infrastructure. The Government is delivering confidence and helping to create aspiration for students and their parents.
I attended a low-decile school in eastern Christchurch, an area that commonly has problems with teacher retention, teacher training, and poor data quality, and that has poor student performance as a result. There are many preschools in my area and they are what I want to talk about. They do not have the same level of resources as preschools on the other side of town. Compliance costs have a considerable impact on the actions of the parents and the students.
I will give a specific example of the benefits of this bill. My family and I have been involved in our local playcentre and kindy for over 30 years. I myself attended this preschool. With no large amount of resources available, the compliance costs of small early childhood education centres are considerable. We recently had to employ a contractor to build a new fence at the front of our local kindergarten. That contractor was required to be vetted by the police. That was ridiculous. We were volunteers who, unlike the previous speaker, had not had any experience of police vetting. We did not have any templates and forms. We had to create the whole process, and to ring the police. We did not know what to do, because no one had ever told us. With the resources wasted on that process, a group of us parents could have built the fence ourselves, as in a working bee.
Well, as I was saying, this is one of the issues that the bill is designed to fix. The current legislation is actually unworkable, and this amendment bill will put in place some good steps in the right direction. It will free up resources to be spent on children, and indirectly free up police resources to be used to catch criminals—which is what the police are there for, of course. My own daughter, who is 3, will be a beneficiary of this bill, as well as the children of other families in my community.
The benefits can be rolled out across the entire country. The Ministry of Education estimates that in the order of $350,000 or more annually will be freed up as a result of the changes to the police-vetting procedures. That sum could be used to build a whole new preschool. It could be used to run a whole new preschool for 100 kids a year. We are a Government that wants more for our kids, and wants resources to be used in a way that makes sense. For an area like mine with a rapidly growing population in north-east Christchurch, this legislation is a good step—removing that sort of compliance and using those resources in a better way.
The next move is to improve data matching of teachers. This is a problem across schools, and the bill’s provisions will help identify teachers who, perhaps inadvertently, do not hold a current teacher’s practising certificate. Many non-certificated teachers who will be picked up by data matching will not be aware that there is a gap that needs to be filled. The bill will put in place a regime to help those people re-qualify or, if they do not, get out of the system. The programme will be reviewed on its effectiveness after 6 months against the objective that all teaching staff be registered. This is good. It will allow for a feedback loop to check the system is actually working.
Let us talk a little about the limited statutory manager and commissioner changes that are in this bill. As Anne Tolley spoke about earlier, there currently are 42 limited statutory managers and 29 commissioners. There are three commissioners in my area. My part of Christchurch has seen more than its fair share of commissioners and limited statutory managers. In fact, my former school principal has made a full-time career as a limited statutory manager since retiring 15 years ago. A number of people across the country are equally eminently qualified to do this role but do not meet the current criteria to be a limited statutory manager. The changes in this bill will allow more people to do that job and get problem schools back on track.
The previous speaker spoke about a gentleman called Professor Hattie. Professor Hattie has some good views and many of these have been adopted in some way. He was the developer of asTTle, an important tool in the use of national standards. An important plank of our party policy is implementing national standards for numeracy and literacy. I think that is an important step in the right direction.
I want to talk about some of the other changes that have been mentioned by earlier speakers. One is the change around playgroups. As a parent of two young kids, I say that playgroups are an important facet of the local community. In Parklands, where I live, over 100 kids attend the local playgroup. Many playgroups do not know the rules and guidelines about how to operate or run a playgroup. This bill will allow more clarity on how those playgroups should be operated and what rules and regulations should apply to them. These are positive things.
There are a number of other changes to anomalies. There are 13 major changes. They include allowing more flexibility for special schools and for school boards. Many schools, as a result of the nature of their community, do not have the right resources in terms of legal skills, financial skills, or the like. They cannot get them from their own community, but the school next door does have them. This bill allows some changes. It allows the merging of school boards and allows sharing of resources if the boards choose to do so. That would work quite well in many cases that I have run into in my area.
Other issues that this bill deals with are allowing the combination of new establishment boards, more flexibility when private schools are reviewed, and changing the time period for reviews by the Education Review Office. There are tidy-up issues around retrospective payments to integrated schools where there has been a mess-up.
Another really interesting area is the offence mechanisms for student loans. I was a protester against student loans many years ago when they were introduced, and I must admit that many students put in place systems whereby they, knowingly or not, fill in forms to get the resources they think they are entitled to. Changes in this law will allow that to work in a better way. They will make sure that students are not taking advantage of the system, and that the resources are used in a more clever way. One of the other things this bill is designed to deal with is the suspension of teachers. At the moment, a teacher is suspended for, normally, 3 to 6 months. This bill will allow that suspension to continue, and there are good reasons for that in terms of suspension of the teacher’s practising certificate. There have been some cases in recent times where suspensions have caused some problems.
The bill clarifies a number of issues around special classes, special clinics, special schools, and special services. They are tidy-up provisions and make a lot of sense. They will reduce a bit of administration and work for officials, and for certain schools up and down the country. Another issue that has been pointed out is the definition of “institution” and issues that arise around the requirements of the New Zealand Qualifications Authority.
The bill’s changes are good and not controversial. The only thing that Opposition members seem to think is controversial is the issue of contractors working in early childhood education centres. The changes that this bill introduces are good, because they will allow small early childhood centres, like those I have been involved with, to operate more effectively and efficiently; allow the community to spend resources on the things it wants; allow the police to focus on what they should be doing—catching criminals—rather than vetting fence builders; and improve a whole series of other little snags that exist within the current law. Fixing these snags in the system is a worthy cause, and I think we should commend this bill to the House. If members opposite actually thought about some of the changes being proposed, particularly the issues of compliance, they would see that they are a major improvement for, particularly, small centres in the early childhood sector, rather than the secondary school sector. Thank you.
I rise to support the Education Amendment Bill in its first reading, and it is my intention to support it in other readings as it comes before this House. This legislation will do a number of things. It will allow comparisons between information kept by the Teachers Council and the Ministry of Education to identify people who are teaching in our schools and to identify those who are teaching without registration.
Earlier tonight the Minister of Education said that these measures will reduce school compliance costs and improve efficiency in the education sector. The Minister is right. That is exactly what this Government is about. I congratulate the Minister Anne Tolley on giving the bill priority—something, I note, the previous Government was at least consistent in failing to do. This Government wants schools to be able to get on with education to focus on teaching and learning, not bureaucracy. This bill is one more step towards making our schools better. The Minister has been extremely focused on delivering for schools and students in New Zealand. Our new Minister, Anne Tolley, has achieved more in the last 5 months than the previous Government did in 9 years.
The bill makes a number of small changes to enhance the effective governance of the compulsory education system and the effective administration of the compulsory and tertiary education systems. The bill will provide greater clarity around a number of definitions and will correct minor technical and drafting errors in the existing Act. These changes will help organise education efficiently and improve education legislation. The National Government is committed to working through the many inequalities and serious inadequacies that were left to it by the previous Labour Government and to ensuring that children in our schools are safe.
There are around 90,000 registered teachers in New Zealand schools, and with few exceptions they are very good teachers. They have the great responsibility of raising the next generation of New Zealanders. These teachers tell me that they believe that they might not have been supported enough by the previous Government, but that this Government and our Minister have the future of young New Zealanders at the front of education policy. We have brought this bill before the House, and there have been many bills like this one focusing on education.
Many people are employed in and around our schools who are not teachers but who also have unsupervised access to our children. The vast majority of these people are law abiding and suitable to be in charge of students. However, sadly, not all have acted in the best interests of those children. The Teachers Council has estimated that there could be as many as 3,500 unregistered teachers working illegally. Not all of these unregistered teachers are likely to be acting inappropriately. In fact, probably very few of them are. But the checks have not been done, and we do not know enough about their background to be sure of the safety of our children in the charge of those people. That means they have not been police vetted as suitable to lead classrooms.
A quick check of media reports of the past few years—all of the years the party opposite was in Government—identifies potential problems we face in keeping our children safe in schools. In November 2001 the then Teacher Registration Board found that a teacher in Northland who was sacked over an alleged affair with a student had been teaching illegally for more than a year. That teacher lost her job, following complaints from parents and the young boy’s mother of inappropriate behaviour towards this young student. The board said that it had checked its records with a view to striking that woman from the register and found that she had never been registered. The principal of the school concerned said that he had forgotten to check registration when employing that teacher. The board’s director at that time, Harvey McQueen, was quoted as saying that this omission was serious and that the board could not deregister someone who had never been registered. In the case of this woman he said that it was unlikely that she would ever be able to be registered as a teacher again, or in the foreseeable future.
In September of last year media reported that an unregistered alcoholic teacher with numerous drink-driving convictions was allowed to continue to work at a school after authorities learnt of his criminal convictions—an unregistered teacher responsible for educating our young people. That case puts the spotlight on rules that allow people to take charge of classrooms before checks of their suitability are completed, and on privacy laws, as they currently stand, that prevent any negative findings from being quickly conveyed to the schools concerned. At the time this teacher was employed he had a number of previous convictions, which would have affected his suitability for that job, and a compulsory police check prior to employment, through registration, would have meant that this person would not have been in a position where he was responsible for our students. The principal of the school concerned said that had he known of the teacher’s convictions, he would not have employed him. Obviously, the system is not working.
In March of last year a male teacher in Auckland was convicted of indecent assault and sexual charges against girls that he taught. He quit when the allegations emerged in 2005, and then went on to work as a relief teacher in another school and as a voluntary coach in a girls’ college. There are many more reports: a teacher convicted of assaulting his own child by throwing a knife at him; a teacher with fraud convictions; a teacher convicted of repeat drink-driving offences; another of violence against his wife in front of their children; teachers convicted of stealing from their own schools or inappropriate manhandling of students. All of those people lost their registration, or would have lost their registration, as teachers. However, the current checks and balances in the education system meant that, in many case, they could be re-employed as teachers without registration and without appropriate police checks.
As a parent, to me that is unacceptable. It is not acceptable that after many, many years the system is capable of letting down parents and their children. I condemn the delays and time-wasting on the part of the previous Government, which did not try to rectify these issues and was not capable of putting the safety of children forward as a priority, by passing a law when it had a chance, when it was in Government for 9 years. I note tonight that members opposite cannot even bring themselves to decide to support this bill and to support the safety of children.
Yesterday in my electorate in Rotorua I went to Aorangi School, which is right in the middle of the Rotorua township. I was greeted and given a great welcome by 120 young students who had beautiful singing voices. It was great to see young 7, 8, and 9-year-old children standing up and speaking in Māori and welcoming our small party to their school. They are very good students. The principal and teachers are extremely committed to the school. The parents entrust their children to the care of the school, each and every day of the school week. This school has a very good feeling about it. It was positive and one could see that the interests of the child were put first. The teachers there are exceptional; they go far beyond the call of duty for their young students. I believe that the parents of the young kids at Aorangi School would want us to pass this law to ensure the safety of their children. I have absolutely no concern about Aorangi School and how it is being run; it is an exceptional school. But we need to ensure that our laws support those very good, registered teachers in their work in the school. I think the parents of this school—many of whom might have voted for the party opposite once—would want the Labour Party to work out what Opposition is all about, stop opposing everything just for the sake of it, and support this bill to help ensure the safety of these children. I am sure these words will fall on deaf ears and I do not expect the members opposite to think of the parents or the children of these schools, or any other school in my electorate any time soon.
The bill will identify teachers who are teaching without a current practising certificate or authorisation, and, therefore, schools that are illegally employing these teachers. It will focus on any person who will have unsupervised access to children in our schools, and ensure that appropriate checks of that person’s character through police screening is undertaken before the person is employed or active in that school. The bill also provides for information matching between the New Zealand Teachers Council and the Ministry of Education to identify the registration status of people employed in teaching positions. This means that many of the people I spoke of previously for whom it was subsequently deemed not to be appropriate to have unsupervised access to children in our schools might not be employed or will not be re-employed. The bill provides the highest degree of assurance to parents that their children are being nurtured and are safe in our schools.
The bill also looks at police vetting. It creates new procedures and sets criteria for obtaining police vetting of people who will have unsupervised access to students. This bill provides a new definition for unsupervised access to children, and substitutes definitions for “playgroup” and “hospital-based education and care services”. The bill means that the New Zealand Teachers Council ceases to provide a police-vetting service to early childhood education services in schools, allowing those services in schools to apply directly to the police for these checks, a check that must be done and completed before employment commences.
A party vote was called for on the question,
That the Education Amendment Bill be now read a first time.
Bill read a first time.
I move, That the Education and Science Committee consider the Education Amendment Bill, that the committee report finally to the House on or before 28 August 2009, and that the committee have authority to meet at any time while the House is sitting (except during oral questions), during any evening on a day on which there has been a sitting of the House, and on a Friday in a week in which there has been a sitting of the House, despite Standing Orders 187 and 190(1)(b) and (c).