From the odd to the enigmatic – who wants to run a charter school?

Twenty-one organisations are vying for just two charter school licenses, so competition will be fierce. Destiny Church, which has dipped out in previous rounds, doesn’t appear to be on the…

Twenty-one organisations are vying for just two charter school licenses, so competition will be fierce.

Destiny Church, which has dipped out in previous rounds, doesn’t appear to be on the list. Or does it? One of the applicants, Nga Tamariki Pauwai Charter Schools Ltd, was incorporated as a company very recently, on 28 October 2015. One of its directors is Anne Williamson, who is also connected with the management of Destiny Church’s Nga Tamariki Puawai ECE centre. Destiny Church is perfectly entitled to reapply, but it does feel like the name change is an attempt to avoid public and media attention.

An interesting new angle this time around is The Summit Academy Ltd, which is an Auckland charity that provides assistance for children with dyslexia and associated learning difficulties. The idea of a school dedicated to meeting the needs of these kids actually sounds pretty great. However, according to their website, they are already intending to open a specialised full curriculum school for primary age children with dyslexia in 2017. There is no information about how the school is currently to be funded, but no doubt a nice big chunk of charter school establishment funding would be appreciated and they probably thought applying was worth a shot. But what should really be happening? As we heard in repeated testimony at the Parliamentary Inquiry this week, all schools should be funded to ensure that learners with diverse needs can access and participate equitably in learning.

Another intriguing applicant is the Davidic Centre, which is headquartered in Trinidad and Tobago and operates schools in the Caribbean, Kenya, Zambia and the Pacific. It wants to open a Year 1-9 school in Porirua, with a curriculum centred on the “values of the Kingdom of God”. There are already plenty of integrated Christian schools offering a faith-based education so you have to wonder what a bunch of foreigners can offer. Although if you read this article, you’ll find their point of difference: “everyone [here] is passionate about education”. Apparently New Zealand’s schools aren’t already jam-packed full of passionate teachers, determined to do their best by every single student.

An Auckland consultancy firm, The Policy Shop, has also put its hand up, wanting to operate a Year 7-10 school. It’s not immediately apparent why. Director Michael Dreaver is known for earning $1.5 million for working on more than 20 Treaty settlements in the Auckland and Hauraki regions. His partner is TVNZ presenter Miriama Kamo, who is also a director of the company.

Then there are the applicants that defy google. Who are they? Who is backing them? Perhaps we’ll find out at some stage, but for now, First Community Trust, Pacific Innovations NZ Trust, Paradigm Shift Rangatahi Ltd, Te Aratika Trust and Te Waii Uu Whanau Trust remain a mystery.

The main players – and the ones most likely to get the green light – are the five iwi and four health/PHO/Whanau Ora groups. Aside from the mysterious Pacific Innovations NZ Trust, the only other Pasifika application is from Pacific Peoples Advancement Trust, which already runs a charter school in Auckland.

The influx of health-related groups is interesting, and the idea of schools being community hubs so children and their families can easily access the health and wellbeing services they need is one that teachers support.

However, what is needed is a good look at how joined-up services could work across the system so that all children who need it can easily access services, rather than siphoning off funding from public schooling for new charter schools. The problems and pitfalls we have seen so far in charter schools are numerous. But as long as the government is offering large amounts of money to set up and run a school on your own terms, and with minimal accountability, it’s hardly surprising that contenders are lining up. What is at stake, though, are our children and their learning – and that is too important to gamble with.

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