Were new charter schools rushed ahead of election?
The opening of four new charter schools was announced just before the September election. Education Aotearoa questions the timing.
Early in September, just days before the election, the Undersecretary of Education David Seymour announced that four more charter schools were to open in 2019 and join the 10 existing schools and two that are due to open next year.
The cynical timing of the announcement infuriated educators, who have long been appalled at the millions of dollars being siphoned into these schools, which by and large have produced lacklustre results.
City Senior School in Central Auckland, Tūranga Tangata Rite in Gisborne, Vanguard Military School Christchurch, Waatea High in South Auckland are due to open in 2019, the press statement said.
The timing becomes even more questionable when you consider the Ministry of Education originally planned to approve this round of charter schools in October, well after the election.
So why the rush to get the four new schools announced before the election?
According to the cabinet paper contract negotiations with sponsors were scheduled to run from early August to the end of September, with contracts signed in early October. Instead, it was announced on September 7 that the four new schools would be opening in 2019. This was at the height of Jacindamania and it seems David Seymour was determined to get these schools signed up.
EA wanted to find out why the schools were announced ahead of schedule, and how the David Seymour was able to push through an extension of extremely contentious policy just weeks before a new government could potentially come in and put an end to it.
But our attempts to answer these questions, and to see the contracts between the Ministry and the sponsors of the new schools, have been stonewalled. Normally, the contracts and school charters are put online as soon as a new round of charter schools is announced.
EA immediately requested the information under the Official Information Act. The questions asked were: when were the contracts signed between the sponsors and the Ministry in relation to the operation of the new schools; when was the announcement of these new schools scheduled to be made according to the initial plan around earlier Ministry planning? We also asked to see the contracts, application forms and charters.
In response, the Ministry said the contracts and application forms would be published online, but gave no indication of when.
We understand that for an announcement to be made about the new schools, the contracts must already be completed and signed. We sought to clarify this with the Ministry but again had not received a response by the time this issue went to publication.
In response to further queries, after EA went to publication, around the charters of the schools, the timing and unanswered questions, EA received a response from Ellen MacGregor-Reid at the Ministry of Education on 26 October, a week after the EA magazine was published.
“The Ministry is currently in the process of preparing a large amount of information relating to the Partnership Schools policy for release on the Ministry of Education website. This includes a variety of material relating to Round 4 and 5 procurement activities, including the applications from each of the successful applicants, the signed contracts, and advice provided to the Minister.
“The various contracts were signed in the week of the announcement. The Request for Application document specifies that the anticipated contract start date was ‘around August’. We do not include the announcement date in our procurement timelines, as that is determined by the Minister.
“The Partnership Schools model is an outcomes focused, contractual model, and the Ministry monitors performance against the contract terms and performance standards. For this reason, we do not request strategic or planning documents from any of the partnership schools. I have asked the Partnership Schools team to let you know when the information you are interested in becomes publicly available.”