Anne Tolley’s Education Amendment Bill 2, due out of Select Committee next week, ignores the recommendations of the Law Commission to introduce “light-handed” legislation to deal with 100 year old gaps that leave children at private schools in a legal vacuum regarding their welfare. Instead the Government has replaced them with clauses allowing unspecified amounts of public money to be siphoned into private schools.
In Anne Tolley’s answers to Parliamentary questions, the true number of complaints about private schools has been misrepresented, but in spite of her eventually admitting to there having been a number of complaints, Anne Tolley has no shame in stating that there is “no evidence” of any problems, and that the 33,000 children in New Zealand who attend private schools need no protection whatsoever for their welfare. Private schools are not even required to inform parents about the vacuum of legislation governing their children’s safety.
All this non-action is supposedly because of choice. Choice is the mantra, the watchword, the holy-grail. Whereas other mortals must knuckle down to National Standards and teacher’s must somehow represent failure as something else, or Anne Tolley will get snippy, private schools must exist in an absolutely unregulated state, or there will not be enough choice.
As Heather Roy opined at the Independent Schools of New Zealand Board Chairs’ Seminar on 31st May this year, “Choice allows parents to select an education that suits their child’s needs, interests and talents. It also enables schools to cater for their students in a variety of ways.” Being able to expel them with no notice or right of appeal for example, without warning parents about that when they sign up.
However, the results of a recent survey into the law governing private schools show clearly that even some teachers at private schools and certainly the vast majority of parents have no idea that their children are unprotected under the Education Act with many thinking that they actually were better protected than their counterparts at State and State-integrated schools. In spite of this, and the overwhelming evidence thrown up by the survey that parents want these protections in place, Hon Anne Tolley, and her cronies are about to rush through this legislation that does nothing for the children she keeps claiming to “worry about”, and states that “unconditional grants” may be made to private schools at her “discretion” instead.
So what is choice if information is withheld? Surely it is meaningless. And what about what parents want?
Heather Roy again, “Parents should not be powerless bystanders in education; they should be active and informed participants, in a position to actively make the best decisions for their children.”
Patrick Walsh Head of the School Principles Association is of the opinion that “any school that is in receipt of Crown money should conform to government objectives and be subject to all the legal obligations in relation to student rights”. John Hancock or Youthlaw, and Ced Simpson of the Human Rights in Education Trust, agree, and indeed it is hard to justify any alternative view and yet, as Patrick Walsh told me when I interviewed him last month, private schools in New Zealand are apparently exempt from these obligations quite simply because they operate a “High Trust model”.
Doesn’t that sound lovely, all soft and warm, but what does it actually mean?
In real terms it means two things:
1. Either you as parents are playing Russian Roulette with your children’s well-being by sending them to a private school which actually has no obligation to look after them and can expel them at will, with no notice, or right of appeal – case in point, The Titirangi Steiner School which expelled three small children last year because their parents questioned why the policy on bullying was not being followed.
2. You as parents have the choice to override your children’s human rights by sending them into a regime that might be overthrown by the Western Allies if it was being run as a country – case in point Westmount School in Keri Keri which operates a regime of extreme religious fundamentalism.
The Employment Relations Authority, in upholding the sacking of Suzette Martin, for giving students an unauthorised version of King Lear, at Westmount School ealier this year, maintained that the school was “outside the general range”, being a private school of special religious character. Exempt from decency because it’s private.
Of course there are plenty of private schools which operate exemplary pastoral care programmes, but that’s not the point. Murder law is not there to control people who have no intention of killing anybody, but to deal with those that do.
New Zealand signed up early to Human Rights and Children’s legislation, yet the Private Schools of New Zealand are operating completely outside those principles. And why? Just because the schools are private. Private that is, not independent. Earlier in 2010 the Government made good on its election promise to bump up the “subsidies” private schools receive, and it did, by a whopping 33 Million dollars.
That is the reason the Law Commission did not take up the notion put forward by Deborah James and the Independent Schools movement to officially term the sector “Independent” – because it clearly isn’t. In fact, these subsidy increases mean that private schools are now in receipt of 20% of their running costs out of tax-payers money – which obviously includes the pay-packets of teachers at state schools, currently locked in a disagreement about their own pay with Ms Tolley.
The complete deregulation of private schools is a strange form of counter-logic. Basic welfare protections are simply that, they cannot be said to constitute over-regulation for something advertising itself as a school i.e. a service that will operate “in loco parentis”.
And who does it serve not to legislate for basic standards of care for children at these schools? Only those schools who aren’t doing it properly, as all the others already presumably are. So why is this sector allowed to operate above the law, or below the radar, regardless of the damage that may be being done to children? What other alternative sector has this dubious privilege?
Let’s say for a moment that there are three basic ways to get educated, firstly by state or state integrated schools, regulated to the max, I’m sure we can all agree. On the other end of the spectrum there is home-schooling (although this freedom is now under attack in several countries including New Zealand where single parents of a child of five must now seek work). Home-schooling is far from unregulated; parents have to apply for exemption and prove that they are capable of educating their children, can be subject to checks, and the concerns and powers of social services to enter the home are well known.
Then there are private schools, which, although in receipt of a sizeable amount of tax-payers money, are apparently to be allowed to do whatever they want, even hurting children, just because it’s a High Trust model.
What emerges upon any serious examination of the facts is that the use of the word Trust is disingenuous. There is no trust involved. The first and only thing you will hear from all agencies and the Government itself, if there are problems, is “Buyer beware”.