Now that the charter schools have transitioned into mainstream as character or state integrated schools, I want to explain why I supported them and helped build one on my marae, Ngā Whare Waatea.
Many argued that the charter school model was simply a State funded free pass for the private sector to capture and privatise our public education system. As it turned out the predicted flood of private investors did not materialise. Instead a committed group of hard working, community based educators stepped forward to tackle the problems that mainstream schools had long been facing, i.e. poor achievement rates particularly amongst Māori and a growing level of inter-generational disengagement across our society.
Thirty four percent of Māori leave school without a qualification so it shouldn’t have been a surprise that we searched out a solution to address this appalling statistic. At Waatea however, we were single minded about the need to breach the educational gaps into which for too long, Māori children had fallen. The charter school model presented an opportunity for us to work with whānau and switch them onto learning. We provided a wraparound solution to re-engage Māori parents and their children into learning.
Alongside our board, Manukau Urban Māori Authority (MUMA) General Manager Wyn Osborne, and Te Kura Māori o Waatea principal Tania Rangiheuea, I worked on this kaupapa from 2014- 2016. Whilst we were able to incorporate our community values, organisational support and tikanga into the school, the compliance measures and financial pressures were extraordinarily challenging.
Like some sponsors of charter schools, MUMA is a not for profit community organisation. Unlike many big businesses it doesn’t have large capital reserves to fall back on. It does however have immense social capital and determination to make a credible difference in our community.
At times I thought it unfair that the State passed on costs that in fact it should have carried. I went from being an early charter school convert to a “surely there has to be a better way” critic.
In February, our Māori Caucus held a press conference in which we declared that we were comfortable with charter schools being transitioned into mainstream. We invited questions and were open to challenges. The continual lies and nonsense that we have somehow been silenced is untrue. Members of our caucus have seen enough of the charter school model to know that diversity in education is important and they respect the decisions of those schools who have decided to transition.
I was really pleased to see that all charter schools were given the green light to continue in mainstream.
The Minister of Education Chris Hipkins has been listening to all the schools – he knows what works and what doesn’t. Tikanga Māori, creative teaching, community values, Whānau Ora and anything outside the box must be incorporated in any mainstream education system, and Māori and Pacific Island kids should not feel alienated in a system that is meant to work for everyone.
What the charter school experiment for Māori taught us is that when those tasked with dealing with social problems at the coal face are given the appropriate resources we get better outcomes as a result.
Let’s hope we are all richer for the experience
First published in the Manukau Courier