Tuesday, June 25, 2024

National's secret schools

The government just introduced its Education and Training Amendment Bill to the House. The name is deliberately obfuscatory, because what the bill actually does is reintroduce charter schools - effectively allowing National to privatise the education system. That's corrupt and it stinks, but to add insult to injury, National's new schools will be secret: the OIA will specifically not apply to them:


[That "Compare" note is to National's repealed charter schools law]

How does this matter? Well, state schools are fully subject to the OIA. That means they can be asked about things like uniform policies, staff pay, maintenance or library spending, health and safety precautions, bullying incidents, or disciplinary decisions - all of which have obvious interest to parents. They are (legally) transparent, and people use that transparency to hold them accountable and ensure their kids get a good education and are safe. But charter schools will not be transparent. Instead, all of that information will be kept secret, rendering them unaccountable. They will be able to profit gouge on their contracts by skimping on maintenance spending or staff wages, treat their students and staff arbitrarily and unfairly, and run an unsafe environment. While some information may still be accessible via the Ministry of Education under the contractor clause, much of the information listed above will not be held in their capacity as a contractor - meaning it will be secret. The implications for the fairness, accountability, and safety of these institutions is obvious.

Why has National done this? They don't say. There's no mention at all of the OIA exemption in the bill's Departmental Disclosure Statement or Regulatory Impact Statement. While some released Cabinet papers note that charter schools will be exempt, there is no justification for it. This I guess is what the Ministry of Justice calls "stronger scrutiny".

the case for the OIA to apply to charter schools is clear: they are performing a public function. We are paying for them. It is essential that they are transparent and accountable to the public. National's preference for secrecy is not only repugnant to our constitution and our democratic values - it will lead to unsafe, unfair, and dangerous schools. It should not be tolerated.