Posted by: blogger on 12, May, 2009
On March 26 the City of Manukau Education Trust (COMET) convened a group to discuss the difficulties schools face collaborating across the boundaries created by Tomorrow's Schools. This is a particular problem in Manukau where a number of experiments with school structures are going on. As well as year 7 to 13 schools and year 9 - 13 schools, Manukau has a large urban area school, combined boards of multiple schools, collaborative boards on shared campuses and the possibility of a tertiary high school.
COMET Director, Bernardine Vester set out the problem. "Though not yet at system crisis levels, restrictions provided by ‘class' and ‘designation' that currently shape schooling design are outdated. The legislation as it is offers a single constitutional model as a template. This results in all other constitutional arrangements becoming ‘exceptions' or ad hoc arrangements to fit emerging needs, rather than a planned approach to shifts in the environment." Boards, principals and teachers working in less common school structures can find their vision for student learning constantly compromised and undermined by governance and legislative arrangements that do not facilitate collaboration.
It isn't just at governance level; resourcing also presents a challenge. Previous governments have pressed on with an ideological commitment to split senior and junior high ("middle") school sites without considering downstream costs - and they are serious in terms of staffing. If the staffing ratio is split at year 10, staffing is distributed unevenly across senior and junior schools and, because staffing ratios are lower for years 11, 12 and 13, senior colleges are comparatively advantaged. In contrast, junior high schools find it difficult to get their class sizes below 30. Without some tweaking of the staffing formula, students in junior high schools are destined to be in much larger classes than those in full secondary schools.
PPTA has raised the problem with Anne Tolley and was disappointed to see she did not seem to be aware of it. She responded by explaining that it is necessary to ration staffing, but the fact that the staffing formula is a rationing mechanism was never at issue. The problem is the formula is unfair to a specific group of students. The Prime Minister recently described year 7 to 10 schools as "an international success" (even though the model is being dispensed with overseas). He was at the time opening a private middle school. If he wants state junior high schools in New Zealand to emulate that success, he is going to have to address the current injustice in the staffing formula.