Concerns that the Government’s ‘managerial focus’ is stunting the development of the Government’s Investing in Educational Success (IES) policy are supported by a significant underspend of the IES budget so far.
The Government has pegged $359 million for IES over the first four years, and $155 million a year after that. But just $26 million has been spent on IES since the policy was announced three years ago in 2014.
The underspend has prompted concerns about the way the Communities of Learning (CoL) – the primary vehicle for IES involving the collaboration of groups of schools - are being implemented. Schools have complained that the Ministry of Education’s parameters for establishing a CoL are too narrow.
Labour’s education spokesperson Chris Hipkins supports the idea of schools working together but says the CoL set-up process is too rigid, as it stands at the moment. He believes schools currently do not have enough flexibility to pursue challenges that best reflect their needs.
Following up on the frustrations of schools who have had their proposed challenges rejected because they focused on things like wellbeing and technology rather than assessment outcomes, New Zealand Principals’ Federation president Whetu Cormick sought further clarification from the Ministry.
The Ministry’s response was: "All of these are perfectly fine but need to be identified as not being the actual achievement challenges but rather what the CoL intends to focus on to tackle their challenges."
Hipkins argues that if a community of schools identifies a need to focus on wellbeing or socioeconomic challenges instead of assessment outcomes then they should be able to set this as their challenge. He also questions why there is a stipulation for a CoL to be led by one person – another common reason why some CoLs have not got off the ground.
“We have schools that genuinely want to collaborate but are being met with resistance. Until the managerial focus is removed, we won’t see any progress,” says Hipkins.
Post Primary Teachers Association (PPTA) president Jack Boyle said that it would take time to get the CoLs working well and that the lack of spending on IES so far wasn’t an indication that the policy wasn’t going to be successful.
“But I’d be very concerned if it turned out there was a slush fund just sitting there,” he said.
Approximately 60 per cent of schools are currently in a CoL. Education Minister Hekia Parata anticipates that the full roll out will be completed by the end of 2018-19.