The truth about partnership schools

9 August 2016

A week or so ago, I visited South Auckland Middle School, one of two partnership schools with a total enrolment of some 280 operated by the not-for-profit Villa Education Trust.  Because I had read of President Obama’s recognition of the benefit which partnership schools have for disadvantaged Afro-American kids, I was predisposed to like what I saw.   At the same time, I had heard of the strong opposition to such schools on the part of the teacher unions, and I assumed that at least part of their opposition was motivated by genuine concern for the effect of such schools on the children who attend them.

If that opposition is indeed based on a genuine concern for the children, they should visit South Auckland Middle School with an open mind.  I was blown away by what I found.

Yes, the school is effectively bulk-funded, in principle enabling the school to employ unregistered or unqualified teachers.  In reality, all their teachers are fully registered and fully qualified.  Classes are limited in size to 15.  The school provides a school uniform and all basic stationery without charge, and no fees or “donations” are charged.  There is a full-time member of staff whose only responsibility is to liaise with the “parents” (sometimes grandmothers) of the children in order to ensure, to the extent possible, that parents are fully engaged in the education of their children.

And the results are breath-taking.  Although the school is effectively a Decile 1 school, with some 93% of the children from Maori or Pacifika families, it is out-performing other similar schools by a huge margin.  The latest published figures show that, across years 7 and 8, 72% of students were at or above the National Standard for reading, 73% for writing, and 70% for maths – an achievement not far behind that of Remuera Intermediate.  Comparable figures for nearby Manurewa Intermediate (another Decile 1 school) were 34%, 34%, and 37%, while for Waimahia School they were 40%, 33% and 24%.  Is it any wonder that parents are queuing up to send their children to South Auckland Middle School?

Ah yes, critics argue, but partnership schools get a lot more money from the taxpayer than other schools do.  Absolute nonsense.  All schools get a lump sum to start up and, because South Auckland Middle School has been operating for less than three years, taking its start-up money and adding it to the money it receives for its on-going operation makes it appear that it gets more money than state schools.  But the start-up money it received was much less, on a per student basis, than comparable state schools have received.  South Auckland Middle School received just $1.3 million for start-up with a target roll of 120, and receives less than $12,000 per pupil annually to cover all teacher salaries and other operating costs.  Rotutuna Primary School in Hamilton, with fewer than 800 pupils, recently received $40 million for start-up, and plenty of schools receive as much or more for operating costs, together with additional support from the Ministry of Education.

The conclusion is inescapable.  While I have visited only one partnership school, that one strongly shows what a well-run partnership school can do for its pupils.  Kelvin Davis, himself a former principal in the state education system, and fellow Labour MP Peeni Henare are to be commended for recognising that the Labour Party’s opposition to such schools is quite irrational.

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Copyright © 2020 Don Brash.