As part of its coalition agreement with the National party, ACT was promised a working party on school choice. Their basic idea is that the top 5% and the bottom 20% of students should be identified, and then those students and their parents can choose to go to different schools for different classes, depending on their needs. So a child might go to one school (“provider” in the report’s language) for one class, and another school for another class, and back to their base school for the rest of their education, taking the relevant portions of funding with them wherever they go. You can download the whole report if you like (Step Change: Success the only Option, Report of the Inter-Party Working Group for School Choice – PDF 2.3MB) but I wouldn’t bother. It seems to be a very thin piece of research, channeling ACT market ideology. Even so, the two ACT MPs on the committee don’t think it goes far enough: they’re releasing their own minority report.
You will no doubt already be thinking that this is vouchers in disguise, but frankly, I’d rather have vouchers than this ill-thought-through nonsense. Over at Red Alert, Kelvin Davis has been doing an excellent job taking the report apart. In his most recent post, he takes on the logistics question. That is, how on earth are we going to get 25% of the school children in New Zealand on the move each day, to get to their specialist classes. ACT et al have suggested buses, but I bet you that just won’t happen. Instead, as usual with New Zealand public schools, there won’t be enough money to fund the activities and extra education properly, so any parents who want to help their children to take advantage of the extra education on offer will end up running a taxi service themselves. And what that will mean is more cars on the roads, more parents juggling work and childcare and education commitments, more organisation just to keep your family arrangements ticking over.
None of these things are difficult in themselves, but add them as yet another thing to already stretched households where the adults are working full or near full time, or to already stretched households where paid work is scarce so there’s just no spare money for running the car much, and you have a recipe for outrageous stress.
You know what would be really, really nice? It would be great to be able to drop the kids at the local school, and be confident that no matter which school they were at, they were going to get the best possible education, because the school was adequately resourced to teach kids of all abilities. No running about like headless chooks just to get the children to a school where the education they need is available, because it’s available right in their neighbourhood, where their lives are physically located.
Education is not just about kids and schools. It’s about kids and schools and parents and caregivers. Any education policy needs to think about all three of those things.