Charter Schools Perception Series: The Critics


Partnership Schools or Charter Schools came about after the 2011 General Election due to an agreement between the National Party and the Act Party. The legislation passed with a five vote majority.The Charter School model was criticised by other political parties, educational authorities and teacher organisations as well as some members of the public.

A summary of the key concerns that they raised at that time are below:

1) The concern that that the National-ACT alliance had a hidden agenda which was to set up charter schools as an alternative to state schools in order to eventually replace them.

‘The Government?s plans for charter schools are a stealth privatisation of education’

-Young Labour Press release

One of the Charter schools I visited, Vanguard Military School, includes amongst its students those rejected by the State School system, students who have been expelled or suspended. The other two Charter schools told me that compared to State Schools the number of ex home schooled children on their roll is very high. That indicates to me that the purpose of Charter schools is to provide education for students who are currently not doing well in State education, rather than to replace State education.

2) The concern that the schools would be operated like a business.

The three Charter Schools I visited all had a Business Manager to run the financial side of things, leaving the Principal free to focus on Education. From what I saw this appeared to be a very positive thing as it allowed them to efficiently manage their money.

Alwyn Poole Principal:? ‘We started very well at South Auckland Middle School and someone took that to the head of the PPTA and she said ? Well of course South Auckland will be successful, they are bulk funded. ‘

? Yes, that is one of the great benefits of the Partnership schools model you get your funding in a pool and you get to decide how best to use it.’

3) The concern that because Charter schools have the option of employing un registered teaching staff or teachers without formal training students would miss out on quality teaching.

The three Charter schools I visited all used staff that were not teachers but only for sport related or military related sport/exercise activity. All teachers of academic subjects were registered.

4) The concern that unlike state schools, charter schools would not be subject to either Ombudsman scrutiny or the Official Information Act 1982.

In April 2013, it was announced that charter schools would be subject to Ombudsman scrutiny on matters relating to suspensions and expulsions.

5) In April 2012, Massey University released a report highly critical of the proposed charter school model, claiming there was no international evidence to support claims that charter schools do better and all they would do is increase segregation.

The three Charter schools I visited were all doing really well academically and in my new series coming up on Vanguard Military school you will see just how well they are doing despite taking in students rejected by State schools.

Internationally there is clearly evidence of success that Massey University has for some reason ignored or missed. KIPP schools funded by the Walton Family Foundation have done extremely well.

?The Walton Family Foundation ? created by the people who created Walmart ? has given more than $300 million to charter schools, voucher programs and other educational enterprises concerned with the education of poor and minority students across the country.

The Walton Family Foundation gave more than $58 million to the KIPP schools, which have had spectacular success in raising the test scores of children in ghettoes where the other children are far behind in academic performance.

D.C. Prep, in Washington, whose students are mostly poor and black, has also received grants from the Walton Family Foundation. Its test scores likewise exceed those of traditional neighborhood schools, as well as the test scores of other local charter schools.

6) A concern that the closures of many schools in Christchurch after the 2011 earthquake were being used as an excuse to start Charter schools.

Given that Charter schools cost a lot less to set up compared to a State School it makes sense to start Charter schools in an area like Christchurch where there is an urgent need to provide education in my opinion.

7) The concern of the PPTA that a high proportion of religious groups were interested in becoming Charter schools.

Of the three Charter schools that I visited two were Christian. Neither of them taught religious studies as their curriculum is secular, unlike existing integrated Christian and Islamic schools

8) A concern that Charter schools would receive more funding than State schools.

There is a lot of misinformation in the media regarding this. A narrative has been spun that Charter schools receive more funding per student than State schools. What is not explained is that these schools are in the start up phase and that the amount per student will go down. Secondly, unlike a State School start up, the buildings and other facilities are not provided and the teacher’s salaries are not paid by the government. The amount Charter schools receive per student has to pay teachers’s salaries, the lease on the buildings and all other costs so the Media are not comparing apples with apples.

The new State Schools are being funded well in excess of $9.3 million per 200 students. The Charters have so far averaged $1.12 million per 200 students for start up (including a significant decrease for round 2).

-Alwyn Poole

Here is a report comparing set up costs between State and Charter schools.

You will notice that the cost of teacher salaries have been clearly labelled as included for the Charter schools but that does not make a fair comparison as the amounts shown for the State schools do not include teacher salaries as they have those paid directly by the government on top of the amount shown.

State vs Partnership School Set-Up

All three Charter schools that I visited started with a tiny amount in comparison to a New State school. They were able to succeed with less by leasing buildings instead of owning and by using local facilities such as swimming pools and sports fields.

You may be interested to read this report showing the NCEA failure rates of a number of State schools. I don’t think that anyone disputes that there is a problem. The dispute is over how best this problem should be addressed.

Selected School Results Auckland 12-14



9) A concern that Charter schools will create problems for existing schools by attracting away students by using advertising and by providing free uniforms and school stationery.

‘Even if some charter schools do show gains for disadvantaged students, it is often achieved at the cost of further disadvantaging non-charter school students and the local community as a whole.’

-Massey University Report

All three Charter schools that I visited provided free uniforms and stationery. They also assisted some students with transport costs as students were coming from all over Auckland to attend. Vanguard Military school also provides breakfast to its students.

The reason the government said it set up Charter schools was to help under privileged children who were not doing well in the State system so it seems very unjust to criticise them for choosing to allocate some of their resources to assist under privileged students in this way.

The cost of uniforms and stationery was one of the barriers affecting attendance.

Alwyn Poole pointed out to me that the Charter schools lack a lot of the facilities that State schools have such as Drama rooms, gymnasiums and their own sports fields.They have less facilities but choose to allocate some of their funding towards removing a barrier to education.

In my own experience working in Alternative Education where we would try to get the students back into Mainstream Education, the biggest barrier for them was financial. The organisations I and others worked for had got them academically and emotionally ready, but their family often under estimated the cost of them going back to school and they would fail not because they weren’t ready but because they couldn’t afford to get to school or afford to buy the uniform and stationery.

The existence of Charter schools means that these children who would otherwise have been prevented from getting an education can now attend. The accusation of ‘ stealing students ‘ from State Schools does not ring true to me. If they want to keep these under privileged kids then I suggest they offer the same and cut costs to do so. Charter Schools have made providing these things a priority.I cannot see that as a bad thing.

10) A concern that in a Charter school the school will be allowed to keep? the money even when pupils leave or are expelled unlike State schools that are only paid for students actually present on the roll.

I asked Principal Alwyn Poole about this and he said that it was no different for Charter schools than State schools.

11) A concern that Charter schools will not use the National curriculum that State schools use.

All three Charter school followed the New Zealand National curriculum. What they do have, is the freedom to be innovative in how they teach it.

The Critics:

Labours Shadow Minister of Education Chris Hipkins

Labour’s Education spokesperson Chris Hipkins

‘Labour stands firmly opposed to the National Government’s agenda of carving up and privatising our excellent public education system. Anyone seeking to establish a charter school will be doing so in the knowledge that charter schools have no future under Labour.’

Professor John O Neil

Professor? of Teacher Education John O’Neil

?It is, for example, quite common for charter schools to lead to an increase in inequality based on culture, race or socio-economic status,?

-Professor John O?Neill.

I thought that it would be interesting to contact a critic so I asked my sixteen year old daughter who interviewed Charter School Students for me when I was visiting two of the schools to e-mail Chris Hipkins. As my daughter is home schooled and her project was to investigate Charter Schooling this was a legitimate part of her course work.

From: [redacted]
Sent: Wednesday, 25 March 2015 9:53 a.m.
To: Chris Hipkins
Subject: Research project on Charter Schools


Dear Mr Hipkins

my name is [redacted]. I am in year 12 of High School and my Mum used to be a High school teacher. My Mum has told me that you are against Charter Schools and I am wondering why.

What are your specific reasons for disliking them? Which Charter schools have you visited and can you give me an example of a bad or failed Charter school in your opinion?

My project is to show both the pros and the cons of Charter schools in comparison to state schools. If you have the time to reply I would really appreciate it.

Kind regards

[redacted ]
From: Chris Hipkins <[email protected]>
Date: Wednesday, March 25, 2015
Subject: Research project on Charter Schools
To: [redacted]

Hi? [redacted]

I attach a copy of the Minority Report that I wrote when the legislation creating charter schools was passed. That sums up the Labour Party position on the issues.

hope this helps.

Warm regards


Note that Mr Hipkins did not answer the second of my daughter’s questions regarding which Charter schools he has visited or give an example as requested of a? ‘ failed ‘ New Zealand Charter school.

My daughter sent a second e-mail thanking him for the Minority report and again asked him which Charter schools he had visited. There was no reply to her second e-mail.
Labour Party Minority Report

The Key points made in the Minority report are as follows:

  • The Labour Party does not support the introduction of charter schools.
  • They believe they are based on a? failed competitive model
  • They are concerned that quality teaching will be affected because the bill does not require the Principal of a Charter school to be a qualified teacher.
  • They are concerned that charter schools will not be subject to the same level of public scrutiny as existing state schools.
  • They are concerned that charter schools will not have to teach to the existing curriculum, and subjects such as science may be distorted to fit the beliefs of school owners, rather than ensuring that students gain a solid understanding of established scientific principles.
  • They do not believe that charter schools should be allowed to operate as private, profit-making enterprises.
  • They do not like that there is nothing to prevent a charter school from accepting the majority of their enrolments from outside the school?s immediate neighbourhood. ( No Zones )
  • They recognise that there are a number of learners who are currently struggling within the school system but Labour believes that the government should be focused on ensuring that all students, regardless of which school they attend, are supported to reach their full potential rather than embarking on an ideological experiment that, even if successful, would only benefit a small number of students.
  • They think that there is no need to create a new category of charter schools in order to achieve the flexibility that the government claims it seeks.
  • They say that there is no mandate for charter schools
  • They say that ongoing funding and support for charter schools will not be guaranteed under a future Labour government and they will not guarantee any charter schools established during the term of the present government the right to integrate into the state school system.
  • Labour opposes the proposal in the Bill that would allow for property developers to derive a profit from the use of Crown land for the building and leasing of early childhood education facilities on school sites.

Education Amendment Bill Minority Report(1)

I will end this article with Principal Alwyn Poole’s response to criticism he has personally received.

?Those with integrity come in and those who just want to be critical don?t. Because they would hate to find out that it is going well?

?We have had a fair bit of positive but when the negatives are irrational or incorrect you really struggle, cause you kinda go, you know what, you are wrong.?