Why it’s wrong to be over-protecting our privates

The principal of Christchurch’s Rangi Ruru girls school, Julie Moor, needs re-educating. Preferably, at charm school.

She was clearly miffed to be questioned by news media about aspects of a Law Commission paper about private schools.

“A private school is a private business, isn’t it, at the end of the day. That’s my statement. There is no therefore. I’m just saying at the end of the day, it is actually a private business,” Moor said.

Hmm. Maybe she is willing to forego whatever public money is coming her school’s way.

Asked if she supported financial viability being included in the conditions of registration, Moor said: “I’m not going to make a statement about the current situation because we’re looking ahead to something that might be a little bit different.”

Asked how private schools were coping with the recession, Moor said: “What do you mean how are they holding up? I think they’re actually getting fairly tired of the media trying to talk up financial difficulties, to be perfectly honest.”

Anyone keen to send their kids to Rangi Ruru after that lot?

But let’s not get the idea the Law Commission paper isn’t open to questioning and further debate.

The paper is titled Private Schools and the Law.

According to The Press, it says the nation’s private schools with a combined roll of more than 30,000 are operating under an old-fashioned, unclear and incomplete legal framework.

The commission recommends private schools should have to prove their viability to appear on a new official register.

“We do not consider that the state should provide its endorsement to a private school when it cannot be confident that the school will have an enduring presence,” the paper says.

A private school’s viability could be judged on its projected roll, age range and number of students, and whether the governance structure and administrative arrangements were stable.

“These matters should have to be demonstrated before registration, and should be reassessed on the periodic reviews of the school. The ongoing viability of a school should be relevant at subsequent reviews, as well as on registration, to encourage good practice.”

The Education Review Office is in favour of these ideas and (the bureaucratic mind at work) expects to be able to exercise greater powers over private schools under the proposed changes.

In a letter to Law Commissioner John Burrows reported in The Press, ERO national manager Mark Canning said ERO agreed there were issues to be addressed.

Were the proposed changes implemented, they “would provide ERO with more than enough of a basis to carry out more detailed and more focused reviews of private schools”.

ERO reviews of private schools should “usually be more limited in nature than those for state schools,” Canning wrote.

The Independent Schools Education Association says a statement of financial viability “would provide confidence for parents enrolling students and teachers seeking employment.”

It also supports a register.

“Our recommendation was that member schools should have to provide audited certification that the school is in good financial heart, which our member schools do anyway,” executive director Deborah James said.

“I’m not saying they should be publicly available. [I’m saying] it should be part of the registration criteria and whoever the body is that would be responsible for administering that criteria, that would be the body that would see that proof of certification.”

Fair to say, Moor points out that the association is not representative of private schools.

The ISEA was “just a union” and “they don’t actually represent the schools,” Moor said.

“It’s not that they’re not important but they are setting themselves up as if they represent independent schools they don’t. They represent some staff in some schools not even all of the schools.

“So yes, they have a voice but they certainly do not represent independent schools by any means, or what independent schools think.”

Nevertheless, Moor should have a hard think about how she promotes her school (and protects its privacy) at a time when there is some sentiment in favour of pulling private school snouts out of the public trough.

On 24 March, for example, Alliance Party education spokesperson Richard Mitchell was critical of the Government’s preparing to inject $10 million into private schools.

“Every dollar that the government gives to a private school is a dollar that is not going to the public schools.”

Mitchell reckoned the ACT Party had seized control of education policy in the new Government and would aggressively push for “welfare for the wealthy.”

The agenda would be to run public schools down so that private business can move into profitable areas.

The Alliance would eliminate public funding for private schools and the money saved would be put back into the public sector.

The Alliance would also increase funding to New Zealand’s schools to enable them to eliminate “fees” and reduce class sizes to a maximum of 20.

The Independent Schools of New Zealand published an antidote, pointing out that the government saves $180 million by not having to educate the 4.1% of school-age children educated in the independent or private sector.

Funding for a child in the independent sector is around 20% of the cost of educating a child in the state system.

The statement referred to an NZIER report, “Funding Arrangements for Independent Schools”, completed in 2003. It calculated that the state could fund independent schools up to 46% of the cost of educating a child in the state sector and still save money.

If independent schools were more affordable, they would be more accessible to a greater number of New Zealand parents. Every parent who sends their child to an independent school relieves the state from having to meet the full cost of that child’s education, thus freeing up additional monies for use in the state sector.

Parents educating their children in independent schools are already funding the state education system through their taxes. The GST paid on tuition fees by parents of children at ISNZ Member Schools is greater than the state grant received.

Independent schools are not asking for funding that would exceed the cost of educating a child in the state sector.

At much the same time, the trust board of Corran School in Remuera – one of the country’s oldest private schools – announced the school would merge with Saint Kentigern College and from the first term next year would be renamed Saint Kentigern School for Girls at Corran.

Corran Trust Board chairman Brent von Sierakowski said that despite the school’s best efforts over the past five years, continuing financial difficulties meant the school could not keep going.

And guess what?

Corran School parents were pissed off, after being told in an email of the decision to merge the small private school for girls with Saint Kentigern College.

Gathered in the school hall last night, parents asked the board why they had not been told of the school’s dire financial situation earlier.

Many indicated that if they had been notified they would have been happy to dig deeper in order to save the school.

That’s what comes of playing your financial cards too tightly. And of putting too much emphasis on the need to keep things “private”.

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