NZ's negative legacy of school autonomy

Kerri Carr

Dr Cathy Wylie said competition between schools had reduced knowledge sharing

School-based management, voluntarily introduced in a quarter of New Zealand schools in the 1990s, has not improved student learning opportunities, Federation’s Principals’ Conference was told.

New Zealand Council for Educational Research chief researcher Dr Cathy Wylie told the May 20 conference that school-based management had not achieved gains in student performance, and there had been no reduction in inequality of outcomes.

She said that the sharpened sense of competition between schools had resulted in reduced knowledge sharing. Furthermore, schools increasingly found themselves needing to supplement government funding. Principals have become preoccupied with funding and property instead of curriculum.

Dr Wylie said while a change of government in 1999 led to some changes to school-based management practices, the building blocks of the original system remained.

Educational gains have become uneven across the system because improvement is too reliant on individuals and school situations, she said. It is increasingly clear that some issues are beyond the ability of individual schools to solve, she told principals at the conference.

“Some schools fi nd it harder than others to attract and keep good teachers. You can’t leave it up to individual schools,” Dr Wylie said. “It has really become clear that we need collective frameworks to share the responsibility.”

When school-based management was proposed for New Zealand schools, it was claimed that it would address Maori under-achievement and provision. However, in 2012 New Zealand Education Minister Hekia Parata acknowledged “system failure of learners who are Maori, Pasifi ka, have special education needs, and/or are from low socioeconomic backgrounds”.

Dr Wylie said, “Those who are being blamed for this are often in schools.”