August 26, 2016

Education (Update) Amendment Bill – a brief summary of a not so brief Bill

First published in the Australia and New Zealand Education Law Association (ANZELA) August 2016 newsletter.

On Monday 22 August 2016 the New Zealand Government introduced a bill in Parliament that seeks to undertake the biggest overhaul of New Zealand’s education system in 30 years. The Education (Update) Amendment Bill is the result of an extensive consultation process that began in late 2015.

The most attention-grabbing proposal in the Bill has been the proposed establishment of Communities of Online Learning (COOLs). Through COOLs, students will be able to study online either as an alternative to, or alongside, face-to-face education. New providers from the schooling, tertiary education or private sector will be able to seek accreditation as COOLs. Accreditation will be rigorous and involve the Minister of Education’s evaluation of the merits of each provider. The Minister has explained the reasoning behind COOLs as being that “[d]igital] fluency is the universal language of the 21st century”. The Bill seeks to enable students to become “global citizens in an increasingly connected 21st century world”.

The Bill also provides for the Minister to publish National Education and Learning Priorities (NELPs). These will set clear high-level objectives for education. School boards will have to take these objectives into account when designing their teaching and learning programmes. This proposal responds to a main theme that emerged from the consultation: making sure everyone knows the goals for education.

Another theme that emerged from consultation and is addressed by the Bill is better supporting school boards. The Bill sets out roles and responsibilities of school boards and for the first time explicitly states that boards are the governing body of the school. The point is not to expand the requirements on boards but rather to provide boards with a statutory basis for their role.

The Bill proposes a number of other changes designed to improve existing aspects of the education system. First, the Bill seeks to encourage collaborative projects between education providers. For instance, it expands the power of a board to do work for other boards and allows for more joined-up governance arrangements in communities of learning.

Secondly, the Bill proposes to allow schools to implement a cohort entry policy for new entrants and clarifies that once a child is enrolled in school they must regularly attend even before they turn six.

Thirdly, the Bill allows the Ministry to step in at an earlier stage when schools are not working well. The number of intervention options available to the Ministry of Education will be increased and existing interventions made more comprehensive.

Fourthly, the Bill transfers Career New Zealand’s functions, staff and resources to the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC). The TEC is considered better able to work with tertiary providers and employers. Support for schools to offer career services to learners will be transferred to the schooling sector.

Overall, the Bill seeks to enable schools and their communities to make choices about what type of education best suits their children. The Bill will soon be before the Education and Science Committee

Marina Matthews (Partner) and Katja Heesterman (Law Clerk), Chen Palmer Partners