Education Amendment Bill provides further opportunities for the New Zealand education system

  • Hekia Parata
Education

The Education Amendment Bill has passed its second reading in Parliament today.

Education Minister Hekia Parata says the Bill will help more young New Zealanders to thrive in the education system. 

“We have an education system that is among the best in the world. On average, four out of five of our kids are successfully getting the qualifications they need from school and going on to lead the lives they want to.

“But our plan is about getting five out of five and that requires a deeper look at all that we’re currently doing in the education system and being prepared to make changes to help all our young people get the better future they deserve,” says Ms Parata.

The measures in this Bill will help achieve the Government’s Better Public Service target is for increasing participation in early childhood education and raising achievement in NCEA Level 2.
It also enables changes and clarifications to be made to such areas as the functions and powers of school boards, alternative board constitutions, the allocation of National Student Numbers and the use of Crown land for building ECE centres.

“Many vulnerable students are from Maori, Pasifika and low socio-economic backgrounds, and those with special needs and are not as well served by the current system. It is vital we bring fresh approaches, so they have an approach to learning that works best for them.”

Ms Parata says Partnership Schools will allow the education, business and community sectors to work together to create new opportunities for student achievement.

“By introducing a new type of school that improves results by our vulnerable children in schools, and by enabling schools to deliver safe learning environments, the Bill will bring positive changes to our education system.

We have strengthened the compliance process for Partnership Schools following feedback from submitters, making them accountable to the Ombudsman for disciplinary decisions. They are also required to set up an independent review process to manage disputes.

“This recognises how important it is for parents to be able to access an independent review of decisions made, and the Bill sets out a clear process which ensures that schools are accountable to all their stakeholders,” says Ms Parata.

The Bill also clarifies powers for teachers or authorised staff members in the search, surrender and retention area.

“The Bill provides schools the legal backing they need to protect the safety of their students and classrooms while at the same time protecting the dignity and respecting the rights of students.

“We want to ensure the well-being of our school community as a whole and provisions in this Bill help support that.”  

The Education Amendment Bill is expected to progress through its final stages by the middle of the year. 

Notes:

Partnership schools

  • The Bill creates the legal framework for a third type of school within the schooling network:  partnership schools/kura hourua.  The other two types of schools are State schools (including State integrated schools) and private schools.
  • Partnership schools/kura hourua are one of a number of new initiatives targeted towards addressing educational underachievement.  The Bill provides parents and students with another option to choose from, when considering the type of education that works for them.
  • Under the Bill, partnership schools/kura hourua will have more flexibility to make decisions about how they operate and use funding to deliver specific school level targets. 
  • Partnership schools/kura hourua will have a sponsor that the Minister of Education will approve to operate the school.  The sponsor will sign a contract with the Crown that sets out the responsibilities and obligations of both parties.

Search, Surrender and Retention

The Bill creates appropriate legal powers of search, surrender and retention which can be used in the schooling context. 

  • Schools have developed a range of practices for responding to students bringing harmful items onto school property.  The Bill gives schools specific powers, relating to the surrender and retention of property, while providing clarity about methods of search and seizure in schools to avoid practices which are considered overly intrusive or invasive. 
  • The proposed approach will contribute to safer learning environments, which in turn will better enable schools to focus on the goals the Government has set in relation to the achievement of their students, including the goal of 85% of 18 year olds achieving NCEA Level 2 (or an equivalent qualification) in 2017.
  • A teacher or authorised staff member will be able to require a student to hand over any item, including electronic devices, to ensure the physical or emotional safety, or to effectively manage the learning of those under their supervision.
  • Teachers or staff members will be able to confiscate items for a reasonable period and dispose of items (where appropriate).
  • A teacher or authorised staff member is prohibited from:
    • Physically searching a student
    • Using physical force, against a student
    • Requiring a student to provide a bodily sample (ie pre-suspension, but can request a student to participate in voluntary programmes that require drug tests as a condition)
    • Carrying out random or blanket searches
    • Under the bill, a contractor may bring a trained search dog onto school premises to search school property such as lockers and desks.
  • The Ministry will be required to issue rules and guidelines having worked with the sector, covering the practical aspects of the new search and seizure regime.  These will be issued at the same time as the relevant provisions in the Bill come into force (1 January 2014).

The objectives underpinning this amendment are to:

  • Provide schools with surrender and retention powers which contribute toward learning environments that are both safe and conducive to positive student behaviour
  • Balance the needs of teachers to effectively manage their students and provide safe learning environments, with the rights of the students to be free from unreasonable search, surrender and retention
  • Prohibit methods of search, surrender and retention that are considered to be overly intrusive and invasive.

As reported back, the Select Committee recommended in response to concerns expressed by the education sector in submissions. They are as follows:

  • Create a power for school boards to authorise appropriate staff other than teachers, such as guidance counsellors, to exercise the powers of surrender and retention of property.
  • A teacher or other staff member can require a student to hand over a bag or other container and allow it to be searched if they believe the student is in possession of a harmful item.
  • Where a student in these circumstances refuses to hand over a harmful item which is concealed in clothing, the teacher or staff member can require the student to remove their outer clothing, or any head covering, gloves, footwear, and socks for the purpose of a search for those items
  • Searches must be carried out with sensitivity and afford the student the maximum privacy and decency, and where practicable the search is to be carried out by a teacher of the same sex as the student, in the presence of another teacher or authorised staff member of the same sex.
  • Where a student refuses to comply with a request, the teacher or authorised staff member may take disciplinary steps to manage the student’s behaviour.
  • Schools will be able to encourage a student to be involved in a voluntary drug programme that involves testing of bodily samples, including those that require students to provide drug tests as part of a pre-suspension disciplinary process.   (Boards can already require a student to undergo drug tests as part of a post suspension disciplinary process under other provisions in the Education Act)
  • A student cannot be forced to undergo the drug test or provide a bodily sample if they do not wish to – in that case the Boards of Trustees need to consider other options which may include alternative disciplinary processes or referral to drug counselling.
  • Schools will be able to engage contractors to conduct searches of school property through the use of dogs.  The select committee recommendation specifies what property the dogs should be able to search.
  • Schools are still able to contact the Police if they suspect a student is under the influence, or in the possession, of drugs. In certain situations the Police can exercise search and seizure powers in schools with regard to students and their bags including the use of drug dogs into schools.
  • A teacher or an authorised staff member will be prohibited from:
    • physically searching a student
    • using physical force against a student
    • Requiring a student to provide a bodily sample (ie pre-suspension, but can request a student to participate in voluntary programmes that require drug tests as a condition)
    • Under the bill, a contractor may bring a trained search dog onto school premises to search school property such as lockers and desks.
    • The Secretary for Education will be required to issue rules and guidelines for the sector, covering the practical aspects of the new search, surrender and retention.  The guidelines will be prepared in consultation with the sector and boards must give regard to these in forming their policies.  These will be issued at the same time as the relevant provisions in the Bill come into force (1 January 2014).