EDUCATION LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL SECOND READING

  • Wyatt Creech
Education

I move, That the Education Legislation Amendment Bill be now read a second time. I propose that this Bill be referred to the Education and Science Committee for report back to the House.

The Bill addresses a number of important educational issues. It meets a number of undertakings made in the Coalition Agreement.

Enrolment schemes
Enrolment schemes are the policies by which schools threatened with overcrowding can regulate their enrolments in order to relieve and remove the overcrowding. Unlike recent zoning proposals, only overcrowded schools need have such a scheme. For other schools there is no point. Under the Government's policy of allowing choice for parents to the extent that it is practical, they can accept any students that apply.

The Government has no wish to impose unnecessary compliance burdens on schools. Schemes will be required only where it has been established that there is an overcrowding situation. Currently there are 420 schemes are in operation.

The enrolment scheme amendments will make sure that every school which has to develop an enrolment scheme, must consider in developing its scheme, in addition to any provisions that the school considers appropriate (typically these have been sibling and old pupil provisions), a provision that takes account of students living reasonably conveniently to the school.

The Bill will ensure that schools which are developing enrolment schemes consult widely - with the school's community, the local community and with neighbouring schools. This is to ensure that the schemes of neighbouring overcrowded schools are properly integrated with each other.

To ensure that all the proper processes and provisions are included, the Bill will require that all schemes are approved by the Secretary for Education. This will help to achieve greater coordination in the provision of school places, and fair processes in the management of schemes.

I repeat that these changes are not a return to old style school zoning. Proposals which would require all schools to develop zones or enrolment scheme procedures would place burdensome and unnecessary compliance costs on the great majority of schools.

The Bill maintains the present legislative safeguard which prevents a scheme from excluding more students than is required to avoid overcrowding. This maximises possible choice for parents.

Suspensions
Schools these days deal with too many difficult discipline problems. They do not invent these problems, but they have to deal with them when they come through their gate. The Government will stand behind schools in the difficult work they have to undertake on behalf of us all. They must have the authority to sanction students. But in order to make sure the system deals with the problem as best it can, the changes proposed in this Bill will give schools more ways of dealing effectively with discipline problems while making certain that the process is fair to all concerned. We also seek to reduce the complexity of the present requirements relating to suspensions.

Fairness will be ensured by requiring principals and boards to apply in their suspension processes the principles of natural justice. The Secretary of Education is to have the power to publish rules, after the consultation provided for in the Bill, to set out the procedures to be used by principals and boards to ensure fairness. It is my intention that the rules will be writen in user-friendly language to be accessible to all parties, especially parents and families.

The Bill recognises the student's right to speak and to be represented.

The Secretary of Education is to have the power to publish rules to set out the procedures to be used by principals and boards to ensure fairness. It is my intention that the rules will be written in user-friendly language to be accessible to all parties, especially parents and families.

The grounds for suspensions in the present legislation will not be modified.

This Bill makes available to principals and boards a greater range of responses to discipline problems. The Bill introduces a 'stand down' sanction. This is the first of a series of increasingly severe sanctions that run from the stand down through levels of suspension to finally to full exclusion for the most serious cases.

The stand down allows a principal to take a step that will hopefully send sufficiently strong a message to the student in question and their family that their behaviour will be modified without any further disciplinary intervention. At present a student may be suspended for a specified period, of up to three school days, and only once in a school year. It is proposed that a principal will be able to stand down a student for a period or periods of up to five days in a term, or up to ten days in a year. Hopefully this will lead to fewer suspensions.

The new Bill also proposes that a board may suspend a student 'with conditions', conditions that are intended to deal with the student's problem and thereby facilitate the return of the student to the school. This is a response that is not at present available to a board. It will make it possible for instance for a student to be required to attend, away from the school site, an anger management course or drug counselling.

The Bill makes it clear that the sanction of exclusion - that is, the power of a Board to exclude the student from the school - is used only if the student's behaviour is such that the most serious response is justified.

In addition the Bill provides for the principal of a school excluding a student to seek to have any excluded student enrolled at another school or if unsuccessful to advise the Secretary of Education. This will mean that prompt arrangements are made for the student's schooling to be resumed.

Curriculum
The Bill updates the legislation covering curriculum matters. It brings the requirements for state schools (including integrated schools) into one Act - the Education Act 1989. The Act will now provide for a statement of foundation policy on learning and assessment. It will also have the appropriate flexibility for the New Zealand curriculum, or elements of it, to be gazetted by the Minister of Education to apply to particular years, to particular state schools, or to particular groups of students, and to be phased in at an appropriate pace.

Integration
The Bill will give to the Minister of Education a discretion when considering an integration proposal. Legal advice has concluded that under the current Act the discretion is very limited. The Minister will in future be able to decide whether or not to accept an application for the integration of a private school. Without limiting other factors that a Minister may wish to consider, the Minister will be required to consider the nature, character and capacity of the existing network of schools when taking such a decision.

Other Issues
The Bill includes a range of other measures designed to make education process fairer and less complex.

A reserve power will be created for the Secretary to be able to require a board of trustees to engage specialist support to assist it in meeting its statutory obligations. This intermediate level intervention was discussed some years back with school sector organisations and was approved by them as an alternative to the very final step of dismissal of a board and appointment of a Commissioner. This will complement the School Support initiative.

More flexibility is needed in the procedures for establishing and modifying schools. This enabling legislation will permit the adoption of new structures such as senior high schools. The clause in this Bill is one step in removing obstacles to the creation of middle schools where that is the community's wish, an undertaking of the Coalition Agreement. It will reduce the two stages of consultation required to establish a middle school or a new contributing primary school to one.

The Bill responds to a range of technical issues raised by a review of Integration in 1991-2. The Integration Standing Committee, now defunct, is removed from the Private Schools Conditional Integration Act 1975, as are references to Loreto Hall, the former Roman Catholic teacher training institution.

The Private Schools Conditional Integration Act 1975 at present requires proprietors of integrated schools to own the land and buildings which constitute the premises of the school. This acts as a restriction on the ability of the Integrated sector to assist the Crown in meeting the challenges of growth in the compulsory education sector. The Government proposes that proprietors be allowed to integrate and to expand their schools on the basis of leased land or premises. This will reduce entry costs for new integrated schools and provide increased options for existing schools. It will maintain and increase the choices of schooling available to parents.

The Bill will include a Ministerial discretion to determine what constitutes a school half day. This will allow a range of proposals already being advanced, in particular by rural communities, to be considered. It would also make possible increased flexibility in the school day for students in a senior secondary school.

The Bill updates existing powers of entry and inspection with regard to schools and early childhood centres, to provide clarity and certainty for the managers of the institutions and for the Secretary of Education or persons appointed by the Secretary.

Technical amendments provide for an exemption from enrolment to expire when a student reaches the school leaving age or when the student enrols at a registered school. The Bill clarifies the powers of the Chief Review Officer to review the programmes of those who have an exemption under section 21 of the Education Act 1989 from attendance at a registered school. There is provision for young persons in specific Department of Social Welfare residential programmes to be exempt from enrolment at a registered school.

Opportunity has been taken to alter the appointments procedures for the boards of the central Education agencies (such as the Education Training and Support Agency), to remove outdated references and to provide for possible changes of name for the agencies to be made by Order in Council. An amendment provides that the CEO is not automatically a member of the board of the entity. This is in line with Government policy for other Crown entities.

The Bill corrects inconsistencies in the sections of the Act covering certain boards of trustee elections, and extends to Commissioners the exemption from personal liability at present provided for trustees. There will also be increased flexibility for negotiating leases which are longer than ten years for joint school-community use of school sites.

In the tertiary sector provision is made for disclosure of course costs to students prior to their enrolment at a tertiary institution, a requirement already made of private training establishments.

The Bill contains measures to target student fraud. It gives the Ministry of Education power to investigate fraud by past holders of student allowances. It includes a new offence for failing to provide information or notify a change of circumstances.

The new Education Bill contains provisions to tighten up on truancy. It gives the Secretary for Education power to make rules designed to keep a track of students throughout the school system. A new mandatory and nationally consistent enrolment record will be created which can be transferred wherever the student goes.

The amendments to the Ngarimu V C and 28th Maori Battalion Scholarship Fund Act 1945 will widen the pool of appointees eligible to serve on the board, give membership to the Minister of Maori Affairs, and clarify that the Maori Members of Parliament eligible to join the board are those from the Maori electorate seats.
This Bill in Part 1 amends the Education Act 1989. This Part also includes amendments to the Education Act 1964 and the Education Lands Act 1949. Part 2 of the Bill contains amendments to the Private Schools Conditional Integration Act 1975, and Part 3 contains amendments to the Ngarimu V C and 28th Maori Battalion Scholarship Fund Act 1945.

I expect there to be lively interest in this Bill and the areas of education policy which it addresses. I expect a considerable body of submissions from education and community organisations, and from parents, to the Education and Science Committee.

I commend the Education Amendment Legislation Bill to the House.