Education Act reform – what are the key changes?

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Earlier this month, Parliament passed the Education (Update) Amendment Bill, resulting in the biggest reform of the education system in nearly thirty years. Some of the key changes are outlined below.

Cohort entry

Schools will be allowed to choose to implement a system where new entrants will begin their schooling together in groups at the beginning of each school term (known as cohort entry), rather than beginning separately on their birthday. Children will be able to start at a school with cohort entry at the beginning of the term closest to their fifth birthday, or the beginning of a later term. This means that some children, depending on when in the term their birthday falls, will be able to start school up to two months before they turn five, while other children will have to wait up to two months after their fifth birthday before they can start school.

Compulsory attendance for enrolled under sixes

While children are not required to be enrolled in school until their sixth birthday, any child under the age of six who has been enrolled must then regularly attend school. This is based on the view that regular attendance in the first year of school supports the development of positive attitudes to learning and provides a sound foundation for future learning and achievement.

Communities of Online Learning (COOLs)

Schools, tertiary education providers or body corporates may be accredited as a Community of Online Learning (COOL). The aim is to bring online learning into the mainstream schooling system. There will be two types of COOL, enrolling and supplementary.

Enrolling COOLs will allow a pupil to enrol in full-time online learning as an alternative to a face-to-face school. An enrolling COOL will have overall accountability for students' full-time learning programmes regardless of where aspects of the learning are sourced. This will essentially work as an alternative to home-schooling or the existing correspondence school.

Supplementary COOLs will provide a system for pupils to receive supplementary tuition (such as in a specific subject) while enrolled in and attending a face-to-face school or other COOL.

Government priorities and objectives

The Minister of Education may issue a statement of National Education and Learning Priorities (NELP), setting out the Government's priorities for education. These provisions will replace the National Education Guidelines.

The Education Act also now sets out objectives to set the strategic direction for the education system. These are:

  • helping each child and young person attain educational achievement to the best of their potential;
  • promoting the development of:
    • resilience, determination, confidence, and creative and critical thinking;
    • good social skills and the ability to form good relationships;
    • participation in community life and fulfilment of civic and social responsibilities; and
    • preparedness for work; and
  • instilling an appreciation of the importance of:
    • the inclusion within society of different groups and persons with different personal characteristics;
    • the diversity of society;
    • cultural knowledge, identity, and the different official languages; and
    • the Treaty of Waitangi and te reo Māori.

Establishing and disestablishing schools

The Act now makes it explicitly clear that the Minister has absolute discretion when deciding whether to establish a school, change the class of a school, specify the class levels that a school can provide, close a school, or merge a school. It also provides rules to guide the Minister when making these decisions, and improves the consultation process.

Boards of Trustees

The Act makes the role and responsibilities of Boards of Trustees clearer. There are three aspects to this:

1.  the various roles and responsibilities of Boards of Trustees are brought together in one place in the Act (Schedule 6), to make it easier for boards to see what they should be doing and what they should focus their time on;

2.  the Act now makes it clear that a board is the governing body of a school, and is responsible for setting the schools' policies, giving both boards and principals a clearer description of the board's role; and

3.  there is an explicit obligation on boards to be consistent with the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi when performing their roles and responsibilities.

State integrated schools

The Private Schools Conditional Integration Act 1975 has been repealed and incorporated into the Education Act. The aim is to create a more streamlined, flexible and modern regulatory framework for state-integrated schools.

Health and safety

Where a school wants to use an off-site location on a long-term or full-time basis, including locations such as off-site technology centres, swimming pools and sports facilities, prior approval from the Minister will be required. This will ensure that proper consideration is given to the welfare and safety of the students at that location.

For more information, please contact a member of our Health and Safety team.

 

Disclaimer: the content of this article is general in nature and not intended as a substitute for specific professional advice on any matter and should not be relied upon for that purpose.