PM Jacinda Ardern and Chris Hipkins en route to an education announcement in Christchurch earlier this year

Education Minister Chris Hipkins yesterday unveiled his rewrite of the country’s education legislation.

Hipkins is billing the Education and Training Bill as a fundamental rewrite of the 1964 and 1989 Education Acts along with the 1992 Industry training and Apprenticeship Act.

“The Bill’s rewrite of education legislation is long overdue,” said Hipkins yesterday.

“Indeed one Education Act, parts of which are still in force, dates to 1964 – when the Beatles toured New Zealand.”

The Bill picks up some of the proposals from the controversial Tomorrow’s School Review which reported a year ago and on which the Ministry of Education has since been consulting.

Probably the biggest change in the new Bill will be an increased emphasis on the Treaty of Waitangi in schools. This will be linked to a much greater emphasis on teaching Te Reo.

In part, this will be achieved by changing the objectives for a school.

“Currently, a school board’s primary objective in governing the school is to ensure that every student at its school is able to attain their highest possible standard in educational achievement,” notes explaining the Bill and supplied by the Ministry of Education yesterday say.

Instead, the Bill will “refocus” boards on a wider range of objectives, with educational achievement sitting alongside three other, equally as important, primary objectives.

“These are for schools to ensure that:

  • every student is able to attain their highest possible standard in educational achievement
  • the school is a physically and emotionally safe place for all students and staff, and gives
  • effect to relevant student rights and takes all reasonable steps to eliminate racism, stigma, bullying, and discrimination within the school;
  • the school is inclusive of caters for students with differing needs;
  • the school gives effect to Te Tiriti o Waitangi by: o working to ensure that its plans, policies, and local curriculum reflect local Tikanga Māori, mātauranga Māori and te ao Māori
  • taking all reasonable steps to make instruction available in te reo Māori and Tikanga Māori; and
  • achieving equitable outcomes for Māori students.

The new objective relating to Te Tiriti will  emphasise the importance of local history and practices and  challenge boards to improve the teaching of te reo Māori and Tikanga Māori;

They will also be required to contribute to meeting the Crown’s duty to protect Tino Rangatiratanga rights actively; and make a significant contribution to achieving the Crown’s Strategy for Māori Language Revitalisation.

The Te Tiriti objectives will not come into force until 2021.

The Bill enshrine in law the changes to school zones proposed in Tomorrows’ Schools review.

Currently, enrolment zones are proposed by school boards and ap[proved by the Secretary of Education.

The explanatory notes use similar language to the review in their critique of this system.

“Under the current framework, it is possible for schools to develop a zone based on areas from which they most wish to take students<’ the notes say.

“For example, they can design zones that include high socio-economic neighbourhoods and exclude closer, more disadvantaged, neighbourhoods.

“This can detrimentally affect students that are already at a disadvantage.”

So the new Bill transfers the responsibility for developing and consulting on enrolment schemes to the Secretary for Education.

The Secretary must develop an enrolment scheme if overcrowding occurs or is likely to occur at a State school.

And the Secretary must consult with the school board while developing an enrolment scheme. Boards must take reasonable steps to consult with key stakeholders during this design phase.

The Bill is also proposing a new complaints system

This is to deal with situations like the case of Auckland Grammar student, James Hill, who last year took his school to court after he was stood down over the length of his hair.

The scheme will consist of local dispute resolution panels overseen and administered by a Chief Referee appointed by the Minister. Panels will have a mix of local members and expert members..

Panels will be focussed on resolving disputes through mediation. If mediation is unsuccessful, the panel can make its own decision about how to resolve the dispute.

The panel could issue a declaration that the school has breached the student’s rights. It could also recommend that the school take certain actions, including reversing or modifying decisions in relation to the student, apologising to the student and reviewing any related rules/bylaws or policies.

The criteria for when a teacher may use force to restrain a pupil has been tightened. up and a new definition of when this may be appropriate has been included.

Teachers will be able to intervene when it is reasonably believed necessary to prevent imminent harm.

“Intervening to prevent harm can include harm to the health, safety or wellbeing of the student or any other person, including harm caused by significant emotional distress<” say the notes.

There are a host of other requirements within the Bill.

It will be one of the “big” bills next year new and will probably spend a tortuous time in the Education Select Committee.

But if Hipkins gets it through next year, it will stand alongside his new Public Sector Act as one of the most substantial legislative achievements of the Ardern Government.