We have some of the highest-performing schools and students in the world, but we also have a long tail of underachievement in disadvantaged communities. Our education system is a slow moving disaster. ACT has a plan for a world-class education system.
Government spends almost $15 billion on education each year, but the results are highly unequal and slowly declining. This is a problem because it is the fastest growing demographic groups who are achieving the poorest results, and the 21st century will require more and more skills from workers as technology develops.
Children have a wide range of needs, but our one-size-fits-all education system has failed to adapt and provide every student with a good education. Too many children are leaving school without the basic skills they need to navigate a rapidly-changing world.
New Zealand experiences significant educational inequality. We have some of the highest-performing schools and students in the world, but we also have a long tail of underachievement in disadvantaged communities. A 2014 report by the Tertiary Education Commission found 40 percent of Year 12 students failed to meet international benchmarks for literacy and numeracy even though they had NCEA Level 2.
Skills increasingly matter, and they'll be even more important in the future as more jobs are automated. We are sending students into a world where skills matter more at a time they've got less of them.
ACT's plan for a world-class education system
- Provide every child with a Student Education Account. A child will receive $250,000 of taxpayer-funded education over their life, but parents have little choice in how it’s spent. ACT will empower parents by placing this money in a Student Education Account. Parents will be able to use it at any registered educational institution that will accept their child’s enrolment, public or private.
- Increase choice in our education system by allowing any state school to apply to become a Partnership School. Government should fund a range of schools, letting parents and children choose what is right for them, not simply forcing them to go to their local state school. ACT believes we should celebrate diversity, not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.
- Reduce the number of back office bureaucrats at the Ministry of Education by 50 per cent, saving $240 million a year. We will put this money back into frontline education.
Student Education Account & Partnership Schools
Schools must be given the flexibility to respond to a diversity of needs and all children – not just the well-off – should have a choice in education. ACT's Partnership Schools were an example of this philosophy in action. Educators had freedom to innovate and families could vote with their feet by taking their children to a more innovative school that better met their needs.
The Government will spend just over $250,000 on taxpayer-funded education over the life of every baby born this year, but parents have little control over how it is spent. We could get much better value for that money for all children, but especially disadvantaged children, if it was used to empower families to choose their school, public or private. Those who want to continue at their current school will be able to do so, however those who don't will have greater choice.
At the same time, we underinvest in Early Childhood Education, and spend too much on degrees of little value for tertiary students. ACT's Student Education Account policy will deliver more funding up front for parents who invest in Early Childhood Education. Parents who do not wish to invest the full amount, such as stay at home parents, will be able to hold over some of their early year funding for later years.
Meanwhile, the changing job market means today's children will need to be lifelong learners. The tertiary component will allow school leavers who do not wish to study immediately to hold onto the funds in their account for lifelong learning. At retirement age, any funds still remaining will be converted to cash for their retirement.
ACT will give every child a Student Education Account at the age of two. Each year until a student is 18, $12,000 will be placed into that Account. At the age of 18, they will receive a further $30,000 for tertiary education, with up to $50,000 available top academic achievers through a scholarship program. Over half of students will receive a scholarship.
Parents will be able to spend that money at any registered education institution, public or private, that will accept their child's enrolment. If parents and children are satisfied with the education they are receiving, they can stay at their current school. If not, they can use the funding in their Student Education Account to receive a better education.
ACT will also allow any state school to apply to become a Partnership School. Government should fund a range of schools, letting families ' not politicians ' choose what is best for them, rather than forcing students to attend their closest school.
Until Jacinda Ardern's Government ended the Partnership School model, iwi, Pasifika, and community groups were providing innovative education and changing kids' lives for the better.
ACT's Student Education Accounts and Partnership Schools will create a vibrant marketplace of educators offering new opportunities for all children. New Zealand needs an education system that celebrates diversity and engages every student.
What it means for teachers
Morale in the teaching profession is at an all-time low. Teachers feel undervalued and overworked with bureaucratic compliance. At its heart, the problem is that teachers have only one employment option, with 96 per cent working for the state system under contracts negotiated with the government. Under this system teacher pay has been declining for decades and teachers' professional autonomy is vulnerable to whatever education fad the government of the day or the Ministry of Education dreams up.
Putting parents in control of education funding will not only free teachers from the state monopoly, it will give them many more options, too. The ability to work for a fully-funded independent school outside of union contracts will give teachers much greater leverage to improve their conditions across the education sector.
Students and schools
Special needs students
A portion of overall funding will be held back from Student Education Accounts and distributed to schools serving students with special learning needs.
Students who immigrate or emigrate
Just as students not present in New Zealand do not receive an education, funding will not be placed into Student Education Accounts while a student is absent from New Zealand. Students who arrive as immigrants will be registered with a Student Education Account and receive funding from the time they arrive. Students who emigrate will have their account frozen and funding ceased. If they return before the age of 18 they will have their contributions restarted. If a New Zealand citizen or permanent resident returns after 18 they will receive the standard tertiary education grant.
Early childhood education
Early Childhood Education will continue to function as it presently does, with funding disbursed through Student Education Accounts. The funding available for Early Childhood Education will be equivalent to that currently available through the 20 hours free program.
Tertiary providers will continue as they have to date. They must be registered to receive funding from a Student Education Account.
Non-student funding for tertiary education will continue as normal. Tertiary providers will no longer have their fees capped, allowing them to compete on price and quality as they choose.
Most students be able to cover the cost of their courses through their tertiary education grant and their scholarships. Those who wish to attend more expensive courses will be able to add money to their account by borrowing money from the Crown, unsecured, at the government's rate of borrowing plus a premium of two per cent.
Students will also be able to draw down funds from their Student Education Account for living costs. There will no longer be student allowances as all graduates are equally able to repay their living costs as those who borrowed.
Students who elect for apprenticeships will be able to use their Student Education Account to fund course costs.
Independent Schools will be able to continue operating as they currently do. They will need to be registered as they currently are and meet audit standards for financial probity. They will need to demonstrate results for public reporting by the Ministry of Education. They will no longer receive their current subsidies, however they will be eligible to receive funding from the Student Education Accounts of students who choose them. They will continue to be able to charge their own fees.
State Schools will continue to operate as usual, however they will be funded from their students' Student Education Accounts and any Special Education funding they are eligible for. They will also have to pay a nominal per student rent for their land, which remains owned by the Crown.
State Schools that wish to will be able to convert to Partnership School status, freeing them from union contracts and giving them flexibility over their employment agreements and governance structures if they desire.
Integrated Schools will continue as they currently do, and will continue to be able to charge additional fees for their buildings if they choose to.
What government will keep doing
The Ministry of Education will be greatly reduced in its size. The Ministry employs more than 3,200 staff; New Zealand has around 2,550 schools. The average Ministry employee is paid $86,000, significantly more than a teacher at the top of the pay scale. The number of employees will be halved, freeing up a quarter of a billion dollars for children's education.
However, the Ministry of Education will continue to play a vital role. It will be responsible for registering new students with Student Education Accounts, auditing schools, and reporting on their performance to parents. Only schools registered with and audited by the Ministry will be able to receive funds from a Student Education Account.
The Government will transition from being a bureaucratic meddler in the education system to having three clearly defined roles:
- Registering students and dispersing funds into their accounts. This includes tertiary scholarships for high-performing students and additional funding for students with special learning needs
- Registering and auditing schools who wish to receive funds from Student Education Accounts
- Reporting to the public on school performance so that parents can make informed choices for their children.
Under this policy, the Ministry of Education will go from being ranked the worst government department in Wellington to becoming a world-class education administrator.