Close this search box.

Your Hub for NZ News

Government says charter schools good, unions say bad…

In brief 

  • Charter schools, or ‘partnership’ schools, are run by sponsors, can turn profits, and use their own curriculum. 
  • Unlike state schools, they can be shut down if they don’t meet outcomes. 
  • Some evidence suggests they improve student performance and help alleviate the burden on state schools.
  • The government is investing $153 million, while unions cite concerns over performance and accountability.

What’s the definition of a charter school? 

Charter or ‘partnership’ schools are run by sponsors or partners, have a special cultural or values character, different funding expectations, and can turn a profit. 

Charter schools can use their own curriculum (equivalent to state schools of the same year levels). They have different trustee and teacher credential requirements, but interestingly, charter schools are not subject to the Official Information Act.

Examples of charter schools include Te Rangihakahaka Centre for Science and Technology in Rotorua (in partnership with Ngati Whakaue), Pacific Advance Secondary School – NZ’s first Pasifika secondary school and Vanguard Military School on Auckland’s North Shore.

High levels of monitoring and accountability- including a new departmental agency – mean charter schools can be shut down when they don’t achieve the outcomes they are funded for. This is unlike state schools, which continue even when their students fail NCEA.

A 2023 Stanford University study of US charter schools found 36% of poor students perform better in reading and 36% in maths. 

A study from the Maxim Institute in NZ cited evidence from US researchers that “reverse creaming” is a major benefit of charter schools – that is, they absorb “a share of the low-income, disadvantaged pupils in school districts, thereby alleviating some of the burden on regular state schools” – and lifting the performance of both schools. 

Government says charter schools good, unions say bad… - Centrist
Alwyn Poole is an education consultant and advocate of the charter school model.

Amid the furore, only a modest amount of money has been put into new charter schools

In 2018, as Labour stopped charter/partnership schools from expanding, education minister Chris Hipkins said that charter schools were driven by “ideology rather than evidence.” But did he have any evidence for that?

Fewer than 20 charter schools opened under the National-ACT government between 2011 and 2017. Head of Innovative Education Consultants, Alwyn Poole, operates two such schools himself and reports typically 88% of Māori and Pasifika students go on to achieve level 1 NCEA

The coalition government is approving 15 new charter schools and conversion of 35 other schools. The $153m cost is less than 1% of the $21bn Labour budgeted for education last year. 

Charter schools aren’t as unpopular as unions would have us believe 

Principal of Whangarei school Te Kāpehu Whetū Raewyn Tipene told media in April of this year that running a charter school meant high accountability, freedom, low interference and easier access to funding allowing teachers to “get on with the job of educating kids.”

The NZEI union – and plenty of critical mainstream media reports – have highlighted small failures by charter schools, such as South Auckland Middle School and Middle School West Auckland not meeting all performance requirements in 2016 and having one percent of funding withheld.

However, research organisation MartinJenkins completed a multi-year evaluation report into partnership schools policy for the Ministry 2014-2018 and found generally positive outcomes from charter schools.

Those that believe in competition will say it is always better to have other models for insightful comparisons. and contrast.

As Education Minister David Seymour put it on 14 May of this year, “The unions will criticise charter schools because they will lose their membership fees and their grip on the sector, I say to them it’s time they put the students at the heart of education.”

Enjoyed this story? Share it around.​

Notify of
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Read More


Sign up for our free newsletter

Receive curated lists of news links and easy-to-digest summaries from independent, alternative and mainstream media about issues affect New Zealanders.