Education (Update) Amendment Bill 2016 - COOLs

The government has begun the biggest overhaul of the schooling sector in nearly 30 years. Many of the changes proposed are contained in the Education (Update) Amendment Bill. While the bill contains much that is positive, the plan to introduce Communities of Online Learning (COOLs) has come out of nowhere and has huge risks.

Background to the Education (Update) Amendment Bill

On Tuesday 23 August 2016 the Ministry of Education released the text of the Education (Update) Amendment Bill, which has been in the works since late last year. 

In December 2015 PPTA made a submission to the ministry focussing on the areas of the Act that the ministry said were up for review.

At that point the main focus was on two things: one was the insertion of a purpose statement into the Act, and then a proposal from NZSTA  that principals should be taken off boards of trustees (the latter didn’t come to pass).

There was a significant and unannounced change to the text of the bill released in August 2016. This was to introduce a new class of schools into the Education Act, called “Communities of Online Learning” (COOLs).  This was a nasty surprise, as it opens up a market for private online schools to compete with public schools for students and funding.

The whole bill is available here:

weblink Education (Update) Amendment Bill

Communities of Online Learning (COOLs)

This introduces a new class of school, called a ‘COOL’. These are online or blended schools which will be regulated and registered in a similar way to charter schools – any organisation can apply (including this time, existing state schools) to become a COOL. Students, from age five and up, will be able to choose to attend one, with no restrictions according to the Act and the RIS.

A few key points about COOLs:

1.    They’re open access – any student can attend one, just like a regular school.
2.    Any school, tertiary provider or ‘body corporate’ (ie. a company, trust, etc…) can apply to run one.
3.    They can deliver blended or full online learning.
4.    They will be regulated similarly to charter schools – ‘high flexibility'
5.    The funding mechanism isn’t set, but seems to be connected to the ‘per student’ funding proposal in the funding review.
6.    Like charters, they can employ a mix of registered and unregistered teachers.
7.    They can teach the NZC or other curricula, like the IB or the IGCSE.

It is worth noting that the evidence from the USA where several hundred thousand students attend full online schools is terrible. The National Education Policy Centre in the US noted that “Virtual school outcomes continued to lag significantly behind that of traditional brick and mortar schools”.  Oddly the Ministry of Education did not mention this in their advice on the bill.

US experience of online schools

International expert on virtual and charter schools, Professor Gary Miron came to New Zealand on the invitation of PPTA to talk about the US experience of online schools.  

His evaluation of US virtual schools can be found here:

weblink Virtual Schools Report 2016 (pdf)

His presentation at Victoria University on 23 November 2016 is attached to the top of this page.


PPTA submission on the Bill

PPTA, alongside the Secondary Principals’ Council, the New Zealand Principals’ Federation, the New Zealand School Trustees Association, the New Zealand Educational Institute and the New Zealand Virtual Learning Network Community, strongly recommended that:

  • Clause 38 of the Bill (inserting a new Part 3A “Communities of Online Learning” in the Act) and all other references to COOLs be deleted;
  • That a cross-sector working party is established to develop a policy framework for online learning in New Zealand.

 We expressed strong concerns about the lack of consultation, noting that the Ministry of Education claimed that COOLs were only introduced late in the piece as a result of a submission from Te Kura. This was not actually correct. In December 2014, the minister agreed to advice from the ministry that changes to Te Kura to allow open access should be explored as part of the Education Act update. As the RIS makes clear, this is the genesis of the changes to Part 3A of the Act. The minister has been considering changes along the lines of COOLs for at least two years, and the only consultation that has been undertaken is now at select committee stage.

PPTA supports the development of online learning where it:

  • provides students access to subjects or particular learning opportunities at a school that they are enrolled at which may is not able to offer those learning opportunities in a face-to-face class;
  • provides access to education for students who are isolated or unable to attend regular school classes for other reasons, such as health or alienation from the school system; and
  • complements currently successful forms of distance and face-to-face learning.

However, the proposal for COOLs appears to have little basis in evidence or be at all consistent with the direction of the other policy objectives outlined in the Bill. This, coupled with a failure to consult on the proposal before it was included in the Bill, has also led to policy that is not fit for service.

(The full submission is attached to the top of this page)

COOLs videos





Other changes in the Bill

There are 14 areas of change in the Act. The Regulatory Impact Statements (RISs) are available to read here:

weblink Education (Update) Amendment Bill Regulatory Impact Statements

Some of the more significant changes that are immediately obvious are described below. There will be other implications that will emerge as we further consider the areas of change.

Objectives for education

The Bill includes a statement of the objectives for the education system, an overarching statement that is supposed to capture the essence of what the education system is for. While this is a list rather than a pithy statement, it seems reasonable, while also getting in a statement about preparedness for work.

Changes to Second and Third Tier Regulation

The government will be able to set priorities for the education system on a periodic basis that will be called the Statement of National Education and Learning Priorities (SNELP). The process for this is in the Act, but it will be second tier regulation rather than in the Act itself. This will replace the NEGs and NAGs – i.e. setting what it is that boards of trustees have to plan for and report against.  The process is supposed to be consultative, and the ministry envisaged it being reviewed and updated every three to four years.  The curriculum will continue to be separate from this, as second tier regulation of its own.

Changes to planning and reporting for Boards

Instead of annual plans submitted to the ministry, boards of trustees will be able to submit a strategic plan every four years, which is longer than the cycle of a board election. Each year they will need to publish an annual plan which shows actions towards the strategic plan. This seems a good idea, as currently the annual planning process comes around too quickly, and the ministry often does not give any input into these plans.

Zoning and enrolment schemes

The ministry is getting some more teeth in regard to enforcing enrolment schemes and making boards act to adjust or implement a zone. Currently some schools have been flouting the ministry’s wishes on this, often with predatory behaviour in encouraging students to come to their school from other schools’ logical catchment areas.  This is another welcome change.

Putting the Private School Conditional Integration Act into the Education Act

This does not seem to be making substantial changes to the situation of integrated schools, but simply brings the provisions under the main Education Act. There do seem to be some changes relating to property settings, in particular for making integrated schools have regard for the network of schools in an area, which they don’t have to do currently, and some extra interventions.

Communities of Learning (CoLs) into law

Until now CoLs have only been a feature of the collective agreements, policy documents and the orders in council that establish the staffing for them.  This Bill will put them into the Education Act as well. The one change that leaps out from this is that ERO will be able to review a CoL as well as individual schools.

More information

weblink Teachers – Keep us Connected in a Connected World (Education Council article)

weblink Rewarding failure: An Education Week Investigation of the Cyber Charter Industry 

weblink Education Council Highlighter 7 October 2016 

weblink NZCER Submission on the Update of the Education Act

weblink Ministry of Education information

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Last modified on Wednesday, 14 December 2016 19:27