As the sun set on the school year in 2018, the Tomorrow’s School Independent Taskforce published their report and
recommendations. The taskforce looked to review the education system at large, with a particular focus on the ways in
which are schools are governed, led and resourced. The report is a weighty tome, coming in at 144 pages and presenting
“a package” that identified eight key issues and 32 recommendations with a focus on “developing a system that promotes
equity and excellence and ensures that every learner achieves educational success”.
The report is as courageous as it is polarizing and whilst the report and recommendations are detailed, they can, in
their relative brevity, leave enough space to enable some to presume the worst. The recent months have seen many
responses which represent a diverse range of voices and views - the loudest of which seem to be those driven by
ideological positions and a desire to continue to reap the benefits of one’s “luck” and protecting the advantages that
come with a well-resourced school and a well-heeled community.
The report focuses on eight key issues: governance and the fact that the Board of Trustees self-governing model is not working consistently well across the country; schooling provision and the idea that the nature, type, provision, and accessibility of meaningful schooling for all New Zealanders is
inadequate; competition and choice with unhealthy competition between schools having significantly increased as a result of the self-governing school
model; disability and learning support arguing that students with learning support requirements should have the same access to schooling as other students; teaching, noting the quality of teaching is the major ‘in school’ influence on student success but our teacher workforce
strategies are currently left wanting; school leadership which is central to school improvement; school resourcing which is currently inadequate; and central education agencies such as ERO, Ministry of Education and NZQA who struggle to be as effective as they might be.
The report addresses concerns about equity and the ever increasing gap between the haves and the have-nots and what is
ultimately the winners and the losers in our current education system. It attempts to address achievement rates that
have plateaued and increasing concerns about principal, teacher and student wellbeing. This is not a report for the
faint hearted. Ultimately, this is a report that seeks to address the very real needs of many of our schools and
communities, without causing too much to change for those winning at the game of life...and school.
Recommendations one, two and three talk about the roles of boards of trustees (BOTs) to be reoriented so that their core
responsibilities are to provide input into, and retain final approval of: the appointment of the principal, the school’s
strategic and annual plan; be responsible for managing and reporting on locally raised funds; provide advice to the
principal on matters related to: student wellbeing, belonging, student success and achievement; localised curriculum and
assessment practices; property, finances, health and safety and any other matters. The clincher, however, is that school
and BOTs will work with the new cog in the educational machine - a local Education Hub.
The Education Hub is presented as an opportunity to create local support that is to be untethered from the layers of
bureaucracy that is so often prevalent in the Ministry of Education. The hubs have the potential to play a pivotal role
in creating what could be a new more efficient educational ecosystem which will hopefully be given the freedom to
respond to schools and the communities as needed. It is important to remember that for every well-heeled, well resourced
school in a major city, there are literally hundreds of small schools and school leaders who struggle to resource and
run their schools whilst also fulfilling, often single-handedly, the responsibilities around property, business, ground
keeping and if you’re lucky still have time for that rather important job of teaching and learning. These same
communities and schools often struggle to appoint board members with a range of useful skills, in fact they often
struggle to appoint board members at all.
Our educational landscape is far from a level playing field and quite frankly the idea of hubs being on hand to support
governance responsibilities around business and property and also provide professional development and teacher support
is a gift to any principal who wishes to be a leader of learning, even it might mean we may need to relinquish the
notion of being an entirely self-governing school. Some have been quick to paint this as a complete handing over of
governance to hubs and ultimately a loss of much cherished control. The report actually explains that this will not be
the case. It will, however, be an opportunity for schools and BOTs to access much needed localised support.
Other areas of concern have focused on the suggestion that Education Hubs would provide principals with ongoing
employment (rather than the school) and that hubs would work with the BOT (who would retain final say) to appoint
principals to a particular school on a five year contract, stating “this would allow Education Hubs to provide
opportunities for principals to gain experience in a variety of school settings and to contribute where their expertise
is most needed across the community of schools.” It is understandable why this might rattle cages, with principals quite
rightly enjoying the security of their current (permanent) contracts, in roles they have fought hard to win. But it is
important to note that this is a concern that has already been addressed by Bali Haque (Chair of the Tomorrow’s Schools
Independent Taskforce) when he recently reassured a group of secondary school principals stating that this would simply
represent an opportunity for a review and a conversation every five years, not, as many have portrayed it, as an
opportunity to yank principals out of one school and plop them in another at will. It does, however, represent the
challenge of a review and a report being presented without the important detail that may allay what are very real and
On the whole, it is important to see this review for what it is. It is a courageous yet ultimately carefully thought
through “package of recommendations” which seeks to provide support where it is needed whilst leaving enough space and
flexibility for those already succeeding to continue to do so. Yes, there are recommendations that may prove
uncomfortable for some and downright challenging for those who struggle to see themselves as a mere cog within a much
larger machine. This is not a report which panders to the winners in the current context, it is report that seeks to
support those who genuinely need it whilst protecting much of what is great about our education system - schools that
are encouraged to reflect the needs and flavour of their community, developing a localised curriculum and simply
enhancing it by providing more responsive localised support.
The only real concern is we are not brave enough nor selfless enough to support changes that might benefit our entire
educational system for fear of relinquishing perceived notions of control. Of course no report is perfect, and with 32
recommendations to consider the devil will be in the detail and the proof will be in the pudding. There is always the
risk of unintended consequences (as there was with the Picot Report in 1988) and there is the very real risk of some of
the richness of these recommendations being lost in implementation and any plans being so slow to roll out that little,
if any, gain is seen or felt for years to come. But on reflection, even when we consider all of these factors, the
Tomorrow’s School Report creates a vision for tomorrow where there is little to lose and much to gain.