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Last-ditch bid to modify charter schools rules

Published: 5:28AM Monday May 06, 2013 Source: Fairfax

A last-ditch bid to modify the rules for charter schools will take place this week, with pressure expected to go on the Maori Party whose votes will decide whether legislation passes.

Labour has effectively conceded defeat in its battle against allowing a trial of the schools, which will be able to determine their own curriculum and can be staffed by teachers who are not registered.

But Labour education spokesman Chris Hipkins said he would be tabling a series of Supplementary Order Papers this week, suggesting amendments to the Education Amendment Bill when it sees its second reading.

These would impose teacher registration and curriculum requirements, as well as making the schools subject to the Official Information Act.

Hipkins said he was hoping to meet with Maori Party MPs this week to try to encourage them to support the changes, after they expressed concerns with some aspects of the legislation.

"Our position on charter schools hasn't changed, but we're obviously trying to change charter school legislation accepting that it's likely to go through," Hipkins said.

The votes of the Maori Party became crucial to charter schools in mid-April when UnitedFuture leader Peter Dunne said he would not be supporting the bill.

Having voted for it at the initial reading, Dunne warned he could not promise to vote for it again because of concerns over curriculum and not requiring registered teachers.

At the time, Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples said he supported charter schools, but the party did want to make sure teachers were qualified.

"We want people to have qualifications in some field or other; they may not be in teaching, but they may be in other disciplines," Sharples said.

"It would have to be a qualification in whatever they are going to teach - something that qualifies them to teach it."

Associate Education Minister John Banks said the merits of the legislation had been debated "extensively" at select committee hearings, with the committee deciding, on balance, to send it back unamended.

Banks said the trial charter schools, to be opened "day one, term one" next year, would have high standards of teaching, and he expected most would be registered teachers, but it would be up to the schools to decide this.

The ACT Party leader said he understood the Maori Party would continue to support the legislation as it stood, and that its president, Pem Bird, had strongly supported the bill when he appeared before the Education and Science select committee in February.

Appearing as spokesman for a group of 23 Maori immersion-schools, Bird said charter schools would free schools from regulations that prevent them from doing a better job for Maori.