Charter schools' second chapter

Briar Lipson
Insights Newsletters
14 June, 2024

In his key work, Machiavelli warned his Prince, “there is nothing more difficult to plan, more doubtful of success, nor dangerous to manage than the creation of a new system. For the initiator has the enmity of all who would profit by the preservation of the old institution and merely lukewarm defenders in those who would gain by the new one.”

Machiavelli’s words could describe David Seymour’s predicament as he sets out on his bold quest to reestablish Charter Schools. Without a doubt, he will face a host of institutionalised foes.

This reality is made worse by the imbalance in education between a highly unionised teacher workforce and parents, who struggle to act collectively. By empowering Boards, the Tomorrow’s Schools policy was designed, in part, to address this imbalance. However, its potential has been held back from the start by dogged blocking of all attempts at transparency and accountability. As long as schooling stays a closed book, with Trustees and parents in the dark, Tomorrow’s Schools will continue to flounder.

Well-run Charter Schools, however, could change everything.

In England, over 650 Free (or Charter) Schools have opened since the launch of the enabling policy in 2010. A small number have also shut. At first, Free Schools were controversial. But with careful rollout and tight accountability, they are now well-established.

Secondary school performance in England is judged using measures of achievement and progress at ages 11, 16, and 18. The measures change every few years, which limits gaming. Currently the main metric is ‘Progress-8’, which measures pupils’ progress from the end of primary school to age 16.

Remarkably, in 2023, six of the top ten state secondary schools were Free Schools. Another standout is a formerly private Steiner school.

The top performer is the Michaela Community School, which has led the rankings for two years running. Under the leadership of Kiwi-born Katharine Birbalsingh, who visited Auckland in 2018, the Michaela School transforms the life chances of children from a deprived, inner-city community.

By inviting its backers and opponents alike to observe the success of teacher-led learning firsthand, the Michaela Free School has opened hundreds of minds to forgotten truths.

​The New Zealand Initiative will keep a close eye as the Charter School policy develops. As with many groundbreaking policy ideas, the devil will lie in the legislative detail. But like a good teacher, the Initiative will be on hand to provide robust criticism, to insist on high standards and to back this visionary idea.

Stay in the loop: Subscribe to updates