Integrated schools are a unique feature of New Zealand’s schooling landscape and make a vital contribution to parental choice and the diversity of schooling options available in this country.
These schools maintain a “special character” and have more freedom than state schools over what they teach, whilst still receiving financial support from the state.
Integrated schools enjoy a greater level of independence than state schools; however, this freedom is increasingly under threat.
There are 326 integrated schools in New Zealand and more than one tenth of all Kiwi pupils attend an integrated school.
These schools have increased in popularity and many have huge waiting lists.
So what is the attraction of these special schools?
One of the biggest attractions is the freedom for schools to organise themselves in the most effective way they can to meet the needs of pupils, families and communities.
This freedom extends to the curriculum and the teaching of values.
The Private Schools Conditional Integration Act 1975 governs integrated schools.
The key features of the Act are (1) A private school can become part of the state education system while retaining its special character as reflected through its teaching and conduct (2) The school receives state funding when it integrates into the state sector but can continue to teach religious education (3) The school can limit entry of pupils whose parents subscribe to the school’s special character (4) Attendance dues can be charged to meet capital costs of improvements and to meet loans (5) Key teaching positions can be tagged, which means a key factor in the process of appointing someone to this position is their suitability in terms of the special character of the school (6) The Proprietor owns the school and is responsible for setting and maintaining its special character.
Amendments to the Act in 1998 set out the criteria by which the Education Minister must consider an application to integrate a school.
The amendments also gave the Minister greater ability not to consider applications by schools to integrate.
In addition, these amendments resulted in a school being able to integrate as soon as it was established without the requirement to operate as a private school.
The ministry should ensure that the special place of integrated schools, guaranteed under the Integration Act, is maintained and not eroded by bring the schools under the Education Act.