Who are the New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists?

The New Zealand Association of Rationalists & Humanists Inc. (NZARH) is a not-for-profit organisation that exists to serve the interests of the non-religious; those who do not have a belief in gods or the supernatural. Our association was formed in 1927 and has a history of promoting a secular education system. We have a current membership of over three hundred members. Our objects are: To advocate a rational, humane, and secular view of life without reference to supernatural agencies and which is compatible with the scientific method. To promote a tolerant, responsible, and open society. To encourage open-minded enquiry into matters relevant to human co-existence and well-being.

The Interest of the NZARH in the Education Amendment Bill.

The NZARH strongly supports a secular government; that is dealing with the issues of this world rather than following a religious agenda. Our law should not give one set of beliefs privilege over another and the state should treat religious organisations the same as any other organisation. The rights of freedom of belief and freedom of expression, must be upheld. Furthermore we support evidence based public policy rather than political ideologies.

In relation to the current Education Amendment Bill we are very concerned that the proposed Partnership Schools have been motivated by political ideology rather than clear objective evidence for a specific outcome. Furthermore we are concerned Partnership Schools will promote violation of the New Zealand Bill of Rights and Human Rights Act by allowing state funding of religious instruction. We wish to see a full review of the Education Act conducted to consider a wide variety of ideas to explore the issues that the Bill is attempting to address. We believe that special attention should be paid to sections of the existing Act which gives special consideration for popular religions, thus undermining freedom of religion.

The NZARH wish to present our position in person before the Education and Science Select Committee.


A full review of the Education Act conducted to consider a wide variety of ideas to explore the issues that the Bill is attempting to address. Not to continue the process of introducing pilot ‘Partnership Schools’ until the above review is complete and clear science has been established.

Maintain a highly qualified and respected educational workforce, including qualification and certification of teachers. That Partnership Schools enforce the same secular principles as other state schools, and welcome all students regardless of their religion. That clauses from 78 to 81 of the Education Act relating to state endorsement of religious instruction be repealed. In the alternate for section 79 to be amended to require explicit informed consent from parents prior to children being included in religious instruction.

For the Official Information Act to be applicable to all schools receiving state funding.

Religious Instruction in State Schools

The purpose of the New Zealand Education System is to educate students. The 1877 Education Act established free, compulsory and secular education. To understand why a country which was dominantly Christian introduced legislation that supported a secular education system you need to understand the history of religious conflict.

There were many religious denominations in early New Zealand. It would have been impossible to introduce a compulsory system in which specific religions were endorsed. The solution to a universal education system had to be secular Sadly the principle of a secular education system has been eroded. The Partnership School legislation seeks to expand state funded religious instruction of children.

158B Minister may approve sponsors (1)The Minister may by notice in the Gazette approve a body to be a sponsor of a partnership school kura hourua. … (3) A notice under subsection (1) must include—

...     “(f) any religious, philosophical, or other distinguishing characteristic of the school;

Education as a term refers to teaching children about the objective world, such as mathematics, language and science. These subjects are the same for everyone. Mathematical rules apply equally to everyone, the use of language is the same among it’s users, and science is based on objective repeatable evidence. These things are unambiguously real.

Our schools are in the business of education, not instructing children in ideas that are based on faith. This is not to say that religion itself should not be studied in it’s own right, as it is an important part of social and cultural aspects. Religious instruction by it’s nature creates social division, and we strongly oppose the State expanding and endorsing specific beliefs that are supported by faith alone.

We therefore strongly recommend that Partnership Schools enforce the same secular principles as other state schools, and welcome all students regardless of their religion.

Anything else would make these schools only viable for students of specific religions. Furthermore it would be diverting funding intended for education to promotion of religion.

We are concerned that important curriculum topics such as science will not be taught in schools that are strongly religious and oppose modern scientific understanding of cosmology, geology and biology. If the objective of education is to provide students with a understanding of modern science and technology it is hard to see how sabotaging scientific understanding will help.

If anything we believe the Government should seek to address the violations of the Bill of Rights and Human Rights Act where students of religions other than Christianity are regularly excluded, ostracized and punished. We also object to children being included in religious instruction classes occurring in the normal nine to three school time without the permission or knowledge of parents.

In Section 79 of the Education Act 1964 we read: 79 Attendance at religious instruction or observances not compulsory (1) No pupil enrolled at a State primary school shall be required to attend or take part in any such instruction or observances if any parent or guardian of the pupil does not wish the pupil to take part therein and makes his or her wishes known in writing to the head teacher of the school. (2) Any parent or guardian who has given such an indication of wishes may at any time withdraw it. This section creates no obligation for schools to inform parents of religious classes and requires a parent to provide written opt out. This means that parents are not given the opportunity to opt out prior to children being included.

There are several issues parents and students are experiencing with the current approach. A large number of schools running a religious program do not provide any information to parents. The first parents know about these programs is that their children come home talking about them. Other schools provide inaccurate and deceiving information that often promotes the programs as ‘values classes’, when in fact they are religious. Again parents only discover the truth later from their children.

When parents do opt out by sending a letter to the school the request is ignored and children are not removed from the classes. Sometimes the child is initially removed but then returned in a subsequent week, term or year. Some schools have requested that parents opting out provide a letter each term.

Often children opting out of the religious instruction classes are not provided with tasks or supervision during the period. In some instances children have been told to pick up rubbish from school grounds, sit in the corner and wash up dishes in the teachers staff room.

As the Government is reviewing the Education Act we recommend that all the clauses from 78 to 81 of the Education Act be repealed, or, if not repealed amended such that positive informed consent be required from parents for their children to attend.

We strongly recommend that no legislation be enacted to permit public funds to be used for religious instruction. An organisation ‘teaching’ religion is not a school, it is a church, and to confuse the two engangers the very outcomes the Education Bill is meant to resolve. It may very well be a fundamental driver of intolerance between people of various religions.

Where we see state sponsored religion we see hatred and violence. In Ireland the conflict between Catholics and Protestants. In Israel with the Jewish and Arabs, and between Shia and Sunni Muslims. By teaching children of many religions side by side we engender compassion and tolerance for others. By separating them we create a culture of division and distrust that will last into adulthood and potentially colour their interactions for a life time.

Religion should not be shown special rights, either by way of special rights in public schools, or public funding of Charter Schools which only serve a specific religion.

Questioning Educational Quality

In the Cabinet Paper Developing and Implementing NZ Partnership School Model published by the Office of the Associate Minister of Education we are introduced to the motivation for the Education Amendment Bill.

Introducing this new type of school will help us to achieve our Better Public Services target of 85% of 18 year olds having NCEA Level 2 or an equivalent by 2017. Without qualifications and skills, young New Zealanders cannot participate successfully in a modern economy. We know that many Māori, Pasifika, learners from low socio-economic backgrounds, and learners with special education needs are not getting the qualifications and skills they need to succeed in the workforce and in life. The economic and social cost of this is high.

Charter schools are one of the new approaches we need if we are going to address educational underachievement, and ensure five out of five young New Zealanders succeed. There is an emerging body of longitudinal research from overseas that shows well-run, well-led charter schools can successfully lift achievement for learners from minority groups and low socio-economic backgrounds.

The Cabinet Paper deals primarily with the establishment of Partnership Schools, with only the above brief mention of the motivations for the new legislation.

This claimed motivation for Partnership Schools is to address poor educational outcomes in New Zealand. Unfortunately the exceedingly brief section of two paragraphs fails to establish a evidentiary existence of the problem as stated, nor a evidentiary link between the claimed problem and the proposed solution. The claim that there is research to support the implementation of Charter Schools is left uncited. We will first deal with examining the claim of educational underachievement. Are New Zealand schools facing a educational outcome crisis that demands a major disruptive change? Before we begin to develop sweeping changes should we not understand the present condition and quality of our education system?

Let us for a moment consider the quality of our education system in comparison to that of other nations. In the 2012 Legatum Prosperity Index New Zealand rated first in the world for education1.

In 2010 the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) found that New Zealand was among the top seven countries. New Zealand was 4th in reading and science and 7th in math2.

PISA is an international study that was launched by the OECD in 1997. It aims to evaluate education systems worldwide every three years by assessing 15-year-olds’ competencies in the key subjects: reading, mathematics and science. To date over 70 countries and economies have participated in PISA.

By comparison the United States was rated 14th in reading, rated 25th for math and 17th in science. The United States has been steadily dropping, having begun in first place.

Before we begin to examine how we might address any remaining issues within the New Zealand public education system we must first acknowledge the remarkable achievements that our nation has accomplished. We should be congratulating our educators for this achievement. This has not been achieved by accident. It is the result of the establishment of a education system which values highly skilled and committed educators. It is the result of dedicated facilities to train and certify our teachers. It is the result of dedicated teachers and parents who run our schools. Our education system is one which New Zealanders take pride in, and which they are deeply involved with. It is a system which is delivering for a huge majority of our citizens, one we can all be proud of.

No doubt we can make improvements but any such improvements should have a foundation in good science; established public studies which show superior educational outcomes. We should embrace the principle of Open Government. starting with a definition of the problem to solve, and then work toward a solution based on collaborative input from educational specialists, educators, and parents moderated by extensive review and analysis.

Political Motivation

Many Bills that come before Parliament have a long history of development. A good example of this is the Patents Bill3 currently before Parliament. The process includes detailed analysis of the issues affecting the existing legislation and multiple rounds of select committee submissions to establish a balanced approach which addresses the identified issues. This process often takes significant time and effort, but arguably this approach delivers higher quality legislation that will not require substantial revision and amendment. Such a process ensures that the problems being solved by the legislation are well documented and examined in detail.

The brief history of the Education Amendment Bill 2012 bears little resemblance to this approach.

The Regulatory Impact Statement for Developing Charter Schools4 positively identified the political motivation behind the decision to implement Charter Schools in New Zealand. It was the Confidence and Supply Agreement between National and Act that was agreed after the November 2011 election. It says:

New Zealand’s social and economic future requires all its citizens have the qualifications and skills they need to succeed in education, in the workforce and in life. The Government has set ambitious targets to achieve this. Meeting the targets will require significant effort, especially in respect of those groups of students whom the system has not served well.

The Confidence and Supply Agreement signed by the National and ACT Parties agreed to pilot a model of charter school within this Parliamentary term (ending in 2014).

A pilot of a New Zealand model of charter school will allow an evaluation of whether new approaches that couple high accountability requirements based on outcomes targets with more freedom to govern and manage the school produces good results for learners.

It is clear from the Confidence and Supply Agreement that the focus is on a pre-determined decision to implement a system based on the Charter School model from the United States.

By April 2012 the New Zealand Model of Charter School Working Group was established. The Terms of Reference are quite specific in their exclusion of any consideration for alternate approaches.

An independent New Zealand Model of Charter School Working Group (the Group) has been established to provide advice and recommendations to the Minister of Education, the Associate Minister of Education (Hon John Banks), and the Minister of Finance about developing and implementing pilot such schools in areas of significant disadvantage or educational underachievement within this parliamentary term. This is to help ensure the successful delivery of this initiative.

The Working Group is headed up by Catherine Isaac, second on the Party candidate list for ACT New Zealand. She was also President of ACT from 2001 to 2006. This in itself is not an issue, but taken in the context of a politically motivated decision with little evidentiary support it is concerning.

In summary this legislation was introduced with no meaningful opportunity for input from the community prior to being drafted and is driven by a minority party with less than one percent support. We will now show what the evidence is, and enumerate the risks that we face by conducting a dramatic and dangerous experiment with our childrens future.


Following the Evidence

Public policy cannot be determined by evidence and science alone. We as a society must determine what outcomes we hold as important, and from there we determine if specific policies and regulations achieve these outcomes.

Peter Gluckman, Chief scientific adviser to Prime Minister John Key, perhaps described the relationship between science and public policy when he said:

Many policies developed in isolation from the available evidence, or initiated and continued in the absence of monitoring and formal evaluation of impact and effectiveness, may well be ineffective in meeting their primary or secondary policy objectives and in some cases may even have unknown and unexpected adverse consequences. Accordingly, evidence-based approaches must also lead to greater efficiency in the provision of public services.

I see developing the opportunity for enhanced application of knowledge to better inform options and decisions in policy formation as a process that all parties in the House should wish to support. I reiterate that it is not evidence itself that makes good policy – rather, it provides knowledge, potential options and solutions, and a key foundational basis from which other factors can be adjudicated on by Ministers and their advisers.

Allow us to revisit the desired outcomes discussed by the Government.

… will help us to achieve our Better Public Services target of 85% of 18 year olds having NCEA Level 2 or an equivalent by 2017. … address educational underachievement, and ensure five out of five young New Zealanders succeed. We addressed the narrative of educational under achievement in New Zealand schools earlier in this submission, showing that New Zealand ranks highly in comparison to the country from which the Charter School model is based, and between 4th and 7th in the world. But let us leave the argument around the current quality of the New Zealand school system and consider how we might improve it. If the outcome we are aiming at is to raise the achievement so that we have 85% getting to NCEA Level 2 how might we deliver it? One way would be to examine the educational practises of the world leader in education who have largely achieved the results the Government desires to achieve in New Zealand.

The Finnish Model

One of the defining aspects of the Finnish education system is the approach taken to teachers. Finnish citizens held teachers and school principals in the highest esteem, given the same status as doctors and lawyers . All teachers in Finland must have a masters degree, which is fully subsidized. They are selected from the top 10% of graduates. The average starting salary is $29,000, rising to 102% of what other graduates make.

Teachers only spend four hours a day in the classroom, and take two hours a week for professional development. The student teacher ratio in Finland is approximately ten children to each teacher. There is no merit pay for teachers . Finnish children don’t start school until they are seven. They rarely take exams or do homework until they are well into their teens. They are not measured at all for the first six years of their education.

There is only one mandatory standardized test in Finland, taken when children are sixteen All children, clever or not, are taught in the same classrooms. Science classes are capped at sixteen students so that they may perform practical experiments in every class. Thirty percent of children receive extra help during their first nine years of school. As a result the difference between weakest and strongest students is the smallest in the World. Over ninty percent of Finns graduate from high school. The school system is state funded while the national curriculum provides only broad guidelines.

Neighboring Norway, which is of a similar size and features a similar homogeneous culture, follows the same strategies as the United States and achieves similar rankings as the United States in international studies.

The Finnish model provides excellent evidence for an effective approach to ensuring high achievement over the entire population. Is the Finnish approach to education applicable to the New Zealand environment? The Finnish model is a starting point for further analysis. Each of the policies that forms the model could be examined. However, we are at least starting at a point which is clearly achievable and desirable.

The Danger of Change

Even if we were to start by examining the Finnish Model it would be ill advised to implement wholesale change. The first objection to wholesale change relates to the difficulty of determining exactly which changes are responsible for various effects. The more changes or variables that are introduced the more difficulty it is to tease out the effects of each change. It makes analysis problematic.

Wholesale change would also potentially introduce uncertainty and instability as teachers, principals, and officials attempt to deal with the changes required. These effects can have a adverse impact on the desired outcome, even if the model itself is effective.

The Charter School Model

Having established that there is a educational model with objective evidentiary support that indicates a real opportunity to achieve the stated goals we turn to the proposal of Charter Schools. Perhaps the most concerning aspect of this proposal is the lack of supporting evidence. To the contrary of Government claims there is a body of evidence that shows worse performance in US Charter Schools.

The Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University studied the outcomes of Charter Schools, and found the following: When the effect of charter schools on student learning is compared to the experience the students would have realized in their local traditional public schools, the result can be graphed in a point‐in‐time Quality Curve that relates the average math growth in each charter school to the performance their students would have realized in traditional public schools in their immediate community, as measured by the experience of their virtual twins. The Quality Curve displays the distribution of individual charter school performance relative to their TPS counterparts. A score of “0” means there is no difference between the charter school performance and that of their TPS comparison group. More positive values indicate increasingly better performance of charters relative to traditional public school effects and negative values indicate that charter school effects are worse than what was observed for the traditional public school effects.

RAND Education conducted a study of Charter Schools eight states in the United States funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Joyce Foundation, and William Penn Foundation. This study found the following:

Table 3.1 presents the initial overall student achievement effect estimates in math and reading (in standardized units) as specified by Equation 3.1. In Ohio, Texas, and Chicago, the results apply only to elementary and middle-school grades because successive high-school grades are not included in our data in those sites. In a majority of cases, the results suggest that differences in the performance of charter schools and TPSs are small or non-existent. In these cases, the gains of students attending charter schools are on par with the gains these same students experienced in TPSs.

These two studies are typical of the results being found. The variation of quality in Charter Schools is wider than with Public Schools in the same jurisdiction. There is no evidence that the desired outcome of boosting improvement of low achievers is observed as an outcome. If anything the Charter School may actually reinforce a wide variance and lower average achievement.

Teacher Qualifications

One of the most striking differences between the Finnish model and the proposed Charter School model is the quality of teacher training, qualification and certification. The Finnish approach is to encourage the best graduates to take up a career in education. They are held in great esteem, well paid and receive regular professional development. There is no performance review process. The philosophy behind this policy is that great education is founded in the quality of the teachers. Great teachers means a great education.

The Charter School approach treats teachers more like factory workers. Unqualified, uncertified teachers will be able to teach in Charter Schools. The effect of this will no doubt to be to reduce the pay and conditions of not only the unqualified teachers, but all teachers. It has been suggested that this is a deliberate decision made for political reasons; to undermine Teacher Unions in NZ. Regardless of the political motivation the outcome will be to reduce the pay of all teachers, driving good teachers out of New Zealand or into more highly valued professions.

It is difficult to see how reducing the quality and training of teachers could possibly result in higher performance by under achievers. It is, unfortunately, very easy to see how such as policy could have dramatic harmful effects on our education system, compromising it just when the Government wants us to be turning out more highly skilled professionals.

Testing and Teaching to the Textbook

The Finnish approach to education does not involve linking test results to teacher performance. As discussed above they do not test children until they are into their teens. Even when children do begin to be tested these tests are not used to judge teacher performance. Charter Schools themselves will be judged on test scores. The schools themselves will be encouraged to judge teachers based on test scores. By using this form of motivation for teachers we will see the same myopic focus on teaching to the textbook and a focus on a small subset of subjects. Once again this is an approach more often seen when managing factory workers than teachers. Essentially we will define the ‘Key Performance Indicator’ for a teacher as being student test scores.

Richard Feynman, an independent scientist and experiential thinker, was a physicist whose example and words are worth examination, as his comments would be echoed by teachers who teach their students to follow their talents and pursue their interests and make a success of their lives by loving the learning for itself, thereby being good, contributing citizens, not fitting into some ‘nameless job’ but finding careers through being encouraged to think. Teaching to the textbook will not result in contributing learners in society.

Official Information Act

Finally we would like to address the application of the Official Information Act. Increasingly state funded organisations are escaping laws designed to improve transparency. These laws are important for us to achieve transparency in how public funds are used.

There can be no accountability without transparency. If schools wish to receive public funds they should be subject to the same laws as other state sponsored organisations.