New Zealand Parliament Pāremata Aotearoa
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Hipkins, Chris

Sitting date: 22 Jul 2020

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Education and Training Bill — Third Reading

Third Reading

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education): I move, That the Education and Training Bill be now read a third time.

I'd like to begin by thanking all of the members of the House for a very lively and constructive committee stage for this legislation. It does represent the biggest change in decades for the education sector and an important step towards ensuring success for all of our learners. I think the debate was useful and constructive, and I thank members for that.

I want to acknowledge someone who isn't here tonight, the Hon Nikki Kaye, the National Party spokesperson for education and a previous Minister of Education, for all of the work that she has done over this term of Parliament to ensure that we can have a constructive working relationship on education issues. I want to wish her all the best with her retirement. I suspect that we will see her at some point in a future role, thriving in whatever it is that she chooses to do. I want to acknowledge Nicola Willis and welcome her to the role. Of course, in the next nine weeks or so, I suspect, collegiality and cooperation may go out the window just a little bit, and I hope that after the election, however that lands up, we can continue to work constructively on education issues, because it is incredibly important.

This bill delivers a high-quality public education system for New Zealand. It strengthens quality, the viability, and the support for early learning services up and down the country. It improves the police vetting requirements to increase the protections for our young children. It supports the right of all children to enrol at and attend their local school full-time, and it provides an effective pathway to resolve serious disputes and keep students engaged in education. It incorporates the reforms of vocational education and the introduction of the code of pastoral care for domestic tertiary students that this Parliament has previously passed through other legislation. It also incorporates the epidemic response measures that we passed as a Parliament and makes them available for the use in future epidemics. The bill implements some of the key elements of our education work programme, including some of the first steps to implement the decisions the Government has made as a result of the review of Tomorrow's Schools. Again, I want to thank the Tomorrow's Schools review taskforce for the hard work that they have done in consulting up and down the country on those changes.

But, significantly, this bill draws together all of the relevant provisions relating to education that are currently spread across several Acts. Currently, most education sector legislation is in the Education Act of 1989. There is, however, an Education Act of 1964, where there are still some provisions there—the Beatles were touring New Zealand, I suspect, at the time that that bill came into force, which shows you how long it's been around for. This bill consolidates that down into one easier to understand, modern piece of legislation that is less prescriptive. It also moves some elements of prescriptive legislation out of legislation and into regulation, where it can be more easily and readily amended to cope with the changing times.

So just touching very briefly on some of the key changes that the bill makes, it allows for more active management of the early childhood education network and changes to the licensing requirements to ensure that quality standards can be met. It means that the Ministry of Education will take into account the needs of children in the community, as well as the applicant's character, licensing history, and financial position, when deciding whether to approve the application for a new early childhood education licence. Police vetting requirements for home-based early childhood education services have been clarified and strengthened.

In the schooling sector, very importantly, this bill clarifies that once a child is enrolled at school, they are entitled to attend that school for all of the hours that that school is open. It is wrong that some schools have been engaging in the practice of rationing the number of hours that children with additional learning needs are allowed to attend their school. Once they are enrolled at school, they are entitled to attend that school for all of the hours that the school is open, and this bill makes that absolutely clear in law. The bill also amends the legal framework around physical restraint, taking on board feedback that we've received from the teaching community and from the disability community, striving once again to get the right balance here. I suspect this is an issue that Parliament will continue to grapple with, because it is incredibly complex and there are very legitimate arguments being raised on both sides of the argument.

The bill enables the establishment of a dispute resolution scheme for the schooling sector—not, actually, for the first time. It was established when the Education Act of 1989 was first passed, and it was repealed almost immediately, but, actually, it was an original part of the model of self-governing schools, that if we are going to have self-governing schools, there does need to be a quality dispute resolution scheme in place to resolve the issues that may flow from that, and this bill puts that in place. So once established, panels will be able to resolve serious rights-based disputes between students and their schools where those disputes have not been able to be resolved at a school level. It makes changes to enrolment schemes to strengthen the enrolment schemes regime, and that's been well canvassed during the committee stage of the bill tonight.

In the tertiary education sector, as I've indicated before, this bill incorporates the reforms of vocational education and training that the House has already canvassed at length when that legislation was passed. Of course, that legislation was passed after this bill was introduced, which is why the bill has now been amended to incorporate those changes. It also incorporates the changes we made to allow for the code of pastoral care for domestic students.

Then, as I mentioned, some of the changes that the Parliament has made around allowing for the Secretary for Education to have greater directive powers in the case of an epidemic—those changes were passed by this House in light of COVID-19, and we have ensured that they are enshrined in the legislation going forward so that if there is a future epidemic, those powers will still be available to the Secretary for Education, so that whoever the Government of the day is is able to respond to that. The export education levy payment obligations for international students are suspended for the next two years, recognising that that part of our community will be suffering as a result of fewer international students coming into the country, and this will ease some of the financial pressure on those education providers.

I think this is an excellent piece of legislation. It's one that has been several years in the making. Successive Ministers of Education have taken steps towards tidying up the Education Act. This completes that work, and I suspect in the next Parliament the process will start all over again and it will only be a matter of time before we have an Education and Training Amendment Bill before the House. But I hope for now at least we've got the education legislation into a point where those who are required to abide by it can at least follow it.