Cathy Wylie

Tomorrow's Schools After 20 Years: Can a System of Self-managing Schools Live Up to Its Initial Aims?

Issue 19:2009 (published July 2010)

In 1989 the Tomorrow’s Schools reforms brought in self-managing schools as the unit for educational administration. The government’s stated aims included a mix of outcomes and processes, which were to: improve educational opportunities, meet Māori needs more effectively, give local knowledge real responsibility, and encourage flexibility and responsiveness. The system was to be more efficient, and provide greater accountability.

After 20 years, progress towards these aims is, at best, mixed. This article provides a broad overview of the frameworks for school self-management over this period, identifying two main phases from 1989 to 2009. The first led schools to develop inward-looking identities. The second introduced a greater emphasis on capability development. The ongoing legacy of the initial phase is discussed, since reform phases do not so much replace one another as build on what has already been established. It also discusses the shortcomings of each of these phases in relation to the aims of Tomorrow’s Schools, and the kind of framing school self-management might need if it is to realise the aims of improved educational opportunities, particularly for Māori, given that this was an initial driver for the reforms.