CPAG education expert appointed to Tomorrow’s Schools Taskforce

Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) is thrilled with the Minister of Education’s appointment of Professor John O’Neill to the Independent Taskforce to Review Tomorrow’s Schools.

Professor O’Neill, Head of the Institute of Education at Massey University, is a long-standing and prominent member of CPAG’s Management Committee. He is also a member of the New Zealand Association for Research in Education (NZARE).

Professor O’Neill’s research and advocacy work to build a more equitable and inclusive education system has been central to CPAG’s on-going campaign to end child poverty and improve education outcomes for children whose lives are affected by structural socio-economic disadvantage.

Professor O’Neill says the appointment came “out of the blue”, and he was surprised to receive the phone call informing him that the Minister of Education would like him to be a member of the Independent Taskforce.

“It is such an honour, and a privilege, to have been shoulder-tapped,” said Professor O’Neill.

CPAG is in no way surprised that the expertise of Professor O’Neill has been called upon for this significant  project.

“We congratulate John on this highly appropriate appointment that recognises not only his extensive academic expertise, but also his deep commitment to social justice.  We look forward to the result of the far-reaching and timely review of self-managing schools and the Taskforce’s recommendations,” says Janfrie Wakim, Co-convenor for CPAG.

Professor O’Neill is pleased that the review will be conducted entirely independently and he hopes the Taskforce’s work will enable government to practically address the growing social and economic gaps that undermine children’s learning and achievement.

“The acid test of any state schooling system is how well it works in the interests of the most disadvantaged children in society. To what extent does attendance at school improve life chances?” says Professor O’Neill.

“Of course, schooling can't fix our chronic social and economic inequalities. If society and the economy are structured to widen the gap between the haves and the have nots, it really doesn't matter how the schooling system is structured and delivered.”

Professor O’Neill says he values CPAG's work and advocacy because it recognises that income poverty and material hardship among children can only be eradicated if all of government and the NGO sector commit to ensuring children's rights and best interests.

“That means, health, social welfare, education, criminal justice and the rest putting children at the heart of public policy.

“It means ensuring that all local communities have the full range of support services people need within easy reach, and which are free at the point of use. Schools can certainly serve as community hubs, but they need to be allowed to focus their energies and expertise on teaching and learning,” says Professor O’Neill.

Professor O’Neill has long advocated for improving children’s chances to experience their best possible education by reducing cost barriers and ensuring parents are not encumbered by the ‘hidden costs’ of education.

“It is vital that families should have enough income to meet their children’s needs so that they are able to attend school regularly and have educational experiences that are as good as their peers,” says Professor O’Neill.

“The link between poverty, hardship and poor education outcomes is significant, and we have opportunities within the education system to alleviate some of the pressure on parents to meet costs that they cannot afford. We also have the opportunity to prepare resilient teachers to staff our schools and create holistic education programmes that meet the social and cultural needs of all children, as well as to encourage and maintain their natural curiosity for learning.”

Congratulations John!