Virtual School Meanderings

December 4, 2018

The Brief Life And Quick Death Of CoOLs

For those that don’t follow the developments of K-12 distance, online and/or blended learning internationally, over the past year or so there have been major changes in the field in New Zealand (but in the end everything is the exact same).

Back on 22 August 2016, the Minister of Education in the neo-liberal National Party – Hon Nikki Kaye – introduced a bill that would make significant amendments to the Education Act.  Among those changes were the introduction of Communities of Online Learning (CoOLs).

Communities of online learning (COOLs)

The Bill provides that a registered school, body corporate, or tertiary education provider may apply to the Minister for provisional accreditation as a COOL. The Minister may set conditions on provisional accreditation and has an absolute discretion to approve or reject the application for provisional accreditation. The applicant must meet certain criteria which include that it must have or be likely to have:

  • a learning environment and processes that are safe and secure for its students;
  • an appropriate curriculum for teaching, learning, and assessment and a tuition standard suitable to the age range and level of its students;
  • the capacity to meet its pastoral care and student well-being responsibilities;
  • a system for ensuring that information about a student’s performance is given to the student’s parents in a timely manner and in a form that is readily understandable;
  • equipment that is suitable for the curriculum being delivered, or to be delivered, and for the mode of online education delivery;
  • directors or managers who are fit and proper persons;
  • sound financial practices; and
  • premises, whether owned or leased, that are suitable for a community of online learning of its type.

After a twelve month period, the Minister may fully accredit a community of online learning if he or she is satisfied, after a review process, that it meets the criteria for full accreditation (the same as detailed above for provisional accreditation) (Part 1, Clause 38, inserting New Part 3A into the Act, New Sections 35T-35Z).

Interventions by Minister or Secretary in relation to COOLs

The Bill provides that, in relation to a COOL, the Minister may intervene (in a manner which is reasonable to deal with the risk without interfering in the community of online learning more than necessary) if he or she has reasonable grounds to believe that there is a risk to the operation of a community of online learning or to the welfare or educational performance of its students. The manners of intervention are: issuing the COOL learning with a notice to comply; requiring the COOL to inform parents of the community’s students that it is not meeting the criteria for accreditation as a COOL; imposing conditions on the provisional or full accreditation of COOL cancellation of accreditation; suspension of provisional or full accreditation (Part 1, Clause 38, inserting New Part 3A into the Act, New Sections 35ZA-35ZD).

Operation of COOLs

The Bill requires suspensions and expulsions from COOLs to be notified to the Secretary who must, unless the student is reinstated at the COOL or enrolled at another COOL or a registered school, arrange enrolment at a registered school or require enrolment at a State school or community of online learning (New Section 35ZH). The Minister may make grants (either unconditionally or subject to conditions) to provisionally and fully accredited COOLs (New Section 35ZJ). COOLs must prepare accounts for each financial year, have them audited, and provide copies of the accounts and the audit report to the Secretary (New Section 35ZL). Regulations may be made in relation to COOLs in relation to various matters including: the accreditation process; the criteria for student enrolment; the categories of communities of online learning that may charge fees; the categories of students who may be charged fees; attendance requirements; and planning and reporting requirements (New Section 35ZO) (Part 1, Clause 38, inserting New Part 3A into the Act, New Sections 35ZE-35ZO; Part 1, Clause 145, inserting New Schedule 1, part 5, clause 11 (“Transitional provisions relating to communities of online learning”).

It should be noted that these amendments were made without any consultation from the larger K-12 distance, online, and/or blended learning community.  They were also made with no reference or reliance on any of the studies into K-12 distance, online, and/or blended learning that had been previously undertaken.  Finally, they were made to highlight everything that is broken with the American system of full-time K-12 online learning programs, while ignoring the rich system of supplemental K-12 distance education that had historically developed in New Zealand.  As you can imagine, it caught just about everyone by surprise.

You can review the entire history of the bill at:

It is actually quite a nice tool, as it provides the complete legislative history of the bill – including all of the debate in Parliament (both the written Hansard and video from the sessions) and all of the analysis undertaken by the Ministry.  It also includes all of the submissions that were made to the Parliamentary committee.  For example, you can view my own submission here – as it is on page 12 of 15 pages of submissions (as there were a total of 286 written submissions).

Anyway, the bill received Royal Assent on 15 May 2017, and the CoOLs were set to come into effect at the end of 2019.  Fast forward a few months, following an election that saw the defeat of the National Party and a coalition Government formed by the Labour Party, the Green Party, and New Zealand First Party (which is an interesting mix given that the Labour Party are the centrist/centre-left party, the Greens are way to the left, but New Zealand First are on the right of the political spectrum – actually more nationalist and populist to be honest, think Trump light).

So one of the first things that this new Labour-led Government decides to do is amend the Education Act once again, and one of the changes they want to undertake is to repeal CoOLs.  The exact language was:

Communities of online learning

In 2017, the Education Act 1989 was amended by the Education (Update) Amendment Act 2017 to introduce a new regime to expand the provision of distance education through communities of online learning. The new legislative provisions allowed for distance education for part-time and full-time tuition, and enabled accreditation of distance education provision by public or private providers through a statutory accreditation system. These provisions are repealed. This will provide further time to consider the future of online learning in New Zealand, in the context of wider education sector reviews.

Like the first bill, you can view the complete legislative history of the bill at:

As with the previous legislation, I made a written submission to the committee that can be viewed here (n.b., there were only 17 submissions this time around).

Interestingly, this time around they streamed the Education and Workforce Committee proceedings via Facebook Live.  The recording of that video is embedded below.

To view on Facebook, visit

My own appearance before the committee begins around the 55 minute mark of the recording.

This piece of legislation is still working its way through the process, but given the majority that the coalition Government has, it is only a matter of time before it is passed.  Its passage will mean that CoOLs were introduced, then removed…  All before the first one could be implemented.

September 23, 2018

New Zealand Parliament: Question 7 – Hon Nikki Kaye to the Acting Minister of Education (Communities of Online Learning)

See this clip from the 19 September 2018 session of the New Zealand Parliament, where the Hon Nikki Kaye asks questions of the Acting Minister of Education.

Note that Nikki Kaye is the former Minister of Education under the National Government, who introduced the concept of Communities of Online Learning (COOL) without any initial consultation from or warning to the online learning community in the schools sector.  The COOL legislation allowed for both full-time online schools (even in light of the evidence that they have historically performed poorly in other jurisdictions) and for profit corporations to operate these full-time online schools (even though the research has shown these programs do even worse).

September 20, 2018

[REPOST] Repealing CoOLs – Back To The Drawing Board For Online Learning in Schools

The original version of this post is available at

On 13th September the government tabled the Education Amendment Bill (No 2) 2018 which seeks to repeal CoOL (Communities of Online Learning) legislation. What does this mean for the future of online learning in NZ schools?

It was not entirely unexpected that the new government would make this decision to repeal CoOLs. There were major reservations voiced by opposition and the educational sector about this legislation and we shared some of these concerns especially in respect to:

  • Privatisation of education
  • Quality of online education and the important role of teachers
  • An open educational marketplace that has the potential to undermine public schooling
  • Full time online schools as an option for all students
  • Equity and access for learners

However we supported CoOLs because:

  • We have for many years been actively lobbying and making submissions for the resourcing and support of online learning
  • It would provide a much needed regulatory framework and sustainable resourcing for virtual learning that is already taking place in New Zealand
  • It would provide recognition and support for virtual learning in the ‘mainstream’ education setting
  • It would provide more choice and learning opportunities for learners
  • It would help build capability across networked communities of schools
  • It has the potential to level the playing field especially for smaller rural schools
    (See our Communities of Online Learning Submission to the Education and Science Select Committee)

So it would be fair to say that for me personally I feel disappointed that after advocating for so many years to provide a place for online learning as a legitimate part of the New Zealand education system this will now be repealed. We are still having to continue to advocate to ensure that we can provide the best online learning opportunities we can for our schools and learners.  This is especially difficult at this time when our resourcing needs are so immediate. This is a time when we should be strategically stepping up and helping lead change in this area, not struggling to keep afloat.”

My main concerns are that:

  •  online learning doesn’t get left by the wayside within the wider process of review,
  • small rural schools get equitable and fair opportunities,
  • the government understands there are many models of working online across schools and they all require adequate funding and support,
  • the way online learning is working in primary schools is very different but as important to what is happening in secondary schools.

I have spent some time reading through MoE recommendations (worth a read). Much of these recommendations are based on stakeholder discussions and research (attached below) that we were an active part of, and that was originally set up to inform the guidelines for CoOLs. In considering this I can appreciate the opportunity that going back to the drawing board will bring in aligning online learning to the whole system review that is underway; however being redirected into the depths of #educonvo is very challenging – how can our voices be heard amongst so many, and amongst the multitude of issues being discussed?

So we wait, alongside the rest of the education sector to see what will take shape from the government’s education conversations and where online learning in NZ schools may or may not sit as part of that.

If you care about our children having access and equity to education through online learning for all , have your say when this bill reaches select committee.

Read more:

Education Amendment Bill (No 2) 2018

Regulatory impact statement

The VLN Primary submission to the repeal of CoOLs legislation consultation is attached below.

(A version of this article was first published March 2018)

Please note that I am a member of the Governance Group for this e-learning cluster.

September 16, 2018

New Zealand – Education Amendment Bill (No 2)

On Wednesday night while I was attending the board of trustees meeting for the Virtual Learning Network-Primary, I got a Google alert in my inbox about the “Communities of Online Learning” (CoOL) initiative that had been passed in New Zealand.  It read:

Legislation for grouped (cohort) entry into schools for children aged five and over has been introduced in Parliament today, as signalled earlier this year, Education Minister Chris Hipkins said.

The Education Amendment Bill (No 2) ensures that schools will be allowed to adopt a cohort entry policy for five year old children.

If a school adopts cohort entry, it will enrol groups of children, aged five and over, on the first day of term and at a mid-point during each term.

The new provisions take effect from 1 January 2020. Schools can also continue with continuous entry as children turn five if they wish to do so.

“Raising the age for cohort entry to five, and allowing two entry points per term, reflects the views of the majority of those consulted by the Ministry of Education, on the changes, in February 2018,” Chris Hipkins said.

“The Government supports schools having the option of starting students in groups. But we also believe, and the education experts and most consulted agreed, that four is too young to be in school.

“Less than 50 schools took up the previous Government’s option to admit students in groups, from age four. The Bill allows these schools to continue current arrangements until 1 January 2020. From then, they can admit children in groups, aged five and over.

The new Bill also repeals the previous Government’s plans to introduce Communities of Online Learning (COOLs) from 31 December 2019.

“This Government sees high quality online learning for students as being an integral part of a high performing public education system. But the previous Government ploughed ahead with the legislation for online providers despite experts and education professionals raising a number of concerns, including significant concerns that kids with additional learning needs may be shuffled away from schools and into COOL even if it’s not the best option for them.

“We will consider future options for online learning with children and young people, as well as with parents, the sector, and with people with disabilities, as part of the Education Conversation.

Other parts of the Bill propose:

• Making a physically and emotionally safe place for students a registration criteria for private schools

• Allowing a Minister to issue a direction relating to specific Education Council functions

Two issues previously consulted on are not in the Bill – the planned changes to vetting requirements, and the College of Educational Leadership.

“These matters have been deferred pending the results of the review of Tomorrow’s Schools and the upcoming review of home based early learning services,” Chris Hipkins said.

Read the original at

One of my VLN-Primary colleagues followed this up by sending these resources:

Interesting to see how all of this is playing out.  I will be honest and say that I am on record as being against the original CoOL legislation.

March 20, 2017

Update on the Education (Update) Amendment Bill

While almost every group that presented to the committee  spoke against the Communities of Online Learning (at least in their current form), it appears that the New Zealand government doesn’t care what stakeholders in the education sector or the research has to say on the topic…  They’re charging ahead anyway to privatize public online learning!

Good afternoon,

Thank you very much to everyone who gave a written and oral submissions on the Education (Update) Amendment Bill.

The Education and Science committee have read your submissions and considered proposed changes to the bill. We have written a report detailing our recommended changes, which have been included in an updated version of the bill.

You can read our report here (amended bill included):

If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact us. You can also follow us on Facebook to keep up with what the committee are doing. Find us here: Education and Science Facebook page

Kind regards,

Education and Science Select Committee
Parliament Buildings
Wellington 6160
New Zealand


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