As part of a suite of changes passed under the COVID-19 Response Legislation Bill, the Secretary for Education Iona Holsted will be able to direct education providers to open and close, direct how they operate, are controlled and managed, and direct them to provide education in specified ways, for example through distance or online learning.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins said these emergency powers were required to ensure that there is a unified response to the outbreak of COVID-19, and will “only be used when absolutely necessary”.

The Secretary will have powers to issue binding directions to the governing authorities of education providers including schools, universities and polytechnics.

“This applies to all education providers, not just public providers,” Hipkins said in a statement. 

“Academic freedom is specifically preserved in this change. The Secretary must ensure that any directions will not impinge upon the academic freedom of institutions.  For example, institutions will still be able to determine the nature and content of the educational programmes they provide.

Hipkins said a unified response was important, given that there are 2500 school board entities and 4000 service providers in New Zealand.

“We may need to act quickly with speed and pace from the centre and in order to do this these powers will be required.

“Education entities in New Zealand have a large degree of autonomy and in normal times this works well.

“In an emergency such as this we need to move to a different way of working to allow central direction, co-ordination and cohesion and to move quickly to deal with issues as they emerge.

“This decision was not taken lightly. We’ll be looking for things to go back to normal as soon as possible,” he said. 

The changes apply to the following:

  • registered schools,
  • service providers,
  • hostels,
  • private training establishments,
  • institutions, and
  • other educational bodies that provides any educational or developmental service or facility.

“Schools, ECEs, and tertiary providers have been incredible in their response to COVID-19. I’d like to thank them all for all the work they have been doing," Hipkins said. 

New Zealand is now at a level-4 alert status and in full lockdown for at least four weeks.

Cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand rose by 50 to 205 yesterday.