Contestability in the Special Education and Early Childhood Sectors: A Mechanism for Countering Equity

  • Anne Meade


The reforms in education in New Zealand in the late 1980s were characterised by their concentration on the administrative system whereas other countries had curriculum and assessment changes as well. I want to explore an administrative measure in this paper – a measure called “contestability”. Contestability refers to the principle of “alternative provision”. Alternative provisions are being promoted by Market Liberals to give consumers a choice, which they see as highly desirable. The Treasury, in its 1987 Brief to the Incoming Government, stirred up a debate on “voluntary choice versus state direction” (1987, p. 17). The debate has been active ever since.

The 1989 policy statements – by and large – restricted the introduction of contestability to non-educational operations, (such as the supply of stationery to schools), although they indicated that alternative educational provisions would be approved in future years. When the National Party was elected to government in late 1990, it soon became apparent that it would translate Market Liberal philosophy into policies. An “Economic and Social Initiative Statement” was released within weeks, and it clearly indicated a Market Liberal agenda. Choice versus state intervention was a dominating concept, and the debate fostered by The Treasury in 1987 was alive again.

I believe this debate is on-going mostly because the Treasury and the State Services Commission are persistent. The Treasury argues for less state intervention in education because governments curtail people’s “sphere of responsibility” and weaken their “self-steering ability ... to reach optimal solutions through the mass of individual actions pursuing free choice” (Treasury, 1987). A second assumption of Market Liberals is that organisations, including non-commercial educational organisations, maintain efficiency when there is exposure to potential or actual competitors.

By 1992, the Government had become pro-active in actioning the principle of contestability for educational services; that is, it was actively encouraging alternative providers to compete where the Welfare State used to be the sole provider of such services. In 1992 there were two significant structures in which the contestable provision of educational services was being introduced. These were the Crown agencies which provide support services to teachers, managers and parents: the Special Education Service, providing specialist support and interventions for children with special educational needs, and the Early Childhood Development Unit which is associated with early childhood care and education...


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Author Biography

Anne Meade
How to Cite
MEADE, Anne. Contestability in the Special Education and Early Childhood Sectors: A Mechanism for Countering Equity. The New Zealand Annual Review of Education, [S.l.], n. 2, oct. 1992. ISSN 1178-3311. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 25 oct. 2020. doi:


Educational Policy and Administration