Isaac Davison

Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Foes unite to hammer Parata's $350m school plan

The audience became frostier as the meeting went on, in particular when she defended National's $350 million Investing in Educational Success programme. Photo / Mark Mitchell
The audience became frostier as the meeting went on, in particular when she defended National's $350 million Investing in Educational Success programme. Photo / Mark Mitchell

An education-themed political meeting threatened to boil over as teachers took aim at Education Minister Hekia Parata and unloaded their long list of complaints about their schools, funding and heavy workload.

The MC at the PPTA-organised public meeting in Wellington last night told the panel of seven candidates and the audience that the "Kremlin"-like rules of Monday's political debate in Helensville did not apply and criticism of parties and policies was permitted.

And while the meeting began in a civilised fashion with well-received speeches by all candidates including Mrs Parata it became increasingly unsettled after two hours.

Teachers in the audience of 100 rounded on the minister during a question and answer session with an array of concerns including class sizes, the huge workload demanded by National Standards, the lack of funding for special needs children, and the absence of teacher representation in the new professional body EDUCANZ.

At one particularly tense moment, Mrs Parata addressed a heckler in the front row in Maori while glaring at her, prompting the MC Dave Armstrong to call for calm. The minister had been criticised by the audience member after she said National would not commit to compulsory Te Reo in schools, saying that it was a sure-fire way to "de-motivate" the learning of a language.

But the most intense criticism was directed at the Act Party's charter schools and National's flagship education policy for this election, the Investing in Educational Success (IES) programme.

Mrs Parata said New Zealand had a "magnificent" education system but it could not afford to be complacent. She said her party was "absolutely focused" on raising achievement for every child no matter their background.

"Decile is not destiny," she said, thumping her hand on the lectern.

IES would group schools from early childhood to secondary in clusters and would pay high-performing teachers and principals more to raise achievement at other schools.

Labour and others said they supported collaboration between schools but did not believe it should be state-imposed.

Mrs Parata shot back, saying the scheme was optional for schools and was being developed with the involvement of unions.

The PPTA meeting was nearly home turf for Labour and the attendees lapped up much of education spokesman Chris Hipkins' promises, which included scrapping charter schools, national standards and EDUCANZ and reallocating the $350 million budgeted for IES towards lowering class sizes instead.

United Future Peter Dunne pleased the audience when he said charter schools were not needed because the education system already allowed innovation and diversity - his Ohariu electorate included two state schools, a Brethren school and a Rudolph Steiner school.

New faces Miriam Pierard, of the Internet Mana Party, and Chris McKenzie of the Maori Party also made an impression when speaking of their personal experiences of teaching.

- NZ Herald

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