John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Parata should have welcomed offer of meeting

Hekia Parata. Photo / Greg Bowker
Hekia Parata. Photo / Greg Bowker

Hekia Parata was yesterday handed the political equivalent of a get-out-of-jail-free card. She all but threw it back in the faces of those who gave it to her.

Yesterday's emergency summit of education sector groups representing teachers, principals and boards of trustees made her an offer any other education minister would not have thought for a moment of refusing.

That was the summit's call for immediate talks with Parata - something which would at least temporarily cool the white-hot political row over class sizes and cuts to teacher numbers.

Sure, the sector groups simultaneously slammed the Budget changes as flawed and urged the Government to reverse them. But that was hardly a surprise.

What was noticeably absent from the group's joint statement was any mention of industrial action or any other action that might be being contemplated to pressure the Government into abandoning the changes.

Instead the statement offered something of an olive branch with its plea to the Education Minister to begin a dialogue on how to "sustain and continually improve the quality of teaching and the achievement of students".

Given Parata has parrotted those two goals - and continued to do so yesterday - it might have been expected she would have grabbed the opportunity to talk with both hands.

Instead, she remained strangely diffident, preferring to meet the seven sector groups individually, rather than collectively and being in no great hurry to do so.

She instead claimed some people - she would not say who - were making "irresponsible assertions" which were scaring parents. Parata's beef is that half of all schools will actually end up with an extra teacher. But that plus is being ignored in the debate over teacher numbers.

Pouring petrol on the fire is an odd stance to take given Parata is operating from a position of weakness.

A One News poll last night found nearly 80 per cent of respondents opposed to bigger class sizes. That figure suggests parents are more likely to side with teachers and blame the Government if industrial action sees children being sent home.

Having agreed last week, however, to a compromise which waters down the initial cuts announced in last month's Budget, Parata is obviously unwilling to give more ground beyond "exploring" ways of ensuring pupils do not miss out on technology classes.

The belligerence might be interpreted as sending a message to the sector that she is not a soft touch. Yesterday's developments demanded a more measured, more subtle response.

- NZ Herald

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John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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