Keeping Mum

Dita De Boni looks at the trials and tribulations of being a parent.

Keeping Mum: Arguing that class size won't affect teaching quality is 'utter rot'

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Bigger class sizes will drive more people to the private school sector, says Dita De Boni.
Photo / Thinkstock
Bigger class sizes will drive more people to the private school sector, says Dita De Boni. Photo / Thinkstock

Apparently we can all swallow John Key/Bill English's 'austerity budget' because we are sensible New Zealanders, appreciating common sense when we see it.

That's according to the Daily Telegraph columnist Daniel Hannan, who has labelled John Key (apparently also known as 'low-key') his new Anglosphere hero, giving us all a huge compliment for appointing him to manage the country for two consecutive terms.

No doubt Hannan would also applaud the Key government taking on the teachers in the form of dismantling the power o their union, effectively cutting their numbers over the years, introducing performance pay and removing tax credits and other subsidies for early childhood education, because John Key is a true dinkum conservative, and education, in the conservative world view, is as much subject to the strictures of bean counters as much as any other part of public spending.

Almost 80 per cent of New Zealanders say they disagree with these recent moves to slash $43 million from the education budget, but despite one back-track already - one blip - we are assured the programme is going ahead and ditching the reforms is out the question.

People better qualified than I can talk about why these moves are perilous for a country that has, as one of its few world-class attributes, a great education system. But what I have, like thousands of other parents, is a first-hand understanding of how large classes will fail a larger proportion of kids.

I don't think my kids specifically are being failed, but they either go or will go to a school where largish, composite classes are the norm, and budget pressures are constantly forcing the staff to reconsider how large classes will be. Within each class is an enormous range of reading and mathematical skill which teachers - some of them fairly new to the profession - have to be able to accommodate every hour of the school day. And that's in an area where most kids come to school having learnt some reading and writing, having almost all attended quality preschool education and care.

Recently the school needed to increase the size of a couple of classes in the more senior primary school, causing an outcry from the parents of the affected students. Thanks to the fact the school's fundraising is constant and successful it could accede to parents' demands not to increase class sizes by shifting budgets around. But many schools will not be in the position to ride out budget cuts, and so inevitably, despite the nonsense being spoken, class sizes will rise, teaching will become more difficult, and more children will fall through the cracks (because, in addition to budget cuts, there is even less likely to be enough special education resourcing to go around).

It is absolutely ridiculous to expect people to believe that large class sizes won't impact the quality of education for the worse. It's one of the reasons people shift their children to private education - even smaller class sizes, more attention for their children. Are these new moves meant to be driving more business into the private sector? Because that's what one of the net effects will be.

To argue black is white, that large class sizes won't impact the quality of education children receive, is utter rot. The constant tinkering and messing with our current system is a disgrace, and will do nothing to improve the "tail" of underachievement, which probably needs more, better-focused resourcing. Again, one has to wonder when education will ever get a minister with better ideas than 'break union' and 'slash budget'. Certainly not for the next few years, anyhow.

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