Intermediate schools have been saved from losing more than two teachers over the next three years, but Prime Minister John Key will not give an assurance that they will not face more severe cuts after that.
Education Minister Hekia Parata says schools would now have three years to meet new class size ratios and no school would lose more than two teachers - a measure she said yesterday would cost between $10 million and $20 million a year.
The backdown on the original policy followed the discovery that about 245 schools - mostly intermediates - faced losing up to seven teachers.
Schools have warned they will have to sacrifice specialist teachers under the changes and although Mr Key said this week that the Government was "not prepared to accept" the loss of too many teachers from any one school, he would not say whether the two-teacher limit would still apply after the three-year transition period.
Asked in Parliament whether those schools would face greater staff cuts after the three years, Mr Key said: "We will work our way through that in the fullness of time. But what is interesting is that there will be an election and quite a number of Budgets before then."
Ms Parata said the exact cost of the change to the policy would not be known until September when school roll counts were received. Although she had earlier said the $10 million to $20 million cost of the change would have an impact on the $43 million savings the Government was aiming for, yesterday she said it would be covered from a contingency fund and would not affect the $43 million.
That fund had been earmarked in the Budget to cover the costs of protecting the schools adversely affected by the policy from severe staff cuts.
"Some of it is technically in base line and some of it is new," she said.
In Parliament, Mr Key said there would be minimal impact on most schools. Of the 2436 schools, 1213 would gain teaching hours and 765 would lose less than one full-time position. For 213 schools there would be no change.
Quality Public Education Coalition chairman John Minto has criticised the Government for trying to make $43 million a year in savings from increasing class sizes in the public school sector when it gave about $42 million a year to private schools that used small class sizes to market themselves to parents.
About $10 million of that funding for private schools was to fund scholarships for low-income students to attend private schools.
Independent Schools Association executive director Deborah James said that the average class size this yearfor the 44 private schools that were members of the association was about 12 students. The largest class size was 16.
A Post Primary Teachers Association survey in 2011 calculated the average class size in state schools at 25. The Ministry of Education said it did not collect statistics on average class sizes, which were determined by individual school boards.
Under the new ratios, the Government will fund teachers at a rate of one teacher for every 15 students in Year 1, one to every 27.5 students from Years 2 to 10, and one to every 17.3 students in Years 11 to 13.