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The Parent Teacher Association (NZPTA) has added its voice to a chorus of criticism of the National Party's education policy announced yesterday.

National's leader Don Brash promised to slash bureaucracy, overhaul the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) and put "flexibility" into employment contracts.

He said rigid zoning restrictions would end, state funding for independent schools would be increased and the expansion of integrated schools would be supported.
Reduced bureaucracy would mean more money for schools, and principals and school boards would decide how to spend it.

There would be reading and maths vouchers which parents could use to pay for tuition if their children needed catch up lessons.

The policy has already been severely criticised by teacher unions and the Government, which say the planned changes would increase divisions among schools.

The NZPTA said many of National's policies had been previously implemented and had proved unpopular with parents.

The organisation, which lobbies on behalf of parents, said in a statement that parents generally had not been in favour of bulk funding, which was used under National-led governments in the 1990s.

Neither were they in favour of national testing, which was better for developing school league tables, rather than helping students through good feedback.

It said most parents had no trouble interpreting NCEA results.

The NZPTA said it was also unsure about National's idea to provide vouchers to students struggling with maths and reading, which could be used for private tutoring.

The Post Primary Teachers Association (PPTA) said National's proposals would increase divisions between schools.

"Never have so many of yesterday's failed educational policies been crammed into a single document," PPTA president Debbie Te Whaiti said.

"Dr Brash is proposing privatisation under the slogans of parental choice and excellence in education."

The country's largest teacher union, the New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI), said the policies flew in the face of research and overseas experience.

"Vouchers, bulk funding, scrapping zones, undermining collective employment agreements ... adds up to one thing -- National wants to privatise New Zealand's state schools," NZEI president Colin Tarr said.

The Government felt the same way, saying National wanted to impose its "free market mantra" on schools.

"It would take education back a decade," Associate Education Minister David Benson-Pope said.

"The Labour-led government has spent the last five years rebuilding the state school system after National's decade of neglect and failed policies."