Treasury's class size comments refuted by expert

File photo / APN
File photo / APN

An education expert has dismissed Treasury's call to rethink classroom sizes so more money can be pumped into improving teacher quality, saying New Zealand teachers are already among the highest performers in the OECD.

Treasury Secretary Gabriel Makhlouf last week said modest increases in class sizes, of about one or two students per class, would allow some government education spending to be redirected towards boosting teacher performance.

"We think redirecting that expenditure towards strengthening the teaching profession and supporting the better use of data would deliver better bang for our buck in improving student achievement," he said.

But a Massey University education expert today said that ignored "hard data" showing the quality of New Zealand teachers was already higher than the OECD average, despite lower spending per student.

Professor John O'Neill of the College of Education said a 2009 report found New Zealand students ranked fourth out of the 34 OECD countries in reading, fourth in science and sixth in maths.

New Zealand spent US$5573 (NZ$6804) per primary student, lower than the OECD average of US$7153, and US$6994 per secondary student, below the average of US$8972.

"This suggests that our teachers overall do a great job and are cause for celebration not carping criticism," Prof O'Neill said.

He said Treasury also failed to report New Zealand student-teacher ratios were higher than OECD averages.

New Zealand schools have 16.3 primary students per teacher, compared with the average of 16.0, and 16.3 lower secondary students per teacher, compared with the average of 13.5.

Only upper secondary school ratios were better than average, with 12.8 students per teacher, compared with the average of 13.5.

"In other words, our ratios need to be reduced overall to match the OECD average, not further increased," Prof O'Neill said.

Criticisms about the rising costs of schooling were misleading, and increases in Government funding were about catching up on underfunding in past years, he said.

The cost of teacher salaries, divided by the total number of students, was below OECD averages for both primary and secondary schools.

Prof O'Neill said New Zealand teachers appeared to provide very good value for money to the Government and the country.

- APNZ

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