Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Political round-up: June 1

Peter Dunne says he has become 'increasingly concerned' about the changes to class sizes.  Photo / Supplied
Peter Dunne says he has become 'increasingly concerned' about the changes to class sizes. Photo / Supplied

The stoush over class sizes is turning into a real test of the Government's ideological commitment to both its education and fiscal policies. As TV3's Ingrid Hipkiss points out, the Government is not just offside with the usual suspects, the teacher unions, but pretty much the entire education sector: principals, trustees and, crucially, parents - see: Sector revolts against teacher cuts. For further evidence of this growing momentum, Audrey Young cites Gary Sweeney, the President of the Association of Intermediate and Middle Schooling as saying 'that in his 20 years as a principal, he had not seen such a response to change' - see: Educators unite to get rid of staff cuts.

Parata's predecessor Anne Tolley may be smiling to herself says John Hartevelt as he reveals that Tolley backed down on a similar 2009 plan when she realised it would involve forced redundancies in schools - see: Parata hits stormy waters.

Even the Government's own coalition support partners are looking shaky with United Future's Peter Dunne saying he has become 'increasingly concerned' about the changes over the past few days - see Danya Levy's Class size backlash grows.

It's the 'Murray McCully school of management' that is to blame, says Gordon Campbell. The modus operandi of 'McCullyism' - as recently seen during the Mfat reforms - is that 'you begin with a deep-seated disdain for the professionals in the sector, develop an ideological fixation on a course of change, foster a climate of fear, and demonstrate a readiness to put the entire sector at risk for illusory gains - mainly because you feel like shaking things up' - see: On the turmoil in education.

With the Minister of Education struggling to cope, her Ministry Chief Executive Lesley Longstone is trying to reassure schools that intermediate technology centres will not be forced to close and that they 'should have nothing to fear if they are delivering high quality' - see: RNZ's No intention of closing technology centres - ministry. This reassurance, however, is at odds with three Wellington centres who say they will have to close if the budget changes are implemented - see Michelle Duff's Tech centres will close, say schools.

The problem seems to be that the centres (and bus travel to and from them) will no longer be funded directly but rather rely on participating schools funding them. While the setting up of such an 'internal market' may fit with the Government's ideological push, in reality many schools may chose to hold on to their funding to mitigate their own cuts in staff teacher numbers.

There is consensus that National has completely botched the implementation, but there's some support for the policy's underlying logic. Today's Dominion Post editorial backs the Government's claim that increasing teacher numbers has not seen a corresponding increase in student achievement (see: Minister needs to do her homework) while David Farrar summarises the academic research the Government has used to justify larger class sizes in Why size doesn't matter.

The problem, apart from the fact that there are many academics who say class size does matter, is that using simple 'common-sense' folksy justifications for policy is very effective, as John Key's well knows. Many parents will sympathise with Sarah Foy's difficulty in coping with groups of children far smaller than the average existing class size, let alone the increased numbers the Government is advocating - see: Let's address this education funding mistake.

Even more damning are the Prime Minister's own words, currently flashing around the internet and which, no doubt, will find their way into many school newsletters. Key is quoted as saying he sent his kids to private school: 'Mostly for educational reasons. Their schools have smaller classes and are better resourced than state schools' - see Jordan Carter's Smaller class sizes - for people like us.

That's a simple and common sense view most parents will understand and agree with. What the Government is trying to tell parents today is not. This is a fight that Hekia Parata is unlikely to win, and the only question is how much damage the Government will sustain before it figures this out.

Other important or interesting political items today include:

* On the eve of their annual conference, the Green Party is being criticised for using their parliamentary resources to gather anti-asset sale petition signatures - see Danya Levy's Greens pay staff to gather anti-asset-sales signatures. David Farrar thinks this undermines the spirit of the citizens initiated referendum, which was supposed to be a means for ordinary citizens to influence parliament, not a campaign tool for parliamentary parties - see: Greens trying to buy a referendum. See also Andrew Geddis' critique of the Greens: Boo for my side. Boo!. Of course what it actually reveals is how much 'backdoor' state funding of political parties and their campaigns already exists. Such use or misuse of taxpayer funding illustrates the need for significant reform of parliamentary funding - but the cartel of parties has an interest in blocking that.

* If Shane Jones thought that William Yan's acquittal would help clear his name, he will probably be having second thoughts after the judge in the case made it clear that it was only the benefit of the doubt that prevented Yan being convicted, labeling the entire Immigration case 'highly suspicious'.

* National's refusal to change its policy on the retirement age may better reflect the public's view than that of many commentators criticising them, according to Pattrick Smellie in The trouble with lines in the sand. Smellie argues: 'What's really happened is that Labour's principled approach to the 2011 election has captured the imagination and approval of professional politics-watchers, who seem to have forgotten Labour's own conclusion that the pension promise actually scared voters off. He also makes the very important point that trust in politics is 'hard-won, easily lost, and enormously difficult to regain'.

* The Government has had some bad luck in its second term says Colin James, but most of their problems stem from substandard political management starting with decisions over the teapot tapes - see: The missing dark art of political management. It seems that John Key is surrounded by too many 'yes-men', with James suggesting he employ someone to occasionally interject with a 'hey-but'.

* Neither Europe's newly elected anti-austerity leaders or the Labour Party have any fresh ideas for our economic problems says Jane Clifton in 2012 budget: Old news.

* No Right Turn issues A reminder for Labour that they shouldn't protect bigotry even as they look to legislate for marriage equality for same sex couples.

* Auckland's rightwing local body group Citizens & Ratepayers has changed their name (sort of) to 'Communities and Residents'. They will still be known as C&R - see: New name, new style for Citrats.

* Christchurch mayor Bob Parker has become Gerry's pet poodle, according to Steven Cowan, particularly when it comes to ignoring the housing crisis in the city's poorer eastern suburbs.

* With the Business Roundtable now defunct and replaced by the 'New Zealand Institute' think-tank there's continued media interest in its head, Oliver Hartwich. You can listen to his in-depth 32-minute interview with Kathryn Ryan here. Alternatively, read Guyon Espiner's Listener Interview with Hartwich, in which the supposed 'neoliberal' positively cites John Maynard Keynes and criticizes governments that cut taxes using deficits to fund them.

* Finally, Chris Trotter makes an unflattering comparison between Labour and elderly rest home residents suffering from dementia - see: Political Dementia - Or, Is Labour In Need Of Aged Care?.

- NZ Herald

Bryce Edwards

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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