Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Key called hypocrite over class sizes

Prime Minister John Key. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Prime Minister John Key. Photo / Mark Mitchell

John Key is facing a storm of internet protest after the republication of a 2005 article in which he appears to praise private schools for having smaller classes.

The Prime Minister told the Listener he sent his children to private schools for educational reasons, including smaller classes and better resources.

It was not a direct quote, but a picture of Mr Key with the comment alongside was posted on Facebook yesterday and by last night had appeared on numerous blogs and been shared by more than 6000 people.

Comments about it included labelling Mr Key a hypocrite for arguing now that increasing class sizes in the state sector would not affect standards of education.

The internet campaign comes as the Government faces concerns from its coalition partners over the decision to increase class sizes in public schools to save $43 million a year.

Those savings will go towards improving teacher training, which the National Party argues is a more important factor in educational achievement than class size.

Education Minister Hekia Parata was forced into a partial backdown on funding changes last week after it was found some intermediates faced losing up to seven teachers.

Ms Parata has now said no school will lose more than two teachers over a three-year period that schools will have to make the required changes to their staffing. However, that has failed to placate educational groups.

Those groups - the Association of Intermediate and Middle Schooling, the School Trustees Association, the Principals' Federation, the Secondary Principals' Association and the two teachers' unions - have formed a grand coalition and meet on Tuesday to decide what action to take.

To add to the Government's woes two of its support parties, the Maori Party and United Future, have also now flagged their concern.

Maori Party education spokesman Te Ururoa Flavell said the party was not told of the full implications of the change earlier and intended to raise its concerns with the Prime Minister.

It had secured an exemption from the changed ratios for Maori immersion schools but Mr Flavell said it had not known about the true extent of the wider changes and wanted more clarity on how teaching of technology subjects would be affected.

"We are not convinced that the debate is adequately informed by evidence around what is the ideal ratio between teachers and students, and how much this matters to lifting achievement."

United Future leader Peter Dunne said he was increasingly concerned by the apparent impact of the changes. "It's taken a lot of people by surprise and it needs to be sorted out and sorted out quickly," he said.

There is little those parties can do to force a change - the changes to funding ratios have already been made through an order-in-council last week and do not require legislation so MPs do not vote on them.

But the support parties do have to support the Budget as a whole because it is a confidence and supply measure. Neither has yet suggested it might withdraw that support.

A further protest has also been organised by new Auckland teaching graduates. They will march on Monday along the same route as their graduation procession last month - a symbolic route because the changes meant there would be fewer teaching jobs.

Organiser Maria Schwass said they were also annoyed at a new requirement that teachers must hold a post-graduate qualification.

"So graduates who have just finished are now told their qualification is not good enough and they might have to go back for another year."

The Herald is seeking information on how class-size changes could affect schools. Tell your story at tinyurl.com/nzhclasssize

- NZ Herald

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