Jamie Morton

Jamie Morton is science reporter at the NZ Herald.

NZ says no to larger schoolrooms

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

A nationwide survey has given a strong indication that New Zealanders don't want larger class sizes.

The street survey conducted by APN newspapers from Whangarei to Dunedin showed most people stood alongside education groups in their opposition to controversial ratio changes announced as part of the Budget.

CLICK HERE FOR THE NATION'S VIEWS ON CLASS SIZES

Savings from class size changes are to be used to develop an appraisal system to help lift and reward teacher performance, with the aim of lifting student achievement.

Some of the more than 70 people questioned in the national snapshot slammed the measure as "rubbish" and "bloody ridiculous". Only a handful supported the move.

Responding to the survey, Education Minister Hekia Parata said: "I know that the traditional way we have judged quality is the size of the class and the size of the classroom.

But what we all know is that good teaching makes the difference - we owe it to our kids that all their teachers are good.

"We also know that they are going to be using technology that hasn't even been invented yet and jobs that don't yet exist. The challenge is to prepare them for a different world than ours and that requires doing things differently."

Ms Parata said she thought people supported raising student achievement and the best way to achieve this was to improve teaching quality."Teacher numbers increased by 6000 from 2002-2012 - five times the rate of increase in student numbers - we did not see a corresponding lift in student achievement. What this tells us is that we should be focusing on improving teaching, rather than continuing to grow the number of teachers.

"With one in five of our kids leaving school without the qualifications they need, we have to do something different. We cannot afford to waste another generation."

The street poll comes after a One News-Colmar Brunton poll on Monday showed overwhelming opposition to the Goverrnment's education reforms, with 79 per cent against and only 17 per cent in favour of the plan.

Ian Leckie, of the NZ Educational Alliance Institute, which has united with several other groups to fight the plan, was not surprised by the results.

"What we are saying - and this survey backs it up - is that there is a very high level of support for the stand that the sector group has taken," he said.

"The message for the Government is that this does not have broad public support and doesn't have any sector support."

New Zealand Principals Federation president Paul Drummond said the survey result was consistent with "overwhelming anecdotal evidence" that the policy was opposed by most Kiwis. "I'm hoping the Government doesn't paint itself so far in a corner that it doesn't find a compromise."

Secondary Principals' Association of New Zealand president Patrick Walsh said feedback principals had received across the country showed a universal opposition.

"Many of them are flabbergasted the Government could ever think this was a good idea," Mr Walsh said.

"I'm surprised they haven't listened. When you get an unprecedented alliance of teacher unions, principals' groups, and school trustees, backed up by public and parents' opinion, any politician worth their salt needs to take that into account.

"A trade-off between quality and quantity is just a really bad concept. The most precious thing to parents and the New Zealand public is their children's education. When you increase class sizes and start compromising that, well that is what has caused the outrage up and down the country."

Labour and the Green Party echoed their views yesterday. "The Government is trying to convince mums and dads that trade-offs - either larger classes or quality teaching - are necessary," Labour's Education spokeswoman Nanaia Mahuta said.

"Parents are not stupid. The minister would be better off reversing her decision and engaging constructively with the sector to come up with workable and informed solutions to improve educational outcomes for all our children."

Green Party education spokeswoman Catherine Delahunty called on the minister to order private schools to also increase their class sizes.

"By allowing these schools to keep their student:teacher ratios low, the Government is effectively subsidising lower class sizes for wealthy children. As underprivileged children struggle in classes of nearly 30 pupils, wealthy kids have their class sizes capped at half that. That is blatantly unfair."

- NZ Herald

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