Relief over class size backdown

By Claire Trevett, APNZ staff

Education Minister Hekia Parata announced the back down on class sizes today. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Education Minister Hekia Parata announced the back down on class sizes today. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The Labour party and teachers union have expressed relief at the Government's backdown on class sizes.

Education Minister Hekia Parata announced at a press conference today her department had abandoned plans to save about $174 million over four years by changing the student-teacher ratios used for funding.

Ms Parata said she discussed the proposals with Prime Minister John Key and senior ministers this morning. She made several recommendations, including reversing the ratio changes, and they agreed.

The policy had caused "a disproportionate amount of anxiety for parents'', she said, but the backdown would mean a proposed $60m investment over four years into improving teacher quality could not go ahead immediately.

President of the NZ Educational Institute union, Ian Leckie, said he was "delighted'' the Government had listened to the public outcry over the class size proposals.

"We sincerely hope we can put this episode behind us and ask the minister to work collaboratively with the education sector to sustain and improve the quality of teaching and the achievement of students.''

Labour leader David Shearer said it was great the minister had "finally seen some sense''.

"But it is still mindboggling that National could have ever thought increasing class sizes was in any way a good idea.''

Labour education spokeswoman Nanaia Mahuta said the announcement was a huge relief for thousands of parents and teachers.

"It highlights just how angry those parents and education professionals were with the arrogance of a minister who refused to listen to their concerns.

"Today's announcement is an embarrassing admission from a minister who simply did not do her homework.''

Ms Parata said there were lessons to be learned but refused to blame the Ministry of Education for the advice, saying the "buck stops with me.''

She said she expected to remain education minister and was passionate about the role.

"My future ... will be absolutely, unequivocally focused on how we raise student achievement.''

The Government had argued that quality teachers had more of an impact on student learning than class size.

However, it was forced into a partial backdown after it was discovered that some intermediate schools would lose more than seven teachers because the different funding system for technology teaching was not accounted for in the original plan.

Ms Parata said efforts would be made to find further savings elsewhere in the education budget.

Ms Parata said today the backdown was in response to parents' concerns about the proposed changes.

She said the Government had believed the changes were modest and would be acceptable.

"It has become clear that is a trade-off parents are not prepared to accept."

CLICK HERE FOR THE NATION'S VIEWS ON CLASS SIZES

Ms Parata said she would meet with the sector groups today and tomorrow.

She said she had originally believed the relatively modest adjustments would be acceptable to parents and the education sector.

"Hindsight is a wonderful thing. It is clear this is something that has been rejected by parents and by teachers.

"The particular trade off around class sizes was comparatively small for the level of concern it was raising, so I think it was important we allay concern of parents, children and teachers and get the focus back onto how we raise student achievement."

She said the status quo would remain for all schools - including the separate ratio for technology funding which was one of the main concerns.

The Government had expected to save about $43 million by changing the student-teacher ratios used for funding - savings which it said would be channeled into teacher education and training to improve the quality of teaching.

It had argued that quality teachers had more of an impact on student learning than class size.

However, it had to partially back down on its plans after it was discovered that some intermediate schools would lose more than seven teachers because the different funding system for technology teaching was not accounted for in the original plan.

In response to that, Ms Parata had previously announced no school would lose more than two teachers under the changes over the three years in which schools had to make the necessary changes.

Ms Parata said she discussed it with the Prime Minister and senior ministers this morning. She made several recommendations, including reversing the class ratios and they agreed to it.

She said the policy had caused "a disproportionate amount of anxiety for parents" - but the backdown would mean the a proposed $60 million investment over four years into improving teacher quality could not go ahead immediately. The changes to the funding
formulae were expected to save $174 million over four years.

She said efforts would be made to find further savings across the Education budget because it was clear that the proposals for higher quality teaching had resonated.

Ms Parata met with the School Trustees Association this morning and was scheduled to meet teacher unions and the Principals' Association tomorrow.

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