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Audrey Young

Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

We can learn from battle over class size, says PM

John Key accepted some of the blame for the class size debacle while Hekia Parata is ready to face educators. Photo / NZPA
John Key accepted some of the blame for the class size debacle while Hekia Parata is ready to face educators. Photo / NZPA

Prime Minister John Key said he and the rest of the Cabinet took some responsibility for the class size debacle but believes they were right in principle.

"I think all members of Cabinet would accept that we could have done a better job in that particular programme in that particular policy," Mr Key said yesterday at his post-Cabinet press conference. "There are lessons to learn from that. Hindsight is a wonderful thing."

Education Minister Hekia Parata last week announced a backdown on the Budget plan to increase class ratios for savings to divert to greater professional development.

Tomorrow she will meet at Parliament the group of seven education organisations including the primary and secondary teacher unions that formed a coalition of resistance to the policy.

And yesterday she said she would set up a cross-sector forum including representatives from unions, academics, and interested parties "to work with the Government to collectively contribute to our overall goal of raising student achievement across the system".

After a realisation that some intermediate schools could lose up to nine teachers, the Government capped losses at no more than two over three years.

Mr Key was in Europe as protest against the policy intensified but was on the conference call with Ms Parata and senior National ministers that decided to spike the policy.

He said he would describe the idea of teacher "quality over quantity" as the right one. "But the execution of the idea was poorly handled and we all need to take some responsibility for that, including myself."

Asked if the Cabinet had been told about what the potential level of job losses would be on schools and technology centres he said: "No, not to that level of detail, no."

But he had believed that between the Budget and September 1 when teacher entitlements for 2013 were finalised, it would be possible to work on a transition with the 10 per cent of schools that had been due to lose more than one teacher. That turned out to be wrong.

The Government left a "void" that was filled by opponents to the policy.

Educational Institute president Ian Leckie said the education sector leadership group had requested tomorrow's meeting with Ms Parata to follow up last week's decision on class sizes.

The group would meet first.

Some members of the group last week said they had been willing to sit down and discuss where savings could be made in education but Mr Leckie himself was not keen.

"It's not our budget. If we were given the budget we would love to discuss where and how that budget was shaped. Is it our responsibility to find the $40 million needed out of the Government's $10 billion [education] budget?" he asked. "Which part of education don't we like?"

Ms Parata said the Government remained focused on raising achievement for all through quality teaching.

She wanted the first meeting of the cross-sector forum to be held by the end of the month and said terms of reference that aligned with the Government's plan for education would be finalised at that time.

- NZ Herald

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