The appearance of Education Minister Hekia Parata at the secondary union conference in Wellington this morning may be a tense affair after union head Robin Duff accused the Government of being dishonest over class sizes, and Ms Parata of being a minister for "privatising education".
Ms Parata announced new class ratios in the May Budget, which were then abandoned once the Government realised some schools, especially intermediates, would be severely affected. Mr Duff said all the evidence was that class size increases were well under way before the election and that failing to mention it in policy or debates was reprehensible.
"Treating voters like mushrooms is not just dishonest but diminishes democracy," he told the Post Primary Teachers' Association conference yesterday. He hoped material would be revealed with the help of the Ombudsman which "will show ... this plan was well in train before the election and the public has been misled".
He said 2012 would go down as a "watershed" year in education.
"It is the year when the public education system has been left perched on the edge of a precipice."
"An unholy alliance" of business interests and political leaders were attempting "to push public education over the cliff".
"It seems we have a very effective minister of privatising education. What we don't have is a minister of public education."
Mr Duff said the Government's sole strategy had been to fuel a frenzy of anxiety in the hope it would create a massive collapse of confidence in public education.
"The privateers are standing by, like vultures, ready to grab whatever spoils they can."
The keynote speaker at the conference yesterday was Karran Harper Royal, an anti-charter school activist from New Orleans. She said 107 city schools were taken out of the public system after Hurricane Katrina.
"Charter school" was a benign-sounding concept but it was privatising public education. What she described as "disaster capitalism" was sucking the profits out of public education.