John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Parata feeling her way toward a winning policy

Hekia Parata. Photo / David White
Hekia Parata. Photo / David White

Must do better; can do better; will do better. That mantra - or something very close to it - runs through Hekia Parata's report card on National's five-year tenure in the education portfolio, much in the way the wording permeates the sugar of a stick of Blackpool rock.

The Education Minister's opponents will dismiss yesterday's highlighting of National's claimed achievements in the education sector as an exercise in damage control.

There is no question that one of the tasks of what was a very major speech was to soften up the sector for some bad news next week.

Ms Parata said it was "probable" that New Zealand might again slip down the OECD rankings for students' performance in mathematics.

She could say that with confidence because the OECD would have already informed New Zealand of the outcome of its research. By the time the rankings are released, however, they will be old news.

Ms Parata's speech is far more important in National taking stock a year out from the next election.

John Key regards the portfolio as an absolutely crucial element in National's election campaign strategy. Like law and order, it is a bedrock issue. Get it right and you are halfway to occupying the Beehive.

Ms Parata's speech contained numerous signals and hints of fresh reforms in the primary and secondary sectors. National can sit and watch which kites may fly and those that don't - presuming teachers and school administrators can find a copy of the 20-page missive.

Ms Parata delivered the speech to iwi leaders meeting in Gisborne. Her office did not circulate copies to journalists until she was about to speak. No copies were sent to the two major teacher unions. A copy was not immediately available online.

All this seemed designed to give Ms Parata some clear air and get her messages out before they disappear into the babel-like noise that passes for the public debate on state-funded education.

- NZ Herald

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John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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