Up to 4000 pupils with special needs would receive one-on-one teacher aide help in the classroom under a new National Party proposal, released today.
The announcement came as John Key accused primary teachers' union NZEI of playing politics and putting its support of the Labour Party before the education of children - a claim NZEI strongly denies.
NZEI members are protesting outside National MPs' offices today and the union has taken out full page newspaper advertisements effectively endorsing Labour's education policy, Mr Key said.
Mr Key and National's education spokeswoman Hekia Parata made the special needs announcement at Central School in New Plymouth today.
It would put $72 million extra into special education over four years, which would see 800,000 extra teacher aide hours.
Special needs children with less intensive needs would qualify, such as those with dyslexia, ADHA and Asperger syndrome.
"Our plan to boost teacher aide hours will mean that students who need more individual time are given the help they need, and that the teacher in the classroom feels more supported to teach," Mrs Parata said.
The policy does not necessarily mean more teacher aides, but rather an increase in the number of working hours for the existing 15,000 teacher aides.
The funding includes $10 million a year in new funding, and $8 million a year re-prioritised from within Vote Education.
National's flagship education policy was announced at the start of the year, putting $359 million towards improving the quality of tachers and leadership in schools.
Mr Key said NZEI were "playing politics" and should come back to the negotiating table and embrace National's plan.
"In the end, they are entitled to their own view ... but the way I read it - full page ad, protests outside National Party members' offices and a plan that's basically the Labour plan two weeks out from the election ... They are essentially aligning themselves with the Labour Party.
"This is the right time to do the right thing by the children, not the right thing by the Labour Party."
He said the many of the union members that voted against supporting National's plan "would have probably silently said 'yes'."
"I don't want to say they're bullying their members. I think a particular perspective is presented to members as fact."
NZEI president Judith Nowotarski said it was ridiculous to think members had secretly wanted to support National in its vote, because it was an anonymous ballot and members were free to vote as they pleased.
In the vote, 93 per cent of members did not support National's education policy.
She said Mr Key's comments were wrong and "very disappointing".
"We work with children everyday. We are advocating for children."
She said there were NZEI rallies outside MPs' offices, but they were not restricted to National MPs.
The union's preferred education plan had nothing to do with the Labour Party, she said.
"This is our better plan. The fact that another party is coming up with policy is their shaping."
She said the union was apolitical, not affiliated to the Labour Party, as Mr Key claimed.