Kirsty Wynn is a senior reporter at the Herald on Sunday.

Larger classes worry parents

Survey shows other concerns are time spent with screens and teachers’ pay.
Tracy and Tim Carter with their children, from left, Matteo, 9, Max, 11, Maccario, 3, and Moss, 7. Photo / Michael Craig
Tracy and Tim Carter with their children, from left, Matteo, 9, Max, 11, Maccario, 3, and Moss, 7. Photo / Michael Craig

Growing class sizes, pay levels for teachers and an increase in technology are the top concerns for Kiwi parents, a survey has revealed.

As the school year begins, almost half of respondents to an unscientific Herald on Sunday survey of 160 parents of primary-aged children, were concerned about the high number of pupils in each class. Three-quarters said teachers were not paid enough and 80 per cent were concerned that their children spent too much time focused on screens.

Some parents the Herald spoke to said class sizes needed to be limited and they feared further growth would lead to stressed teachers and poor academic results.

Those concerns led Christchurch mum of three Sarah Booth to enrol her 7-year-old son, Harry, at the new West Rolleston Christchurch Primary School, a purpose-built, open plan, modern learning environment, which has three teachers looking after up to 75 children.

"He needs a lot of direction and that's hard with one teacher and a big class," Booth said.

The Ministry of Education sees the schools of the future looking like West Rolleston.

Open-plan rooms mean classes can be combined for team-teaching or split into small groups. There are also breakout spaces for group work, reading, craft, quiet time and presenting.

The ministry says there is no maximum class size in New Zealand but leaves decisions on how to manage teacher resources to principals.

"Schools are free to use their staffing entitlement as they see fit," said Lisa Rodgers, deputy secretary, early learning and student achievement.

Frances Nelson from the Auckland Primary Principals' Association said schools did the best they could with regard to class size.

Juggling numbers was hard, especially at the start of the year when non-enrolled children turned up on the first day.

"We can't just say sorry, come back next term - we have to take them," she said.

The survey also showed many parents supported increased use of tablets in education, but an overwhelming majority were concerned about time spent with screens at home. One hundred and twenty-eight parents said their child spent too much time on tablets, playing computer games and watching television.

Auckland mum Tracy Carter was more supportive of device use at school than she used to be but limited screen-time at home.

The Carters also introduced "screen-free summer" to keep Max, 11, Matteo, 9, Moss, 7, and Maccario, 3, from swiping their way through the holidays.

Shawn Gielen, principal of Otorohanga Primary, said pupils learned how to use tablets at his school but there was a bigger focus on pencils and paper.

"We have a room dedicated to technology and children know how to use them for learning." He said there was no hard evidence to say tablets improved learning.

Most parents surveyed - 121 of 160 - also believed teachers should be paid more. Teachers start on around $45,000 and can move up to $70,000. Those in management positions can earn more.

Gielen said that as a principal he needed to be able to offer a good salary to get the right staff. "We start at 7.30am and finish never. The job of a teacher is never done. There is no end to the day," he said.

"If you want good, inspiring teachers you need the salary to retain them."

- Herald on Sunday

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