Nicholas Jones

Nicholas Jones is the New Zealand Herald’s education reporter.

Hide changes, Parata told

Treasury urged education minister to keep `ambitious agenda' for schools low-key.

Education Minister Hekia Parata. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Education Minister Hekia Parata. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Controversial changes to education should be kept as low-profile as possible, official advice to the Government says.

Documents obtained by the Herald cite Education Minister Hekia Parata's "ambitious agenda for change in the schooling sector".

Treasury officials informed Finance Minister Bill English on the scope of the changes and asked him to speak to Ms Parata about how they could be scaled back, and implemented with less attention. Their advice is outlined in a report to Mr English in July last year, obtained under the Official Information Act.

Yesterday Ms Parata's office said the report's advice had been ignored - but education unions labelled it alarming and deeply cynical.

Large swathes of the document are blanked out, because the advice or subject matter is still under consideration or sensitive. More revealing is the advice on how to best push through change.

"Communicating change across a broad front is difficult," Treasury officials warned.

"Overseas experience in education reform suggests focusing on communicating a positively framed 'crucial few' at any one time."

This can be done "while making smaller incremental changes in a less high profile manner across a range of fronts".

Themes such as "supporting quality teaching" and "measuring performance to focus support" can be used to help communicate change, the Treasury suggested.

"More harder-edged changes could be pursued in parallel, incrementally and without significant profile."

A spokeswoman from Ms Parata's office yesterday distanced the minister from such advice: "It is important to reiterate that the paper contains Treasury advice or comment - this does not mean this advice was accepted, and in this case it was not."

Averill Gordon, senior lecturer in public relations at AUT, said she was surprised by the approach suggested by the Treasury.

The private sector had seen a move towards transparency, and it was particularly important that when taxpayers' dollars were being spent that there was no suggestion of duplicity.

Post Primary Teachers Association president Angela Roberts said Ms Parata's assurance was welcome but such advice made her members nervous, particularly because some of it had continued since the document was produced.

New Zealand Educational Institute national secretary Paul Goulter said the report was highly cynical.

"There is research that shows that working in an open and transparent way with the sector is the best way of generating system change, and this is completely the reverse of that."

The Treasury document reveals that it was asked by the former Secretary of Education to work with Ministry of Education staff to help plan the work programme for a couple of years.

A Treasury spokesman said the report would have been provided as part of this work and to keep the department's responsible minister informed about it.

Quiet change - a Treasury guide

Use "incremental'' policy amendments to push major change, without attracting significant profile.

- NZ Herald

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