Education Minister Jan Tinetti is “shocked” and has hit out at National’s new education policy, saying in her view children are going to be “in danger” and politicians should “stay out” of education policy decisions.
Her reaction comes after National Party leader Christopher Luxon yesterday announced in Tauranga that it would require all primary school children to learn to read using the structured literacy approach.
Speaking at Taumata School in Pyes Pa, Luxon said there was “a lot more to do” to improve literacy following its Teaching the Basics Brilliantly policy announcement ensuring primary and intermediate-aged children were taught an hour each of maths, reading and writing every day.
Luxon said literacy rates in New Zealand had been “steadily declining” in recent years. After eight years of schooling, 56 per cent of children met expectations for their age in reading, he said.
National Party education spokeswoman Erica Stanford said the policy was a “game-changer” and would be “well-funded” to ensure an effective rollout.
Stanford said every child would learn to read using the structured literacy approach from Years 1-6.
The policy would be phased in, starting with Year 1-3s in 2025, before being rolled out for all students up to Year 6 by the 2027 school year.
Stanford said some schools were already teaching structured literacy.
“But many children are not learning to read using the very best approach. Too many children are using a mix of different [methods] that are smashed together and are not consistent.
“My vision for education in New Zealand is that we deliver consistent access to the very best possible teaching and resources to every single student, no matter where they are. And that starts with every single child learning to read using structured literacy.
“We will no longer be leaving literacy to chance.”
Stanford said help would be given to students who needed “a bit of extra help” by providing “structured literacy intervention”.
She said “every teacher in New Zealand” wanted the “very best” reading outcomes for students.
“Those teachers deserve the best training and the best resources in order to do that.”
While at Taumata School, Stanford was asked if the policy meant it was the end of reading recovery in New Zealand schools.
Stanford said it was “really important” that there was a “consistent approach” with in-class teaching and structured interventions.
“If you have two different approaches, it’s confusing and it doesn’t work. We need to ensure there’s consistency across the system so that consistency will be structured literacy,” Stanford said.
Speaking to the Bay of Plenty Times after the policy announcement, Jan Tinetti - the current Education Minister and Labour’s candidate for Tauranga - said it appeared National was going to cut the reading recovery and early literacy support programme to pay for the new policy.
Tinetti said the reading recovery programme had been changed in the last two years to include structured literacy. The programme was for students who were “not making the same progress that the other kids are making”.
“It really concerns me that the way they’re looking to pay for this is by cutting something that’s absolutely essential to the fabric of our education network.
“Every single school that I go into - and it’s most schools that have a structured literacy approach - also tell me that they need the remedial approach.
“So I’m actually shocked that they’re cutting [reading recovery] because it’s kids who are going to be in danger here.”
She said for about a year, the sector had been working on the best practices for the teaching of reading.
“And I feel like National have just undermined their work by asserting that they know best with this policy.”
She believed academics and sector experts “know best” and it was important politicians “stay out of it”.
“Sometimes people seem to think [structured literacy] is a magic bullet and it’s not - we’re still going to [need] the catch-up programmes as well.”
On the campaign trail
Luxon visited the AIMS Games on Friday afternoon, accompanied by Tauranga MP Sam Uffindell and National’s Bay of Plenty candidate Tom Rutherford. He was welcomed by Aims Games Trust chairman Henk Popping and tournament director Kelly Schischka.
Luxon spoke to competitors, shaking their hands, asking what they were competing in, how much practice they had done, and how far they had travelled for the games. He asked the students if they would be watching the All Blacks game against France and what they thought the score would be.
He also spent time at the netball courts at Blake Park as well as the rugby fields, where he spoke to players from John Paul College in Rotorua.
Joining a competitor, Luxon had a go at cycling on a static Zespri Aims Games bike that was connected to a blender to make the “perfect smoothie”.
Luxon presented gold medals to the Tauranga Intermediate School girls team and the Te Puke Intermediate boys team for the rugby sevens AIMS games Championship.
Megan Wilson is a health and general news reporter for the Bay of Plenty Times and Rotorua Daily Post. She has been a journalist since 2021.