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The Labour Party has promised to spend an extra $600 million over the next four years on boosting childcare teachers' pay if it is re-elected next month.

The promise to "work towards pay parity" between kindergarten teachers and teachers in the rest of the early childhood education (ECE) sector is the centrepiece of Labour's education policy for the election, unveiled by Education Minister Chris Hipkins at a Porirua childcare centre today.

It does not promise to achieve parity within its next term of government, but has earmarked $600m towards boosting ECE teachers' pay.

"If re-elected, Labour will ensure all 17,000 teachers working in education and care centres are paid what they deserve," Hipkins said.

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Education Minister Chris Hipkins greeting Alexia Pitoitua, aged 3, at today's education policy announcement at a Porirua childcare centre today. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Education Minister Chris Hipkins greeting Alexia Pitoitua, aged 3, at today's education policy announcement at a Porirua childcare centre today. Photo / Mark Mitchell

"A significant pay gap has built up over time. The previous National Government stopped the practice of passing on increased kindergarten funding rates that met the cost of pay settlements to education and care services, as had been done previously.

"The lowest paid education and care teachers have already received a pay boost to bring them in line with kindergarten teachers' pay from 1 July this year."

Labour's policy launch comes one day after the National Party launched its own education policy, which did not mention pay parity but promised to "continue to lift minimum pay requirements for qualified ECE staff".

Labour has abandoned the centrepiece of its 2017 education policy - expanding fees-free tertiary education from one year in its first term to two years in its second term and three years in its third term.

"Labour will retain the first year of the fees-free programme, but not extend the programme into additional fees-free years," Hipkins said.

Chris Hipkins has dropped Labour's 2017 promise to expand fees-free tertiary education to three years by its third term. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Chris Hipkins has dropped Labour's 2017 promise to expand fees-free tertiary education to three years by its third term. Photo / Mark Mitchell

"We will be targeting our additional tertiary education spending in areas that are critical for the country's economic recovery in the post-Covid environment. Initiatives such as free apprenticeships and targeted areas of vocational training will be prioritised, supported by the reform of the vocational education system which we will be completing if re-elected."

Labour has already implemented free access to apprenticeships and to many trades training courses over the next two years using Covid-19 funding. Its policy does not provide for continuing this policy beyond the next two years.

The other spending commitments in Labour's policy are:

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• $200m a year for free lunches for all children at the most disadvantaged quarter of schools by the end of next year.

• $400m over four years to reform the school system including creating an Education Services Agency within the Ministry of Education, setting up an independent complaints system, strengthening governance and leadership, establishing a Curriculum Centre, a more managed approach to approving new ECE centres and expanding the network of Maori-language schools.

• $320m over four years to replace the current decile-based school funding system with a new system based on an "equity index" measuring the social backgrounds of all students in all schools.

• $15m over four years to "make sure schools in all our communities are able to deliver quality online learning to all their students if we have another [Covid-19] outbreak".

• $10m over four years to "develop tools to better understand children and young people's learning progress" and implementing changes to the National Certificates of Educational Achievement (NCEA).

Key differences between Labour and National education policies are:

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• Preschool funding

Labour: Higher funding for centres with 100 per cent qualified teachers from January 2021, plus $600m over four years to work towards pay parity between kindergarten teachers and other ECE teachers.

National: Scrap higher funding for centres with 100 per cent qualified teachers and divert funding to improve the teacher/child ratio for under-2-year-olds.

• Primary school ratios

National: Spend an extra $170m a year by 2024-25 to improve teacher/student ratios in primary schools.

Labour: No promises.

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• Learning targets

National: Reintroduce targets for educational achievement, including for the proportions of Māori and Pasifika students leaving school with NCEA.

Labour: Develop tools to better understand children's learning progress and implement the already-signalled reforms of NCEA.

• Learning support

National: Give schools an extra $160m a year by 2023-24 to support students with extra learning needs plus an extra $38m a year from next year for 1500 extra teacher aides.

Labour: Continue the rollout of learning support coordinators in schools.

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• Languages

National: Require that all primary and intermediate school children have the opportunity to learn a second language, including te reo Māori for those who want it.

Labour: Continue to support the revitalisation of te reo Māori.

• Zoning

Labour: Transfer zoning from school boards to Ministry of Education to make best use of existing school buildings.

National: Return zoning to school boards and increase funding for school buildings "by supporting the expansion of fast-growing existing schools".

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• School buildings

National: Spend an extra $4.8 billion on school buildings over the next 10 years, including $2b allocated to an alliance with major construction companies.

Labour: Continue to upgrade 180 existing schools and build new schools and classrooms for 100,000 students.

• School lunches

Labour: Fund school lunches for all children in the most disadvantaged quarter of schools by the end of next year.

National: Provide food in a more targeted way to ensure it gets to students who might otherwise go hungry.

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• Charter schools

National: Establish 25 new partnership schools by 2023.

Labour: No charter schools.

Teacher registration fee

National: Abolish the $157 annual teacher registration fee.

Labour: No promises.

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