Any Education Minister can expect to be unpopular with many in the sector, particularly one in a National-led Government.

In her exit interview Hekia Parata told the Herald former education ministers she spoke to over the years had commiserated, "Jeez, what did you do wrong to get education?"

Parata found that sentiment puzzling given her own passion for education, something even her critics acknowledge.

A similar attitude is why Kaye was considered the obvious choice as her replacement, together with her experience as Associate Education Minister including an overhaul of school property and dealing with booming school populations in Auckland.


Kaye is well regarded by those in the sector, but education will be a major battleground in election year and comes with guaranteed controversy and fierce lobbying from education unions.

And the baton being passed from Parata is heavier than normal - this Government is midway through the biggest education reforms since 1989.

While some changes have passed into law many of the biggest are still to come, including replacing the decile funding system with a new model that pays a per student amount depending on how many "at risk" students a school has.

National will be keen to push changes along as far as possible before September's election, and if it returns to power all the fish hooks that come with implementation will be Kaye's to deal with. Treasury has estimated about two-thirds of schools could get significantly different funding under the decile replacement.

Radical plans for private companies to become online learning providers, or "COOLs" for short, have been condemned by both the NZEI and PPTA, and special education needs attention.

But Kaye's biggest battle, should National be re-elected, could surround "teacher accountability" - a topic Treasury has commissioned papers on and that fits with National's obsession with improving teacher quality.

Parata's resignation caused surprise because of the work to come but also because she was confident in the role, having rebounded from 2012. That year, one she calls her annus horribilis, saw a U-turn on increasing class sizes and backlash against her handling of proposals to merge or close Christchurch schools.

The lesson was a preference to not go it alone against the unions and others in the sector.

The most obvious example was the significant compromise made to convince the PPTA to cautiously back the establishment of new "communities of learning", National's main education policy ahead of the last election.

Many on the left will still cheer Parata's departure and question how genuine her engagement with the sector was. But major policy like the communities of learning is stronger because of it, and that lesson will no doubt be part of the handover.

Heeding it could mean Kaye doesn't side with predecessors who felt the appointment a hospital pass.