The National Party is looking to redirect billions of dollars from the Government's fees-free scheme to set up a KiwiSaver-type fund for every young New Zealander to be spent on education or professional development.

The proposal is one of several to replace the fees-free scheme, a Government flagship policy that has failed to see an increase in the number of first-year tertiary students.

The Education Saver account - which could be as much as $10,000 for every student by the time they leave high school - is outlined in the party's education discussion document, released this morning by party leader Simon Bridges and education spokeswoman Nikki Kaye.

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National's education spokeswoman Nikki Kaye has put the spotlight on children with complex needs in the party's education discussion document, released today. Photo / Jason Oxenham
National's education spokeswoman Nikki Kaye has put the spotlight on children with complex needs in the party's education discussion document, released today. Photo / Jason Oxenham

The account would support saving for education from a young age with contributions from the Crown, the student, the student's parents and even businesses that could invest in training in exchange for working for that business.

"The accounts could also be available for adults to open and use to create more lifetime learners and upskilling, given the likely automation of many jobs," the document says.

National said such an account was considered by the Prime Minister's business advisory council, and a version is used in Singapore, which has annual government payments from the start of primary education until the end of secondary school.

The document does not suggest how much money should go into an account from what age, but the Herald understands that initial thinking has been around $200.

If that is matched by a parent contribution - i.e. $400 a year - then that pot would be $5200 by the end of high school, but it could be worth over $10,000 by the end of Year 13 if compound interest is considered.

But the Government could also decide to take the interest from those accounts to fund other education policies, such as offering incentives to boost teacher numbers, or offering scholarships to disadvantaged students.

There are currently about 800,000 students from Year 1 to 13; at $200 each, the annual cost would be about $160m a year.

Fees-free was initially costed at $2.8b over four years, but the lower-than-expected take-up has seen it revised to about $1.1b over four years.

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National Party leader Simon Bridges is releasing the party's education discussion document today. Photo / Mark Mitchell
National Party leader Simon Bridges is releasing the party's education discussion document today. Photo / Mark Mitchell

National's other options for redirecting the fees-free money include applying it for the final year of tertiary study - and only received on completion - easing students' cost of living, using it for student loan write-offs, or lifting repayment thresholds and changing repayment rates.

The document is broad in scope and includes proposals aimed at increasing the quality and number of teachers, resourcing support for children with complex needs, and improving the quality of information for parents.

Among other proposals are:

• Spot checks for ECE centres in light of a survey that showed a rise in formal complaints from parents, up from 246 in 2013 to 430 in 2018.

• Legislating to ensure more support for children with complex needs, and funding for multi-disciplinary teams, including GP and counselling support.

• Teaching self-regulation from a young age, such as how to persist with difficult tasks, wait for rewards, and recognise and manage difficult emotions

• A "passport" for every child to track progress, including educational, developmental, physical and developmental.

• Education progress reports, though not necessarily National Standards, to ensure parents can measure progress based on a consistent standard.

• A commitment to 25 to 30 charter schools by 2023, more than twice the number that were disestablished by the current Government

• Targeted tertiary scholarships for Māori and Pasifika.

• Reversing many of the Government's changes to the vocational education sector.

Kaye said inadequate support for children with complex needs took a huge toll on their families.

"Supporting children with complex needs is not just about additional funding," Kaye said.

"It is about reforming the system itself to ensure greater collaboration between our health and education system."

The document confirms National's wish to lower classroom sizes, and it proposes teacher-student ratios for the first three years of school as 1:15, 1:20, 1:20, with a 1:25 ratio for Years 4 to 6.

Kaye said that there would need to be about 1900 more primary school teachers, which would cost about $200 million.

The document also includes proposals to boost teacher numbers such as work experience for secondary school students who want to be teachers, and looking at more foreign teachers where appropriate.

National Party ECE spokeswoman Nicola Willis says there should be random spot checks on ECE centres to keep them on their toes. Photo / Mark Mitchell
National Party ECE spokeswoman Nicola Willis says there should be random spot checks on ECE centres to keep them on their toes. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Kaye said the quality of teachers had to be assured, as well as boosting the number of teachers.

"We are considering changes to initial teacher training which include strengthening practicum requirements, accredited schools involved in teacher training, and more support for teachers who mentor beginning teachers."

National's ECE spokeswoman Nicola Willis said the unannounced spot-checks would help ensure standards.

"Where ECE services are found to be breaking the rules, National proposes that they be put on notice and parents informed. If problems aren't fixed quickly, services will risk losing their licence to operate."