Hekia Parata 'put in corner' at debate

BACK FOOT: Hekia Parata.
BACK FOOT: Hekia Parata.

Education minister Hekia Parata was forced to go on the defensive last night when opposition parties and the audience turned on her at a fiery political panel in Wellington.

The event, organised by the two teacher unions, began amicably with Parata and education spokespeople from the Labour, Maori, UnitedFuture, NZ First and Internet parties pitching their best policies to a crowd of about 100, mostly teachers. A Greens candidate was also at the meeting. 

But things turned ugly when the floor opened up to questions.

Parata's unwillingness to support compulsory te reo Maori in primary schools descended into a heated exchange in Maori between her and a member of the audience that was lost in translation for  the rest of the room.

Labour's Chris Hipkins and NZ First's Tracey Martin joined forces in an offensive manoeuvre that received rapturous applause every time.

UnitedFuture's Peter Dunne and   Internet Party candidate Miriam Pierard got left behind in much of the debate after admitting they had  yet to launch their education policies.

National standards, the Government's Investing in Educational Success (IES) policy and charter schools all had something in common - they would all be gone if there were a change in government, and there was plenty of support from the profession for that.

Hipkins said the  $359 million IES policy to create expert teachers and principals missed the point about collaboration given it only began after the decisions had already been made.

Parata disputed the accusation, saying a cross sector forum had been set up from the outset and included a range of organisations, including those hosting the event.

Martin said there was a reason why parents had not ''risen up'' about national standards in the same way they did about class sizes.

''It's because of the way the minister speaks. If she truly meant the words she said then we wouldn't have a problem.''

When Parata tried to reassure teachers that national standards would improve with the launch of the Progress and Consistency Tool, designed to help teachers with their overall judgments, there was a chorus of groans.

But it would not have been an education debate without a show of hands as to how many people in the room had been affected by the Novopay botch-up.

Just shy of half of the room reached for the ceiling.

The Dominion Post