Education Minister Hekia Parata has been forced to abandon a claim that National has presided over a 15 per cent increase in teachers - after revelations that Novopay clouded the numbers.
Parata has been quoted for several months saying that, under the present Government, "teacher numbers have gone up by 15 per cent".
But inquiries by The Dominion Post have shown most of the increase stems from a payroll error.
Teacher numbers are recorded in two ways by the ministry - by a head count, and by fulltime teacher equivalents (FTTE).
The head count, which includes fulltime and part-time or relief teachers, increased by 5882 between 2012 and 2013.
The ministry has now revealed this is due to relief teachers not being recorded in a consistent way before the switch to Novopay.
The revised head count shows a 6.5 per cent increase in teachers, from 55,124 in 2008 to 58,707 this year.
The number of FTTEs has risen by 4 per cent over that period - but further inquiries show almost half of those have been funded by individual schools, not by the ministry.
Parata wastold by the ministry on Monday morning that her earlier claim did not stack up, and in a radio interview shortly afterwards she made no mention of the 15 per cent increase.
Ministry head of student achievement Graham Stoop said that, since 2013, relief and fixed-term teachers had been "captured" by Novopay.
"The analysis we have carried out over the past few days indicates that the increase in head count is likely to have been contributed to by the more consistent recording and reporting of fixed-term and relief teachers in the new payroll system."
Last week, Stoop said Novopay had nothing to do with the rise in teacher head count numbers.
He said Parata had since been provided with the findings and updated numbers.
"We will also be establishing protocols on the future use of head count versus FTTE figures, as it is vital our information on teacher numbers is unambiguous."
This week, Parata stood by her statement that teacher numbers had increased since 2008, while student numbers had gone up by less than 1 per cent.
She said teacher FTTEs, the number of fulltime positions in schools, had increased by 4 per cent. Figures from the ministry show the 4 per cent rise equates to an extra 1853 FTTEs between 2008 and 2014.
Further questions about how many of those positions were funded by the ministry - as opposed to schools raising the funds themselves - revealed only 988 of them were.
The remaining 865 teachers were paid for by individual schools raising the funds through their boards of trustees, or using part of their operational grants to cover the cost.
Parata declined to comment on whether it was reasonable to claim there were almost 2000 more FTTEs when almost half were being paid for by schools.
Post-Primary Teachers' Association president Angela Roberts said the minister was using numbers that were "convenient".
The Government was "taking credibility" away from the work being done by schools to provide more teachers, she said. "Instead of policy based on evidence, it's just spinning the numbers in a way they want people to hear them."
- The Dominion Post
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