Teachers protest planned education policy nationwide

JO MOIR, LIBBY WILSON AND HANNAH MCLEOD
Last updated 08:14 05/09/2014
Parata protest
Maarten Holl
STAND FOR YOUR KIDS: Teachers protest National's Investing in Educational Success policy which would institute 'lead' teachers and principals.

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Teachers around the country are taking to the streets to protest the Government's flagship education policy.

Support staff and teachers from the country's biggest union, NZEI, are marching on MPs' offices around the country calling for $359 million of funding for the Investing in Educational Success (IES) to be spent on kids' needs first.

The optional IES would include schools collaborating in communities, new teaching and leadership roles and a teacher-led innovation fund.

The union last month walked away from negotiations with the Government. The move could potentially scupper their plans to introduce lead teachers and principals.

More than 100 teachers were outside the Education Minister's office in Porirua this morning calling for a stop to the Government's flagship education policy.

Protesters are getting plenty of toots of support while holding up placards including 'IES is a Hekia mess' this morning.

Education Minister Hekia Parata, a National list MP and candidate for the Mana electorate, is not at her office.

She is on the campaign trail with the prime minister in New Plymouth.

Primary school teacher Krystyna Wishnowsky said she had come to Parata's office because she teaches in the electorate and wants the Minister to listen.

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"There are thousands of teachers around the country signing letters this morning saying they have no confidence in the direction the policy is going, which they're giving to their local MPs," Wishnowsky said.

She said smaller class sizes and more support for teachers would be a better use of the money.

"The last time we came out in numbers like this was to protest against Hekia's move to increase class sizes, which we got a u-turn on."

Meanwhile, Hamilton primary teachers and support staff took their placards to National MP offices on both sides of the Waikato River this morning to show their concern.

Some placards suggested different titles, like Idiotic Education Scheme.

One of about 30 protesters outside Hamilton East MP David Bennett's office was chair of the Waikato NZEI principals council Steve Ostermann said teachers were really concerned about the policy.

"They don't believe it's the best use of the $359 million," he said.

"This [policy] could have been such a winner ... if we had been asked."

The union members thought the money would be better spent on areas like children with special needs and smaller class sizes. There had also been a lack of meaningful consultation, members said.

Bennett, who was not in the office during the protest, said NZEI had withdrawn from discussions, which made meaningful consultation difficult.

A huge range of suggestions had been made about how the money could be spent, Bennett said.

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"There's always going to be differing opinions on where that money should be spent. And that's just the nature of having a big sector."

He was confident about results from IES and said it was a shame there hadn't been sector buy-in in some cases.

A crowd of about 30 more teachers, support staff and parents also gathered in front of Hamilton West MP Tim Macindoe's office.

About 70 people were protesting outside Invercargill MP Eric Roy's office this morning.

Concerned Otatara School teacher and NZEI spokeswoman Anna Rowe-Dean said the Government's policy would see 93 per cent of the $359 million paid in salaries for teachers and principals, and would just add another management tier to schools.

In reality, schools needed smaller class sizes, more funding, and more resources, she said.

The Government had claimed they wanted to improve student achievement and collaborative working, but teachers were already working to strengthen collaborative efforts, Rowe-Dean said.

"We want the money to go to frontline services."

Roy was handed dozens of letters signed by concerned teachers during the protest.

"I accept their argument, but I don't think it's as simple as what they've proposed," he said.

National's policy of rewarding good teachers with pay rises would mean teachers could remain in a teaching position, but not have their careers capped.

"It's not just about class sizes ... the best teacher's we've got can only get so far before they have to become a non-teacher," he said.

"We obviously disagree but I will carry the message [to Government]."

Roy would scan a copy of the letters through to Education Minister Hekia Parata's office, he said. 

- The Dominion Post

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