Backtrack on school funding cuts savings

JOHN HARTEVELT
Last updated 05:00 30/05/2012

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The Government has backtracked on school funding changes just days after announcing them.

Education Minister Hekia Parata yesterday admitted the embarrassing backdown would reduce the size of the savings announced in last week's Budget, but it was unclear by how much.

Under the changes initially announced last week, about 245 schools across the country faced cuts in funding for the equivalent of anywhere between one and seven teaching staff.

The changes still apply, but Ms Parata yesterday announced a three-year transition period that would see funding cut by no more than two fulltime-equivalent (FTE) staff at any school. The changes would take full effect after that.

Ms Parata insisted contingency funding to cover the transition had always been set aside, but she would not say how much.

It was impossible to say how much would be needed from that fund until the provisional rolls for next year were settled in September and staff changes through natural attrition and retirement were known.

The Government would "clearly not" make the savings it had outlined in the Budget, however, which had been set down as $173.9 million over four years.

"Because school rolls are cast in September for the following year, we had planned to do the transition over this period but because there is so much uncertainty that is unnecessary, we've announced what we are doing about all those smaller number of schools that have the greater impact and we will be protecting them against losing more than two FTEs."

A further 765 schools will lose funding for less than one FTE teacher, while 962 will gain less than one, 251 gain more than one and 213 have no change. About half of the 245 worst-affected schools are intermediates, which cater to only year 7 and 8 pupils.

Year 7 and 8 pupils are currently funded at a rate of 1:29 plus 1:120 for technology teachers, which equates to 1:23.36. Under the changes, year 7 and 8 pupils staffing ratios move to 1:27.5 and technology funding is spread across years 2 to 10.

Prime Minister John Key, who personally intervened over the issue on Monday, denied there had been a U-turn over the funding changes.

"We didn't probably communicate effectively enough to the parents that we would work on that transition programme," Mr Key said. "There will be some parents that will be concerned and we're trying to allay their concerns."

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The overall number of teachers would not substantially change from the existing 52,500 across the country, he said. The Government remained "hell-bent" on increasing the quality of teaching rather than the number of teachers.

New Zealand Educational Institute president Ian Leckie said the three-year cap was an attempt to "paper over" a policy that was "in tatters".

"To take an arbitrary number, like two, and then develop policy around it just beggars belief," he said.

"This is one of the worst examples of poor, badly thought-through policy being made on the hoof. And unfortunately, those children who are already struggling in our school system will be the big losers."

Labour leader David Shearer said the "clawback" of previously touted savings was an admission the Government had "made a huge mistake".

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said the changes remained "outrageously unfair".

"Losing up to two teachers will be hard for any school to manage, but smaller schools will be devastated by any staffing cuts," Dr Norman said.

Opinion: Education Minister learns the hard way class size not to be sniffed at

- The Dominion Post

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