Nats plan financial lures to turn around struggling schools

TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 08:41 23/01/2014

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Prime Minister John Key says New Zealand's education system is "working well," but he's set to announce today policies to overhaul it.

These are widely expected to include incentives to attract top principals to disadvantaged schools.

Key will use his state of the nation speech today to put education on the election-year agenda by announcing a raft of measures designed to lift student achievement.

Among the main changes will be the introduction of "change principals" - people who will be paid a lucrative new allowance to go into struggling schools and turn them around.

"We actually think it needs some quite substantial change in certain areas," Key said.

"We've got some very positive announcements to make. They will make quite a difference to education in New Zealand. I think parents will welcome what we're doing because most people recognise that one of the great things about New Zealand is that we are an egalitarian society."

The only way to ensure New Zealand remained an egalitarian society was to make sure the education system delivered.

"[Today] you'll see us looking to policies I think are both far-reaching and different, and also ones that are internationally likely to be followed or we've seen working very well in other countries. "

National has drawn extensively on overseas research for the plan being unveiled today. It is also understood to have drawn on a recent visit to New Zealand by top OECD educationist Andreas Schleicher, who stressed the need to attract the most talented school leaders and teachers to the most disadvantaged schools.

National has targeted education through the introduction of national standards, by rolling out ultrafast broadband to schools and through projects including its $10.5 million programme to boost maths and science teaching.

But those initiatives have been overshadowed by controversy, including Education Minister Hekia Parata's failed budget move to reduce teacher numbers, the bungled reorganisation of Christchurch schools and the abrupt resignation of Education Secretary Lesley Longstone.

Parata's handling of the portfolio took a further knock when an international study late last year revealed the performance of New Zealand students had slipped against those in some countries over three years.

The state of the nation speeches are traditionally a time for the major party leaders to jostle for the position and attempt to set the election year agenda.

Key's speech to a business audience in West Auckland today comes ahead of the reopening of Parliament on Tuesday and is the first shot in the state of the nation face-off - Labour leader David Cunliffe will deliver his speech on Monday, Auckland Anniversary day, and his office said yesterday there had been a change to a bigger venue due to high interest.

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The first political poll of the year last night showed little change in the electoral landscape over the Christmas-New Year break, with the outcome of an election still too close to call and the minor parties playing a crucial role.

The Roy Morgan survey showed the combined Labour-Green vote at 46 per cent, up 1 per cent, against National's 43.5 per cent (down 1.5 per cent).

- Stuff

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