National makes foray into Labour heartland

VERNON SMALL
Last updated 05:00 24/01/2014

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OPINION: Ask anyone which party is most likely to boost the pay of more than one in ten of the country's 50,000 teachers by $10,000 a year, no wage wrangling needed, and it's a fair bet National would not be top of mind.

But that is exactly what John Key did with his education announcement yesterday in a cheeky foray into Labour's heartland.

It was the latest example of National's election year plan to trash suggestions it is inflexible, doctrinaire or plum out of new ideas.

Key to that are policies to address concerns, growing here and elsewhere in the developed world, that society is becoming more and more unequal in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis.

At the same time shoring up support in the low and middle-income mortgage belt, especially among women, is crucial to National holding its roughly 45 per cent poll rating.

The first hint of the Government's new shop front came late last year when it dropped its opposition to extending paid parental leave.

Fast forward to Key's latest speech.

He himself put the extra funding for expert and experienced teacher and new uber-principals in the context of the country's egalitarian instincts, where a good education opens the door to equal opportunity.

He clearly took Labour and its allies by surprise.

The secondary teachers' union warmed to the push for more collaboration between schools. Primary teachers were less welcoming, though their opposition was in the same paddock as the straw man attacked by Labour and the Greens; that better pay for some teachers did not address the poverty and other problems at the root of poor educational outcomes. As true as that may be, this was an education announcement.

Labour leader David Cunliffe could only praise the plan with faint damnation. It was, he admitted, "part of what we want to do" although he would go further.

His party, too, was "looking at rewarding and incentivising the best teachers ..."

At a stroke the bogeyman of performance pay seems to have been banished from the election campaign.

It look as if performance pay is fine as long as it isn't called performance pay.

If for no other reason, Key will consider that a good day's work.


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- © Fairfax NZ News

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