The Government's flagship education policy, aimed at enticing mum and dad voters, has potentially been scuppered after the biggest teachers' union rejected it.
The New Zealand Educational Institute - which represents about 50,000 teachers, principals and support staff, mostly in primary schools - voted a resounding no to the Investing in Educational Success proposal that would include greater collaboration between schools, and new teaching and leadership roles to improve the quality of teaching.
Labour said the vote left the $359 million policy "dead in the water".
Education Minister Hekia Parata refused to say whether she was concerned about the timing of the policy rejection so close to the election.
The union said 70 per cent of primary teachers and principals voted in the poll, from 83 per cent of schools. A resounding 93 per cent of them voted "no confidence" in the policy.
The Government will now need to reach agreement with the Post Primary Teachers' Association if it is to restore some momentum to the plan.
Parata said she was disappointed with the no-confidence vote, but said she was not surprised given the position the union took early in the consultation.
Her door remained open to those willing to negotiate.
The School Trustees Association, Secondary Principals' Association (Spanz) and the principal cluster within the PPTA made up the bulk of the settlements.
"The Government will continue to work with the sector unions and other key groups to develop this initiative," Parata said. "We remain committed to implementing this initiative with all those groups keen to be involved."
Glenys Edmonds, principal of Tiritea School in Palmerston North, said the rejection highlighted the union's concerns with the policy.
"The last time we voted like this was pay-parity and that led to strikes . . . this has teachers and principals talking, and the number of people that voted shows how passionate members are."
But Spanz president Tom Parsons said the rejection was "short-sighted" and left NZEI looking like the "baby that spat the dummy" by choosing not to work with the sector. "It's counter-productive . . . the education landscape needs reshaping, and the best way to do that is to be part of the negotiations."
NZEI president Judith Nowotarski said it would be lobbying the Government "to genuinely consult with the profession and parents" about how the money behind the scheme could benefit all children.
Parata disputed claims the sector had not been consulted, saying a number of organisations, including NZEI, had been part of a delegation to Singapore and Hong Kong to look at best practices.
Labour education spokesman Chris Hipkins said "sector buy-in" could have been achieved if the Government had not gone to unions and schools with the policy already drawn up.
Labour has promised to scrap the policy if elected.