Key defends charter schools

19:59, Dec 05 2011

Prime Minister John Key is defending the introduction of charter schools under a deal with ACT despite National never campaigning on it, saying "that's MMP for you, isn't it?".

ACT's Epsom MP John Banks and United Future leader Peter Dunne yesterday signed support deals with National, giving it the numbers to govern.

In return both men gained ministerial warrants and concessions for their parties.

Under the deal with ACT, community, religious or ethnic groups, or private companies, will be allowed to operate state-funded charter schools.

School boards will be able to set class hours and introduce performance-related teacher's pay.

A trial will be held in South Auckland which, along with Christchurch East, will be the first areas to have the state-funded private schools within the next three years.

Key this morning acknowledged the move had not been National policy.

"That's MMP for you, isn't it? That you agree to different proposals," he told Radio New Zealand.

"I don't think the New Zealand voters are going to be up and arms because in a couple of communities in New Zealand we give some new model a go.

"If those students don't want to go there, they'll be free to go to the existing schools they are at."

Key said "more often than not" parents had objectives that some in the education sector were opposed to.

"That doesn't mean just because they are opposed, they are in line with what the New Zealand parents and student want."

The Prime Minister rejected suggestions National had blindsided voters with changes to the education system.

"Are you really telling me that because we might trial in parts of the country, one or two schools, to see whether they can deliver better results, that somehow it's undermining the education system in New Zealand?

"Sorry but it sounds a bit far-fetched to me."

However, Labour claimed National had used what was called a "bogus" agreement with ACT to introduce bulk funding and privatisation policies it was working on before the election but didn't tell voters about.

Education spokeswoman Sue Moroney said the move would come as a shock to most parents.

"The charter school proposal is bulk funding in drag. It is a model that has been blamed for the decline in educational achievement in Sweden.

"The ink is barely dry on the voting papers and National is already trying to hoodwink New Zealanders."

Moroney said there was "no way" ACT's one per cent of the party vote and single MP could have forced National to "substantially" change the New Zealand education system.

"That is simply a nonsense.

"Once again National is implementing failed education policies, copied from overseas.

"But then that's all we can expect from a National government that has no ideas of its own."

Under the support agreements, Dunne retained his revenue and associate health portfolios and picked up associate conservation.

Banks became the minister of regulatory reform, small business, and associate education and commerce.

Both were ministers outside Cabinet.

Key today backed the deals, saying they were not disproportionate to the two votes the two parties guaranteed National.

"We like to work very constructively with our partners."

The ministerial warrants reflected the "areas of interests or the underlying fundamental beliefs of the parties", he said.