'Anti-education' cuts slammed

KERRY MCBRIDE AND VERNON SMALL
Last updated 18:35 05/06/2012

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The education sector has banded together to urge the government against increasing class sizes.

Speaking today after a joint meeting between seven different sector assocations, the group said the Budget announcements to increase class sizes resulting in teaching cuts of one to two teachers per school  were philosophically anti-education.

Under moves announced in the Budget about 245 schools stood to lose between one and seven teachers, although the Government pulled back from the most extreme impact saying no more than two full-time teaching staff would be lost at any school in the next three years.

NZ Educational Institute president Ian Leckie said they would invite education minister Hekia Parata to meet with the group immediately to discuss alternative options.

While discussions of industrial action were premature, if Ms Parata was unwilling to discuss the sector's concerns then principals and parents would support any unions that opted to strike, Mr Leckie said.

"While everybody is jumping to the question of whether we'll go out on strike with this, that's premature. Let's start with the dialogue and look for the solutions, rather than having people walk the streets.

"But there's no doubt that the public of New Zealand are outraged at the moment, there is a lot of anger out there."

If Ms Parata was unwilling to meet with the group, they would plan further meetings and invite other parts of the education sector to join them in discussing what action to take, Mr Leckie said.

New Zealand Principals' Federation president Paul Drummond said there was a clear belief across the sector that the Budget announcements would affect every level of teaching.

"The impact is across the sector and for the whole system. We all have an interest in not only what is behind us, but what is in front of us for our children. That is certainly a very powerful unifying feature."

To prevent the class size increases, the Government could instead look at tightening up entrance standards for teacher training, or delaying the introduction of charter schools, Mr Drummond said.

Secondary Principals' Association of NZ president Patrick Walsh said the Government could not expect improvements in achievement while limiting teaching resources.

"This government is trying to raise the achievement levels for Maori, Pasifika, students with special needs, and those with special abilities. Increasing class sizes just isn't going to cut it for those students."

Education Minister Hekia Parata she would not meet with the sector groups as a collective urgently, though that could happen "further down the track".

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She had chatted with Mr Leckie and he had asked her to respond and to meet the group about the statement they had made.

"But at the moment my intention is to meet with the particular sector organisations that have.specific concerns that they wish to raise."

She said the Government was focused on improving the quality of education.

"We know  that class size does have an effect, but for the same level of investment teaching and ptrofesional leaadership have a far greater effect."

But calling off the reforms to teacher ratios and finding the $43m elsewhere was  "not on the table".

The decision was made last week to assure the 244 schools or 10 per cent of schools most badly affected, in particular in intermediate schools and in technology areas, that they would not lose more than two full time teachers.

"There is still an issue around technology so we are continuing to explore how we might resolve that."

She said New Zealand had one of the best education systems in the world "but standing still is falling behind".

On the PISA indicators  of numeracy and literacy New Zealand had either plateaued or was trending down  and it was important that was improved.

The Government envisaged having about the same number of teachers in 2016, as there are now but she denied that was effectively going backwards.

At the moment there were 50,000 teachers, 2500 principals and 35,000 non-teaching staff and the Government thought it had the number about right.

"We are not proposing to add more teachers, we are proposing to add more opportunities for raising the quality of teaching."

There had been "quite a lot of heat and not so much light" in the debate about the Budget plans.

A One News-Colmar Brunton poll yesterday showed overwhelming opposition to the Goverrnment's education reforms, with 79 per cent against and only 17 per cent in favour of the plan.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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