The government's education guru John Hattie says National made a ''selling mistake'' over increasing class sizes, but shouldn't have backed down.
The government was forced into a humiliating u-turn last week after public backlash over plans to cut teachers.
Education minister Hekia Parata had argued increasing pupil-to-teacher ratios would save $174 million over four years and $60m would be used improving teacher quality.
Hattie, a former University of Auckland professor now based in Australia, said the government slipped up by putting ''class size right up front.''
''Certainly if I was advising Treasury or the government, it would be keep to the staff-student ratios
and leave the whole class size thing out of it, because that's an issue, it's a hot-button issue, as
we've certainly seen in New Zealand, and it isn't a simple necessary translation from staff-student
ratios to class size,'' he said.
''So if they'd kept to the staff-student ratio and they had been very clear what the saving was going to
be used by, because that's what principals do. They say, "I'm going to have less time with teachers
in the classroom so they can plan, rather than smaller classes."
Hattie - whose research is believed to have influenced the policy - said teachers don't change the way they teach if class sizes are reduced. '' The bottom line is it hardly makes a difference,'' he said.
The government must still find the money to boost teacher quality - ''and I'm sure it's going to come out of another part of the education budget,'' he said.
Labour's education spokeswoman Nanaia Mahuta called on Parata to ''spell out'' her plans for improving teacher quality and justify the rationale.
"What we don't want to see is this government throw the baby out with the bathwater. One bad idea shouldn't stall progress across the sector.''
- The Dominion Post