Education minister learns the hard way

JOHN HARTEVELT
Last updated 05:00 30/05/2012
HEKIA PARATA
ROSS GIBLIN
EDUCATION MINISTER: Hekia Parata.

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OPINION: Yet another education minister's political aspirations now lie shredded on the floor of Parliament's debating chamber.

Yesterday was Hekia Parata's diem horribilis.

She ran from questions in the morning and was hapless in the teeth of grillings from the media and the baying Opposition in the afternoon.

When the answers eluded her, Ms Parata returned to her bad habit of running off bureaucratic gobbledegook.

"We have a contingency provision to facilitate transition options for schools that are in the 10 per cent group whose impact of the range of policy changes is greater than the net loss or gain of one teacher," she offered.

But what was the size of that contingency fund and why was it not subtracted from the savings promised in the Budget?

Ms Parata had only further riddles where sensible answers to those questions were needed.

The silly thing about Ms Parata's capitulation was that it was so needless.

The funding formula changes were unveiled in some detail to a business audience a week before the Budget. Yet no-one at a ministerial level seems to have understood the specific implications for the worst-hit schools until this week, or to at least have anticipated the understandable horror of a few schools suddenly told their funding would be cut by the equivalent of salaries for up to seven teaching staff.

Had this been appreciated, the just-announced two-teacher cap on funding losses would surely have been released as part of the full package ahead of the Budget.

If it had, the quite rational – but now totally obscured – argument for the shift in spending priorities that underpins the changes might be better understood.

Despite suggestions to the contrary, for instance, no-one – not Treasury Secretary Gabriel Makhlouf, Education Secretary Lesley Longstone or Ms Parata – has said class size doesn't matter. They've actually explicitly said the opposite – that it does matter, just not as much as other things like teacher quality.

And it's not as though Treasury made up its own evidence to support the case for shifting spending priorities – it actually ran off a series of credible academic studies to prove the point.

But that paper referencing 16 pieces of actual research evidence from New Zealand and abroad has long since been whipped off the Government, screwed into a tight ball and biffed straight back at Ms Parata. She gave every impression yesterday that it had knocked her unconscious.

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