Class size backlash grows

01:52, Jun 01 2012
Peter Dunne
PETER DUNNE: "Increasingly concerned".

The backlash against moves to increase class sizes is growing with two of the Government's support partners expressing unease following public outrage.

The Secretary for Education Lesley Longstone this morning spoke out about the changes, saying the Education Ministry has to operate with the funding it was given in last week's Budget, which confirmed about 245 schools stood to lose between one and seven teachers.

The Government backed down this week after an outcry from teachers and said no more than two full-time teaching staff would be lost at any school in the next three years.

The Association of Intermediate and Middle Schooling is demanding a moratorium on the cuts and both the primary teachers' union, the Educational Institute, and secondary teachers' union, the Post Primary Teachers Association, are discussing potential action with their members.

Yesterday Education Minister Hekia Parata faced protesting teachers and parents.

Today the Maori Party said the full implications of the changes were not identified in pre-Budget briefings.

The party's education spokesperson, Te Ururoa Flavell, said "sufficient detail" was not shared with the party.

"We will be advising the Prime Minister of our concern in this regard."

The Maori Party also wanted assurance there was a connection between the impacts the changes and lifting achievement.

"We are not convinced that the debate is adequately informed by evidence around what is the ideal ratio between teachers and students; and how much this matters to lifting achievement."

This morning United Future leader Peter Dunne said he had become "increasingly concerned" about the changes over the past few days.

"I see a significant level of parent and teacher concern arising. There is a distinct lack of clarity around the whole thing at the moment."

Dunne said the Government briefed him before the Budget on the changes but the full impact on technology centres and intermediate schools was not raised with him.

"I was led to believe that in fact that would not be an issue."

The Government was being forced to do "a lot of back-foot repair work" which was "unfortunate".

"The Government needs to move with speed to give people reassurance and to allay their worst concerns."

Dunne said the hoped the Government would resolve the matter but would take the issue up with senior ministers if it wasn't.

Parata today said all of the Government's support parties were briefed before the Budget.

"I understand the Acting PM has contacted Mr Dunne today and is happy to have further briefings for our support parties to discuss any concerns they have."

NZ First leader Winston Peters said Dunne was riding a popular wave with his concern over class sizes.

"Mr Dunne has latched on to public opinion against the increase in class sizes in an attempt to shore up his crumbling party support."

The United Future leader should also recognise the public outcry against the sale of state owned assets, he said.

"Mr Dunne holds the deciding vote on asset sales. He needs to stop the hypocrisy."

There have been suggestions the Government was not fully informed by the Ministry of the implications of the changes, but Longstone said officials had carefully explained the outcome of the changes.

"I'm sure we gave the right advice," she told Radio New Zealand.

"We have modelled lots of different scenarios and we have been very clear about the implications."

Longstone said only a small number of schools were impacted to a large extent by the changes even before the cap was introduced.

The Ministry would ideally like to have "very small class sizes" and the resources to put into professional learning and development to improve the quality of teaching.

"Those things are going to have the biggest impact on student outcomes. Unfortunately we do have to make some choices.

"The education sector, like every other part of the public sector and indeed the private sector, are in a position where they just need to tighten their belt."

While decreasing class sizes could help some children in some circumstances, "quality is more important the quantity" she said.

Concern has been raised the changes have hit technology centres and intermediate schools the hardest.

But Longstone said it was "highly, highly unlikely" the changes would force the close of any technology centres, which along with Year 7 to 8 pupils, had felt the funding cuts no differently than other areas.

Teachers unions and parents would never think such reductions were acceptable, she said.

"We always knew there was going to be a very difficult decision to implement."