Backdown fails to allay teachers' fears

Last updated 13:00 30/05/2012

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The region's intermediate school principals are worried they will lose technology staff and see their expensive specialised buildings abandoned, despite a government backdown on the worst of last week's Budget changes.

Minister of Education Hekia Parata said yesterday that she had underestimated the effect of Budget changes on some schools.

She would release emergency funds to guarantee that no school would lose more than two teachers.

The minister admitted the embarrassing backdown would reduce the size of the savings announced in the Budget, but it was unclear by how much.

Under the changes, about 245 schools faced cuts in funding for the equivalent of between one and seven teaching staff.

The changes still apply, but Ms Parata yesterday said there would be a three-year transition period that would see funding cut by no more than two full-time equivalent (FTE) staff at any school.

The changes would take full effect after that.

About half of the worst-affected schools are intermediates, which cater to only year-7 and 8 pupils.

Year-7 and 8 pupils are funded at a rate of 1:29 plus 1:120 for technology teachers, which equates to 1:23.36.

Under the changes, year-7 and 8 pupil-staff ratios move to 1:27.5 and technology funding is spread across years 2 to 10.

Nelson Intermediate School principal Hugh Gully said the announcement from the Government was not reassuring.

"For me, the maths indicated that I would lose 3.28 technology teachers.

"An hour later, it's two.

"I still lose more than half of my technology staffing."

The backtrack had made him suspicious of the process, because it appeared to be based purely on the backlash to last week's announcement.

"It's difficult to work out whether these announcements are part of a bigger picture.

"If [they are], then we probably need to know what that rationale is."

Staff had been in shock since the announcement had been made.

They had wanted reassurances from him that their jobs were secure.

"I can't give them those reassurances," he said.

Waimea Intermediate School principal Cleve Shearer said the announcement was "partially reassuring".

But losing two staff members would still have a big impact on the school.

"As soon as the tech funding goes, it puts everything at risk," he said.

The school had four technology teachers, one art teacher and the equivalent of 0.7 of a performing arts teacher.

"We would have to say: `Well, where are the priorities?' and we would have to rationalise that."

About a dozen parents had emailed the Ministry of Education to raise their concerns.

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Many praised the technology courses as balancing out their children, he said.

Mr Shearer was also concerned that the school's $2 million of technology property would be underused without specialised technology teachers to use it.

The property included an integrated technology hub and a new performing arts space, still under construction.

"If you've got a class teacher who is going to use technology [facilities], well, they don't have some of the specialist skills that allow children to use some of the tools and the equipment that goes with it.

"That's a big worry."

The money to construct these buildings came from funding Nelson MP Nick Smith had instigated when he was Minister, of Education, he said.

Dr Smith said he met intermediate teachers at the weekend to hear their concerns.

He wanted to reassure them and the broader Nelson community that the investment in technology facilities would not be wasted.

"I make no bones about the fact that I think technology education for students who are 11 and 12 years old is really important."

The changes had been misinterpreted as undermining technology education, and there was a disconnect between the policy people in the ministry and the practising schools, he said.

"We need to clear that up and make plain that the Government values and supports the technology component of education for those children in year 7 and 8."

- The Nelson Mail

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