OPINION: You know damage control in the Beehive has clicked in when Prime Minister John Key takes over a thorny issue.
That was the case this week when Mr Key stepped into the education portfolio to rework a policy affecting teacher funding and class sizes announced only 12 days beforehand.
He denies it is a backtrack, preferring to say the Government's message about a transition period for the new policy was not communicated well enough.
But the figurative tyre-marks are too clear to deny it is a U-turn.
Mr Key's own intervention backs that point, as does an examination of the pre-Budget announcement that set the wheels in motion.
Education Minister Hekia Parata unveiled the new funding formula for schools – based on higher student-teacher ratios for some years – as part of a trade-off for boosting spending on teacher quality.
For around 90 per cent of schools the changes would see a staff gain or the loss of less than one fulltime equivalent teacher. There were no details of what would happen in the remaining 10 per cent.
But in the past week it has emerged that 245 schools, about half of them intermediates, face losing funding for the equivalent of one to seven teachers.
Specialist teaching positions at intermediate schools, such as technology, art and music, are most at risk from the funding changes.
What the Government painted as a tweaking of teacher numbers for the greater good of better quality teaching, suddenly took on bigger implications.
Adding to the anger of affected principals and teachers was parental alarm that the changes will push up class sizes in some years, meaning teachers having less one-on-one time with their children.
Their message carried quickly to the Beehive's ninth floor. After Mr Key's intervention, Ms Parata announced on Tuesday that during a three-year transition period funding will be cut by no more than two fulltime equivalent teachers at any school.
She concedes that the Government did not intend the policy to undermine the specialist technology provision at years 7 and 8 (intermediate level), and a sector working group will ensure it continues.
Mr Key concedes that it had not always been the Government's intention to cap losses at two teachers in the transition period.
In other words the policy's practical effects had not been thought through.
The two-teacher cap has only partly allayed concerns among intermediate principals. At Waimea Intermediate, there are fears a $2 million investment in a new technology and performing arts centre will lose some of the specialist staff needed to run it.
The rationale behind the Government's teacher funding changes was to move the focus from quantity to quality, with extra spending on recruitment and training partly offset by the savings from the funding changes.
But the devil in the detail has burned that message and Ms Parata's previously solid reputation. With primary and secondary teacher unions staging protests and planning action throughout the country against the changes, the issue will not go away.
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