OPINION: Education Minister Hekia Parata obviously thought she was on a winner when she foreshadowed some Budget provisions for her portfolio, saying an extra $511.9 million would be pumped into education over the next four years "despite the difficult financial environment".
It would be invested in quality front-line education services because the single most important thing that could be done to raise achievement was to improve teaching quality.
This was unlikely to be contentious, but the caveat to her announcement has been politically explosive. The Government's focus on improving the quality of teaching would be at the expense of further increasing teacher numbers. Funding ratios applied to paying for teachers would be changed and (inevitably) classes enlarged.
Teacher numbers had grown by more than 12 per cent over the past 10 years while student numbers had risen by just 2.5 per cent, but "achievement has plateaued". By what measures achievement had plateaued is not clear. A set of new funding ratios was announced nevertheless.
The $511.9 million of operating funding for new initiatives in education over the next four years lifts funds for early childhood education and schooling to $9.6 billion for 2012/13. The Government wants 98 per cent of all new school entrants to have participated in early childhood education and at least 85 per cent of 18-year-olds achieving NCEA Level 2 or an equivalent qualification in 2016. Resources are being managed to meet those ends, including an extra $59.8 million over the next four years to improve teacher quality.
But an embarrassed Government this week is struggling to sell its policy after angry teachers and parents highlighted critical consequences and oversights. The embarrassment was more acute for Ms Parata because Prime Minister John Key intervened to order a revisiting of the new funding formulas governing school class sizes.
Now (we are assured) numbers of teachers lost per school will be capped at two for three years. Ms Parata had the gall to hail this as "good news", although it means losing some funding diverted into improving teacher quality, which is where she was adamant the emphasis must go. It also means she failed to test the advice on which she based a critical change in education policy.
- © Fairfax NZ News