National launches official campaign with $379 million education bid
National has made a pitch to parents at the opening of its election campaign, with a pledge to offer online access to assessment as well as a boost to language teaching.
Amid chaotic and noisy scenes as thousands of supporters crammed a West Auckland stadium, Prime Minister Bill English made a pitch to core National voters with an attack on Labour's plans for tax increases - and veiled references to rival Jacinda Ardern's lack of experience..
But the flagship announcement was a $379 million education package including digital learning for senior students, more resources for maths, and a guarantee that all primary school students will be able to learn a second language if they choose to.
National's campaign launch date was set months ago when the election looked like a done deal and Labour was struggling to raise its support above 30 per cent.
But Jacinda Ardern's rise to the leadership after Andrew Little stepped down has seen Labour's support soar and resulted in an unofficial early start to the election campaign nearly two weeks ago.
"National’s plan is to keep New Zealand moving forward - a confident plan for a confident country," he told supporters.
"A strong National team energised by new ideas. A team that’s open to trade, open to investment, and knows how an economy works.
"Or an unstable, untested group on the left that would risk it all with unpredictable and unclear policies."
English's speech largely focused on National's record in office and the education package, which also included an expansion of the student assessment system National Standards.
"First, we want our young people to have the best opportunity to take advantage of new technology – to become the next Mark Zuckerberg or Rod Drury or Frances Valintine," English said.
Included was $48 million invested in "new digital learning opportunities" for Year 12 and 13 students.
Under the programme, new digital academies will offer 1000 students specialised, IT-focused learning.
"They'll be similar to our Trades Academies, and they'll be just as successful," English said.
New digital internships will provide mentoring and tailored learning from businesses for 500 year 12 and 13 students, a pathway between skills gained in the classroom and real IT careers.
The second part of the package is a $126 million investment to raise maths achievement for primary school students.
"National Standards show we need to lift our game in maths. So we'll provide our students and teachers with the tools they need to do that," English said.
"We'll help 1200 teachers a year complete extra university papers targeted at teaching maths to primary students.
"We'll also provide intensive classroom support for students, where schools have identified the need to improve their maths.
The third part of the package is a $160 million investment to give all primary school children the opportunity to learn a second language, if they choose.
"Schools will choose from at least 10 priority languages, which we expect to include Mandarin, French, Spanish, Japanese and Korean, along with Te Reo and New Zealand Sign Language."
The final component was an expanded National Standards scheme, called National Standards Plus.
National Standards Plus would allow parents to track their child's progress in more detail online.
"We will show you your child's progress on your mobile phone, English said. "Some schools have already rolled out tools that support this approach.
Labour education spokesman Chris Hipkins said National was '"doubling down" on its National Standards system which was not improving student achievement.
"Kids in New Zealand are over assessed. What we need is less reporting, more teaching."
And he questioned how teachers would find the time to update assessment records for continual online access.
Education union the NZEI said plans to spend millions building a computer tool to track children's progress as it happened," based on shonky National Standards, is an obsession with data gone mad".
"Requiring teachers to input standardised assessment data across a range of subjects in real time for 30 or more students in a class will reduce the time teachers have with children and increase children's anxiety about learning," NZEI Te Riu Roa President Lynda Stuart says.
"No parent wants their child's teacher sitting entering data for hours when they need to be face to face with kids."
Hipkins said he was open to the idea of second language teaching, because it had educational merit.
But the policy seemed ill-thought through and rushed.
At a media conference after the launch English struggled to say when the extra language requirement would be rolled out.
But his office later clarified that it wanted to roll it out as fast as possible. "It's our expectation that it will be in all schools in the next two years."
But Hipkins said there were not enough fluent Te Reo teachers to offer bilingual teaching, so it would be an enormous undertaking to provide for all the languages National had identified.
One of the first speakers at National's launch was Education Minister Nikki Kaye, who spoke about her discovery last year of a cancerous lump in her breast. She revealed that she offered her resignation but was refused.
Kaye returned to Parliament after cancer treatment and was promoted to the education portfolio.
Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett also spoke and, in a reference to Ardern, said there had been a lot of talk about "selfies and smiles" but voters would choose substance over style.
English's family also made an appearance at the launch - daughter Maria sang the national anthem.