Week in Review

National’s predictable education plan

Analysis: The National Party’s education policy plan is largely predictable but should be well-received by schools and parents, Laura Walters takes a look

The National Party’s latest policy discussion document says everything you’d expect it to, including winding back vocational education changes and fees free, but what will resonate most with schools and parents is the Labour-lite promise to bring in more teachers to reduce class sizes.

Another week, another policy discussion document from the National Party. These hefty documents, accompanied by a flurry of press releases, are supposed to prove the Opposition is “doing the mahi” – something they accused Labour of neglecting during its time on the other side of the House.

It’s fitting this week’s document focuses on education, and is released the morning after the Government announced the outcomes of the Tomorrow’s Schools review.

The opposition makes a raft of proposals and some are wholly predictable – as they should be – including the promise to walk back vocational education reforms, which National has long-maintained would not achieve the desired outcomes, and the amalgamation of the 16 polytechs that it describes as unnecessary centralisation.

It also proposes scrapping the Government’s 'first year fees free' policy, in favour of replacing it with something else. The $339 million policy has faced opposition from the get-go, which was reinforced during this year’s Budget where the low uptake saw almost $200m of funding redirected.

There’s also the reiteration of promises to reinstate partnership schools, and National’s long-standing second language policy for years 1-8.

But the proposal most likely to resonate with schools, teachers and parents is a promise to reduce class sizes by changing teacher-student ratios. The obvious fishhook is that this relies on training more teachers and improving workforce planning – a cornerstone of Labour’s education plans, and something National largely failed on during its time at the helm.

And after this year’s significant teacher pay settlement, which would come up for renewal in a couple of years, extra teachers to cover the lower ratios would come at a significant cost.

“We understand the need to have strong recruitment and retention policies to ensure we can deliver the teachers we need."

National’s education spokesperson Nikki Kaye has spoken a lot about her concerns of growing class sizes, and what that means for students and the attention and quality of teaching they’re receiving.

Smaller class sizes would help reduce the teacher workload, she said.

This document now puts specific numbers around those ratios: year one would remain at 1:15; years two and three would drop from 1:23 to 1:20; years four, five and six would drop from 1:29 to 1:25.

Kaye and National leader Simon Bridges both acknowledged reducing class sizes meant more teachers were needed, but proposed different approaches than the ones taken by the current Government, including financial incentives.

“We understand the need to have strong recruitment and retention policies to ensure we can deliver the teachers we need,” Kaye said.

“We want all children to go on to achieve great things. With the right education we can overcome the challenges some children face purely because of the circumstances they were born into."

A raft of proposals put forward to improve the quality of early childhood education (ECE) teaching, and to improve oversight and enforcement, are timely given a recent raft of failings at early childhood education centres.

National's Nicola Willis wants surprise spot checks on early learning centres. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

National’s ECE spokesperson Nicola Willis has proposed unannounced spot-checks on ECE centres to ensure they were meeting standards.

“We want parents to feel confident that when they leave their child in a Government-licensed early childhood service, they know they will be well looked after. These proposals are designed to give them that assurance,” Willis said.

What is noticeably missing from a pretty comprehensive ECE policy is a promise to fund 100 percent qualified teachers, something National has criticised the Government for not delivering thus far.

Bridges said National believed all children should have options and opportunities.

“We want all children to go on to achieve great things. With the right education we can overcome the challenges some children face purely because of the circumstances they were born into,” he said.

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