National Party leader Simon Bridges took to the stage to deliver a speech outlining some of the party’s priorities, including reducing primary class sizes and reinstating charter schools should they win the next election.
“To achieve their potential and reach their dreams our kids need less Facebook and more face time with teachers,” Bridges told the conference.
“National is committed to delivering that by putting more teachers in schools to ensure smaller class sizes for our children.”
“We’re also committed to attracting more teachers and ensuring they are highly respected professionals in our communities.
“Part of that is pay, and it’s also about conditions such as class sizes and the investment we put into teachers to deliver quality learning to our kids.”
However, the plan is light on detail, with Bridges explaining that National would spend the next two years working with teachers, parents and communities on the details of the policy.
The policy is similar to one adopted by the Labour Party in 2014, when the party campaigned for smaller class sizes.
The commitment by National to increase the number of primary teachers came in the same week as the primary teachers’ union, NZEI, entered mediation with the Ministry of Education over collective bargaining and announced a full day strike for August 15.
Also over the weekend, the National Party announced a commitment to pass legislation reinstating charter schools within 12 months, should they win the 2020 election.
The party’s education spokesperson, Nikki Kaye, pictured above, said a National government would also enhance the model to allow for specialist charter schools focusing on particular areas, like science and technology.
“Partnership schools have a proven track record of helping vulnerable children and young people to achieve in education and reach their potential.
"Many are experiencing success at school for the first time in their lives,” Kaye explained.
“It’s not good enough for the Government to say these schools can stay open if they agree to transition to a different schooling model.
“It is the partnership school model that has worked for these kids and that’s why National will reinstate it,” she added.
Kaye said a National government would also work on providing greater support at establishment for charter schools, as well as better support for successful schools to expand to meet demand.
Bridges also touched on more funding for early childhood education (ECE) and a crackdown on low-quality centres.
Reactions to the policy announcements were mixed.
Education Minister Chris Hipkins took to Twitter to express his thoughts.
After 9 years underfunding education, cutting funding for quality early childhood ed, and running down teachers today they pledged smaller class sizes, higher pay for teachers and a crack down on low quality ECE. No specifics or costings. It’s just not credible.— Chris Hipkins (@chrishipkins) July 29, 2018
He told Stuff that the announcement was “not believable”.
“[The] policy announcement seems to have been drawn up on the back of an envelope in the past two or three days,” he said.
“There is no detail about how many teachers will be required or where the Opposition will find them.”
Hipkins also referred to previous cuts to ECE made by National.
"National froze core per-hour funding for nearly ten years, making it almost impossible for high quality teacher led services to stay afloat".
Meanwhile, Lynda Stuart, president of NZEI Te Riu Roa, said teachers would welcome the National Party’s commitment to lowering class sizes, increasing teacher pay and funding for ECE and reducing teacher workload, but would want to see National’s plans for resourcing their announcements.
“Teachers will want to see the colour of their money, not just words,” she said.
“The teacher shortage crisis we face today is a direct result of the National Government’s policies over the past nine years, and that legacy will not be quickly forgotten or fixed quickly.
“We are encouraged, however, by this U-turn from National, and welcome the new leadership’s commitment to better fund schools and teaching to ensure all Kiwi kids access a great education.”
In a press release, Save Our Schools NZ criticised what it called National’s “knee-jerk support for charter schools”.
“National’s support for reinstating the American charter school model shows not only that the privatisation bias that Bill English pursued over recent years is alive and well but also that they are struggling to develop sound education policy,” the organisation said.
“As far back as the 2008 general election, National committed to ‘increasing educational choices’.
“The irony is that there is a wide variety of choice already available in the New Zealand public education system.”