Tag Archives: opinion

Government gets an F for education

By Jim Turrell, published on Stuff.

OPINION: My verdict on the Government’s track record in education is that it is an epic fail.

The reasons for this verdict are many and varied, but I will focus on three main areas:

1. Our student achievement data is declining nationally
2. Ideology is overriding evidence
3. Trust has been completely eroded in the sector achievement data

The mad scientist and the frog
The mad scientist chopped off the frog’s legs and told it to jump. When the frog didn’t jump, the mad scientist concluded that the frog was deaf.

This story illustrates how a relationship between two things (a correlation) does not mean that the one thing is the direct cause of the other. Correlation and causality are often, and sometimes deliberately, confused.

It typifies the approach our government continues to take towards a growing body of evidence that suggests their treasury driven education reforms are having a negative impact on student achievement and well being.

The evidence is compelling. The Ministry of Education’s own research highlights the inconsistencies in National Standards data both within and between schools. (It’s a rort!) The RAINS study by the University of Waikato provides an especially damning report on the impact of National Standards and NZ students’ scores on international surveys continue to decline.

In some cases, the rate of that decline is increasing.

Most teachers will articulate their concerns for a narrowing of the curriculum, where science and the arts play a diminishing role and “soft skills”, such as managing self, problem solving and being creative are all but irrelevant.

The government’s response to this troubling data is to double down on “shonky” National Standards with “National Standards Plus”, new “Better Public Services Targets” for literacy and numeracy and a clear directive to the Education Review Office to narrow its focus to schools’ programmes that accelerate the progress of their “priority learners” against National Standards. In other words, further intensification of the very policies we know to be causing harm.

At the same time, per-pupil funding is reducing and new laws are passed without any additional resources for schools to implement them.

The government is now yelling, “jump” more loudly, while chopping more furiously.

Intervention programmes that are driven by high-stakes National Standards data inevitably focus disproportionate resources on the small group of students who are most likely to reach the standard with additional support.

However, this is often to the detriment of those who have already achieved the standard and those who are less likely to with those same levels of additional support. This system is not only incredibly unfair to many students; it also precipitates an overall decline in the achievement of the whole cohort over time.

“Teacher accountability” clearly resonates with voters, and so it should, but National Standards represent a deliberate oversimplification. Education is extraordinarily complex. The extent to which it has become politicised is doing our children an enormous disservice, while snappy sound bites unfairly shape public perceptions.

It is alarming how perception continues to hold sway over evidence. This paradigm is fuelled by politicians (of all persuasions) who appear to repeatedly use data out of context, deliberately confuse correlation with causality and oversimplify complex issues for political gain. As a result, trust within the education sector is almost entirely eroded. We are being increasingly polarised by flagrant politicisation of the things we all care about.

Trump …

Brexit …

It is now nearly impossible to distinguish between a concerned principal and a radicalised political activist.

It is difficult to reconcile our government’s stated aims, with their policy outcomes. Instead, they offer yet more snappy sound bites, like former education minister Parata’s “decile is not destiny”. It is difficult for voters to argue with such rhetoric. (Frogs need to jump!) Except that there is a growing number of policies, based on pure neoliberalism, which go a long way towards ensuring that decile does become destiny. (More legs chopped off.) The outcomes appear to be the very opposite of what is promised.

Accordingly, the issue of trust lingers in the following questions:

– What is the decile review really about?
– What are Communities of Learning really about?
– What is the funding review really about?
– What are charter schools really about?
– What were the changes to the Education Amendment Act really about?
– What are public, private partnerships really about?
– Why are wealthy charter school owners from overseas suddenly appearing on our boards of trustees?

My hope is that the future brings a better balance for our curriculum.

Currently, high-stakes assessment data is leading to “drill and kill” low stakes learning. Then we wonder why achievement levels are dropping. When the balance is restored so that learning is high stakes and the assessment low stakes, learners will thrive.

This requires all-important trust. Trust between the teaching professionals and the politicians and the wider public. We all need to leave our ideologies behind and work together towards goals that are based on quality research and evidence of what works – regardless of who forms our next government on September 23.

Jim Turrell is an experienced primary school principal who lives in Central Southland after emigrating from Wales.

Why No One Wants To Teach In NZ

Excellent article from Stephen May on Newsroom.

The ongoing dismissal of research-informed professional development demeans the teaching profession in NZ. But it doesn’t have to be like this, writes the University of Auckland’s Stephen May

Let’s face it – teaching in New Zealand is a low status profession. This perhaps explains why there seem to be fewer and fewer people who want to become teachers. It also explains the looming staffing crisis in Auckland, with young teachers, in particular, leaving the city in droves because their pay and career prospects are not sufficient to afford to continue to live there.

Recent analysis also shows that teachers only tend to stay in the job for about five years. They often leave because they are burnt out by the demands of teaching, an increasingly narrow and prescriptive curriculum, and by policy initiatives that promise much, deliver very little, and are quickly replaced by some “new” policy that is equally ineffective and short term.

No wonder it feels like ground zero out there for so many teachers.

Continue reading at: https://www.newsroom.co.nz/@future-learning/2017/08/09/41927/why-no-one-wants-to-teach-in-new-zealand

Politics and Education

New Zealand has an excellent education system and is world class, especially primary schools. Amongst the 34 OECD countries we consistently rank highly especially in reading (4th in the world) and ahead of countries like Australia, Britain and the U.S. New Zealand ‘whole language’ primary teaching is in high demand in the U.S.

However, we have what is termed “a long tail of underachievement” mainly in Pacific and Maori children. Various figures are thrown around by commentators and politicians of either 20% or 25% depending on who is talking. This relates to the percentage of secondary school pupils who leave school without NCEA Level 2 qualifications. The actual figure is between 15-17% and the success rate is trending upwards. However, the entire education system is branded as a failure rather than being celebrated as a success.

What the politicians don’t quote from the same OECD report about achievement is the amount spent per child on education – we rank mid field of the 34 countries and in the average class size – again we rank around number 17. So in summary, we are doing really well in terms of achievement but with less money and bigger class sizes than half the OECD countries.

We have had the recent debate of increased class sizes which was supposed to impact on better achievement (note to Tui billboard – yeah right!) and the embarrassing back down from the government. Now, publication of school data in the form of ‘league tables’ is being mooted. Personally, I’m not afraid of our data bring published as I know it would give us great pride. However, publishing school data is not going to improve achievement in low performing schools, rather compound the problem as parents take their children away. Performance pay is on the horizon and again I don’t fundamentally oppose it provided it is a fair, transparent process developed with the education community, not imposed upon it.

The government wishes to save money yet only politicians and bureaucrats are involved in the process of identifying savings e.g. put up class sizes. By working with the education sector, substantial savings could be made. My personal suggestions would be to stop or reduce funding to private schools, not go ahead with the charter schools concept at this time and close down the advisory services and special education service, give a component of this funding to schools and make both advisory and special education services, contestable i.e. the schools would buy services from the most efficient and cost effective provider.

In fairness, I state my personal contention that the various leadership of the education sector are not always all that good. If educationalists don’t lead educational reforms and innovations, politicians will, then we are placed on the back foot with a reactive response.

Interesting Education Budget Articles

These three articles are an interesting read on the recent widespread debate over the proposed changes in the education budget.

A bad week for slow learners

Audrey Young – NZ Herald

It wasn’t until two days after the Budget that National Cabinet ministers in Auckland started to realise the backlash against their education changes was serious.

They were attending the party’s northern regional conference at Waipuna Lodge in Mt Wellington.

On the way in, they had passed John Minto et al, protesting as usual. As John Key noted at the time, the protesters couldn’t stay for lunch because they had another protest to go to outside Mt Eden Prison.

What Key and his cohort didn’t expect was the rumbling of protest on the floor of their own conference – an unmistakable anxiety about what the changes to class ratios meant for schools.

One delegate was especially disturbed at a notice that Murray’s Bay Intermediate School on the North Shore had sent home to parents on Friday afternoon.

It was written by principal Colin Dale, a self-declared centre-right thinker, and it was headed “Budget Deceitful and Bad for Our Students”.

“It was suggested that a small increase in class sizes could be tolerated in return for an improvement in educational quality,” it said.

“Rather than receiving a small adjustment in staff, the staffing of all intermediates and schools with Year 7 and 8 students across the country has been slashed. Some schools will lose seven or eight teachers. We will lose [more than] six teachers. This was not signalled prior to the Budget and was not part of the announcement.”

The only people more surprised at the Budget outcome than the intermediate schools were the Cabinet ministers who had signed off on the policy without realising its effects.

It seems they ticked it off at a Cabinet meeting chock-a-block with Budget items and were satisfied by assurances that 90 per cent of schools would barely feel the difference.

Delegates to the conference initially directed their questions to Steven Joyce.

They should have gone to English who had been laying the groundwork for changes to the ratios since 2009.

He has made no secret of his frustration that so much of the growth in Vote Education was swallowed up by automatic increases under the funding formula rather than discretionary decision.

In letters to the previous Education Minister Anne Tolley, English began raising questions about pressures on roll growth and staffing entitlement.

Nothing was done in the first term but the message that teacher quality mattered more to student achievement than class size was successfully seeded.

Hekia Parata is a political protege of Bill English. She first stood for National in 2002 under his leadership, quit the party after Don Brash’s Orewa speech, then stood again successfully in 2008.

The National Party delegates who raised questions were told to raise them with Education Minister Parata at her break-out session.

She was in a typically bouncy mood at the conference. After the difficulties her predecessor, Tolley, faced with the education sector bedding-in national standards to primary schools, Parata had worked hard to be respected. She was touted as a potential future leader.

On that Sunday morning she could easily have felt that any disgruntlement over the class ratios had been confined to rude press statements by union leaders and concerns by polite professional groups.

By Tuesday the smile had vanished from her face.

Parata’s attempts over several days to reassure parents, teachers, colleagues and conference delegates that things would not be as bad as they seemed on paper had failed to quell concerns. Her explanation that a greater drive for teacher quality was a worthwhile tradeoff for minor increases in class size was drowned out.

The fact that there would be a working party and extra funding to help the 244 worst-affected schools transition over four years didn’t wash.

Nor did the claim that “provider” intermediates that lost automatic funding for technology staff would be able to get it back if contributing schools bought their services.

She repeated her assurances that 90 per cent of schools would lose less than one full-time teacher or even gain a teacher, but her credibility was undermined when neither she nor the ministry would tell schools how they would be affected until September.

By Monday Key and and the Cabinet realised they were in serious trouble.

One of the worst affected schools was Albany Junior High, in Key’s electorate, and two, Murray’s Bay Intermediate and Northcross Intermediate, were in Murray McCully’s electorate.

English’s Budget plan was going off the rails. It was no longer the penny-pinching Budget that ended tax refunds for paperboys or slowed the rising threshold for aged residential care.

It was the Budget that could see cuts to frontline staff expressly contrary to National Party promises.

At caucus the next day Key was able to assure MPs who had been lobbied by teachers, parents, and sector groups that help was on the way. That afternoon he announced that schools would lose no more than two teacher entitlements over three years rather than the seven, eight or nine staff they feared.

At Murray’s Bay Intermediate Dale had received 163 messages of support for his first newsletter and two against. He sent out a second newsletter headed “Progress with Budget Cuts Protest”.

“We are making progress but we are still applying all the pressure we can to help the Minister of Education understand the profound innate problems in her recent decision to change the formula to schools,” he wrote. “In my view we must continue to protest and we have a very powerful list of actions should we be ignored.”

Exactly when during the process Parata realised what the huge impact would be on intermediate and middle schools she is not willing to say.

But incredibly the Cabinet learned about it only after she had made her pre-Budget announcement in a speech to a business audience in Wellington on May 16.

There were nine days between her announcement and the actual Budget.

Gary Sweeney, the principal of Pukekohe Intermediate, and president of the Association of Intermediate and Middle Schooling, read the pre-Budget release on the May 16.

It set out the new ratios for Years 1 to 13 but it made no mention of the one teacher to 120 students ratio that intermediates got for technology teachers in Years 7 and 8, so he emailed Parata’s office that night to ask what had happened to it.

He received a call the next morning from one of the ministerial advisers to say he would have to wait until Budget Day, when he was invited to a briefing in Parata’s office.

In the meantime he, like most other principals, assumed his school would be part of the lucky 90 per cent. Commentators were praising the Government for their strategy in getting the bad news out of the way earlier.

It became clear to schools only on Budget Day that the 1-to-120 ratio for technology teachers had been assigned to individual children in contributing schools rather than to the intermediate or technology centres providing classes – and what a devastating affect that would have.

It took a few days for that to become widespread knowledge.

No one is willing to say it was an error. But principal Colin Dale says McCully had admitted as much.

Parata is not willing to say when she knew that intermediates would be so badly affected, possibly because any answer would be embarrassing.

If she knew about it earlier and did not inform her Cabinet colleagues, that would show unforgivably poor judgment.

If she didn’t know about the consequences of her own policy, that would show dismal oversight by her, plus incompetence or stealth by Education and Treasury officials, and more likely all of the above.

Despite her refusal to answer, it has become clear from her public comments which it was.

She did not know the effects before she announced the ratios on May 16. However, she found out before Budget Day because she was forced to defend at her post-Budget briefing.

She was effectively forced by former Education Minister and Speaker Lockwood Smith to admit that she had not asked for a list of all 2436 schools and how they would be affected to present to Cabinet.

She has also said the Government never intended such extreme results. And she has refused to say she was happy with the Ministry of Education’s modelling – rather saying they had all learned lessons.

By the end of last week it was evident that the mitigation measure announced on Tuesday had had no effect.

The issue was gaining momentum as time went on, not losing it.

Support partners United Future’s Peter Dunne and the Maori Party’s Tariana Turia were voicing concerns. The media was having a field day.

The public seemed unaffected by the backdown to limit the damage to schools – the issue had been elevated to a matter of principle and pragmatism wasn’t cutting it.

The Prime Minister left for Europe on Thursday, the day Parata faced a noisy demonstration at Paremata, her home patch.

On Thursday and Friday senior ministers Joyce, Brownlee and English, were discussing whether to abandon the policy or to make a further backdown – to alleviate the cause of the policy distortion, the technology teachers’ allowance.

English was not convinced it should be abandoned as this would put the issue off-limits for years to come. Budget backdowns can weaken a Finance Minister as George Osborne is finding out in Britain, with his third this year.

Ministers went into Queen’s Birthday Weekend with the issue unresolved.

With Key away, English chaired Cabinet on Tuesday this week. He agreed to meet Sweeney beforehand to hear first-hand the concerns of the intermediate principals.

That day more debate was had. There were three options: hang tough and let it die down, make more changes to the policy, or abandon it.

Tuesday was the G7 meeting, a coalition of education sector groups uniting in their demands for a reversal of the policy. It was no day for a backdown by Government.

They did what most governments do when in doubt – do some polling – and decided to revisit the issue later in the week.

Parata headed north to Tolaga Bay on Wednesday to watch the passage of Venus across the face of the sun.

Key received the polling results in London on his Wednesday. They showed that the messaging around teacher quality resonated strongly, leading to the conclusion that the policy could have been accepted if it had been done properly.

But the polling also showed a huge depth of feeling against the changes.

Brownlee headed down to Parata’s office for a 10am conference call with Joyce, who was on his way back from Tolaga Bay, English, en route to Whakatane, and Key, who had recently arrived at his hotel in Hamburg.

Unless they backed down, the meeting concluded, they would be fighting it forever, and destroying the prospects of a promising and important minister.

The decision was obvious and it was announced by Parata at 2pm.

Murray’s Bay principal Colin Dale sent out his third newsletter on the subject soon afterwards headed “Government hears our Concerns”.

This time he wrote: “I am delighted to inform you that all the staff and Board of Trustees at Murray’s Bay Intermediate applaud the Government’s decision to keep the student teacher ratios as they are at present … They have listened and acted appropriately.”


Parata’s ‘small change’ becomes big disaster

John Hartevelt – Stuff

It was, we were told, a “small change” to the teacher-pupil ratios that fund schools. Even as it was announced, however, it was obvious there was nothing “small” about it.

A week before the Budget, Education Minister Hekia Parata rose from a pastry-and-fruit-juice-laden table at Wellington’s Duxton Hotel to tell a breakfast audience of business men and women that she was putting words into action.

“We are opting for quality not quantity, better teaching not more teachers,” she said.

Instead of the existing range of seven different funding ratios, there would, from next year, be only three.

New entrants would remain at 1:15, but every other year level would be changed – some for the better, some for the worse.

She did not say it, but it was immediately obvious this implied hundreds of thousands of pupils would be taught in bigger classes.

There was no way to be sure exactly how many, because New Zealand schools are autonomous about how they spread the resources they get from the government.

But there was no doubt those resources would be squeezed, narrowing the options for many schools. Ms Parata eventually disclosed estimates that showed 1010 schools would face cuts of varying degrees – in a few cases, funding for seven or eight teachers would vanish.

Yet even after abandoning the policy, both Prime Minister John Key and Ms Parata continued to insist their plan amounted to little more than a “modest” adjustment.

They still say tradeoffs are necessary if more resource is to be pumped into lifting teacher quality.

But experts – and even one of the Government’s own top education bureaucrats – question the logic and wisdom of a “tradeoff”.

In the first place, the amount proposed to be cut, $174million, was nearly three times as great as the amount proposed to be spent, $60m. And whereas the colour of the cuts was vivid in larger class sizes and possible technology centre closures, details of the spend were thin.

There was little more than vague promises to retain, grow and attract the “best talent” into the teaching profession.

All teachers will soon have to achieve a post-graduate qualification before joining the profession. A new teacher appraisal system will also be developed to better identify and reward “quality” – performance pay is likely. Ms Parata has also mentioned “stronger mentoring and coaching” for newly qualified teachers.

But even with the now-scrapped $60m extra spending, none of the measures on the upside of the “tradeoff” would have any impact until some years down the track, well after the downside from the cuts has been absorbed.

A FRUSTRATED Teachers Council director, Peter Lind, dished up a sweeping critique of the Government’s plan a day before the reversal was announced.

Dr Lind suggested a whole range of consequences had not been explored.

Though teacher numbers have grown by nearly 13 per cent against roll growth of only 2.5 per cent over the past decade, the proposed effective cap on the teacher workforce was not straightforward, particularly when the new post-graduate requirement was introduced.

“If I was a student now and looking at my particular options, if there wasn’t going to be an option for me to be employed in the next three, four or five years, I’d seriously think whether that’s a good option for me to take,” Dr Lind said.

A lot of money ploughed in to boosting teacher-training quality might be wasted if there was a dearth of jobs for graduates.

Dr Lind suggested that the Government had become fixated on certain aspects of “teacher quality” and wrongly assumed class sizes could be considered separate from quality teaching.

“One of the things about quality teaching is the ability to provide detailed feedback from assessment to students and learners. To be able to do that, you need to be able to provide teachers the opportunity to interact with their students in an effective way.”

A chorus of experts, on top of the teacher unions, on top of parents, seemed to recognise the significance of class size in quality, where the Government did not. Small class sizes support quality teaching and quality teaching becomes more difficult in larger classes.

But could large-enough gains in teacher quality out-do any detrimental effects from larger class sizes?

Victoria University’s dean of education, Professor Dugald Scott, thinks there are “huge gains” to be made from improving teacher quality.

Years of driving down class sizes appears to have done little to improve achievement, so perhaps it is worth considering a shift in priorities, he suggests.

“Probably adding two or three kids probably won’t make much difference, but adding 10 would,” Prof Scott says.

The gap between the top and bottom pupils within Kiwi schools is the widest in the developed world. Little more than half of all Maori and Pasifika pupils are achieving NCEA level 2.

“We have to look and say there are some teaching practices that seem to work better than others. We need to identify those and the circumstances in which they exist.”

Unions have challenged the view, however, that the education system is not responding to the challenge of improving its performance.

The overall pass rate for NCEA level 2 has climbed from 56.5 per cent in 2004 up to 65.7 per cent in 2010. And though only about 53 per cent of Maori and Pasifika pupils passed NCEA level 2 in 2010, that was a vastly better result than in 2004, when only one-third passed.

Dr Lind worried that the reforms announced by Ms Parata put the gains at risk.

“I don’t think we can say that we’re anywhere near where we want to be, but by the same token to get those extra gains does need a commitment in resourcing.”

– © Fairfax NZ News


Education weapon backfires on Nats

John Armstrong – NZ Herald

If Hekia Parata is to remain in the education portfolio for any length of time, she needs to stop spouting meaningless blather.

Repeatedly mouthing platitudes about being “passionate about raising student achievement” or “getting five out of five kids succeeding” – her latest piece of vapidity – is just not good enough coming from a front-bench minister.

Spin is one thing. Endlessly parroting a line is something else.

Someone of her seniority needs to display flexibility, even wit, and above all, the capacity to think on her feet, especially in Parliament where reputations can be built and destroyed in a matter of seconds.

It’s a question of knowing when to stonewall and when to be more forthcoming. The resort to platitudes suggests a lack of confidence when the political blow-torch is directed at her portfolio.

The truth is that the Education Minister’s botched handling of the cost-cutting blunder, which initially would have seen some schools losing up to five teacher positions, has brutally exposed her political shortcomings.

The Cabinet may have signed off the policy, but the buck stops with her as the responsible minister – something which, to her credit, she acknowledged while fronting Thursday’s backdown.

The previous talk of Parata being a future leader of the National Party may not be totally askew. John Key obviously rates her. Her career path, which includes time in the high-powered, intellectually challenging Prime Minister’s advisory unit, is positively stellar compared to some of her colleagues.

But politics demands the skills of an all-rounder. The past fortnight has revealed starkly how far she has to travel in that regard.

It now looks like her elevation to the front bench may have come too early. She was in the Cabinet for barely a year in very junior portfolios before her promotion to this role.

Little wonder she is struggling in a portfolio which has severely tested politicians of the calibre of Nick Smith, Trevor Mallard and Phil Goff in his younger days. Her poor showing has left her a passenger in the portfolio – as was the case with her predecessor, Anne Tolley.

The puzzle is why Key did not hand the portfolio to a more experienced MP from the start.

Education has been something of a Cinderella in National. As Opposition spokesman, Bill English made a substantial difference but his successors, Katherine Rich and then Tolley, didn’t have the same impact.

Unlike other leaders of his party, Key saw the potential to make education a political weapon that could work for National if it sided with consumers – parents – rather than the producers – teachers.

What National forgot in recent weeks was that the consumers had been told for years smaller classes were the end-game – not bigger ones.

The subsequent backlash has probably put paid to National’s intention of making education a major plank of its 2014 election campaign. It will now be counter-productive to try to do so. Opposition parties have enough ammunition to blow National out of the water.

The kudos National won from parents through national standards, offering a more accurate and honest assessment of their child’s progress at school, has been negated.

National is now very much on the defensive. It may be promising to fund the training of better teachers but parents know such a programme will not bear fruit overnight.

It will have to make much more effort selling the charter school trials for which there is little public enthusiasm.

National had played a clever game of divide-and-rule in the education sector. No longer. The latest schemozzle has had the opposite effect, uniting the lobby groups. It will now be more difficult for National to introduce performance pay for teachers.

Even worse, perhaps, for National is that this episode will inevitably resurrect voters’ doubts about whether the party can really be trusted at election time.

The complaint now is that National did not say anything about increasing teacher-pupil ratios in its election manifesto. But it was not looking at that time for possible budget savings.

A bigger beef can be made over Parata’s over-selling of spending initiatives in the Budget. She trumpeted an extra $511.9 million over four years.

Ministers use the four-year figure because that reflects the Treasury’s spending horizon. But ministers also refer to the four-year figure because it sounds like they have extracted substantial extra cash from a tight-wad Minister of Finance.

Year-by-year figures are not so flash. Asked by the Herald to provide an annual breakdown of the spending initiatives announced before last month’s Budget, Parata’s office was the only one of several in the Beehive which failed to supply it.

Fortunately, the Ministry of Education was not so reticent. The year-by-year amounts show, for example, that the four-year increase of $83 million in school operating grants totals only $12 million in the coming financial year.

The gutting of the revised teacher-pupil ratios means Parata will now also have to find savings of $174 million over four years to pay for those spending initiatives.

The more immediate question for National is just how big a hit it will take in the polls from the backlash.

Last week’s TVNZ poll recorded near 80 per cent opposition to bigger class sizes. But the question was too loaded to have any meaning. TV3’s poll this weekend may have been conducted too soon to have picked up any positives from the minister’s backdown.

It is always tempting to single out events which occurred in the polling period as responsible for shifts in party allegiance.

The reality is that simple cause-and-effect propositions do not apply unless events are truly extraordinary or are of truly cataclysmic proportions. If it were just cause and effect, party support levels would oscillate wildly like demented yo-yos.

There’s only one example of a sudden turnaround in support in the last decade – Don Brash’s Orewa speech on the Treaty. Its success was down to it tapping directly into a strong groundswell of anti-Treaty sentiment felt by people who were frustrated they could not voice their frustration. Brash did it for them.

In Parata’s case, the furore over teacher-student ratios may be the thing that tips the balance against National following a trail of mishaps and calamities in the first half of this year. Then again it may not.

Take the TVNZ poll which, despite the education meltdown, had National retaining the 47 per cent support it recorded at last year’s election. Parata will be grateful for that. She can only hope TV3’s poll is similarly obliging.

Hekia Parata should’ve asked one simple question

As the news of the Governments backdown over class sizes reaches Matipo, it’s worth reading this excellent opinion piece from TV3 Political Editor Duncan Garner.


I got home last night and my 12-year-old step daughter was waiting for me with a stern message: “We all hate John Key,” she exclaimed.

Why, I said – pretending to be shocked by it all, but secretly knowing what she was about to say.

“Well, he’s going to close our cooking and technology classes at our school. So we all hate him. And we’re writing him letters – no one likes him at our school anymore,” she said.

I won’t name the school. But whether or not she’s right, and whether or not this Government backpedals on its move to increase class sizes, the fallout is immense – and perception is reality – especially for the children and their mums and dads.

This change is seeping through the schools, to the teachers, to the kids, and they take that home to the parents – and parents vote.

It’s a cock-up. Nothing else, nothing less.

And all because the Education Minister, Hekia Parata, didn’t ask the right questions of the right people. Her eye was off the ball.

The Cabinet’s collective eyes were off the ball.

John Key’s move to save a paltry $43m by increasing class sizes in our intermediate schools has completely backfired.

It is a stuff-up of epic proportions – and all in the name of cost-cutting.

I have one question for Ms Parata – a question she should have asked the officials when this move was going through the Cabinet process.

It goes like this; who are the losers and winners from this change?

If the cuts amount to $43m of savings, who loses? Give me a list of the schools. She should have demanded the worst case scenario. It’s a basic question.

She should have known that – because surely experienced ministers before her have asked that question when she was in her role as a senior public servant.

Now the fallout looks hard to arrest.

And it’s given the teacher unions, who have been on the back foot with this Government, a chance to gain some kind of moral superiority.

They can reach out to parents once again – and say, this Government doesn’t care – this Government got it wrong.

And it might be hard to argue with that. It also looks sneaky.

The Government did not promise this during the 2011 election campaign when they released their education policy in the final week. Nothing anywhere near it.

It also released post-election education pledges, and again none of this featured.

They misled parents. If they had been upfront about their intent, they would have lost votes. I have no doubt about it.

But they kept their intentions under wraps.

I have applauded Key and Bill English in the past for being different to past National Party ministers. They are less gung-ho. They know credibility is hard won and easily lost. They make incremental changes. They don’t “think big”.

Key talks about sticking to his promises and taking the public with him. And he largely has. But on this one – he promised nothing, did the opposite, and lost the people.

He and his Cabinet misjudged and mismanaged it.

And as chair of the Cabinet, Key probably has to take responsibility for that.

But he has been let down by his rising ‘star’ Parata.

She was promoted because she looked good and sounded better. She was a high achieving Maori woman in a party historically dominated by white men. What a coup. But over the past fortnight – it’s counted for nothing.

She’s looked poor and sounded even worse. She’s sounded like a backpedalling public servant who is making it up on the hoof.

She and her Government went from claiming it’s about quality not quantity, to saying no teachers would be lost, to saying seven teachers per school could be lost then saying no more than two will be lost. What a disaster.

And it’s a disaster on Parata’s watch. This will damage her prospects. And it’s not over yet.

This Government is facing weeks and months of potential back downs over this. Key will have to return from Europe and cope with the fallout.

Teacher unions will not go away – this has revived them. This has pumped energy and oxygen into their cause.

The Prime Minister wanted a low-key two day Budget where the headlines disappeared quickly. He’s failed on that front. Because he and his newly promoted Education Minister didn’t do the due diligence.

No one asked the right questions.

Now the schools are fighting back.

The kids are angry. And the parents vote. They might even vote with their feet.

And that’s a disaster for Key – all in the name of $43m of savings. The fallout isn’t worth it.

Middle New Zealand is speaking out. Because Key, his Cabinet and especially his Education Minister didn’t do their homework.
And for that I give them all a D minus. Epic fail.

And now the voters, the mums and dads they talk about may decide to put Key and his ministers in detention.

If it’s a permanent detention – then that’s called expulsion.

So Key may indeed look back at Budget 2012 – and say, that’s when the rot set in.