17 mins to read

Labour’s policy to reduce class sizes more popular than National’s policy to pay good teachers more

A 3News-Reid Research poll finding. PLUS:  Education debate — National's Hekia Parata vs Labour's Chris Hipkins.

Sun, 17 Aug 2014

A 3News-Reid Research poll has found Labour’s policy to reduce class sizes more popular than National’s policy to pay good teachers more.

The poll found 52% support for Labour’s policy versus 40% in favour of National’s (8% didn't know)

Of National voters, nearly a quarter (24%) preferred Labour’s policy (69% of National voters favoured National’s policy, 7% didn’t know).



RAW DATA: The Nation transcript: Patrick Gower hosts an education debate with National’s Hekia Parata and Labour’s Chris Hipkins

Watch the interview here

Patrick Gower: Thanks, Lisa. And Hekia Parata and Chris Hipkins, thank you very much for joining us. Well, we saw the results there. Chris Hipkins, Labour's policy is more popular, so we'll start with you, Hekia Parata. What is actually wrong with having fewer kids in the classroom? Is there anything actually wrong with having fewer kids in the classroom?

Hekia Parata: Oh, not at all, but nevertheless, you still need really good teaching practice, however many you have. Very few of us remember how many kids were in our class, but we remember whether we had a good teacher or not. And the next thing to know is that it's not one or the other. In the past five years, teacher numbers have increased by 15%, while student numbers have increased by less than 1%. So it's both about having the right number of teachers, and it's about ensuring that there's good quality teaching practice across the education system.

Chris Hipkins, you heard the minister there. I mean, she's saying there is fewer kids in the classroom. What's your policy all about, then?

Chris Hipkins: Well, no, there aren't fewer kids in the classroom. I think—

Well, the minister—

Hipkins: But I do agree with one point that Hekia just made, which is it's not either or. Actually, smaller class sizes does lead to better quality teaching. Every parent knows that the more one-on-one time their child has with the teacher, the better the quality of the learning experience is going to be. So smaller class sizes contribute to a number of things that are really effective. So class sizes themselves shouldn't be isolated out as being a silver bullet, but they contribute to a number of other things that will help to improve student achievement.

But that's the problem here. Because voters have a choice, it is one or the other.

Parata: No, but that's the point I'm making. It isn't one or the other. We've already increased the number of teachers that are in our education system.

It's $400 million each way. You don't get both.

Parata: My point is that in the last five years, the number of teachers have increased in our system. We've also, in this policy, focused on how we raise the teaching practice across the system. In addition, of course, we've linked up all our schools are in the process of doing that, connecting them to digital technology. We're creating more modern learning environments where innovative teaching is what we're focusing on as much as the more traditional aspects.

OK, Minister, can you guarantee, then, class sizes the same as what Labour is promising? Can you guarantee that smaller class sizes?

Parata: What we're focused on is how does every child get a better education, and the evidence is really clear that they are getting a better education.

Yes or no — can you guarantee class sizes—?

Parata: Well, no, because that question—

OK, you can't, so, Chris Hipkins, what—?

Parata: But you're making that a question as if that itself correlates to good education.

Chris Hipkins, I'll bring you in here, then. What is so wrong with improving the quality of teachers and paying good teachers more?

Hipkins: Oh, it's vitally important that we improve the quality of teaching, and we're focused on ways that we can actually do that. We've gone out—

Yeah, but what about paying the good teachers more as well? What is wrong with that? What is wrong with this policy?

Hipkins: Paying a principal, for example, an extra $40,000 a year to spend two days out of their own school, trying to supervise the work of up to 10 other schools, isn't going to improve the quality of teaching.

But that's not all of the policy, because what we do know is that some of the teachers stay in the classroom. I mean, even the PPTA like National's policy, don't they? Do you agree with that? They think it's a good policy?

Hipkins: There are aspects of the policy that are supported, including things like extra inquiry time, extra release time. Schools will be able to provide that with the extra teaching hours that we're going to be providing them, if that's the way they choose to allocate those. We're actually putting a lot of the responsibility back into the hands of schools, rather than government coming in and saying, 'We're gonna impose a new managerialist structure over top of them.'

Parata: We're not imposing. We've made it very clear that this is an opt-in policy, and it does work on all the really well-evidenced and common sense feedback we get — that is that teachers learn best from other teachers; that New Zealand has a history of really good pockets of excellence but very great difficulty in getting those spread across the system. This is the opportunity to do that. We already have a lot of release time — 4.5 million hours' worth per year where teachers are often out of the classroom, developing their teaching practice. What this initiative does is make that systematic and less ad hoc.

Yeah, so, Chris Hipkins, what is wrong with that? Because you know the arguments. All the evidence shows that it is about improving teacher quality. You've even just admitted that before. Your policy is just based on poll results, isn't it? People like it.

Hipkins: Not at all. Actually, there are better ways to improve teacher quality. So we've looked at the evidence and the research as well, and one of the things we can do, for example, is re-establish a good school advisory service, cos teachers actually know the areas where they're not doing well. Most classroom teachers — if you sit down with them and say, 'What are the things that you want to improve your skills on?' — they'll be able to tell you that. But there's no proactive support available for them, because this government actually cut the funding for school advisory services and just about everything other than literacy and numeracy. And actually, science and the arts—

Let's pick up on school funding. Let's pick up on school funding, cos that—

Parata: That's not true.

...cos we wanna talk about that. Do we have a free education system? And, Chris Hipkins, you go first.

Hipkins: We should have a free education system.

Do we have one?

Hipkins: We don't at the moment.

Hekia Parata, do we have a free education system?

Parata: The government funds 100% of the New Zealand curriculum. At $10.1 billion, that's the highest ever that's been invested in education.

OK, so why are parents paying up to $300 in donations or fees to their schools?

Parata: It has always been the case that—

$350 million in total, it's estimated, actually paid in fees and donations on the supposedly free education system.

Parata: Based on schools' own reporting in the 2013 year, 1.8% were donations that went into our entire education system.

$350 million. 1.8% is quite a lot of the whole entire education system.

Parata: Well, no, it's less than that I can't remember the figure, and I don't want to be inaccurate, but it is less than that. The point is that the government funds 100% of the curriculum. If parents in a community want additional things, that's something they negotiate with their school, and if that is the case, then that's what donations mean. But they aren't required to pay for those. I think it is unreasonable to expect that for choices over and above 100% of the curriculum should somehow be paid by all taxpayers. Those are school community by school community choices.

Chris Hipkins, donations only cover the basics.

Hipkins: Look, I think the stark reality is that school funding hasn't actually kept up with the cost of delivering the curriculum, and that is why schools are reliant more on donations than they have been in the past. Bill English actually decried this issue when he was in opposition and he was the opposition spokesperson for education, basically saying that government funding wasn't keeping up, and it was all down to Mum and Dad now to prop up schools. That problem's got worse since—

So what are you gonna do about it?

Parata: No, that problem hasn't got worse. No, hang on a minute. No.

Hipkins: It has got worse. Parents are paying more in donations now than they were when National became the government.

Parata: We have put $600 million net new dollars into operational grants over the last six budgets. They have either been in line with inflation or ahead of it. So, actually, we have corrected that particular issue.

Hipkins: So why are parents paying more in donations if that's the case?

Parata: Because parents are highly aspirational people, and they want more for their children, and my point is not to stop that happening, but for that to be a discussion between their school board and school about what are those additional things that they want to happen.

Hipkins: But that is putting enormous pressure on parents, and if you go to low decile schools, they might be asking parents for, say, a $30 a year donation and then collecting in about 30% of that. If you go to a wealthier school, they might be asking for a $300 a year donation, and they'll be collecting in the vast bulk of it. That's hugely unfair to say that parents should be relied upon to fund the cost of education. We have a free education system; the government should fund a free education system.

Parata: The government, at $10.1 billion— that is a 45% increase on what it was in 2008. And all of the operational grants, which is the discretionary amount that schools have to spend, have been in line with or slightly ahead of inflation. Those are the facts.

I want a quickfire question here — personal view. I'll start with you, Minister. The school year — should it start later so that kids and families can enjoy some more of summer? Yes or no — personal view.

Parata: Well, the start date, factually, of a school is up to a school, and it's across a period.

Chris Hipkins, I'll move on to you. Do you have a personal view on whether the school year should start later?

Hipkins: I'd leave that up to schools, quite frankly.

Parata: It is left up to schools.

Both of you don't have a view on something that parents and teachers—

Parata: Well, no, no, because—

We'll move on, we'll move on. You had a chance. Charter schools. Charter schools. Vanguard School are one of the new charter schools. Its roll's dropped from 104 to 93 students already, just after two terms. What's going on in there, Hekia Parata? What's going wrong?

Parata: First of all, any school, whatever kind, in its first year, does have a variable—

What's going wrong at Vanguard School?

Parata: ...does have a variable roll. I don't think anything's going wrong at Vanguard School. I visited the school, I've met with the students, I've met with the staff, and what I hear from the students there is that they are very happy, that they are learning in ways that meet their needs. A number of the kids there have been excluded or stood down from a range of other schools. Those kids go there because they choose to go there. No one is compelled to go to that school or any other of the partnership schools.

But, Chris, you're going to shut them down? You're gonna shut down charter schools?

Hipkins: Look, we don't need the model of charter schools. They don't have employ regi—

So you'll shut them down?

Hipkins: Yes, absolutely.

So where do these kids go? Where do these kids go? Because we know at Vanguard school, they've got discipline issues, and they go there because it has military-style discipline. Where do they go under Labour?

Hipkins: We've said we will look at that on a case-by-case basis. Some of the people—

Where would the—? But where would the kids go?

Hipkins: Well, I'm about to tell you. Just hold your breath for a second. Some of the people wanting to establish charter schools are actually trying to fill a genuine gap in the education system, and we'll work with them to ensure they can do that within the existing state school framework, because there are options for them within the existing state school framework. But the charter school legislation allows school to make a profit, be set up as profit—

Parata: That's untrue.

So some charter schools could become state schools?

Hipkins: It's quite possible that they could be integrated into the system or they could work within the existing state school framework.

OK, speaking of integration, here's another quickfire question. Try and do better this time, please. Yes or no — Destiny Church wants its funding to be integrated and wants taxpayer funding. Should it get it? Chris Hipkins, yes or no?

Hipkins: Any minister of education would have to consider an integration proposal based on—

Hekia Parata, yes or no? Should Destiny—?

Parata: By law, we have to consider any proposal made.

OK, so you failed to answer that quickfire as well.

Parata: I'm answering you factually.

Hipkins: It would actually land up the government in court if either of us made a decision on that application before it's even been seen, and then the taxpayer would end up paying for that through a judicial review. It would be irresponsible to do that.

National standards. Hekia Parata. Reading, writing, counting, all important, but this is the 21st century. Where's the science? Why isn't science up there as a priority?

Parata: National Standards are a way of reporting how the system as a whole is doing. When you go to the GP and you have your pulse taken and your blood pressure taken, neither you nor she thinks that's gonna fix your sore ear or your heart or your foot. It's a way of getting a handle on the underlying system.

But it's not whole; it's three things.

Parata: That's what national standards does. It's a way of understanding whether the system as a whole is working, and, actually, successful teaching is a rich, cross-curriculum, co-curriculum programme.

With three things in it. Chris Hipkins, you'd scrap national standards. What would you replace it with?

Hipkins: Kids are over-assessed in our schools. There are fantastic examples of how schools can report information to parents already, without national standards. National standards aren't national nor are they standard. They're being implemented variably across the country. They're no good measure of student progress at all.

Parata: They're getting better, and I think it's really disrespectful to teachers across the country who have been working really hard with the curriculum, ensuring that the assessment tools they use— and, by the way, there's no national standard test. It's a high-trust model. It relies on teachers' own judgement as to how well their kids are doing. That's the information we rely on. It's the highest-trust model in the world.

Here's a quickfire question. Te reo Maori in school. Te reo Maori in schools. Yes or no — Chris Hipkins.

Hipkins: Not compulsory, but certainly, I support it being more widely available.

Parata: Not compulsory, no.

OK, computers in schools. Chris Hipkins, how long would one of those students have, under Labour's policy, a free laptop?

Hipkins: From year five onwards, they would have access. It would be free, because we'd be asking parents to make a contribution.

Yeah, but how many years do they keep it for?

Hipkins: Well, they could replace it after a couple of years. I mean, the model is based on—

You pay for the replacement or is that free too?

Hipkins: None of it's free. If you look at the Manaiakalani model, which is what we've based our policy on, the kids get the device, their parents make a small payment on a weekly basis to help pay off the cost of it.

Parata: They pay a third.

Hipkins: After a period of time, it's paid off, and then if the school and the parents want to upgrade to get a new device, then that's an option as well.

Last quickfire question. What was your favourite subject at school, Hekia Parata?

Parata: English.

Chris Hipkins?

Hipkins: Yeah, I'd probably say History, actually.

OK, you actually did one. Thank you very much for your time, guys.

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Labour’s policy to reduce class sizes more popular than National’s policy to pay good teachers more