There was an air of excitement, tension and hope at last night’s Tick For Kids education forum in Wellington. The room was packed, and people were very keen to hear what the parties’ representatives have to say about education policy.
Kiwis are no fools, though, with people well aware of what Chris McKenzie called the pre-election lolly scramble to present popular policy, only 10% of which we might see post-election.
Given what we have heard so far and what was presented at this forum, we can only hope that far more than 10% of the promises come to fruition should there be a change in government.
So, to the night.
The panel comprised Hekia Parata (National), Chris Hipkins (Labour), Tracey Martin (NZ First), Peter Dunne (United Future), Chris McKenzie (Maori Party), Suzanne Ruthven (Greens), and Miriam Pierard (Internet-Mana) and was MCed very well by Dave Armstrong.
The candidates’ names were drawn from a bowl to determine the order in which they spoke – all very fair and orderly – and Armstrong made clear that people were welcome to mention each other, refer to other parties’ policies, and so on – unlike the shambles at Helensville the previous night. That got a big giggle.
(Clearly the Helensville event wasn’t run by Tick For Kids, otherwise it would have been far more interesting and informative.)
First up was Chris McKenzie (Maori Party)
McKenzie outlined a credible background in education and then won a significant ripple of applause when he said the Maori Party will reinstate ACE (Adult and Community Education) funding.
McKenzie also said they would make Te Reo compulsory and would look into the teaching of civics so that students understand the democratic process.
Given I had spent 90 minutes the night before trying to explain that very thing to my babysitter, I could well understand the need for civics in the curriculum. Maybe my high school colleagues can fill me in on what they feel is needed?
Peter Dunne (United Future) was up next
Dunne spoke mostly in generalities, with lots of feel good stuff about great teaching and high expectations, saying he wouldn’t be more specific as United Future’s policy is not out until next week!
He did, however, go out on a high note by stating UF would work to repeal charter schools.
Cue more audience applause.
Hekia Parata (National; Education Minister) was the next to take centre stage
Parata started by saying that student achievement had risen during National’s time in government and that now students are staying in school longer, saying that there was still more to do, especially for the neediest groups.
There was a wee round of clapping from one corner of the room. I later spotted that group leaving with Ms Parata – whether anyone *not* in her entourage clapped, I cannot say for sure…
Parata then said that special education needs was a key area of focus, and this elicited mumbling from the audience, most of whom are no doubt well aware that SEN provision is diabolical and has only got worse under this government. For my own part, it was all I could do to stay quiet and not shout “Tell that to Salisbury School!”
Parata continued on to say that Investing in Education Success (IES) policy would see to it that those issues are all addressed. This did not go down well with the audience. There was muttering.
Parata ended with a flourish by pronouncing “decile is not destiny” and banging the lectern. It might have gone down well were it not for the fact that teachers KNOW THAT already and don’t take kindly to being patronised. If she was waiting for a round of applause for her showmanship, she was disappointed.
And if showmanship is what was called for, we were in luck, because the next person to speak was Tracey Martin (New Zealand First), who always gives a clear and excellent speech.
Tracey Martin (New Zealand First)
Martin pulled no punches, opening by saying that teachers and the education system have been under constant attack by this government and it’s been relentless. She listed what we have seen from National: increased class sizes, charter schools, national standards and more.
Martin said parents were tricked into supporting (or at least not fighting) National Standards by the promise that they would be helpful, but said that’s not turned out to be the case.
In other words, the sales pitch doesn’t match what’s delivered.
The audience seemed to agree, with a large clap and mutterings of “too right”.
There was no pause as Martin went straight into EDUCANZ and the assault on teachers’ democracy. More clapping.
Martin then made absolutely clear that NZF would repeal both National Standards and charter schools. Applause from the room.
She went on to say that the conversation about how to improve education needs to be given back to teachers, that the sector itself needs to be involved and listened to.
She said change should be driven by teachers and facilitated by politicians, not the other way around.
Barely pausing for breath, Martin said Boards of Trustees (BOTs) would get compulsory training under NZF plans, ORS funding would increase to 3%, and there would be more money for special needs across the board.
This was all very well received by the audience, and Martin ended by saying (in a wee dig at Dunne) that New Zealand First’s education policy is already online, in full, and had been there for three months. She urged us all to read it. You should.
Suzanne Ruthven (Green Party)
Tracey Martin was a hard act to follow, but Suzanne Ruthven from the Green Party (who was standing in for Catherine Delahunty due to a family emergency) spoke to the effect of poverty on a student’s chances of success, said that education needed to be seen in its wider context, and outlined briefly the Green Party’s School Hubs Policy.
Ruthven explained that School Hubs would be flexible, there was money there for a Hub coordinator so that teachers were not expected to run them on top of their workload, and that schools and communities to mould them in whatever ways best suited their own needs.
And now to Chris Hipkins (Labour)
Chris started by saying he got a top rate education in a state school, and thanked his maths teacher who he had spotted at the back of the room.
He won the crowd over further by quoting Beeby:
“…every person, whatever his level of academic ability, whether he be rich or poor, whether he live in town or country, has a right, as a citizen, to a free education of the kind for which he is best fitted, and to the fullest extent of his powers.” C E Beeby
Without a pause for breath, Hipkins said charter schools would be repealed under Labour. National Standards would be gone. IES would be gone. School donations would be addressed.
He then said the Advisory Service would be put back in place, and the audience erupted into applause and cheers.
He went on – ECE would be funded to 100% qualified staff – more clapping
– and EDUCANZ would be ditched – HUGE applause and cheers, again, from the audience.
Hipkins sat down with the clapping still going.
Miriam Pierard was next up
Pierard explainsed that until very recently she was a teacher, and she believes once a teacher always a teacher.
It is, she says, time to take the education system back.
Pierard was clear that poverty and education need to be addressed together and that any government must work alongside teachers to find solutions. She stressed that the Internet Party want to hear from teachers about what they believe needs to be done.
Pierard reminds the crowd that ACT Party describe teachers as “vile” and says not all politicians feel that way.
Pierard ends by asking how many teachers in the room have been stuffed over by Novopay? Over half the hands went up. There’s applause for the recognition of the scale of the problem. She nods, sagely.
We all nod.
And with that, the candidates’ speeches are over, and we are onto Question Time… which deserves a post all of its own….
Other articles about the event: