A tactical retreat

May 30th, 2012 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Audrey Young at NZ Herald reports:

Schools will lose no more than two teaching positions under new class ratios in an embarrassing backdown by the Government after large intermediates were set to lose seven.

Education Minister Hekia Parata was forced to impose a cap after it became clear she could have a rebellion on her hands from schools and parents.

The $43 million a year that was to have been saved and diverted to improve teaching quality will be cut but Ms Parata did not know by how much.

Neither she nor Prime Minister John Key will admit that mistakes were made in calculating the effects of the new policy and yesterday she announced the cap as “good news”.

I think it is clear there was a mistake. The overall policy decision is still one I support – that given limited funding the priority should be on improving teacher quality rather than . But this was sold on the basis of a minor impact on schools and class sizes – 90% of schools having no or only a one teacher reduction.

It became apparent that some schools, mainly intermediates, would have an impact greater than minor. I’ve seen e-mails from principals talking of a 10% staffing cut. Hence the Government has moved to cap any loss at two teachers – which will probably be done by attrition.

There is a lesson here for Ministers when looking at changes like this. You can’t just look at the average impact. You need to get very detailed information on the tail, or those most affected. They are the ones whose impact will make the media. If (for example) 15 DHBs are getting extra funding of 3% and one DHB is getting a 10% funding cut, then I can guarantee the story will not be that 15 DHBs are getting 3% more, or even that funding is up 2.5% overall. You always need to be aware of those most impacted, and then if necessary mitigate that impact.

So overall not well handled by the Government. A lesson for the future.

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42 Responses to “A tactical retreat”

  1. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    How long until the government promises that no school will lose any teaching positions? I give it a week.

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  2. Elaycee (4,392 comments) says:

    milkmilo: for a person who was so pleased to return to the workforce recently, you sure spend a hell of a lot of time on the internet…..

    Or do you now work nights?

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  3. Cunningham (844 comments) says:

    Yep it was a bit of a shocker which is a shame because it took all the focus away from what they are trying to do (with regards to significantly investing to improve quality which I think is great and long overdue). The union have now been handed the advantage and the Government will struggle to get the upperhand again I suspect.

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  4. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    Why do you care so much?

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  5. YesWeDid (1,048 comments) says:

    Almost makes you pine for the ‘good old days’ when Anne Tolley was in charge.

    The mistake here isn’t from only looking at ‘average impact’, the mistake here is a fundamental lack of understanding of how our schools are actually run.

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  6. berend (1,709 comments) says:

    The National socialists: even they can’t centrally plan schools.

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  7. Luc Hansen (4,573 comments) says:

    I’m interested in DPF’s access to principals emails. Can we see them too, please?

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  8. trout (939 comments) says:

    The Government has handled this very badly. There is a debatable issue but it has not been well explained. The number of teachers in the system has apparently increased by 12% since 2002 and pupil numbers have gone up only 2%. Schools have been manipulating teacher pupil ratios to bring in paid instructors for feel good activities: media studies, kapa haka, etc. – it is like the night school debacle all over again. Against this is the failure of schools to properly teach kids reading, writing, and maths – this is where the Govt. wants to direct resources.

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  9. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    Got any evidence that schools are not properly teaching reading, writing and maths, trout?

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  10. BeaB (2,123 comments) says:

    Well said, Trout. I am staggered at the ridiculous lists of activities and subjects primary principals have been trotting out, expecting a pat on the back. I think they need to stick to their knitting. Then we might not have the embarrassing failing tail – or the dismal primary science teaching. It is also a worry hearing them say Maori students prefer technical subjects!

    It is also a problem having a new minister and a new CEO who is unfamiliar with our education system. Hekia needs some very reliable advisers or else there will be more debacles like this one with a Pommy CEO who lacks depth of knowledge of NZ.

    Of course, bulkfunding of teachers salaries, just as property and opertaions are bulkfunded already, would solve the problem.

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  11. Mark (1,488 comments) says:

    David this is simply dumb policy and the thinking that putting more kids in classrooms will somehow improve teacher quality as the less able teachers will be forced out of the profession is at best wildly hopeful. The more likely outcome is that the extra pressure and lack of proper resourcing will drive the best teachers to look for work in private schools that sell themselves on lower class sizes as providing kids with a real learning advantage or possibly they may chose to leave the profession and the state schools will be left with average teachers under greater pressure teaching more kids less well.

    Makes all sorts of sense.

    The reality is that schools will cope with this change by cutting programmes as many schools already have classes with more than 30 kids.

    It will be drama, technology, reading support and maths support that are lost as principals try to balance the funding cuts. The more likely outcome that the ‘tail’ constantly referred to by Parata will get larger.

    National has been trying desperately to dress this up as sort of education enhancement when in fact is is a straight funding cut. Who are they trying to convince?

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  12. Mark (1,488 comments) says:

    trout (683) Says:
    May 30th, 2012 at 2:47 pm
    The Government has handled this very badly. There is a debatable issue but it has not been well explained. The number of teachers in the system has apparently increased by 12% since 2002 and pupil numbers have gone up only 2%. Schools have been manipulating teacher pupil ratios to bring in paid instructors for feel good activities: media studies, kapa haka, etc. – it is like the night school debacle all over again. Against this is the failure of schools to properly teach kids reading, writing, and maths – this is where the Govt. wants to direct resources.

    Trout I am on a school BOT and certainly at our school any extra paid instructors we have brought in have been for
    – Reading recovery
    – Mathematics recovery
    – Special need support which does not meet the ORS requirement but is essential and which is woefully under resourced by the government
    – mathematics extension

    now sadly these changes will sorely test our schools ability to maintain these programmes and so the tail will grow.

    Our school has Kapa Haka but it is not funded by anyone and is totally run by volunteer support, the kids also do Drama and technology neither of which I would consider feel good subjects and it would be a sadly grey world if we elect not to teach kids drama, art or technology because they are not part of the National Standards programme.

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  13. trout (939 comments) says:

    @MM According to the MOE intermediate schools just meeting international standards in the teaching of reading, and writing, but are way behind in maths.

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  14. Cunningham (844 comments) says:

    Mark (556) funding increased dramatically under Labour but the ourtcomes did not really rise. The research shows that quality is MORE important then class size (granted class size makes a difference as well). You can dress it up however you want but the government doesn’t have the money to focus on both quality and reducing class size. I would much prefer a focus on quality rather then the Labour party ‘throw money at everything and who gives a shit if it works’ approach.

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  15. bc (1,367 comments) says:

    Mark @ 3.28pm
    Nicely said. Good to hear from someone actively involved in how schools are run.

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  16. Mark (1,488 comments) says:

    If we look at the first 4 private school web sites I visited.

    Kings College Prospectus
    Class sizes are limited and a low pupil-to-teacher
    ratio ensures students are given greater
    individual attention in the classroom.

    St Kents/Corran
    With a reputation for excellence, the benefit of small classes, individual attention and programmes tailored for the specific needs of girls, Saint Kentigern School for Girls -Corran opens a ‘world of opportunity’ for the young people who take their educational journey with us.

    Chilton St James
    a quality education taught in classes of no more than 24 students by specialist teachers

    Scots College
    The College is characterised by small class sizes, tutor groups, personalised pastoral care and academic support.

    I have no argument that we want quality teachers but increasing class sizes is not going to address this at all. It is absolutely clear that the private schools all believe lower class sizes lead to better educational outcomes

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  17. bc (1,367 comments) says:

    Parata & Key have handled this terribly. It’s been like a comedy of errors.

    Key was saying yesterday morning that immediate schools may have to get rid of up to 10 teachers if they don’t cut back on technology programmes.
    Then at 1pm there’s an announcement that “only” two teachers per school will be lost, an announcement that seems to come out of nowhere and seems to be have been thought up on the spot as some kind of damage control. Rather than admit that they had stuffed up they babble on how there is money after all for the ‘transition’ and it was always their plan (cue Tui billboard).
    Why is it 2 teachers per per school? For a school like Rangitoto College with 200 teachers, that’s only 1% of their staffing so probably not significant. But for a school of 20 teachers, that’s 10% of their staffing – a huge difference.
    It also comes out that Maori immersion schools won’t have their their ratios cut. So one minute Parata is saying that increased class sizes won’t make a difference, but then saying it will for Maori. Which is it, Minister?
    The media have also wised-up to Parata’s style where she doesn’t answer the question and just talks continuously on what she wants to say hoping that no one notices. Even the walrus on Close Up last night, who is hardly the most effective interviewer, was able to cut through her bullshit.
    The opposition have also got her sorted her out. They ask very specific questions, then when she does her usual spiel of not answering gets the speaker to insist she answers them (or at least make some attempt to answer the question).
    When at question time yesterday she announced that schools having to lose 2 teachers was “good news” the whole parliament laughed at the stupidity of her answer. Even Lockwood Smith shook his head in disbelief.
    Then in the Herald today there is a list of National MP’s who (surprise, suprise) sends their children to private schools. Incredibly some National MP’s REFUSE to say if they send their children to a state school or a private school, which is hardly a good look. John Key’s daughter goes to St. Cuthberts who proudly states that they have class sizes no more than 15 so students can get the benefit of more effective teaching and learning. So class sizes matters to John Key when it comes to his own children obviously.
    And that’s the heart of the issue – it matters to parents. And parents are VOTERS.

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  18. rolla_fxgt (311 comments) says:

    Personally I suspect someone at the ministry of education knew about the effect on intermediates, but kept quiet for political/ideological reasons.
    I’m not sure that the ministry is stupid enough not to raise it otherwise.

    There’s not a better case I can think of in recent memory where a Minister has been made to look so stupid, and really the ministry has to take the blame for that. And I can’t think of any reason apart from making the minister look stupid/dissagreeing with policy, as a reason why the Ministry wouldn’t raise this issue with the minister.

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  19. Mark (1,488 comments) says:

    rolla_fxgt (218) Says:
    May 30th, 2012 at 5:05 pm
    Personally I suspect someone at the ministry of education knew about the effect on intermediates, but kept quiet for political/ideological reasons.

    RF surely Parata is not that dim that she did not understand the implications of this daft policy

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  20. Richard29 (377 comments) says:

    DPF: “The overall policy decision is still one I support – that given limited funding the priority should be on improving teacher quality rather than class size.”

    All things being equal I would agree with you – but all things are not equal – ‘teacher quality’ is a difficult thing to measure and there are a bunch of factors that impact it not all of which are simple – you can’t just press the ‘lift quality’ button and receive simple measurable gains. Class size is a very simple thing to measure and an increase or decrease pretty easy to achieve through a basic funding formula.

    Both class size and teacher quality are improve student outcomes, teacher quality improves them slightly more.

    So the minister is taking an action that we know will be negative for students and worsen outcomes in order to invest in a policy that we hope will be easily achieved and improve outcomes by more than the amount that we just worsened them. The saying goes that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Making this policy change is at best risky and at worst reckless.

    As a parent few things matter more to me than the education outcome for my child. Educational outcomes would have to improve in a significant measurable way between the announcement of this policy and the election for most parents to consider this policy decision to be a smart move. Given the time scales involved to make the policy change, roll the training out to teachers nationwide and see the results in student outcomes I think this is all but impossible to achieve in sub 2.5 years.

    Call me crazy – but when it comes to investing in the future economic development of the country I’d prefer not to cut the $40 million from manageable class sizes and maybe reduce our spend on roads of national significance from 14 billion to 13.96 billion. What does that work out to – a three month delay in delivering Puhoi to Wellsford motorway extension or an extra 10c on a road toll?

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  21. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    Ha ha, so according to some the Minister is brilliant but is being undermined by the bureaucrats. I’d like to see evidence of that, but of course there is none. The Minister is a popular generator of feel-good soundbites, but that’s all.

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  22. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    Richard29
    Yes, maybe we should do some cost-benefit calculations on teacher numbers. We might even find that increasing teacher numbers is a better investment than a motorway that has a nett negative economic benefit.

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  23. kiwigunner (230 comments) says:

    And it may be a retreat but the war is not over. In a 5 teacher school 1 teacher is 20% of teachers. Current funding for 5 teachers allows for total roll of 125 children (the 6th teacher kicks in at 126). If you have 15 in Year One as Parata suggests then the balance in the over four classes is 36 kids in each class – I don’t think anyone supports 36 6 year olds in a classroom.

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  24. bc (1,367 comments) says:

    On the news the cameras flash as Parata watches a kapa haka group from an Intermediate school and then gets a framed painting from a student.
    The principal then announces to the media that the girl that presented the picture is in an extention art class that will have to be cut due to the changes that Parata is making.
    Parata’s response “I don’t think the principal will close that class”

    Priceless!

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  25. orewa1 (410 comments) says:

    An absurd policy that has started Parata off on a really bad footing as Minister of Schools.

    This budget can be summarised as “Fewer teachers + more tax inspectors = a Brighter Future – yeah right!”

    Also shows the breathtaking incompetence of the Ministry of Education. Who signed off this whacky idea without looking at the disproportionate impact on intermediates??

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  26. Mellie (39 comments) says:

    Trying to sell teacher cuts as part of raising student achievement – how stupid does the national government think New Zealanders are? Their election line promises of ‘No frontline cuts’ is in tatters as they spend children’s learning to save dollars.

    The end result of such actions will affect those children most at risk, as less teachers in public schools means less time for each student. Our education system is currently in the top four of the OECD. Sadly, it won’t stay there for long under these sorts of policies.

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  27. tom hunter (4,838 comments) says:

    A lesson for the future.

    In addition to National Standards?

    The only lesson that National should learn here is that our gigantic state education system is simply not reformable from the top down, whether by the imposition of “standards” or anything else. It is time to stop the head-on confrontation of this behemoth and start to go around it.

    May I take this opportunity to plead – for the umpteenth time – for National to enlist the parents in this reform effort, and to do so by the straight-forward ruling of making the money follow the student.

    No other single change would have as great an effect on slowly reforming the whole system to start turning out students with skills that people are willing to pay a living wage for.

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  28. Luc Hansen (4,573 comments) says:

    It’s not gigantic, quite the reverse. It’s a top performing system that is run on the cheap. Go and check the OECD figures.

    I can tell you as a parent, we like teachers and hate this kind of shit.

    Say, are government funded private schools reducing their already small class sizes too?

    Silly me for asking.

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  29. bc (1,367 comments) says:

    It’s do as I say, not do as I do Luc, ie your kids will be fine in a class of 35 as my child is in a class of 15 (MAXIMUM class size at St Cuthburts, the school that John Key sends his daughter to).
    Like Millie, I wonder how stupid the Government thinks parents are. The Government seem to be totally bewildered that people are upset about it. They also seem surprised that parents are smart enough to realise that the so called quantity v quality argument is just a red herring.

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  30. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    So tom’s lesson learned is that the government should propose much more sweepingly disastrous reforms to our world-class schooling system. Nice comic touch.

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  31. Yvette (2,819 comments) says:

    When all the dust has settled from the Government doing its U-turn, maybe some will realise it was never going to have happened any case to certain schools.
    Why?

    Maori immersion schools will be exempt from increases in class size announced in this year’s Budget – a move critics have labelled unfair.
    Associate Minister of Education Pita Sharples announced yesterday that kura kaupapa and wharekura would not be subject to the cap on teacher numbers that will increase class sizes and save the Government $43 million a year.
    … “This move demonstrates either there’s discrimination in favour of one racial group, or the theory that small class sizes are important for education.”
    Labour’s education spokeswoman, Nanaia Mahuta, said: “It’s further evidence that smaller class sizes in those kura work well for Maori students, so why not for all students.”
    Dr Sharples also announced that the Government would spend $76.4 million over four years to improve Maori students’ results.
    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10808336
    `

    5:30 am Friday May 25, 2012 – so before all the shit hit the fan

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  32. tom hunter (4,838 comments) says:

    our world-class schooling system. Nice comic touch.

    Indeed. Not so funny for all those students finishing school each year with insufficient skills to get well-paid work – the ones that are not submitted for PISA testing.

    Developments in education are going to go around the current system anyhow. Apparently that’s a lesson few teachers, no teachers union in the world, and apparently not yourself mm, have learned. The government may as well help that process along, rather than trying to reform Borders so that Amazon does not eat their lunch.

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  33. kiwigunner (230 comments) says:

    So come on, why should classes be low in number in Kura Kaupapa and not in mainstream?

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  34. Luc Hansen (4,573 comments) says:

    Tom

    We don’t submit kids for PISA testing. PISA do the selection, if that’s the right word.

    Do you understand the meaning of randomised?

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  35. Paulus (2,627 comments) says:

    Heard one Intermediate principal say the he doesn’t really care what Parata and Key think about teachers, as they will get what they want anyway.

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  36. Mark (1,488 comments) says:

    Parata was at her bumbling best yesterday trying to answer the media questions on the erosion of the $173.9 million of savings because of the backtracking. Initially they are being eroded but yesterday she must have turned the page on her briefing paper and they have alreading made provision. Which is it because it’s pretty clear that Parata wouldn’t have a clue.

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  37. Greg_M (2 comments) says:

    Boy some of you guys are being tough on Hekia. She has the toughest job in New Zealand and I have every sympathy for her. She has to manage a group of people who refuse to be managed (50,000 of the buggers). They are a bunch of ‘smarties’ who think they know it all and scream like stuck pigs when anyone suggests otherwise. Nearly $10 billion dollars a year is spent on education and I for one want to know that the best result is being achieved for the money.

    Just to balance the biased self serving dogma peddled by these pedagogues – I went to the PISA site (pisa.oecd.org) and found some really good unbiased research. Here’s two interesting quotes: “School systems considered successful spend large amounts of money on education, and tend to prioritise teachers’ pay over smaller classes.” and “high performing education systems … often prioritise the quality of teaching over other choices, including class size”. I especially liked the research I found because it wasn’t full of the usual lefty -isms that can be found in the local research provided by the principals associations et al.

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  38. bc (1,367 comments) says:

    I have no symapthy whatsoever Greg, She chose to go down this path.
    Teachers work co-operatively and are outcome focussed. It is one of their biggest strengths.
    So what does Parata do? Rather than work with people in the sector to find a solution she comes in all guns blazing. She has absolutely zero consultation with the education community. Instead she makes an announcement at a breakfast of business people!
    When you dropped a bombshell and you are told it’s ‘my way or the highway’, how are you supposed to react? Lie down and take it?
    But it’s not only teachers and principals. Parents, ie voters, and probably students will be feeling pretty let down too. After all we were all told as an election promise that there will be no cuts to frontline staff – police, teachers, nurses.
    Remember that?
    So another promise broken.

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  39. Luc Hansen (4,573 comments) says:

    Greg

    Good on you for going to the PISA site. Most unusual for this blog, seeking facts, that is.

    But do you understand the meaning of the term “cherry picking”?

    And did you bother to check on the results tables, while you were there?

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  40. Mark (1,488 comments) says:

    Greg
    Thats a pretty selective sound bite from the PISA site. Suggest you read on a bit and look at some of the tables that show

    The statistical data might just suggest that NZ has a well performing education sector. It aint perfect but its pretty damned good. I suggest you extend your Internet research a little and head to the websites of the private schools in NZ. The consistent message – smaller class sizes provide more individual attention for kids and better education outcomes, now that’s a surprise.

    As for Parata, yes she has a tough portfolio, always has been for this national government, Tolley made a meal of it and Parata is simply looking well out of her depth. A lack of engagement with principals and teachers may have something to do with it. She might find engaging with her front line a little more may go some way to improving both her relationship with the unwashed 50000 and the educational outcomes for our kids. (She should also read her briefing papers before engaging with the media, then she might not make the errors that make her look and bit worse than average).

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  41. Greg_M (2 comments) says:

    Hi Guys, I did download the relevant pdf and intend to read it this weekend. It is 308 pages after all. When you say ‘cherry picking’, I reject that completely – I didn’t search for obscure sentences and take them out of context. The quotes provided are in complete alignment with the conclusions of the document and thus of the OECD.

    I agree that New Zealand is performing well now but really so what? – should we just cruise along doing what we’ve always done or should we now think more clearly about what the next steps should be. I think this is an issue of continuous improvement which is a process every organisation should be engaged in. As a parent I all I see is a set of people who are dogmatically sticking to their own mantra and who willfully and arrogantly reject any outside input.

    Just a note regarding engaging the minister engaging properly with teachers and principals – given your track record of, frankly, abusing and attempting to humiliate education ministers you don’t like I would say it is the education fraternity who need to take a good long hard look at themselves not the minister.

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  42. Mark (1,488 comments) says:

    Greg
    Firstly you jumped to the rash conclusion that I am from the teaching fraternity, just to clear that up for you I am not but have a direct interest as a parent. As for humiliating the education ministers is something that they do well enough on their own without any assistance from outside I venture to suggest and pointing out the obvious is hardly being abusive but then then criticising national cabinet ministers is a bit of a sacred cow in this blog.

    No one is suggesting that the education system cannot be improved by I have yet to meet an educator who supports the view that increasing class sizes is the appropriate path. If you mean by dogmatic mantra that smaller class sizes lead to better quality outcomes, I am guilty along with just about all teachers I have spoken to and with the principals and Boards of just about every private school in NZ, have a look at their web sites. The logic is fairly compelling after all.

    In fact in May 2005 John Key was asked in an interview
    Why do your send your kids to private schools?

    Answer
    “Mostly educational reasons. Their schools have smaller class sizes and are better resourced than most state schools.”

    mmmm so class sizes don’t matter now it is the quality of teaching. right

    The leap of logic that Parata is trying to convince us of is that by increasing class sizes only the poorer teachers exit and the good ones stay. I have to say it is a leap of logic that is a stretch for me to grasp. Quite possibly the good teachers under the extra burden may simply say fuck it and do something else.

    That National has not engaged with the teaching profession is obvious. Whether this is philosophical because teachers are highly unionised or because they know the policy will not stand scrutiny, not having the professionals in the conversation will lead to a poorer outcome. The continuous organisational improvement you would like to see is laudable and which I readily support is unlikely be realised without talking to those doing the job. I certainly engage with and listen to my staff in my business because it makes bloody good sense.

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