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Wairarapa Times-Age - 2021-06-11

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Teach our children well? With what

OPINION

EMILY IRELAND emily.ireland@age.co.nz

There is no doubt that changes are needed to improve New Zealand’s education system. The staffing system has not changed much since the 1990s, but the demand on teachers certainly has. More than 2650 written submissions were made to inform a ‘landmark’ report about education in New Zealand released yesterday. The report, which carried the subhead of “Realising the potential of every child” was an independent review of staffing in Kiwi schools. It said classrooms were more diverse, and teachers were struggling to cope with more children with behaviour and learning problems. NZEI [New Zealand’s largest education union] commissioned the review in January. It was the topic of many news reports yesterday, and the coverage will likely continue over the next few weeks as teachers and principals who are union members go into their collective agreement negotiations this month. The review is quick to use buzz words such as “new dawn”, and “new pathway” to describe what is urgently needed to fix issues of primary school staffing in New Zealand. There was no executive summary in the report, and recommendations were placed at the end to “encourage reading of the whole report”. Staffing issues in primary schools has been a longstanding problem in New Zealand. The problem I have with the review is that although there is a string of recommendations, the means of funding them are still pie in the sky. The 36 recommendations range from increasing the ratio of teacher aides to students and ensuring a roll-based staffing entitlement for counsellors [1 FTE for every 700 students] to reducing class sizes and addressing pay inequities. The common theme in the report is that there is not enough funding currently. Nowhere in the report does it specify how much more money is needed to fix the system. We have no idea how much the New Zealand education system is currently underfunded. Last year, the Labour government announced hundreds of millions of dollars in new operating funding for the education system. Obviously, it was not enough to fix what is broken. Budget 2021 provided an additional operating investment of $1.4 billion — still not enough. In 2020, the core Crown tax revenue in New Zealand was $16,877 per capita — that’s about $80 billion. The government’s total planned expenditure in Budget 2020 was $129b. Of this, education got 13.6 per cent or $17.5b. Social welfare got the biggest chunk – 25.6 per cent of the Budget [$33b], and health 15 per cent [$19.3b]. My point is that it is lovely to have 36 recommendations on improving the education system – and it 100 per cent needs improvements. But where is that money going to come from? Sacrifices will need to be made or taxes will need to be raised. Or, New Zealand will be plunged further into debt. What will it be? I await with interest this government’s response to this report. The Wairarapa Times-age is subject to New Zealand Media Council procedures. A complaint must rst be directed in writing to the editor’s email address. If not satis ed with the response, the complaint may be referred to the Media Council P.O. Box 10-879, Wellington 6143. Or use the online complaint form at www.presscouncil.org.nz. Please include copies of the article and all correspondence with the publication.

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