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QPEC Report on Education Policies of Main Parties

QPEC Report on Education Policies of Main Political Parties - Election 2005 -

Two months ago QPEC sent a questionnaire to the main political parties asking for responses to 24 key policy points at the heart of high quality public education.

The individual party responses can be read on our website at

  • Taking their questionnaire responses into account as well as already announced policies we have produced the following assessment indicating how their policies relate to the provision of high quality public education.

    Labour: Labour’s overall approach can best be described as “pragmatic management” rather than positive leadership based on a vision for quality public education.

    The problem with Labour’s approach is that it allows creeping privatisation of public education to continue. This is illustrated by –

    An additional $50 million to private Early Childhood Education centres within the last month Allowing schools fees – which Labour calls “donations” – to continue their rapid rise Allowing huge differentials to build up between public schools (For example a Decile 1 public secondary school has 25% less funding per student than a Decile 10 public secondary school of the same size) Increasing tertiary education fees – rising at above the rate of inflation! Massive increases in government funding for private tertiary education providers (up from $17 million when Labour took office in 1999 to well over $150 million this year)

    Unfortunately there is nothing in Labour’s policy announcements so far to indicate any change to the above. The bleeding of quality and the unrelenting drift to privatisation will continue…

    The two big issues facing education in schools are government underfunding and the long tail of underachievement for students from working class communities. Labour has no funding commitments, inspiring ideas or uplifting policies to address either of these critical issues.

    The Early Childhood Education sector has been better served by Labour. There has been a depth of vision, long term planning and a commitment to quality. Along with resourcing improvements this sector is beginning to look in much better shape.

    In tertiary education the big “vote-winner” was the announcement of zero interest on student loans. This has been well received but remains only a step – albeit a significant one – in the right direction.

    Offsetting the scrapping of interest however are the rapid increases in tertiary fees (10% projected for many Massey University courses next year) which mean students will have to borrow more in the first place.

    It is deeply disappointing that Labour has abandoned outright any commitment to free tertiary education – even as a long term objective.

    On issues such as NCEA and the proliferation of low quality tertiary courses Labour is finally beginning to address the problems which have been around for a long time and which have seriously eroded public confidence in government management of public education.

    National: National’s education policies have clear vision and direction. They are aimed at the privatisation of public education. This is evidenced by –

    Increasing government funding to private schools (from 1994 to 1999 National increased state funding to private schools by 220%. This meant for example that government funding for Kings College increased to more that $2 million per year despite the far greater educational need at public schools such as the underfunded Otahuhu College on the other side of the wire mesh fence from Kings College!) Establishing “Trust” schools. These are a half way house to full privatisation. The “trust” owns the school land and property and will be able to raise funds privately by issuing shares etc Introducing compulsory Bulk funding. This would cut the final link between educational need and government funding and accelerate the differentiation between schools – “winner schools” in high income communities and “loser schools” in low income communities. Education vouchers for extra tuition for students falling behind. The extra money is welcomed but the mechanism is designed to pump up the private sector and prepare the way for full vouchers – the holy grail of big business in education. Continuing Labour’s “free market” approach to the funding of Early Childhood Education and the Tertiary sector.

    Regarding the two critical issues facing education in schools – improving school funding and addressing the long tail of underachievement for our students from working class communities – National has nothing of substance to say. Their policy of bulk funding will over time exacerbate the underachievement problems and while they are promising more funding for schools it will be based not on educational need but on short term gain for long term pain – bulk funding with a sweetener!

    National will remove a student’s right to attend their local school although they will have the right to attend a “reasonably close” school.

    In Early Childhood Education National wants to give tax relief rather than guaranteed ECE time for children. However the biggest beneficiaries of this policy will be the wealthy rather than the children most in need of quality ECE.

    Likewise in tertiary education National is offering tax relief for those paying back loans – small comfort to most – and has no policy to hold or reduce tertiary fees.

    National is committed to addressing problems with NCEA and low quality tertiary education courses.

    National wants to insist on specific rules for schools when reporting to parents. At first glance this is simply bizarre but in fact fits neatly into their plans for “market competition” between schools as they will be required to report specific test results to parents and the community. Primary school “league tables” will provide the means for parents to “compare how well schools are doing” in educating children. The prospect of this and all that goes with it is appalling!

    Taken together this raft of privatisation policies poses the single greatest threat to public education since the 1877 Education Act.

    Smaller Parties: The Alliance and the Green Party have both responded very positively to the key points on which quality public education depends. Both would enhance quality public education through policy and resourcing and would prevent the “privatisation rust” from doing further damage.

    United Future and New Zealand First have both quite mixed policies. Neither support the extremes of privatisation advocated by National but both show strong sympathies to government funding for the private sector – United Future more so that New Zealand First – and both are clearly susceptible to “deals” which would seriously threaten public education.

    ACT, the Progressive Coalition and the Maori Party have not responded to the questionnaire.

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