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Election Test For School Reforms

The new competitive model of education will be tested in the 27 Nov election, reports Bridget Mayne.

FOR the one million New Zealanders in the education system, and their families, this year’s election offers a stark choice between more market-driven learning and a return to centrally funded public schools.

If National and ACT are returned, we can expect an accelerated move towards funding private schools and training establishments on the same basis as increasingly independent “state” schools, polytechnics and universities.

A Labour-Alliance government, in contrast, would reinstate direct state funding of teachers’ salaries in schools, and fund tertiary education as a “collaborative” system where different institutions specialise in different areas rather than competing with one other.

“The education sector is probably at a crossroads,” says Joanna Beresford of the primary teachers’ union, the NZ Educational Institute.

The sector has already undergone enormous change. Since 1989, it’s seen the introduction of self-governing schools, bulk funding, student fees, the loans scheme and funding cuts.

“The balance in education has gone out of whack, with what we have seen over the last decade of turmoil with reform upon reform,” says Beresford. “People can only cope with so much change.”

She cites Education Minister Nick Smith’s announcement last week that he is introducing national testing for eight, ten and 12-year-olds – when only six months ago he opposed the idea.

Both Labour and Alliance still oppose national testing, arguing that the education of whole individuals can’t be reduced to narrow exam questions.

National

The centrepiece of the National Government’s educational strategy is its Bright Future policy, which will put an extra $47 million into the tertiary sector over the next four years. This is intended to help our best and brightest students through scholarships, mainly for maths, science and technology, and “opportunities for greater collaboration between business and education providers”.

The package includes:

• $10.2 million over three years for teacher study awards and fellowships in maths, science, technology and enterprise.

• $36 million for research in “knowledge-based industries”.

• Up to 80 doctoral scholarships.

Education Minister Nick Smith summarised National’s approach to education last week as “standards, pride, innovation, choice and excellence”. He proposed more powers for the Teacher Registration Board, more awards such as “teacher of the year”, more information technology funding, and continuing to let parents and students choose where they learn.

ACT

ACT advocates letting parents take their children’s share of public funding and use it on a school of their choice, whether it be state or privately owned. It would encourage state schools to become “independent” – privately owned.

The party proposes shifting the balance of state funding from the tertiary sector into early childhood, and would make parenting support available to every family expecting a child.

Tertiary students would receive an entitlement that could be taken to an approved institution of their choice.

ACT would keep the student loan scheme as a way of guaranteeing access to tertiary education, but would review it to make it fairer.

Labour

Labour would scrap the bulk funding system, where schools get bulk grants to employ their own teachers. The extra funds which National has given to bulk-funded schools would be given to all schools for extra staffing and operational funding. Funding to private schools would be capped at the present level.

The party would establish a Tertiary Education Advisory Committee to advise on long-term strategic directions, based on the country’s economic and social needs. It would meet regularly with ministers to ensure government priorities are incorporated into planning.

Interest on student loans would not start accumulating until students finish their studies and start earning above a threshold income. Students would be able to borrow up to $1000 for course-related costs.

The training incentive allowance for people on domestic purposes and invalid benefits would be increased from 60% to 100% of course costs.

Alliance

Like Labour, the Alliance would abolish bulk funding. It would go further and oppose the principle of funding private schools. It advocates bringing back school zoning, where students would have to attend their local school unless there are good reasons not to.

The party would unify the kindergarten and primary teachers’ pay scale. At tertiary level, the Alliance proposes abolishing student fees and the student loan scheme over a three year period. It would grant every fulltime student an allowance at the same rate as the unemployment benefit.

NZ First

NZ First education spokesperson Brian Donnelly says self-government of schools has evolved too far and that there is a need to set up regional committees to help with decision making – without taking away from individual schools’ autonomy.

The party proposes higher grants to early childhood centres.

Student loan interest would be pegged to the consumers price index plus 2%. NZ First would reinstate the emergency unemployment benefit for students.

•Wgtn Central candidates debate education in City Voice’s third election forum, St John’s Church hall, cnr Willis St/Dixon St, Thu 7 Oct, 7.30pm.


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