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National Education, 2 December 2005

National Education
2 December 2005

Where Has All The Money Gone?

School resources are running dry and budgets for 2005 are tight. So for those who sell the raffle tickets and organise the fundraisers it would be a shock to see just how much spending on education has increased in recent years. Ministry of Education papers briefing papers claim that since mid 1998, just before National's big infusion of cash, spending on the education system has risen by 54%, about four times the rate of inflation. The Ministry, to their credit, are a bit worried about this saying; "Large amounts of public funding can be added to an education system without any significant impact on education outcomes". I think they mean, "We've spent lots but the kids aren't doing much better". The Ministry's review of operational funding offers a chance to investigate better ways of establishing need and better ways of paying for what the Government wants. The new early childhood funding system creates strong incentives for centres to lift quality and qualifications, so there are some lessons there for school funding. Dr Cullen is keen to get answers to his question: "Are we getting value for money?"

The End of Kindergarten As We Know It

One of the surprises of the election campaign was the ferocious enthusiasm of kindergarten teachers for Labour's policy, which will kill off their long and honourable tradition of sessional care, and the industrial conditions that went with it. Strikes around the country and strife over kindergartens charging fees are just the start of the process of change where kindergartens will lose their distinctiveness. Labour's decision to extend 20 hours free to all teacher-led providers was another nail in the coffin. Early in 2006 Labour will push through Parliament the Education Amendment Act legislating the right of kindergartens to charge fees. Imagine if National tried that!

Parents now believe they have an entitlement to 20 hours free care from 2007 in any teacher-led service, and kindergartens will be obliged to meet parent's expectations. So kindergartens will have to change quickly. They won't be anguishing on their own. 20 Hours Free was cooked up by Maharey and Mallard as a clever political brand, and neither they nor officials have ever figured out how to implement it on top of the new "cost driver" funding system. 5 years ago officials had no idea how to implement Maharey's tertiary policy and even Michael Cullen said this week he hasn't figured it out. So the ECE sector should get ready for a Maharey inspired rerun of the tertiary education mess.

Union Nightmare on Pipitea Street

Steve Maharey is keen to build a strong base for his leadership push through the education unions so he is likely to blunt the sharp end of the Ministry plan to deal with underachievement set out in the Ministry's briefing to the incoming minister. But the unions will be pushing against the momentum for change generated by the Ministry and ERO and increasingly popular among teachers and parents. More information and more transparency are inevitable. The Ministry want to, "Build a greater sense of urgency about addressing underachievement"'. Couldn't agree more. And they say, "Although not used to date, some shared and aspirational improvement targets may help to building ownership and shared responsibility for addressing underachievement". Yes, they have read National's policy on national standards. The ERO annual report stresses its finding that about half of teachers are not effectively using the Ministry's preferred model of teaching driven by assessment for learning. It will be interesting to see how the unions and Maharey head this off.


Thanks to the many people who took the time to respond on how to talk about underachievement. I hope to reply to all of you. Our children are lucky to have many thoughtful and inspired teachers. Thanks for the story about the RTLB debacle, where schools who have already recruited new RTLB's have been told they can't employ a new one until another is cut somewhere in the country. And when is the Ministry going to officially advise RTLB clusters that something has changed? It's a strange system where the union and the employees are told about major changes but the people paying the wages still don't know what's happening

Bill English


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