Investing in education
Jim Anderton MP Tue Sep 21 1999
Launch of Alliance policy for Kindergartens
12.10PM, Tuesday 21 September 1999
Earlier this year the Minister of Education invited to New Zealand the United Kingdom's Chief Inspector of Schools, Chris Woodhead.
The Minister praised his British visitor as an education visionary, and arranged a special function in the Beehive where Mr Woodhead could speak. He was so impressed with Mr Woodhead that the Alliance thought we had better have a look at what Mr Woodhead was on about.
What we found is that Mr Woodhead is notorious for making outrageous attacks on teachers. He regularly condemns the quality of British teachers across the board, describes them as lazy or incompetent and calls for their pay to be cut and for bigger class sizes and heavier workloads. Of course, all of this plays out very well in the British tabloids, who love nothing more than a bit of misinformed teacher bashing.
It's not surprising that Mr Woodhead's invitation was cancelled when all of this, together with other – less relevant information -- became public.
The point of telling you about this is that the Minister of Education invited him to New Zealand because he thought we could benefit from his insights – in other words, the National Party thinks we could do with the same sort of anti-teacher attitudes here.
They don't care about professional standards. They want to have a war with teachers. The public education system is under unprecedented attack.
A recent newspaper article reported that New Zealand ranks just 96th out of 174 countries in providing public money for primary and secondary schools. That's according to a United Nations report on Human Development.
I want to say clearly to this conference that the Government's attitude is irresponsible. What sort of a government hates teachers?
A tired one that's had its day.
It's been a quarter of a century since New Zealand had a Government led by Norman Kirk and Bill Rowling that was truly of and for the people. For ordinary working New Zealanders like you and the families whose children you teach.
I believe that in a few weeks from now New Zealand will elect a new government, and I believe the Alliance will be the heart of it.
I understand that it was initially the preference of the NZEI only to have Labour and National representatives speak to your conference.
But we are now in an MMP environment – and there will be a coalition government after the next election. If the Alliance is not in coalition with Labour, there is a very real chance that there won't be a Labour government at all, because the chances of any single party winning a majority of votes on its own are not that good.
The Alliance's commitment to a significant increase in our investment in education has been long and sustained and we will take it into any coalition government that we are a part of.
The Alliance is not going into a new government simply in order to have a series of reviews, inquiries and investigations.
There are substantial measures that everyone in this room knows are needed to support the public education sector and you need the Alliance there to fight for them.
The government talks about a knowledge economy.
We do need to invest in knowledge. The future of this country rests in our investment in a high-skill economy – and that means investment in education.
The Alliance believes in public, high-quality, fee education. We have become the party of education.
Schools are underfunded. Operating grants are insufficient to deal with the problems that schools face.
Three years ago the Ministry of Education's briefing to the incoming government said the purchasing power of school operating grants had fallen by 10% since 1989. They have fallen even further since.
The government's response to the fact that schools are underfunded is to try to force bulk-funding on to schools, on to their communities, on to teachers and on to the children you teach.
The Alliance says flatly: NO to Bulk-funding.
It's a recipe to cut funding for schools, and to drive down teachers' wages. It means a worse education for our children.
The Alliance believes that schools should be funded according to their assessed need, not according to their participation in the government's funding scheme.
If we want quality teachers who remain in the profession, we have to pay teachers enough to stay.
We have to acknowledge that teachers' workloads are already high. Not only do we need to take the pressure off teachers so that they can perform at their best in the classroom, governments should be prepared to discuss workloads and not just salaries when it comes time to negotiate contracts.
There is an enormous weight of evidence that what is learned before the age of 5 is of crucial importance to future outcomes in education as well as opportunities in society.
Today the Alliance's education spokesperson Dr Liz Gordon is releasing our policy for kindergartens.
First, we will put kindergarten teachers back in to the State Sector Act.
The early childhood teachers' salary scales will be unified with those of teachers in the school system. All teachers will be paid on the basis of their training, qualifications and experience, not on the age of their students.
It was the National-New Zealand First coalition, with support from the Act Party, that launched an extraordinary lightening assault to drum kindergarten teachers out of the State Sector Act and force them to negotiate their salaries directly with their kindergartens.
There was no need for such a vicious attack on the lowest paid professionals in the education sector.
The Alliance will overhaul the funding system for kindergartens and make it fairer.
Funding will be based on a base rate reflecting the costs of running a kindergarten, with equity funding to reflect ethnicity, remoteness, special needs of communities and children, and the like.
Teacher salaries will be paid according to a formula negotiated in a national collective employment contract.
Far too many pre-schoolers are missing out on kindergarten.
The Alliance believes a free high quality, well-funded, professional, accessible and diverse system of early childhood education is needed throughout New Zealand.
In recent years schools have been forced to compete with one another for students and resources. The Alliance wants a far more co-operative school system where the emphasis is on quality.
Our priority has to be the state school system.
We support the system of private schools, but where good public alternatives exist – and they should exist everywhere – there is no justification for spending money on private schools.
The Targeted Individual Entitlement scheme, which gives 110% of the amount spent at public schools for each student to private schools, will be scrapped.
The scheme is based on the idea that private schools are of a better quality than public schools. The Alliance believes that we cannot afford to have anything other than the highest quality public schools.
The Alliance will increase school operational grants. We will spread the money that is currently being used to bribe schools into the bulk-funding scheme across all school according to need.
On top of this we will increase school operational grants and we will redirect funding from private schools into the state school system.
I don't believe any of the problems facing our country are going to be easy to fix.
But I know that most of the important steps that we can take begin with investment in the fundamentals, like jobs and education.
The Alliance is passionate about this country's future and we are determined to advocate for a stronger public education sector as the heart of a new government.
I look forward to working closely with schools, teachers and the NZEI in that new government.