By: Nicholas Jones

Mount Maunganui Primary School (Mount Primary) has turned several spaces into modern open-plan learning environments. Photo / George Novak

The party this afternoon released its education manifesto and promised to lower the cost of a “free” education by pumping in an extra $4 billion over four years.

The most radical policies in the manifesto have already been announced – including providing three years of free post-school education over a person’s lifetime, and paying schools $150 per pupil if they agree to stop charging “voluntary” donations.

The new pledge is to take immediate steps to rebuild outdated school buildings, with Labour’s education spokesman Chris Hipkins saying they would ensure every school has “modern” classrooms by 2030.

“We can’t afford to have our kids learning in overcrowded classrooms and spaces that were never intended for classroom learning, such as caravans and dental clinics that we’ve seen under National,” Hipkins said.

Another policy is to establish a plan to ensure all school students have access to mobile digital devices for “BYOD” learning – a similar position to its 2014 policy to provide a kickstarter payment and then have parents pay off a tablet or netbook at $3.50 a week.

Doing so will cost $107m over four years, the party said, and will involve working with communities to find a solution that best suits them.

Hipkins said Labour was committed to addressing teacher supply issues and raising the standard of the profession, and had set aside $40m over four years to address supply issues.

“But our $1.8 billion package to deliver a modern education system will also enable the delivery of other major initiatives to drive teaching excellence.”

Class size goal dropped

Ahead of the 2014 election Labour focused on reducing class sizes to one teacher to 26 students at primary and a maximum average class size of 23 at secondary schools. Those specific goals have been dropped.

Hipkins told the Herald the 2014 policy to cut class sizes would have been funded by scrapping National’s flagship education policy, Investing in Educational Success (IES).

“A lot of money is committed now. It remains a goal to reduce class sizes and we will have more to say on that in due course.”

Early Childhood Education (ECE)

In early childhood education, Labour has stuck with its 2014 policy to require ECE centres to employ at least 80 per cent qualified teachers by the end of its first term, and has pledged to reinstate extra funding for centres that employ 100 per cent qualified and registered teachers.

The party says it will also support new public ECE centres in poorer areas through targeted establishment grants.

In 2014 the party had pledged to extend the 20 hours of free ECE education for 3-and-4-year-olds to 25 hours per week. There is no mention of that in summary documents released to media ahead of today’s announcement.

The primary and intermediate school staff union NZEI immediately welcomed Labour’s education policies, saying the manifesto will mark the beginning of a rebuild of schooling and ECE.

Union reaction

NZEI immediate past president Louise Green said they were particularly pleased to see Labour acknowledge that children with additional learning needs had a right to a great education.

“More and more children are coming to school with complex additional needs that we are not resourced to meet.”

Green said NZEI would continue to push for smaller class sizes, which are not promised in Labour’s plan.

School donations

Earlier today Labour announced part of the education policy – a plan to shrink the practice of asking for voluntary donations from parents, by giving schools that drop the practice an extra $150 per pupil at an estimated cost of $70 million.

That is similar to its 2014 policy, which offered $100 per student to schools that stopped donations.

Labour is estimating more than half of schools will take up the offer, mainly mid and low decile schools where the donations tended to be smaller than $150. The costing of $70m was based on 450,000 students.

Tertiary

And early last year Andrew Little used his state of the nation speech to announce a Working Futures Plan to provide three years of free post-school education over a person’s lifetime, which can be used for any training, apprenticeship or higher education approved by NZQA.

If Labour were elected, the plan would be introduced in phases, with one year’s education available from 2019, two years from 2022 and three years available from 2025.

The education manifesto also includes policy to pay employers a wage subsidy equivalent to the unemployment benefit if they take on unemployed young people, and to reinstate funding for programmes such as night classes.

National is yet to announce major new education policy. Ahead of the 2014 election its flagship policy was the IES scheme, which is now in place and that aims to identify the best principals and teachers and pay them more to spend time at other local schools.

At a glance – Labour’s education plan

  • Provide three years of free post-school education over a person’s lifetime.
  • Upgrade school buildings to provide “modern” classrooms at every school by 2030.
  • Fund a plan to ensure all students have digital devices.
  • Pay schools $150 per pupil if they agree to stop charging “voluntary” donations.
  • $40m over four years to address teacher supply issues (the 2014 campaign pledge to reduce class sizes has been dropped, although the party says it will have “more to say in due course”).
  • Reinstate extra funding for centres that employ 100 per cent qualified and registered teachers (the 2014 pledge to increase 20 hours free ECE education to 25 hours has apparently been dropped).

Source: NZ Herald

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