19 Oct 2016

Education sector reflects on forceful minister

7:43 pm on 19 October 2016

Education groups are surprised by the announcement that Education Minister Hekia Parata will stand down from Parliament at next year's elections.

They said she would be leaving in the midst of significant changes that would have a lasting impact on the education system.

Ms Parata said she advised Prime Minister John Key of her decision earlier this year.

"It is a privilege to be part of the John Key-led government. However, this is the right decision for me and my family, and it is the right time to make my intentions known," she said.

During her time Ms Parata clashed with education groups including teacher unions. She told reporters she hoped she would be leaving with a mutually respectful relationship with the unions.

"I have tried to involve the unions early in decision-making processes, I've set up forums where they are involved. They're on every key working group since I've been in this role," she said.

The president of early childhood and primary school teacher union Educational Institute, Louise Green, said that inclusiveness was triggered by the government's failed 2012 attempt to increase class sizes.

"Were they opportunities where we were really listened to? There were times when we felt that our voice was heard and there are other times that we felt that we weren't."

PPTA president Angela Roberts said when the minister did listen, things went well, but that did not always happen.

"When she has allowed herself and her ministry to engage sincerely with us, the profession, we've been able to see some interesting and good policies come through, such as the resourcing of collaboration between schools. And when she doesn't, we get disastrous ideas."

Ms Roberts said the government's policies under Ms Parata had been a mixed bag.

"The collaboration between schools is at a very very early stage yet, it is the first time anyone has tried to push back against the collaborative model, but it is all going to be undermined by things like the COOLs (online schools) and bulk funding."

Principals' Federation president Iain Taylor said people's personal views of the minister were varied, but he was impressed by her intelligence and focus.

Mr Taylor said the minister had more than a passing influence on the policies she had overseen.

"I think a lot comes from her actually," he said.

"One of the big changes has been the relentless focus schools are now having on achievement, sometimes too much, but without a doubt we are actually looking at achievement in more depth and with a bit more understanding than we used to."

Early Childhood Council chief executive Peter Reynolds said the minister got ticks for some policies and crosses for others, but overall he believed she would leave quite a mark on the education system.

"People are going to look back on the tenure of Minister Parata and say that she has made a significant contribution to the shape of our education system," he said.

"Not all of us are going to agree with everything that she's done or she's led, not all of us are going to disagree with those things either, but generally speaking I think she's been a good Minister of Education."

Prime Minister John Key said he still had to consider whether Ms Parata would stay on as a minister for all of next year.

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