29 May 2012

Principals not impressed by staffing changes

11:09 pm on 29 May 2012

Principals say the Government's attempt to cushion the impact of its controversial cuts to school staffing does not go far enough.

Education Minister Hekia Parata announced on Tuesday afternoon that no school will lose more than two teaching positions as a result of staffing formulas that will take effect next year.

The Government is setting new teacher-pupil ratios in schools that will result in larger class sizes and schools losing teaching positions. From 2013, the teacher-student ratios for Years 2 to 10 will increase to one teacher to 27.5 students.

The announcement follows an outcry from intermediates and primary schools with Year 7 and 8 students because the new formulas abolish their special allocation of technology teachers.

Prime Minister John Key admits the Government probably did not do enough to allay parents' concerns about teacher cuts in last Thursday's Budget. But Ms Parata says Tuesday's announcement is not a back-down.

"We had planned to have transition options available and what I'm announcing today is that that includes protecting against losing more than two fulltime teaching equivalents.

"So all schools in New Zealand may either lose or gain up to one fulltime teaching equivalent, but certainly no more than two."

Some intermediates have said they stand to lose up to 10 teachers. Ms Parata says the guarantee is to provide schools and parents with greater certainty and will apply for the next three years.

Call for policy change

Principals' groups believe the Government has not gone far enough. They say some schools will still lose most of their technology teachers and the Government needs to change its policy.

Gary Sweeney, president of the Association of Intermediate and Middle Schools, says the limit on job losses is not what principals want.

"That spreads it out, makes it easier to manage. It definitely takes the pressure off managing it at the end of this year, but it does nothing for what kids in schools get."

Mr Sweeney says any reduction in teacher numbers will hurt children and their education and the limit on job losses will not benefit all schools.

Principals Federation president Paul Drummond says the cap on job losses is not enough.

"This will not quell the frustration or the anger that is brewing in both the parent and school community. It is like being told, 'Well, instead of four bullets in the firing squad, you're getting two'".

Mr Drummond says the cap is only a stay of the policy - not a reversal.

"So these class sizes and the threat to specialisation in our intermediates and full primaries remains, and also the impact on class sizes in our contributing schools remains. Those class sizes will still feel the pressure, teachers and parents will still be concerned about any move towards increasing class sizes."

Paul Drummond says the Government has been poorly advised and he expects it will face further pressure to back down altogether.

Stalling tactic, says Labour

The Labour Party leader says the Government has set up a working group to investigate increasing class sizes to protect itself from a massive backlash from parents and teachers.

David Shearer says messages have been flooding into Labour's offices from parents and teachers horrified at the impact the Government's decision to increase class sizes will have on their children's education.

Mr Shearer says the Government is using the working group as a stalling tactic and it should cancel its policy to increase class sizes.