14 Sep 2020

National promises $1.9bn for education in learning support, teacher aides, character schools

4:02 pm on 14 September 2020

National is promising a $1.9 billion education package over four years, with a focus on learning support, teacher aides, and new special character schools.

Missed the policy announcement? Watch it back here:

In an announcement at Graduate School of Education this afternoon, party leader Judith Collins and education spokesperson Nicola Willis say the party, if elected, would prioritise "lifting achievement for all New Zealand children, no matter their background or ability".

They announced $1.9bn in new policies:

  • A $480 million boost in learning support, to ensure better support for children with additional learning, behavioural and physical needs
  • $150m over four years to fund about six million additional hours of teacher aide support in classrooms, equivalent to about 1500 new teacher aides
  • Invest in fast-growing state and state-integrated schools
  • Supporting establishment of new kura kaupapa, integrated, special character and partnership schools
  • $40m per year funding boost for secondary languages at primary and intermediate schools
  • Task officials with replicating high-performing schools' positive impact on student achievement in other schools

Collins says National would increase education spending every year, including increased operational funding for schools and early childhood education services.

"Parents want to see their children grow and thrive, to have options and opportunities once they leave school. We understand this, and a National Government will invest in the future of our children," she says.

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National Party leader Judith Collins with education spokesperson Nicola Willis. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

"What is really important too is that we focus on the fact that we need more teachers.

"Under the current part-time minister of education, what we're seeing is a return to the future, a return to big unionism, big focus on what big government wants and actually a stifling of individuality and excellence."

Collins says the party hopes children will make use of the funding for students to learn a second language.

This week is te wiki o te reo Māori, which celebrates and promotes learning te reo Māori, and Collins says that she hopes many children - though kohanga reo - will also make te reo Māori their first language.

Collins says the country will not be officially renamed Aotearoa while she is prime minister, however.

"It's New Zealand, and I'm very happy to have it also called Aotearoa but I am very focused on New Zealand and New Zealanders ... I just think we focus on the economy and we get on and we get on and get people into work and we build a future."

Willis says investing in teacher aides would make a big difference.

"Parents and teachers alike know how valuable it is to have an extra pair of hands and eyes in the classroom," she says.

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Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

She says one-in-five children need extra support for learning, disability, behavioural, health and other challenges, and the party had developed a plan to reduce the barriers they faced.

This plan would include:

  • Earlier identification of needs with early childhood screening and improved age-three checks to be recorded in "child passports"
  • Individual learning plans to "enhance reporting and accountability to parents" and carry information between schools
  • Flexible school funding for additional needs
  • Mental health skills training for students in all schools
  • Expand trials of teams of GPs, nurses, counsellors and mental health workers in schools
  • Reinforce requirements for children's needs to be met and make it easier for families to choose specialised schools

Collins says children with additional learning needs can get left behind, "depending on the school and depending on the teacher".

"We know there are some schools where children with additional learning needs feel more welcome, are more able to succeed than other schools ... and some feel unwanted at their school.

"Rather than making this a problem for the child, or the parent, we're going to give parents a choice when it comes to school zoning, we're not going to be the rigid Labour government on this.

"It's a bit of freedom and by the way it's got a great reason for us doing it."

Collins repeatedly praised the new policies.

"I'm happy to support this policy as the best education policy I've ever seen."

The party has previously announced it plans to build at least 25 new partnership schools by 2023, with some focused on specific groups like Māori, Pasifika, children with additional needs and schools focused on specialised education like science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

Collins says partnership schools were "one of the great successes of the [previous] National-led government".

"Labout came into office, they said that they didn't like partnership schools, they got rid of them and they called the ones that they left 'special character schools'.

"We know that they're partnership schools. We want to make sure that we celebrate partnership schools and what they can do for young people, particularly those who are left out of the education system ... I know they work in my electorate, many of us have seen them working and in fact they work really really well."

The announcement was on top of $4.8 billion in extra spending on school infrastructure, and other previously announced policies including reducing student-to-teacher ratios in primary schools, and establishing 25 new partnership schools by 2023 with some focused on specific groups.

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