1 Dec 2023

Watch: Prime Minister Christopher Luxon, Education Minister Erica Stanford address media

1:32 pm on 1 December 2023

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon and Education Minister Erica Stanford have spoken about their plans for schooling, local government and the economy in Auckland.

It was their first school visit since the formation of the new government, to Manurewa Intermediate School, a decile 1 school Luxon said did an incredible job including on attendance.

"This is a school where an hour of maths, and hour of reading and an hour of writing is done, just where the basics are taught brilliantly each and every day."

He said the principal was incredible, and Luxon was inspired each and every time he returned to the school.

The comments follow a rough first week for the new coalition government, overshadowed by the behaviour of Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, condemnation of its ditching of smokefree efforts, a surprise tax windfall for landlords despite planned cost-cutting and accusations it has kowtowed to conspiracy theorists.

New government's plans for education

National's education policy includes a plan to require schools to do what he said Manurewa Intermediate already was: one hour of maths, an hour of reading and an hour of writing every day.

Stanford said only about half of young people aged about 15 were able to pass the recently introduced literacy and numeracy standards, "which means they are not able to go on and live the life that they want with those basic standards that they need".

Kids at Manurewa Intermediate School during visit of Luxon, Stanford

Pupils at Manurewa Intermediate Photo: RNZ / Nick Monro

She said what was needed was a clear curriculum that was knowledge-based, with the right pedagogy "in terms of structured literacy, structured mathematics".

"The reason we haven't got our young people to where they need to be is because we have a curriculum that hasn't been supporting them or our teachers, we've been following pedagogy that perhaps isn't based in evidence, and we haven't had a consistent approach to assessment so we know where to put resource when things go wrong.

"It is a very ambitious goal but we are a very ambitious government because I tell you what, you saw those young people in there, we cannot leave their lives to chance."

The regular assessment programme would be quite different to the previous National-led government's national standards programme, she said.

"It wasn't perfect, and we learned from the mistakes, and I think one of the core things is to make sure we are measuring progress: it's not a line in the sand 'do you meet this standard' but 'are you making the progress to get you where you need to be'."

In some cases it would mean putting children who were falling behind through accelerated programmes, she said.

Luxon also touted the government's plan to ban children from using cellphones in schools, saying all ministers and National's MPs were required to hand over their phones for both caucus and Cabinet meetings, which allowed more focused discussion.

"We are going to ban phones across New Zealand in schools as well, and that's very simply that you see good schools like this that have already taken that decision, and it's been a long-standing practice getting great educational outcomes."

The coalition agreements with ACT and NZ First also set out the government's plans to enforce compulsory eduction and address truancy and bring back charter schools.

Erica Stanford, Chris Luxon  at Manurewa Intermediate

Luxon and Stanford in the school hall. Photo: RNZ / Nick Monro

One of the more contentious aspects of the deals has been New Zealand First's policy to "refocus the curriculum on academic achievement and not ideology, including the removal and replacement of the gender, sexuality, and relationship-based education guidelines".

Luxon said sex education was an important role for parents to play, and for schools to play as well, "and that will continue, all that has been raised with us over the course of the last year has been by parents about some of the sexuality training".

"All we're asking for is because we've been caught between curriculum, we want a well defined curriculum agreed to by experts that actually makes sure that the content is age-appropriate, that parents have been consulted, and importantly that parents have an ability to withdraw from the education as well.

"It's been very variable even within schools and between schools because the guidelines have been just that - guidelines - that have been variously interpreted.

"They actually need a clear curriculum definition, expert opinion, age appropriateness, parents consulted and actually having an option to participate or not participate."

Local government facing challenges

Local councils are facing many hurdles, and Luxon said he planned to work with them "in a different way", with all three parties in the coalition wanting to ensure the regions were all being invested in.

"The long-term plans by the middle of next year needing to be completed, we've got things like unwinding three waters which I understand, we've got serious series of investments in infrastructure that are needed, we've got our regional infrastructure fund, so it is the timing.

"I get it, we've had an election, we've had a government just formed this week, but we will be working really quickly with councils to try and understand how we can support them. What I'd just say to you is that I want to reimagine a different way of working with central and local government.

Simeon Brown

Local Government Minister Simeon Brown is meeting with Auckland mayor Wayne Brown today Photo: Nick Monro / RNZ

"My observation is that it has been it has been a Punch and Judy show over a number of decades now and need to actually find a different compact and a different way of moving forward - and that's the conversations that I've had with the sector."

It would mean coming up with new ways of funding, like the GST-sharing arrangements included in the ACT Party coalition deal, he said.

"The incentives in New Zealand haven't necessarily been backed for local government. They've got to put costs of road and pipes and infrastructure in there before they actually get the return which is rates that are being paid to them, and we think there are things we can do in partnership between central and local government that actually incentivise them to participate and receive the benefits of growth as well."

"Whether it's about paying council incentives in order for every new house that might be built or whether it's actually a sort of a half share of GST or something like that, we're going to work through those with them and what we agreed in our coalition agreements, to make sure we can work with councils to incentivise the growth that we desperately need to see in New Zealand."

He also referred to the city and regional deals National planned to enter into.

"That actually means we have to enter into different arrangements, whether it be between how we actually agree who's going to fund it between central and local government, but then we lock up a 10-year programme essentially of infrastructure that actually will make a difference to people's daily lives."

"Many of the councils have actually been talking with us and have been preparing for our government and actually been thinking deeply about what partnership they want to have with central government and we want to pick those conversations up with them."

On the rollback of the previous government's three waters legislation, the councils would have to come to their own arrangements instead, he said.

The government would work with each of the groupings that formed, with their own plans for how they want to structure their balance sheet separation so they could access long-term debt.

With ministers sworn in just this week, Minister for Auckland and Local Government Simeon Brown would be having a "big series of meetings", Luxon said - including with Auckland's mayor Wayne Brown on Friday.

He says the reality was Labour's legacy is high, embedded inflation.

"We've seen that in recent announcements even from the Reserve Bank governor in the last day or so ... we know that has been a burden for councils as well.

"You've seen us come together, within three days put together a 100-day plan to do one of the things we have to do which is tackle the underlying causes of inflation ... that's actually how we get the economy working and that's how we make it easier for councils ultimately as well."

He said all the new ministers both inside and outside Cabinet have been having full-on briefings and three-and-a-half hour inductions each morning.

"So I just say to you I think in four days we've done an incredible job of hitting the ground running."

They would certainly be available to front the media once they got their heads around their briefs and departments, he said.

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