by Catherine Delahunty
The National-led Government’s proposed cuts in teacher staffing numbers and increased class sizes in public schools reeks of hypocrisy and double standards. Their proposals are informed in part by New Zealand Treasury’s briefing paper recommendations, which suggested increasing student-teacher ratios for reasons of cost effectiveness. The Government’s savings will amount to $43m a year as a result.
Meanwhile, private schools received over $57m of Government funding in 2011 to be kept afloat, with small class sizes being their draw-card for paying parents. Clearly, the Government is not saving after all.
On the one hand, John Key, along with his Government, is arguing that increasing class sizes in the state sector will not affect standards of education. They say their savings will go towards improving teacher training, which they claim is a more important factor in educational achievement than class size.
On the other hand, last week saw Key publicly embarrassed by his past admission that he sent his own children to private schools because of smaller classes and better resources. This was exposed in the republication of a 2005 Listener article, which has left a bad aftertaste in many New Zealanders’ mouths.
To make matters worse for Key, his Government has ensured small class sizes stay intact in private schools while public schools are deprived of the same luxury. Private school Wanganui Collegiate, for instance, has boasted low class sizes in paid advertisements. These have come off the backs of the New Zealand taxpayer, who has subsidised the school by almost $3m in the past three years, which is a premium on top of Collegiate’s fees. The school will receive $1.52m for 2012/13, as it moves towards being an integrated school. To put this in perspective, Wanganui City College, its public school neighbour, operates on a budget of $1m.
Education Minister Hekia Parata has tried to placate angry parents and educators by promising that no public school will lose more than two teachers over a three-year period (though she has refused to make any promises as to what would happen after the three years are up). Yet, private schools can keep all of their teachers, according to the Government.
So, why then are there double standards between class sizes in public schools versus private schools? Is Key saying that public school students should be sacrificial lambs for the sake of the privately educated students, even where their private schools are bolstered by taxpayers’ money?
National’s double standards between private and public education are another giant leap towards inequality in Aotearoa New Zealand. There are demonstrable benefits of retaining small class sizes: students receive valuable and individualised teacher attention, leading to greater gains in their achievement. Small class sizes are especially crucial for lower attaining students who may otherwise disengage from learning. Teachers also need a manageable workload. Shame on John Key, for his obvious double standards.