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There is a lot of uncertainty in the education sector at the moment, as both secondary and primary teachers prepare to strike this Wednesday.

The Government is suggesting a whole raft of changes to education but instead of trying to overhaul everything at once and fix aspects that are already working well, I believe they would have been better to focus on less and deliver more.

Some of the Government’s ideas are sound, for example proposed changes to the NCEA system particularly the strengthening of the focus on numeracy and literacy skills have my support.

I also support the changes to scrap NCEA and scholarship fees. The removal of fees will reduce barriers to NCEA and will see more young people have their qualifications recognised.

To his credit, the Minister of Education, Chris Hipkins, has taken note of concerns raised by schools and the National Party regarding the risks of doing away with NCEA Level 1 and imposing compulsory project-based learning on students.

However, the Minister has unfortunately not performed as well in managing teachers’ pay negotiations after Labour raised expectations greatly in its election campaign. Minister Hipkins has overseen gridlock in collective bargaining for over 12 months with primary teachers and more than eight months with secondary teachers.  

The Prime Minister and Finance Minister need to step in and help the Education Minister by enabling greater flexibility in their bargaining parameters to provide a circuit breaker to resolve the strikes.

With the first primary strikes in 24 years, multiple failed offers and hundreds and thousands of hours of teaching and learning lost, teachers, students and parents need this to be resolved. 

The upcoming Budget will likely see funding go towards free counsellors for under 25s, adding some promised learning support coordinators and providing Ongoing Resourcing Scheme funding for children with complex needs.

While this will be welcome it will not deliver on all of Labour’s promises, and is unlikely to resolve some of the core issues in collective bargaining around pay and teacher workload. 

National has committed to reducing teacher ratios which would help reduce workloads. Teachers are also concerned about having adequate classroom release time and resources to implement NCEA changes. 

The previous National-led Government left the current coalition government with growing surpluses. However, they unwisely chose to spend a massive $2 billion paying the fees of all first year tertiary students. This policy has been highlighted as a complete failure as it has not increased enrolments in tertiary study as Labour claimed it would.

The Minister’s first priority should have been using this money to ensure there are more teachers in classrooms, instead he’s put it into his ideological vocational education reforms, which are widely opposed and carry the potential for legal action.

If the Government can’t resolve the dispute then on the eve of the Budget we will have the largest ever industrial action by New Zealand teachers. With strike action looking set to continue, teachers, students and parents deserve to have this resolved.

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