An excellent election issues meeting was held at Western Springs College on Thursday 10 August.
All except Thurston are current MPs, and members of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Education. Delahunty, Martin and Salesa all spoke well.
The meeting was convened by the PPTA, whose President Jack Boyle opened and closed the debate.
The debate was ably chaired by Auckland University Political Studies lecturer, Victoria Woodman. Woodman brought a light hearted but firm hand to the meeting.
So what were the main issues discussed, and who shone?
The Minister, Nikki Kaye, spoke eloquently about education and her passion to improve it. She pointed out that although she had had a long four-year apprenticeship as Associate Minister, she was only 12 weeks into the full portfolio.
Kaye said she had had good feedback from schools that much was going well, but she was entirely focused on improving learning
At the end of the meeting the PPTA President, Jack Boyle, praised Kaye as “an advocate who listens, and is committed to young people and to the workforce.”
The two areas to generate most heat were compulsory Te Reo in all schools, and the future of charter schools.
All panellists except the Minister condemned charter schools and said their party would ban them. “Gone by lunchtime rhetoric.”
Nikki Kaye cleverly asked them “if you close them overnight what happens to the 1000 or so students in those schools.” Panellists were left to scramble a bit over that question and admit it would take time to re-integrate those students into the system.
On Te Reo, all panellists agreed it was desirable to have Maori language taught in all primary schools, but the lack of teachers was an inhibiting factor. Delahunty was the most insistent that these teachers must be found and trained. “Access to Te Reo just doesn’t cut it,” she declared. “Colonisation broke the language,” she added.
Martin bemoaned the lack of money for gifted and talented students. She called for teachers to have the space to know the child, with smaller classes and less contact time.
Those NZ First comments were part of general agreement of all panellists that the pressure on teachers to take on all of society’s problem was resulting in teachers being on duty 24/7. “Teachers have a right to a private life,” Martin asserted.
All candidates were concerned about housing shortages and costs in Auckland, which is chasing teachers out of Auckland. Even Minister Kaye called for more social housing to address inequality. The inequality issue had been raised by Salesa. She criticised the fact that inequality, poverty and homelessness was a factor for schools in South Auckland daily. “Teachers face all of society’s problems," she said.
Labour’s proposal to give schools who do not ask for donations, $150 per student, was popular with the audience, many of whom were teachers. “Schools shouldn’t have to rely on community funding,” Salesa claimed.
Delahunty invoked Finnish schools’ success. “They don’t quibble about money in Finland,” she told the audience. “If they need it, the government gives it.” Teachers in Finland have the highest status for teachers of any country in the world. She also, rather facetiously, said that league tables were for sports teams.
Catherine Delahunty is retiring at this election, but told the meeting she remained passionate about education. She also called for an analysis of neuro-diversity - so many young children now diagnosed to be on the cusp of autism, dyslexia, etc. Delahunty is a very strong advocate for a better education system.
Tracey Martin too has been focused on education most of her time in politics, and is a strong supporter of the teaching profession. She has some years' experience as chair of Mahurangi College Board of Trustees.
Martin made an interesting point when she said “it is arrogant of any MP to think they can know all about education and tell teachers what they should do.” She said we have drifted away from the original philosophy of Tomorrow’s Schools.
Thurston of the Opportunities Party made some useful points, although admitting a lack of experience in the field. He said NZ teachers performed well by international standards, but said we won’t realise our potential while 17% of children are in material poverty.
Minister Kaye listened, and at one point praised Delahunty, Salesa and Martin for their contributions to the select committee. How National compensates for the removal of the decile rating of schools will be awaited with interest, as will Kaye’s statement that it is “crucial we do more on anxiety and depression and for vulnerable children.”
It was a good meeting, held in a spirit of co-operation. Nikki Kaye has been given time to deliver, but if National is re-elected, the gloves will soon be off, and niceties will be at a minimum. There are problems in education which must be addressed. (JOHN ELLIOTT)