New Zealand First has joined Labour and the Greens in committing to pay parity for ECE teachers. Laura Walters reports on issues covered in Monday’s education debate
After a massive three years for education, candidates from Labour, National, New Zealand First and the Green Party squared off over their education priorities going forward.
Candidates were asked about their policies on learning support, pay agreements, capital investment in infrastructure, and early childhood education and care.
The discussion also saw New Zealand First join Labour and the Green Party in a promise to give early childhood education and care (ECEC) teachers pay parity with their kindergarten and primary school colleagues.
Currently, most ECE teachers have the same qualifications as kindergarten teachers, but are paid an average of 41 percent less.
In July, following a strong campaign for ECEC pay parity, the coalition Government delivered the first step towards the goal, with a $151.1 million funding boost, via a 2.3 percent increase to education and care service rates.
This lifted the pay of those at the bottom of the scale, affecting up to 17,000 qualified teachers.
And as part of its education policy announcement earlier this month, Labour announced $600m to deliver pay parity.
The Green Party has long held a commitment to pay parity for ECEC teachers, but New Zealand First has not previously announced any explicit policy or promises in relation to this call from the sector.
But during the debate, New Zealand First education spokesperson Tracey Martin said she was part of the last coalition Government that made a start on achieving pay parity. And New Zealand First was part of a previous government that introduced parity for primary and secondary teachers.
“New Zealand First has never opposed pay parity; has always supported pay parity,” she said.
Martin also scolded NZEI president Liam Rutherford for not properly reflecting this on the union’s website.
“Just like you’re committing to pay parity, I’m going to commit to getting that tile down tonight. And we will get that fixed up and back on,” he replied.
Hipkins also used the discussion to put a three-year timeframe on delivering parity – should Labour be in power after October 17.
But he also said delivering parity would require a new ECEC funding system, to ensure the money didn’t go “back into corporate pockets”.
“At the moment, the funding system – if we simply increase the per child, per hour subsidy rate – there’s no guarantees that would flow through into teacher pay.”
This was an issue the Government encountered with the first step towards parity in July. There was “pushback” from centres, who did not pass all of the funding increase onto teachers, as the Government intended.
Hipkins suggested a revised form of the current attestation system, which would see centres commit to passing the money onto teachers, in order to receive the funding.
Meanwhile, Green Party candidate Jan Logie favoured using fair pay agreements as a mechanism to achieve parity.
This commitment from New Zealand First made National the only party on the forum not to promise pay equity for ECEC teachers.
However, National’s education spokesperson Nicola Willis said her party was committed to lifting the pay of those at the bottom of the scale, and closing the funding gap between kindergartens and other ECEC providers.
Greens can’t escape Green School decision
The debate covered important areas such as existing pay equity claims and fair pay agreements, as well as the rollout of the second tranche of learning support coordinators to all schools.
But it also presented yet another opportunity to look back on the recent blunder made by Green Party co-leader James Shaw.
Logie, who was standing in for education spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman, had to apologise on behalf of the party for Shaw’s unpopular decision to give $11.7 million to Green School – an independent school – as part of the Covid-19, shovel-ready fund.
Shaw has apologised on numerous occasions – to the public, educators, and his party members, who called him out for making a decision that contradicts Green Party policy.
But it seems the decision evoked a stronger public reaction than what might have been expected, and the Greens will not be able to leave this gaffe in the past for a while yet.
During the debate, host Tute Porter-Samuels asked Logie why Shaw made that decision when other public schools in the area were struggling with “dilapidated and rundown buildings needing attention”.
“After nine years of charter schools being at the centre of government policy, it was encouraging to hear the overwhelming public support for our public education system, and outrage over funding going into the private sector.”
The Green candidate said the funding decision was “completely at odds with Green Party policy and what we stand for” to move towards phasing out government funding of all private schools.
Logie said Shaw was thinking through a “narrow lens” of funding carbon-positive, shovel-ready projects, which would lead to job creation, rather than thinking of long-term policy objectives.
While the Green Party may not be able to escape criticism for the Green School decision just yet, Logie did her best to turn the negative public reaction into a positive.
“After nine years of charter schools being at the centre of government policy, it was encouraging to hear the overwhelming public support for our public education system, and outrage over funding going into the private sector,” she said.
This pivot put the spotlight on National’s education spokesperson Nicola Willis, and the party’s promise to reinstate partnership schools, should they be in a position of power after October 17.
Labour and New Zealand First both criticised National’s policy, with Hipkins saying charter schools were a failed experiment, which saw some kids learning out of shipping containers in a carpark.
“These are not the sorts of conditions that young people should be learning in. This is not the sort of drive-through model of education that we should aspire to as a country,” he said.
“We have a quality public education system; we should continue to resource that; we should celebrate that. And we should put funding into making sure that it’s delivering the very best possible education that we can have.”
“There are too many kids leaving our schools without the skills and qualifications they need to succeed. And sometimes, in a small proportion of cases, it is appropriate to try something new; to innovate, and that’s what partnership schools allow for.”
While Martin said there was no need to give taxpayers’ money to private businesses.
Diverse options for students who needed a different approach was able to be achieved through widening the rules around special character schools.
But National’s Willis stood by the party’s policy to bring back partnership schools.
She said they would be funded at the same rate as state schools, they wouldn’t be allowed to charge fees, and they would operate on a contract that meant they had to target high-priority learners and lift their achievement.
If schools could not demonstrate they were meeting those obligations, their funding would dry up.
“I think we can all acknowledge – all teachers, all educational leaders – that our schools aren’t working for some kids.
“There are too many kids leaving our schools without the skills and qualifications they need to succeed. And sometimes, in a small proportion of cases, it is appropriate to try something new; to innovate, and that’s what partnership schools allow for,” she said.