National is pledging more money for education in every budget, and more pay for teachers in each pay round, as well as a likely bonding scheme to keep new teachers in the profession by paying their student loans.

The party’s education spokesperson Erica Stanford revealed the possibility of the student loan subsidies to a public meeting, saying a policy similar to one National announced to bond and incentivise nurses and midwives to stay in those workforces could be imminent.

Under the health policy, National promised to pay up to $22,500 off nurses’ student loans if they, in turn, signed up to work in New Zealand in the sector for five years after graduation.

Stanford said a solution to what she called a record low number of people training to be secondary teachers would come soon.

“You will see from us – I’d better be careful or I will get into trouble with the boss – if you saw our health strategy on how to attract nurses, bonding, paying off student loans, we are looking very carefully at what we have done in our health policy.”

Her party was also “very worried about an exodus of teachers in the very short while”.

Asked at the meeting, in Remuera last week, how National would find the money to put recruitment and retention right, she said the party’s finance spokesperson, Nicola Willis, had committed to more for education annually. “Nicola has promised me that both health and education will have increased spending every year.” 

And on paying existing teachers more? “One of the things Nicola has committed to is that in every single pay round, we are committed to more.”

Stanford seemed unconvinced by calls for more performance pay for teachers, telling a questioner principals she spoke to were split on the idea and the answer instead was to create more positions within schools giving high performers a pathway to higher incomes.

The East Coast Bays MP also outlined changes to teacher training and professional development funding, “reorienting” all money for development into improving literacy and numeracy skills.

The party’s signature schools policy announced so far is to require one hour of each of reading, writing and maths to be taught in all schools every day.

Stanford is keen on more in-classroom teacher training, citing a graduate school in Christchurch as one of the models producing great teachers by having them spend more time “actually teaching”.

While committing the party to more annual education spending, Stanford says her job will be to identify and eliminate wasteful spending. 

The Kāhui Ako programme, which groups communities of schools at a cost of $130 million, would go. 

“My job is to go line-by-line through education funding. We are going through the budget lines. Many of these budget lines, Treasury has said ‘this is not a worthy project’ and they are still doing it, barreling on.

But Stanford was careful to try to reassure teachers National would not seek to “flip the table” on education policy, leading to disruption.

“Almost their [Labour’s] answer to anything is to restructure, spending millions, and commission reports. We are going to stop doing that and put it to the frontline.”

The biggest round of applause at the gathering, of about 100 people at Remuera Bowling Club, was when a teacher from the floor urged the MP not to change course for the sake of it, and for all parties to put politics aside and seek a consensus on the main aspects of education policy, as occurred in some other countries.

“That’s what people would like to see,” the woman said.

Stanford’s response indicated a possible softly-softly approach on some aspects of the portfolio.

“I have been very consistent on the fact people did not want someone to come in and flip the table. After Covid, there’s been a barrage of change and I know the sector is fragile. I’ve been very careful not to throw out everything.”

National has blasted Labour’s new schools curriculum as “paper thin” on knowledge and promised reform.

But Stanford said it would not be a complete change for teachers and students. “The curriculum is not a complete throwout, rewrite. We want to improve on that. It’s not a huge step away from what Labour is already been thinking about.”

National wants to bring back more structured assessments of primary and intermediate students’ progress in schools, but she said many schools were already doing these sorts of assessments and her policy would be to make one already in use the required approach.

“What you will see from us in the future will not be massively radical because the sector is stressed.

“There will be some areas where we will agree on and there will be many where we will not. Some principals saying to me ‘Erica, we need national standards back’ and others are saying not. The sector is not unified.

“I agree we need to have best practice. Labour are way off on some weird, alternative universe planet when they talk about teaching maths – talking about culture and identity.  I fundamentally disagree,” she said.

“Unfortunately there will be some areas where we disagree, but it’s not the sort of policy that you will see us come in and flip the table. I’m trying my best. To be fair to [Education Minister] Jan Tinetti, for the first time I had a meeting with the ministry who gave me a week for feedback. I’m hoping this is the start of something a little better.

“But I’m not prepared to do things in a worse manner just to have some bipartisan approach. I won’t water that down.”

Stanford said part of the reason teachers were over-stretched was that the curriculum’s absence of ‘knowledge’ meant many were having to come up with information needed to teach.

On changes to NCEA that have seen some schools opting to create their own qualification or certificate at Level 1, she had written last week to Tinetti urging her to pause the Level 1 change due for next year. Labour has already put the new Level 2 and Level 3 out to 2026 and 2027 respectively.

National says the Government has got the changes in the wrong order, bringing in new NCEA requirements before finalising the curriculum, when the latter should be settled first.

“I think she needs to pause everything until the curriculum is sorted… Pause until you get it right. It’s not fair on our kids.”

Her own former school, Rangitoto College, is preparing to opt out of NCEA Level 1 and introduce its own qualification. “But while schools like St Cuthbert’s and Rangitoto can create their own resources, our Decile 1 schools are stuck with a second-rate system.”

Asked whether she would reintroduce Charter Schools, an ACT policy that existed in the last National-led administration, Stanford backed the remaining special character schools, and indicated criteria changes to boost that option.

“The one thing that drives me is choice, for example state integrated schools, which are mainly Catholic schools. How do we get more kids into these schools, which, by the way, have incredible results?”

She believed the experiment with charter schools had gone well, citing Vanguard Military School in her electorate.

“But they say they don’t want to be political footballs, they say ‘we want to stay special character schools and relax the criteria that we operate under’.

“Yes absolutely I want choice. There are always kids who will not succeed in the state system. It’s so awesome going to places like Vanguard and hearing kids saying ‘I thought I was dumb.’ But every one of these kids graduates and gets into training.”

“How do we create more of those? My view is easing the criteria for special character schools.”

Tim Murphy is co-editor of Newsroom. He writes about politics, Auckland, and media. Twitter: @tmurphynz

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