25 Oct 2017

'We're definitely encouraged by this coalition'

8:07 pm on 25 October 2017

The new government's education line-up has inspired optimism among teachers and principals and caution among privately-owned early childhood and tertiary institutions.

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Minister for Education Chris Hipkins. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Incoming Prime Minister Jacinda Adern announced that Labour Party MP Chris Hipkins would be the new Minister of Education. Associate education ministers would be the party's deputy leader Kelvin Davis, who would have responsibility for Māori education, Labour MP Jenny Salesa, and New Zealand First's Tracey Martin.

As Education Minister, Mr Hipkins will be responsible for tertiary education, which under the previous government had a separate minister.

Whetu Cormick from the Principals' Federation said principals would be very happy with the ministerial line-up.

"Principals across the country will be uplifted by this news, that we've got a group of people who are focused on education in a positive way and there's a focus on getting the best out of our young people," he said.

Educational Institute president Lynda Stuart said the union had already sent Mr Hipkins a briefing paper based on responses from more than 2000 members.

She said they wanted more support for special learning needs, better pay, and more teacher time for every child in primary school.

The president of the Post Primary Teachers' Association, Jack Boyle, said the union had productive relations with Mr Hipkins, Ms Martin and Ms Salesa during their time as opposition MPs.

Early Childhood New Zealand chief executive Kathy Wolfe said the organisation was very pleased with the ministerial appointments.

"Chris Hipkins has always been an advocate for Early Childhood New Zealand and early childhood in general," she said.

"We're definitely encouraged by this coalition. We believe that they will bring restoration to the early childhood sector."

Nervousness from some in tertiary, private early childhood

But there was some nervousness about how the Labour-led administration would treat privately-owned tertiary institutions and privately-owned early childhood centres.

The president of Independent Tertiary Education New Zealand, Christine Clark, said she was confident it could work with both Mr Hipkins and Ms Martin.

"We've had a lot to do with Chris and with Tracey in the past and they're both very open to dialogue and have changed some of their policy in response to some of our suggestions," she said.

However, Mrs Clark said she hoped the Green Party would not influence tertiary education policy.

"Labour has told us, and I believe Chris, that he sees a place for private. Greens have told us that they actually see very limited value in what we offer and I would be very, very concerned if they were to become dominant in that area."

Early Childhood Council chief executive Peter Reynolds said some members were worried about the new government's attitude to privately-owned institutions.

Universities New Zealand Te Pōkai Tara executive director Chris Whelan.

Chris Whelan from Universities New Zealand Photo: SUPPLIED

"I think there's some caution there, there's some optimism, there's some concern being expressed depending upon who you talk to.

"Until we see what the real shape of the policies are and what's been traded off, particularly between the coalition partners, it will be difficult to judge."

Mr Hipkins' appointment returns tertiary education to a single education minister for the first time since January 2011.

The director of Universities New Zealand, Chris Whelan, said having a separate tertiary minister was good for focusing on specific issues, but it was time for a change.

"Over the last few years it's become pretty obvious that's been at the expense of policy coherence. Particularly in the joins between compulsory and post-compulsory and transitions into the workforce.

"I think having one minister with oversight of that is probably going to be good at getting some of that policy coherence back."

Govt critic buoyed by new education line-up

A Northland principal who has been a trenchant critic of National's education policies said the new Cabinet line-up gave schools cause for hope.

Tai Tokerau Principals Federation Pat Newman said he was looking forward to the restoration of services that had been stripped to the bone under National.

"I'm hoping we can get back to having the services we need for the children of New Zealand," he said.

"I'm talking about the mental health, physical health, all of those things that are missing for our kids, and I'm hoping we can start to build a society again that doesn't need them to the degree that we need them at this moment."

Mr Newman said the best thing incoming education minister Chris Hipkins could do for schools before Christmas would be to scrap National Standards and leave teachers free to teach.

Schools could then start planning immediately for a more balanced curriculum in 2018, Mr Newman said.

"All of the arts, the music, the social studies, the [physical education] and sports that have been missing from a heck of a lot of schools, I'm hoping they come flooding back in, because those are the things that make a child whole."

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