Remember “Education cuts don’t heal”? That was the rallying cry during the last National government. Looks like we might be needing it again this time round. National’s 2009 budget was a very mixed bag for education, but it turns out that it only narrowly avoided being worse – much worse. Seeking to save $50m in the education budget, the government planned to lay off 772 full time teachers:
The Press has obtained documents under the Official Information Act that show the plan was so far advanced that a communication proposal was agreed on. The proposal mapped out ways to “help minimise concerns” and stop schools from sabotaging the new national standards in protest.
“This reduction is likely to be perceived by the sector and parents as conflicting with the Government’s literacy and numeracy objectives,” Ministry of Education advice to Tolley said.
So the cuts might be perceived “as conflicting with the Government’s literacy and numeracy objectives” – gosh really, do you think? Class size affects educational outcomes. Even Treasury gets it: “Overall, the evidence suggests that class size influences student achievement (as measured by gains in test scores)”. Fortunately, someone came to their senses (or got cold feet) just days before the budget, and the plan was scrapped:
Education Minister Anne Tolley said last night that she backed out of the plan days before the May 28 Budget announcement when she realised how many jobs would be lost. “I don’t think that I thought they were actual staff. I didn’t realise that they were actually all in place,” she said. “I still thought that we were talking about it as being in the future.”
Did you catch that? “I don’t think that I thought they were actual staff”. It should win some kind of award! Do schools have non-actual staff that you can fire? Why not just pay them with non-actual money? Oh, she goes on to try and explain that she thought the cuts would apply to future hiring, but it’s the most agonisingly unconvincing spin I’ve ever heard. From the same article: “Tolley approved the plan, which noted that 772 fulltime equivalent teaching positions would be cut on May 3”. Was that not clear enough for your Mrs Tolley?
Well – unlike the savage cuts to night classes, it didn’t come to pass. Yet. But National are still committed to finding the $50m of “savings”, so the battle is only delayed. I hope the Teachers’ unions are ready! Education cuts don’t heal…