Education cuts don’t heal

Written By: - Date published: 7:23 am, October 3rd, 2009 - 26 comments
Categories: budget 2009, education - Tags:

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…

26 comments on “Education cuts don’t heal”

  1. Rob A 1

    As much as I hate to admit it, I believe the ministers explanation. All she was doing was reversing a (Labour?) decision to lower the kids/teacher ratio without being told many of the teachers were already hired.

    • Ari 1.1

      Except she wasn’t, because it was cuts to actual staff.

      There are two options here:

      Either she’s willing to gut the education sector to save money and morgage our nation’s future, in which case she’s unfit to be a minister of the crown…

      Or she’s too stupid to read the difference between actual cuts and cuts to recruitment, in which case she doesn’t meet her job requirements and is unfit to be a minister of the crown.

      Either way, there’s no partisan wriggling to be done on this. She needs to go.

    • Tim 1.2

      Oh…and it would be too much to expect a minister to actually know that the policy was in place and the teachers had been employed? Whether we believe her is not the point – the point is she is totally clueless.

      This is just another example of how inappropriate her selection as Education Minister was. Kinda reminds me of the time she was put out because she had to speak to the Vice Chancellors of the universities and wanted to meet the more important Chancellors – LMAO. Dim. Dim. Dim

  2. Tim 2

    But these cuts have not been avoided. Tolley is still looking at where she is going to cut the 50 million from – she herself has said that now that she has offered bigger savings than any other minister (I mean it is only education after all) she cannot reneg and she will be doing her damnedest to cut this from somewhere.

    Of course the talk is that she has absolutely no idea how to do this (I don’t think she has any idea how to do anything) and is asking anyone that she encounters for their ideas.

    So it has not been avoided, just shifted to somewhere else. Watch this closely – cuts are coming!

    • Richard 2.1

      And that 50 mill price tag has a very familiar ring to it. Now what was 50 mill set aside for in the budget? Oh yes, the cycleway. Says something about the Nats priorities.
      Tim, you are spot on. She is truly out of her depth.

      • Stacktwo 2.1.1

        Exactly. Tolley’s off her trolley – and the whole government are out of their depth, treading water madly.

        • Ianmac

          Love that Stacktwo.
          “Tolley’s off her trolley. Tolley’s off her trolley!” Has a real ring to it. 😛

  3. Red Rosa 3

    Maybe she could backtrack on the $35m to private schools? Then she would be only $15m off beam.

    There is something weird about the whole affair. 772 of anything – recruitment, ‘actual’ teachers, or whatever, with the sizeable $’s attached, should have been given real scrutiny before being signed off. Which it seems to have been, and caught at the very last minute.

    Love the story about meeting those important Chancellors! (I’ll bet they loved it too)..

  4. Ianmac 4

    Even if the mistake was over “to be employed 772 teachers” the intent is the same.
    “Frontline staff will not be culled.
    Cuts will come from the backrooms.
    Literacy, Numeracy vital.”
    Yeah Right!
    The power of NZ Educational Innovation has always come from the bottom up. Never works from top down.

  5. RedLogix 5

    Getting a lousy education, then spending a lifetime pitted against your fellow workers in the gladiatorial theatre of the free market economy does not make for optimism or open-mindedness, both hallmarks of liberalism. It makes for a kind of bleak coarseness and inner degradation.
    Joe Baigent. Deer Hunting with Jesus.

    The last thing the business elites want are workers who understand what is being done to them.

  6. Perhaps they meant Temp staff.

  7. burt 7

    I thought National were banging on about there being a teacher shortage when the socialists were doing their level best to make education a sausage factory of mediocrity.

    Teacher shortage crisis looms – NZEI (May 2008)

    Meanwhile early childcare is short something like 1,500 teachers
    Early childhood teacher shortage could affect 10,000 children

    I guess the MPs still get their accommodation allowance, the x-MPs still get their travel perks and all is well for them.

    • Zorr 7.1

      I am confused here burt. Are you saying that Labour actually did a half-decent job with education? Or are you berating them for making an attempt on improving education but only getting as far as a mediocre system? From my viewpoint, if mediocre is a step up, then it is a step in the right direction.

      And Brett, nope, not temp staff. All jobs were permanent full- or part-time positions that had already been filled.

    • burt 7.2


      I don’t think Labour did a good job with Education, I don’t think NCEA is a good thing and I don’t like the school zoning system.

      However during the last few years National has banged on about teacher shortages. So I’m wondering how that perspective would stack up against a ‘plan’ to axe more teachers. National seem to be shooting themselves in both feet with this one.

      • MikeG 7.2.1

        Who introduced NCEA? Oh yes, it was Bill English of the National Party.

      • burt 7.2.2

        That’s not making it any better, and after 9 years of Labour playing with it – it’s still no better. What is so unique about NZ that we need to have our own assessment system?

    • Swampy 7.3

      The problem for early childhood is the NZEI pushed Labour into raising the minimum academic requirements, pushing out a whole lot of competent people. Which I guess Anne Tolley is going to fix by scrapping the new minimum standards.

  8. Rex Widerstrom 8

    For every study saying smaller class sizes lead to improvements in student outcomes there’s one casting doubt on the conclusion. (It’s a topic I considered in depth when creating Wainuiomata High School out of Wainuiomata and Parkway Colleges, because it provided a rare opportunity to leverage the Ministry on all sorts of issues).

    A reasoned and reasonable summary was written up by “Save Our Schools Canberra”, who seem far from neo-conservative in outlook, believing as they do that “social equity in education should be a key goal of public education” and opposing “league tables”*.

    After canvassing various studies, they conclude that:

    There is little doubt that class size reductions increase student achievement in some circumstances… Despite these positive results there are reasons to look for more cost effective ways of improving student outcomes… There is evidence that improving teacher quality contributes more to increasing student outcomes than class size reductions.

    Having said that, there’s a compelling case for more being spent on education (and certainly one against cuts to present levels of expenditure) but having been on, or chaired, school boards and seen four children through the public education system in NZ if I had to choose between better teachers or more teachers, I’d vote for quality over quantity every time.

    Incidentally, “Education cuts don’t heal” always seemed a little over-dramatic to me. I’m happy to let the NZ teacher unions have the slogan I created for the Australian Education Union a few years back, as they don’t seem to be using it any more: “Not investing in public education makes us stupid”.

    And when Anne Tolley is the Minister, the double entrende works even better! 😀

    * for the record — lest this post be used to claim I said otherwise at some point in the future — I support the principle of publishing data on school performance, though I accept that there are issues around what that data is and how it’s collected. But that’s a different post.

    • Draco T Bastard 8.1

      Personally, I’d say you need both quality and quantity but quality probably has an edge over quantity in effect.

    • Zorr 8.2

      I agree with what you have said here Rex apart from for a small comment I would like to make. The quality of a teacher can often depend on their personal stress levels and loading them up with too much contact time with too many pupils and leaving them feeling like they (the teacher) aren’t achieving can be a surefire way to decrease the quality of their teaching. One of the things that came up recently in talking this issue over with my family (a large proportion of which are teachers) is that one of the ways that this National government is going to hit some of their stated targets is to cut the 1 period per day (for secondary) and 1 week per term (for primary) non contact time. Personally I see this as a very shortsighted strategy and ultimately going to lead to much larger issues with staffing in the future.

      Not sure if that was considered in the study you were quoting there. However I do agree on the fact that there are better ways to achieve quality rather than just cutting quantity.

      • Rex Widerstrom 8.2.1

        I agree with you Zorr. Non teaching time is absolutely vital, not just for preparation but also reflection and professional development. In fact that’s where increasing the quantity of teachers — to give each one less classroom time — is likely to make the greatest difference, IMHO.

  9. Ianmac 9

    Testing the effectivess of smaller class size has been confused because of the teaching style.
    The teacher who is forced to teach and control large classes has to have a style that works or they sink. Chalk and talk perhaps. Thus when giving that teacher a much smaller class, the outcomes may not change much UNLESS the pedagodgy is modified to suit.
    A class of 24 9-10 yearolds armed with a constructivist learning style is powerful.
    The same class with a behavioural approach will produce largely mediocre results. And that is one of the reasons that there are conflicting results from research re class sizes.

    • Tim 9.1

      Totally true Ianmac. The research around this is very fuzzy – too many variables – a bit like Hattie’s recent research that was used by the MSM to suggest that funding, class size, resources etc have no impact on the success of students, instead it is only the teacher and the relationship they can establish with students. But what they were missing is that this very relationship is severely dependent on class size, resources, funding and so on – I mean it is fairly hard to create any relationship with your students when you are able to spend a total of 4 minutes on them as individuals over a week.

      As we move towards having students on individual learning plans and better catering to the differing abilities in our classes, class size becomes paramount. Education cuts from Tolley are not going to help this.

      From what I hear it looks like non-contact time for teacher may be under the gun too. Because now the National Party are treating us like we are working on a factory line creating boxes of tissues, as opposed to teaching human beings, we are expected to be more ‘productive’ – how the hell do you do that in education? Teach 65 students in a lesson? Quantity not quality?

  10. Swampy 10

    Wrong, it was health cuts don’t heal, or else this is rent-a-slogan. Of course you always hear the same slogans regurgitated at the leftie protest marches and picket lines year after year.

    As you know, if you checked it out, this particular class size reduction was only implemented very recently and has not actually had a significant impact yet – reversing it would have been easy because of this. In fact it only came into force this year, so Labour only implemented it last year. Some schools wouldn’t have actually started those classes before the middle of the year.

    • Tim 10.1

      I would imagine it is pretty hard to tell whether the class reduction ratios has had an effect because this is only the second year that an attempt has been made to implement – so your comment that has ‘not had a significant impact yet’ is pretty short sighted.

      As for rent a slogan – when it fits use it. Because education cuts simply don’t heal. How can we build a knowledge economy with a government that seems to consider knowledge to costly to afford.

  11. Ianmac 11

    When they talk of class ratios of say 1:18 in a Primary School, it does not mean what it seems. The total roll is divided by the number of ALL staff so that the actual number of kids in a class is seldom below 28 and often 34+ especially in older classes. Most teachers that I have talked to, would opt for an ideal of 24 kids per class! Fat hope.

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