In a week from now, when the special votes have finally been counted, coalition negotiations will begin in earnest. National, ACT and, probably, New Zealand First will get into horse-trading over policy and Ministerial posts. Some policy areas will be difficult. One that should not pose too many obstacles, though, is education.
All three potential coalition partners agree that our school system is in a parlous state. While they differ in emphasis, many of their positions are complimentary rather than in conflict.
National’s policy is focussed mainly on what happens in our classrooms. Reform of the two great pillars of education – curriculum and teaching – is the mainstay of their platform.
They have promised to rewrite the curriculum to make it more detailed and include annual progress expectations. There is a strong focus on improving literacy and numeracy.
New teachers will have to demonstrate expertise in literacy, mathematics and science instruction. Existing teachers will be provided with professional development to get them up to speed with the most effective methods of teaching children to read, write and become numerate.
ACT’s policy is more concerned with systems level reform. They want to give parents more choice in how their children are educated. All public schools could opt to become partnership schools, with much more budgetary flexibility and accountability for children’s learning.
Ultimately, ACT aims to revolutionise the way education is funded. The plan is to provide a Student Education Account to parents for each of their children. Parents could spend that money on the early childhood and school education of their choice. When they leave school, students could spend the balance on tertiary study.
ACT also has its sights set on the Ministry of Education. They would like to “strip it back to basics” and devolve many of its current functions to the local level.
New Zealand First’s education policies are more piecemeal. Their most substantial positions are to make Learning Support Coordinators available to all schools and provide extra resources to identify and assist children with learning challenges. It’s probably fair to say that their main policy priorities lie elsewhere.
The parties’ education policies are broadly compatible. ACT’s emphasises systems level change, while National’s is aimed at the mechanics of teaching and learning. New Zealand First’s items can be incorporated straightforwardly.
In education, at least, the three parties could all deliver almost everything they’ve promised.