As part of my work in the electorate I spend quite a lot of time in school staff rooms. Every Friday I visit one of my local schools, speak to the principal, take a look around and then chat with the teachers over morning tea. I’m always impressed at how well connected with their local communities our schools actually are. That’s one of the reasons I find these visits so useful – it’s like checking a social barometer.
Prior to the last election I encountered quite a few teachers who were a bit grumpy with Labour. Although they had enjoyed several years of respectable pay rises, many now found themselves in the top tax bracket and yet they felt anything but rich. The school network review in Upper Hutt left a bad taste in the mouths of some, and the fact that it took nearly four years to finally decide the future of the intermediate and secondary schools is still a bone of contention.
Thankfully, Anne Tolley has been doing her very best to drive the entire educational community into Labour’s camp. The mere mention of her name in school staffrooms sends eyes rolling towards the heavens, and not in a kind way. Her national standards policy and the potential for league tables has primary teachers really worried. In secondary schools, nobody can understand why the government chose to cut night class funding and then spend $35 million more on private schools.
The feedback I’ve been getting suggests there are still some meaty issues for us to deal with in the education area. Support for students with special needs is a growing area of concern and I’m not convinced that we have the policy right. A whole bunch of our schools are also struggling to work with buildings and facilities that are well past their use by date – but that’s an expensive problem to fix.
Then of course there is the issue of overall funding. Education spending increased hugely under Labour, although schools still argue they need more. So how much is enough, and is it a question of needing more or asking whether we are spending it in the right places?