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Hekia Parata announces backdown

Thursday 7 Jun 2012 2:09 p.m.

By 3 News online staff

Education Minister Hekia Parata has announced a complete backdown on planned teacher cuts.

At a press conference this afternoon Ms Parata announced the Government has decided there will be no change to pupil/teacher ratios.

“We had thought that some modest changes to teacher/student funding ratios would help us fund this investment,” says Ms Parata. “…but over the past week, it's become apparent these minor adjustments have caused a disproportionate amount of anxiety.”

The planned changes, which would have seen larger class sizes in some schools and the loss of some teaching positions, were met by fierce criticism from teachers’ unions and education groups.

Unions said more than 2000 schools would lose staff if the Government went ahead with the plans.

They wanted to meet with Ms Parata earlier this week to discuss the policy, but she refused.

The changes were supposed to save the Government around $174 million over four years, of which $60 million was going to be re-invested in the education sector.

Ms Parata’s decision to backdown on larger class sizes means that investment is no longer possible, and there will be a net shortfall of $114 million over the four-year Budget forecast period.

She says she will be meeting with groups from the education sector in coming weeks.

Opposition parties are pleased with the Government's decision to reverse its class size policy but are making the most of the opportunity to criticise Ms Parata for her intitial stance.

Labour leader David Shearer says it's a humiliating policy reversal.

"It's great the minister has finally seen some sense but it's still mind boggling that National could have ever thought increasing class sizes was a good idea," he says.

"It now has zero credibility on education, parents and teachers will be waiting for the next round of cuts."

NZ First also thinks there will be cuts somewhere else to save the money Ms Parata wants for teacher development.

"The Government hasn't finished with its slash and burn tactics just because they've backed down on their stupendously stupid idea of bigger class sizes," says NZ First education spokeswoman Tracey Martin.

The Greens say Prime Minister John Key must take responsibility for the backdown and Ms Parata should be stood down.

Teacher unions, fierce opponents of the policy, say they're delighted.

They're also relieved.

"We sincerely hope we can put this behind us and ask the minister to work collaboratively with the sector," says primary teachers’ union president Ian Leckie.

Watch political reporter Patrick Gower's report.

3 News/NZN

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