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Cost Cuts Raise Education Quality Concerns

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Trevor Mallard
Trevor Mallard

By Chris Ormond of NZPA

Wellington, March 10 NZPA - Funding cuts within the Education Ministry will negatively impact on education quality as a result of less research and less teacher and curriculum development, says Labour's education spokesman Trevor Mallard.

Education Minister Anne Tolley said today $25 million in savings were being sought by 2012/2013 to address increasing cost pressures.

The ministry has a departmental operating budget of $441m and Mrs Tolley said savings would be made as the ministry "reshaped" its role.

The Government has asked the ministry to focus more on front line regional support for schools and ECE (early childhood education) services, with less national office bureaucracy. "This will mean staff can concentrate on relationships at a local level, to help schools and education providers lift student achievement."

Secretary for Education Karen Sewell said jobs were already being cut in the department through attrition, but redundancies were a certainty -- although she declined to give any indication of numbers. "It would be irresponsible of me to even suggest that at this stage..."

Ms Sewell said it while it was a challenge, streamlining within the ministry would have positive outcomes where it counted the most.

"I'm certain what it will do is raise the quality of education," she told NZPA. "Because the way you do that is focus on fewer things with an absolutely relentless determination -- and that is what we are going to do."

Mr Mallard said the cuts were bad news for the quality of education and Mrs Tolley was trying to disguise the effects when talking about "reshaping" the system and diverting resources to the front line.

"There is always a case for finding efficiencies as long as quality does not suffer as a result," Mr Mallard said. "But these cuts will mean less funding for research, professional development for teachers and curriculum development.

"All of these areas are vital to the ongoing quality of our schools. They provide the innovation New Zealand's education system is internationally respected for."

He said any savings should come from holding back the tens of millions of dollars being spent to implement the new national standards scheme in schools.

Ms Sewell said the introduction of national standards meant there was an even greater need for the ministry to maximise efficiencies and streamline its support networks.

Public Service Association national secretary Brenda Pilott also expressed concerns about potential effects a funding squeeze would have on the delivery of education services.

"Our concern is that in cutting $25 million the ministry will end up eroding the support network it has for its front line services.

"This will mean staff in front line roles will become increasingly tied up in doing administrative work and the delivery of service at the front line will suffer."

Ms Sewell said it was her role to ensure front line staff continued to operate with all the support needed to do their jobs well.

She said the ministry was committed to working with staff throughout the country to find the best way to address the challenges it faced, including trimming down on staff, and Ms Pilott said she was pleased that commitment had been given.

"We will be working to ensure staff are treated fairly and transparently and support the ministry's commitment to managing the impact of the cost cutting in that manner," she said.

Ms Sewell said the first stage of the changes would be done over next 18 months, but the impacts would be sooner.

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