By Chris Ormond of NZPA
Wellington, June 2 NZPA - Education Minister Anne Tolley has been accused by her Labour opposite of dispatching a "hit-squad" to sort out schools not falling into line with the implementation of national standards.
Fronting a parliamentary education select committee today, Mrs Tolley faced a barrage of questioning over funding changes to early childhood education (ECE) and her handling of national standards after outlining the Ministry of Education's goals.
The Education Review Office (ERO) will release a report next month that includes information on how schools are progressing with the implementation of national standards, but Labour's education spokesman Trevor Mallard suggested a former senior ERO office official had been asked to "harass" schools which had opposed the standards.
Mrs Tolley said the ministry had been asked to work with schools which were either having difficulty implementing the standards, or were not participating in national standards training.
"I don't believe there is any harassment," she said.
Mr Mallard then suggested schools which had gone public in their opposition to standards had been targeted and a "hit-squad" had been sent in to sort them out.
Mrs Tolley said the Government had passed legislation to ensure national standards were implemented. "We are doing that. Boards of trustees are crown entities and have to implement the law," she said. "We have not sent in anyone to harass. I think that is overly dramatic."
She said the majority of schools were "getting on" with implementation, while training was available through extra budget funding if boards of trustees needed it.
Switching to early childhood education, opposition MPs questioned Mrs Tolley over how much funding changes announced in the budget would cost parents.
From February, funding for ECEs will be altered so there is no incentive for them to have more than 80 percent of staff registered as qualified teachers, and the significant savings resulting from that is earmarked for the Government's goal of achieving higher child participation in the sector.
National has admitted there could be extra costs to parents benefitting from the current 20 hours free child care and budget documents have put estimates at between $25 and $42 a week.
Labour's Sue Moroney said today it was more likely to be $40 to $60.
Mrs Tolley said funding in the sector had increased significantly under the Labour administration and it was up to the centres to work out how to absorb the changes.
At Mr Mallard's prompting she said there were no figures as to what that might mean in terms of higher costs to parents, but repeated that individual providers needed to absorb any funding shortfalls in their own way.
"We just want to know how much money you are taking out of parents' pockets, that's all," Mr Mallard said.
Mrs Tolley said she didn't believe centres would end up charging much more.
She also dismissed claims that having a lower percentage of qualified teachers would lead to a decline in the quality of education.
"An 80 percent target for qualified teachers means that for every five people in a centre four are qualified -- we think that is high quality."
In the end, providers could still make their own choices over teaching ratios and parents could also make their own choices over which centres they wanted their children to attend, Mrs Tolley said.