Second languages: Good idea, but can't be done - principals

Principals are scoffing at the Government's plans to have all primary schoolkids learning a second language in two years' time.

The policy was the centrepiece of the National Party campaign launch on Sunday afternoon, but even then there was confusion over when it would start.

Prime Minister Bill English said from day one, while Education Minister Nikki Kaye said it would kick off in around two years' time.

Mr English told The AM Show on Monday morning the money would be allocated in next year's Budget, and the scheme would roll out in the "next couple of years after that".

But Whetu Cormick, president of the NZ Principals' Federation, told host Duncan Garner Mr English was "out of touch".

He said there aren't enough teachers to cover the basic curriculum or te reo Maori, let alone languages like French and Mandarin.

"The fact of the matter is we have a teacher supply issue right across the country," said Mr Cormick, saying "thousands" more would be needed to offer second languages.

Nikki Kaye and Bill English.
Nikki Kaye and Bill English. Photo credit: Lloyd Burr/Newshub.

The idea's not a bad one, he said, because learning a second language "does open up the brain, and offers many, many other attributes in terms of brain development".

But it has to go deeper than just teaching kids a few phrases.

"In terms of deep, deep teaching in a second language, I'm not sure where these teachers are going to come from."

The $160 million price tag would be better spent helping underfunded schools right now - starting with paying teachers what they're worth.

"Pay our teachers more - put them on $70,000 - and I'm sure teachers will come flocking."

National has also announced plans to expand the National Standards scheme, which Mr Cormick says "clearly has failed", and open 'digital academies', which Mr Cormick says will take "20 years" because not enough teachers are fully skilled in digital learning.