Bigger class sizes could be coming, unions warn

(Dianna Vezich/Newshub.)
(Dianna Vezich/Newshub.)

Thousands of Auckland teachers walked out of the classroom on Monday afternoon to fight proposed changes to school funding.

The teachers and support staff attended a stop-work meeting at the Town Hall to discuss what's been described as the biggest overhaul of school funding in a generation.

Schools were out at lunchtime, forcing parents to change their plans. And while students were racing home, their teachers were off to Auckland's Town Hall.

"They're not doing this to make things better for schools," says Blockhouse Bay Primary principal Neil Robinson. "We think there's a real chance they're doing this to save money."

"It just means that schools are going to be forced economically to maybe go for cheaper teachers," says Mt Albert Grammer teacher Kubi Wittner-Hannah.

The so-called "global funding" would give each school a single pot of money that's split in two. One side is made up of credits to purchase teachers and other staff from the Government. The other side has cash to pay for all of the school's other costs.

Each school decides their split between staffing and cash, but unlike in the past there is no formula that guarantees a minimum number of teachers.

"What we will see is a creep in class sizes and a narrowing of the curriculum as schools are forced to make really difficult decisions because they're under-resourced," says Angela Roberts of the Post-Primary Teachers' Association.

PPTA member and teacher at Western Springs College Frederica Simpson says it's not a good idea.

"It means that the Board of Trustees will need to make calls. They need to make calls on how the funding comes out and if the teachers' teaching salary is part of that funding, then they're put in a pretty difficult position if they need more resources."

Ms Simpson says under the current system, each teacher is funded individually, allowing for enough teachers per-school. She says bulk funding would force the Boards of Trustees to make some tough decisions.

"It could mean bigger class sizes, cutting back on teachers so that could lead to cuts of support staff."

She says the turnout at the first meeting is encouraging.

"It is a big turnout. It is really important that the NZEI and PPTA are making a call together on this."

The unions claim this could cause schools to trade off teachers for other costs like photocopiers and lawnmowers.

"Then I say they must have very little confidence in their principals," says Education Minister Hekia Parata.

Ms Parata says teachers are inconveniencing parents by taking this action.

"I'm pretty disappointed because first of all the sector knows that no decisions have been made, that we've got about three to four years to get this right."

Parents can expect more disruption to classes, with similar meetings taking place across the country over the next two weeks.